HC Deb 12 December 1969 vol 793 cc792-879

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker

Before I call the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) to move the Second Reading of his Bill, I inform the House that no fewer than 20 hon. Members have so far indicated that they wish to talk on the Bill. Brief speeches will help, but long speeches may cut out some other worthy Members.

11.16 a.m.

Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Last week, at almost exactly this hour, we were discussing the problems of human beings in distress. Today, it is the problem of seals, a problem no less important, I emphasise, than that of human beings. The seal is our largest marine mammal and it is almost unique around our shores. It is a very great privilege to me that twice in my parliamentary career I have had the honour of introducing a Bill the object of which has been to conserve some of the delightful features of our natural environment.

In 1961, I introduced the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Bill, and after quite a number of vicissitudes that Bill became law. The result has been an improvement of the environment for our fish, and indeed of amenity for the whole of the people of our country. Today, it is seals, those delightful and engaging animals which swim around our coasts, the grey and common seals. I emphasise that it is the grey and common seals, because they are the only known species of seal which inhabit the coasts of Britain.

Often today one sees the balance of nature upset. This causes concern to all who give so much of their time to the conservation of our environment. In agriculture the use of all kinds of toxic chemicals, although desirable from an agricultural point of view, are in themselves detrimental very often to flora and fauna and insect life. That flora and fauna is affected by natural and sometimes unnatural happenings, but in the case of seals the matter is rather different, for the only predator of seals so far as I know is man. Dr. K. M. Backhouse, in his excellent book, which I commend to all hon. Members, has put it very succinctly. He is Senior Lecturer in Anatomy at Charing Cross Hospital and first conference secretary of the Mammal Society. He is one of the greatest experts on marine mammals. In his book on seals he says, and this is the heart of the principle of the Bill: There is no real evidence that a natural control is available to replace man. In other words, man is the only controller of the seal population.

Of course, it is basic and fundamental to the Bill that seals eat fish. This is the other side of the seal problem—the fact that they are considerable predators of our fish population. If total protection were given to seals, the balance of nature itself would be upset.

The Bill is extraordinarily delicately balanced. It is the first Bill to deal directly with conservation. Its object is to conserve—I emphasise "conserve"—a healthy seal population and what I will term a sensible level of population. We must recognise the rightful interests—the economic interests—of the fishing industry.

Significantly, the Bill is supported by hon. and right hon. Members on both sides. I have just received an apology for absence from my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), who is so well known in animal welfare circles. My hon. Friend says in his message that he has a shocking cold.

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to tell you that my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair), who is sitting next to me, and who is also a considerable expert on the environment, will hope to catch your eye at a later stage of the debate and deal with some of the questions which may arise in the course of speeches during this debate.

I will endeavour to explain, first, the background to the Bill, and, secondly, the mechanics of the Bill. I am thankful to say that the Bill is drawn in comparatively comprehensible terms. Underlying those comprehensible terms there is a considerable amount of mechanics.

I shall deal with it under various heads: first, the history of Seals Protec- tion Acts; secondly, a brief word about the North Cornwall situation; thirdly, I shall explain my own personal situation; fourthly, I shall explain the need for the Bill; fifthly, I shall make mention of the present situation of all seals round our coasts; and, lastly, in my general explanation I shall say a few words about fish and fishermen.

I want at this stage to pay a very real tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Cranbrook. Last Session he introduced a Bill in another place which went through all its stages and emerged in much the same form as my Bill. A few minor alterations have taken place, but in most respects this is the same Bill. Lord Cranbrook is a considerable expert not only on flora and fauna, but on marine mammals. He is President of the Mammal Society, a member of the Nature Conservancy and, I emphasise, widely respected where all these matters are discussed. I have had the great benefit of the assistance and advice of the noble Lord.

The first protection Act for seals was the Grey Seals Protection Act, 1914. This was followed by the Grey Seals Protection Act, 1932, which is the only Act in being at present. That Act gives protection only to grey seals. I emphasise that this Bill seeks to give protection to all seals, particularly in the close season.

The Bill is the result of consultations and advice from naturalists, scientists, fishermen, conservation societies, and last, but not least, Government Departments. I have taken on where the noble Lord, Lord Cranbrook, left off. This is the third attempt to get a Bill of this nature on to the Statute Book.

I promised that I would make brief reference to the North Cornwall situation, which is topical. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, answering Questions earlier this week said There was no evidence of contamination."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th December, 1969; Vol. 793, c. 432.] of the bodies of seals which had been washed ashore in North Cornwall. I know that there is great anxiety about this matter. I emphasise in this context that the 1932 Act is defective. The Parliamentary Secretary said in his reply that mammals which have been washed ashore had been examined: they had been dead for some time.

Under the 1932 Act, during the close season in England and Wales no seals can be either taken for experimental purposes or killed for experimental purposes unless an order has been laid before Parliament. No order exists for the taking of killing of seals for any purpose in England and Wales. Therefore, the scientists and, indeed, the Seals Research Unit, are precluded by present legislation from carrying out the necessary post mortems and autopsies which should be carried out to establish the facts. Even the naturalists who are saving seals' lives are technically in contravention of the present legislation. Therefore, there is an urgent need for the Bill which will bring a more balanced, and certainly a more scientific, state of affairs to the situation as it exists round our coasts.

I said that I would explain my personal position. It is important that anyone who is seeking to bring forward a Bill of this nature should have a background giving him some personal connection with the situation. For many years I have been connected with societies connected with animals and their welfare. On my farm I have a life-long experience with animals large and small.

In this context we are concerned with marine mammals—large animals indeed, but essentially marine mammals. As for my marine interests, I am President of the Fisheries Organisation Society, designed to help inshore fishermen. I am also President of the National Council of Salmon Netsmen of England and Wales, and I am a Life Vice-President of the Salmon and Trout Association.

I have discussed the principles of this Measure with the fishery interests that I represent. I can give an assurance that, provided that the balance of the Bill as presented is reasonably maintained, they have no particular objections to the Bill as drafted.

I am also a Vice-President of the Association of River Authorities. So I cannot say that I feel exactly a stranger in estuarial and coastal waters; and that is what the Bill is all about.

As I walked down the Embankment today, I thought, "How different is the natural habitat of the seals from the Thames flowing past the Houses of Parliament". The seal lives in the remoter parts of our islands where the sea at this time of the year is extremely cruel. The nights are long and cold. It is of those remote areas that we should be thinking this morning, because it is just in those remote parts, on those isolated rocks, where the grey seals have been pupping in the last few weeks. I have had the good fortune to see them in the pupping season only in the past few weeks. It is very difficult for me to convey to the House the feel of the cruel sea and of the remoteness of the areas of our own country which are seldom visited by Members and, indeed, seldom visited by man.

Against that background I will explain the need for the Bill and its objectives. The seal is our largest mammal—at least until such time as my good friend David James finally pins down the Loch Ness monster. Until that time nobody will be able to say whether the Loch Ness monster is a mammal.

The fact remains that grey seals are very large and fierce animals. I have been chased by a grey seal. The bull weighs from 600 to 700 lb. Cows are rather smaller. I have visited Chester Zoo to see the marine mammals in action. It is a fascinating sight to see those seals and other animals moving almost at the speed of torpedoes. It makes one realise how difficult it is for a fish to escape when a seal is after it.

Seals are very emotive animals. Those hon. Members who, like myself, have seen seal pups and have seen their big "crooey" eyes will realise the immense amount of emotion which is created by these mammals and the amount of pleasure which they give to those who are interested in flora and fauna and who go round our coasts in order to see these animals.

The principles of the Bill I will set out very succinctly. They are to establish a close season for all seals, to establish a licence procedure for hunting during that season, a close control over weapons and a prohibition on poisons. Thanks to the vast amount of scientific evidence which has been accumulating in recent years, and particularly to the work of the Seals Research Unit of the Natural Environment Research Council, I believe that it is now safe to legislate in this fled.

I would not have been able to give the House that undertaking if I had not had the privilege in recent weeks of meeting Mr. Nigel Bonner, head of the Seals Research Unit. He has spent eight years in the Antarctic studying seals, and now spends a large proportion of his life with seals in the remote parts of the coasts around our islands. He is a man whose advice I would trust, and the very success of this legislation to a large extent depends on the advice tendered by the Seals Research Unit to the Natural Environment Council and, in its turn, tendered to Ministers.

Here, I should like to address a few words to the Government Front Bench. Whatever advice is tendered, however good it is, it will become effective only when decisions are taken by Ministers. I emphasise this word "decisions". Decisions will have to be taken by Ministers as to the size of the seal population which is desirable around the coasts of our country. I know that this responsibility will not be a light one, but I am satisfied that the advice which will be tendered will be good. Therefore, I hope that following this reliable advice, sensible decisions will be made by Ministers in due course.

It is interesting to note that this is the first conservation Bill which has been brought before this House. The major sealing countries—Norway, Canada and the Soviet Union—are all studying this matter at the present time. If the Bill succeeds, it will be the prototype for conservation legislation which is under active consideration by those major sealing countries in whose waters seals are really a resource and are of very much more economic importance than they are round the coast of Britain. Therefore, I hope that in the drafting of the Bill we have got it very nearly right because then it will be a very useful prototype.

I will now deal with the position of the grey and common seals around our coasts. I emphasise here, that, regrettably, my own experience of seals is rather limited. However, I had the opportunity of flying by helicopter, accompanied by members of the National Trust and also by the head of the Seals Research Unit, to the small island of Staple, which is one of the Fame Islands group, lying off the Northumberland coast. I landed on that island at the height of the pupping season and in recent weeks I have seen and been amongst the largest grey seal colony in England and Wales. I have also seen marine mammals in zoological gardens.

My personal knowledge is limited to that, plus my personal knowledge of the seals involved with the fishing industry. It was an exciting experience to fly from Seahouses in the helicopter and land within almost a few moments on a rocky island which was almost unapproachable by sea. I emphasise the difficulty of getting boats to these seal colonies because they put themselves a very long way from human habitation. That is the way they like to live their lives. If I had had to approach this area by boat it would have been a hazardous undertaking.

There is evidence that seals have been hunted since prehistoric times for their oil and fats, and more recently particularly for their skins. Early this century the grey seal was in danger of extinction. Hence the protection Acts. Since that time the increase in the grey seal population has been extraordinarily dramatic. The converse has happened with the common seal. Without protection, the common seal population is declining to an alarming extent, and that is one of the major reasons why the Bill is urgent.

I will explain briefly why there is a fundamental difference between the grey and the common seals. Their habits are entirely different. Their breeding methods are different. The basic difference is that the grey seal pups on land and the grey seal pup remains on land for approximately four weeks. The common seal pups on a rock and the pups take to the water almost immediately, so they are in nothing like as great danger from man at that juncture. The main grey seal colonies are the Fame Islands and North Rona off the Scottish coast, which is not particularly far—I am not an expert on the North Scottish coast—from the Orkneys.

The increase in those seal colonies has been quite dramatic, so much so that the Secretary of State for Scotland—I am sorry that he is not here, because the Bill is concerned largely with Scotland—has authorised an annual cull in Orkney of about 800 seals. I am informed that that annual cull goes on extraordinarily satisfactorily. These Orcadian hunters, as they are called, have to carry out their hunting under licence because they are hunting for the grey seal during the close season.

The situation in the Fame Islands is different. The total seal population in the 1930s was 400 or 500 seals and the population has grown to 5,000 or 6,000 seals, a tenfold increase. Between 1952 and 1967 the pups born increased from 600 per annum to 1,800 per annum. If this situation continues uncontrolled, the seal population will double every nine years. This was brought out in a Natural Environment Research Council paper on 20th March last year.

There is no doubt that there is severe overcrowding in the pupping season which takes place in the first 20 days of November. I cannot explain why it is, but all the grey seals pup very exactly in the first 20 days of November. They take the bull 15 days afterwards. The period of gestation is 11½ months and they calve exactly again on the year—I believe very unique in nature.

Another factor which is unique in nature is that the milk of the grey seal is 50 per cent. butter-fat and 60 per cent. total solids—a rather amazing fact when one considers that the milk of an ordinary cow is 4 per cent. butter-fat and a slightly higher proportion of solids. The effect of this extraordinary milk is that the pups' live weight gain is 4 lbs. a day, and during 30 days they will gain 120 lbs. live weight. That is equivalent to the liveweight gain which can be achieved by, for example, an enormous Charolais bullock, and twice the liveweight gain which, on a high level of nutrition, can be achieved by an Aberdeen Angus. It is amazing that a small seal pup can gain at the rate of 4 lbs. a day.

One of the reasons why the pups are starving now is that overcrowding is precluding them from having sufficient of their mothers' milk. They are going to sea in an undernourished condition. Like the salmon which, when it comes back to our own waters, does not eat any more after it has returned, the grey seal pup, when it has gone to sea, loses weight for the first year of its life. Unless it has had the benefit of the extraordinary liveweight gain to which I referred, it has small chance of survival. This is why an overcrowded seal colony can become an unhealthy colony. I have stood among the dead and dying weak- lings and I found it a most depressing experience. This is why I emphasise the importance of a balance in the environment to bring about healthy colonies.

Again, an excessive seal population may upset the balance of nature. When I was trying to escape from one of the bull seals—it was a matter of escaping, for they can bite like anything—I had to run, or try to run, over ground which was indented with puffin holes. There is on these islands one of the largest puffin populations in the country, and if the soil cap is eroded the puffins will not be able to have their natural habitat there. I make those points to emphasise that the balance of nature is delicate and can easily be upset.

Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)

I should like my hon. Friend to clarify one matter which is relevant to Clause 10 of his Bill. We understand that the Fame Islands are the property of the National Trust. Are they also a nature reserve? I am not clear about that.

Mr. Temple

I am not quite sure myself. The Fame Islands are the property of the National Trust, but I am fairly certain that they are not a nature reserve. However, I imagine that the position of the National Trust in relation to the Fame Islands may well be a matter brought up during our debates on the Bill.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

It is true that the Fame Islands belong to the National Trust. They are preserved as a nature reserve in the summer for the birds which nest there, but in the winter that does not apply. I understand that to be the position.

Mr. Temple

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. That is how I understood it, too.

I pay a great personal tribute to Mrs. Grace Hickling for her dedicated work in counting, tagging and tending the seals on the Fame Islands over a long period of years. If it were not for Mrs. Hickling and her work, I should not have been able to give the figures which I have given the House this morning. I have said that the Fame Islands are the property of the National Trust. Although I appreciate the Trust's views, and recognise its difficulties, I consider that the time is at hand for a review of the situation, in the light of recent evidence, in the interest s of a wider conservation policy.

Now, the common seal. The Bill will give much needed protection to the common In June of this year, Lord Cranbrook spoke of the disturbing situation in the Wash, which has been the subject of a study by the University Federation for Animal Welfare. In July, after the passage of the Conservation of Seals Bill in another place, members of the Sea Is Research Unit went to the Wash and also to Shetland especially to study the situation as regards the common seal. There is no doubt in my mind—all the evidence supports this view—that the common seal is today under pressure, and, if we do not bring much-needed protection to this animal, we may lose it for ever as one of the most engaging creatures of our coasts.

In the Shetland area, 800 pups per annum are being taken, and the slaughter of adult seals is increasing. In some areas around Shetland very few pups are surviving at present. To give an example, here are some figures from the coast north of Fitful Head. In 1954, the common seal population was about 300 adults and 91 pups. This year, there are a mere 38 adults and two pups. It is thought that the common seal population has fallen to about one-tenth of what it was 15 years ago. My Bill is urgently needed as a safeguard against the deteriorating situation for the common seal.

Now, I come to the position of fish and fishermen. So far as I know, it has never been controverted that seals are exclusively fish eaters. They consume about two tons per annum per head. United Kingdom seals eat approximately 100,000 tons of fish a year, a considerable mouthful, and the damage which they do to those which they do not necessarily kill is considerable, too. The most affected in the fish world are the salmon and the cod. On the east coast of Scotland, the damage to net fisheries is severe and is, without doubt, increasing. Today, 10 per cent of salmon taken in the coastal nets are found to be damaged by seals, and that proportion has been rising relentlessly in the past few years. No one can say how many salmon are totally eaten. since there is no evidence of that.

A friend of mine in Argyllshire who owns a netting interest has described to me the situation in his sea loch when seals come up the sea loch chasing the salmon. He says that it is an amazing sight when the seals come up the estuary and the salmon are to be seen jumping out of the water; a fantastic furore takes place. As President of the National Council of Salmon Netsmen of England and Wales, I have stood up to my knees in water in the Severn Estuary when the lave netters—they are the ones who use a sort of shrimping net—are at work.

When they see the dorsal fin of a salmon coming towards them, they run round ahead of the salmon, plunge the net into the water, and lift the salmon over their shoulders. I thought to myself how extraordinary it would be if a seal were just following the salmon and one whipped a salmon almost off the nose of the seal.

I give those graphic examples to show how the seal is the natural enemy of the salmon, and I turn now to the effect on white fish.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I am interested in what my hon. Friend is saying, and I wonder whether the view has altered somewhat on this matter. I am, I think, one of the very few hon. Members who have taken part in a British seal hunt. I did it with my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) in the Wash before the war—it was near Blakeney—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Interventions must be reasonably brief.

Mr. Wilson

We took part in the hunt at the request of the local fishermen, who said that the seal—it was the common seal—was doing damage to their fishing. But we got into trouble, or, rather, we were criticised by the Ministry of Agriculture, which maintained that the common seal did not eat marketable fish but went only for dabs and small fish. Is that true?

Mr. Temple

I cannot confirm that. It is an interesting point, but I cannot say for certain, largely because the Seals Research Unit has not so far been able to do quite enough research. However, I agree that the seals eat a lot of small fish which are not necessarily marketable.

Mr. Peter M. Jackson (The High Peak)

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for the admission which I hoped he would make, namely, that there are considerable differences between the dietary habits of the grey seal and the common seal. The common seal is far less damaging to the salmon fishery industry than his argument appeared to suggest until he made that qualification.

Mr. Temple

When describing seals chasing salmon, I used merely the word "seals", I did not say either common or grey seals.

I now turn to the effect of the seal population on the white fish industry. There is a reluctance to mention this matter, but I think that it must be mentioned today. There is no doubt—scientific evidence is very specific—that the seal is the host of the cod worm. It may sound a small matter, but I obtained these figures recently from the Ministry of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food.

The cod catch of our country is half the white fish catch. On 1968 figures, the cod catch is worth £25 million and the cod catch by inshore fishermen is worth £5 million. There is no doubt that the cod worm is increasing in our cod.

I am not going into the life cycle of a cod worm, but it is interesting. The parasitic nematode Possocaecum decipivens has grown rapidly off our East and North coasts. It is a round worm and not a tape worm. The effect on the cod is that if it swallows one of these worms, its flesh is marked with a red streak and it becomes unacceptable on the table.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Member will link what he is saying with the Bill.

Mr. Temple

This is absolutely relevant, Mr. Speaker, because there is no doubt that the infestation of cod worm of our cod off the east coast of Scotland—this is proved by all scientific evidence—has been increasing rapidly and in direct proportion to the increase in the seal population off the east coast of Scotland.

Mr. Peter M. Jackson

Would not the hon. Member admit that the incidence of cod worm is far greater in the Clyde Estuary, where there are no seals, than on the east coast of Scotland, thus demonstrating that there is no positive relationship between the incidence of cod worm and how common or rare the seal population is?

Mr. Temple

I recognise that all this evidence is a bit subjective. On the other hand, I do not know of a substantial cod fish industry based on the Clyde Estuary. My knowledge is that the biggest landings by far are on the east coast of Scotland. Some of my hon. Friends, however, may know a good deal more about the white fish industry than I do. It would be quite wrong for me to go into a long description of the white fish industry at this stage.

I hope that I have explained what I call the general background to the Bill and I now turn to its key Clauses. Clause 1 restricts the methods of killing or taking seals of either species. At present, there is no restriction on methods of killing. The Clause entirely prohibits the use of poisons, with certain provisos. It places an absolute ban on strychnine. It precludes entirely the use of shotguns.

I strongly suspect that when my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson) was hunting he probably used a shotgun. Shotguns are entirely prohibited under the Bill because it might well be that a hunter using a cartridge loaded with comparatively light shot would damage seals without the slightest chance of killing them.

I would, however, mention the minimum calibre of rifle which would be authorised. It is a high-velocity 220 rifle. It would use Hornet ammunition and have a much higher velocity than the rifles which hon. Members use when they go down to the rifle range below this building.

The head of the Seals Research Unit tells me that he has shot elephant seals in the Antarctic with these rifles. They are perfectly effective against seals four times as heavy as the seals which appear around our coasts. I am, therefore, satisfied that that is matter which is right. One has to have regard to the fact that seals are shot on islands which are normally rocky, as distinct from the deer situation, where one uses a large calibre rifle. On those rocky islands, one is apt to get richochets. When using larger rifles, a great deal of damage might be done to people, apart from seals, while shooting takes place.

Clause 2 is, possibly, the key Clause because it establishes the close season during which taking or killing is prohibited, a close season exactly the same as under the 1932 Act for the grey seal of four months and a close season of three months for common seals, which are nothing like as vulnerable. They can almost pup in the water. Therefore, the puppies get protection almost immediatly. A close season for both types of seal round our coasts is, however, an entirely new feature.

Clause 3 gives the Secretary of State power to declare an area a prohibited area after consultation with the N.E.R.C. The object of the Clause—I hope that these provisions will be seldom used—can be seen from the present Wash situation or in situations near to Scroby Sands, I believe it is. There might be an occasion when a prohibited area order would be necessary. Total control would be obtained by the Secretary of State at all times of the year. This provision is what I call a reserve power but it is one which, I think, will be useful. I emphasise that when an area is declared a prohibited area, the licensing provisions would operate.

Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)

I am sorry to take my hon. Friend back to Clause 2, dealing with the close season, but it is linked with Clause 9, which seems to me to read in such a way that killing of seals by fishermen could take place in the close season.

Mr. Temple

That is perfectly true. I shall come to Clause 9 presently.

Clauses 4 to 8 deal with the police powers and penalties. They do not call for much comment. I should, however, explain that in Clause 4 an aspect which slightly worried me was that of arrest and power of search by the police without warrant. These powers, however, are exactly the same as those which are given in the Protection of Birds Act, 1967, and the Deer Act, 1963. I think that they are justified in circumstances of this nature.

Clause 7 extends the power of magistrates to territorial waters. I must admit that when I first saw the term "territorial waters" my mind went to the fishery limits of territorial waters which are 12 miles. I am, however, informed that the territorial limit referred to in the Bill is the three-mile limit. This, again, is something which I have been able to accept and I hope that the House will accept this interpretation.

Clause 8 deals with attempts to commit an offence. If any hon. Member were to say that it would be difficult to enforce the provisions of Clause 8, I would be inclined to agree. On the other hand, I am a countryman and I know that in the remote parts of the world, when a stranger turns up equipped with rifle, seal-shooting equipment and a high-powered speedboat, all the locals would almost immediately prick up their ears and his presence would not be likely to go unnoticed.

Therefore, having regard to the situation which obtains in those parts, the presence of coastguards and also the fishermen around the coast, I think that the presence of anyone who attempted an offence during the close season would soon be noticed. Therefore, the Clause, whilst technically not appearing to be of great use, is a useful provision from a practical point of view.

Clause 9 gives power for the mercy killing and mercy taking of seals. Round our coasts at present—I refer particularly to the situation in North Cornwall—there are seals in distress. They cannot be either killed or taken under present legislation, but under my Bill this will be possible. For mercy reasons it will be possible for them to be killed or taken. For example, if a seal has been run into by the propellor of a vessel and is severely damaged, it will be possible for it to be put away mercifully. This is one provision.

Another provision concerns fishermen and the protection of salmon in nets from seals in the vicinity of those nets. This is justified. Fishermen will be able to take seals in or out of season in the vicinity of nets only if they are attacking the nets or the salmon or whatever fish are in the nets. This is what happens now, but I emphasise that only an authorised weapon can be used.

Mr. Ridley rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that we shall not have too many interventions, as many hon. Members wish to speak.

Mr. Ridley

I just wanted to remind my hon. Friend that it is generally thought that seals which take salmon out of nets are wounded seals. Therefore, I agree with this provision whereby they can be dispatched more easily.

Mr. Temple

I cannot confirm or deny my hon. Friend's intervention. I do not know about that, but I will take his word for it.

Clause 10 is without doubt the key controlling clause of the Bill. It introduces the licensing procedure in the close season. The close season when seals are extraordinarily vulnerable is when they are on land. Otherwise, they are way out to sea and seldom in close proximity to the coast.

The main consideration to the issue of a licence will be whether it is necessary to kill a seal for research or scientific purposes, to take a seal for zoological gardens, or to kill or take seals to protect fisheries and for general conservation reasons. These are the three basic reasons why the Home Secretary in England and Wales or the Secretary of State for Scotland in Scotland would issue licences. However, the N.E.R.C. would have to be consulted before a licence could be issued. Although the Secretary of State will have this responsibility, he will be advised indirectly by the Seals Research Unit and directly by the Natural Environment Research Council. We have a real safeguard here concerning the preservation of seals as a natural feature of our environment, because a licence would specify the actual number of seals which could be taken, the age of the seals, the area from which they could be taken, and it could also lay down the exact weapons which should be used for the taking of those seals.

I emphasise again that poisons should not be used, especially strychnine. I mentioned the provisos, which are that other poisons could in course of time be authorised by the Secretary of State. We have in mind here the possibility of narcotic poisons becoming available and being used in the form of narcotic darts such as are used to take big game in nature reserves in Africa rendering the animal unconscious and thereby being able to be taken for scientific reasons.

There may be advances in this sphere, and I should be loath to have the Bill drawn so tightly that future methods could be ruled out. Therefore, that flexibility is written into the Bill. If it had been written into the provisions governing the control of the recent foot and mouth outbreak it would have been helpful. I have had experience of laying things down too tightly in statutes. Therefore, this is another responsibility which will be in the hands of the Government, as advised, which I think will be useful.

I turn now to Clauses 11 and 12, which were not in the Bill originally presented to the House of Lords by Lord Cranbrook last year. The Government spokesman, on the Second Reading of the Conservation of Seals Bill in another place on 10th June, 1969, drew attention to the need for these powers. They are generally needed to effect counts and possibly culls on private land if the occupiers are deemed to be failing in their conservation duties.

These Clauses are similar to Section 98 and 100 of the Agriculture Act, 1947, in respect of deer, hares, rabbits and other animals. These two Clauses have been discussed with the Fisheries Ministries, the Home Office and the N.E.R.C., and I believe that they are acceptable to all those Departments.

These Clauses would apply to all land in private ownership and would be especially valuable where owners cannot be traced. In some of the remote parts it is almost impossible to trace the ownership of land. They would also be applicable to land in the possession of the National Trust.

I have already referred to the situation in the Ferne Islands. But any authorisation issued under these circumstances would still require a licence under Clause 10, and adequate notice would be given to the owners of private lands so that, if they could carry out the terms of the authorisation, that would be a happy situation and would not need the Minister to intervene.

Clause 13 provides that the Natural Environment Research Council shall provide the Secretary of State with advice concerning seal populations. I can give the House the undertaking that regular counts are now taking place and will continue to take place to guarantee the seals' position in our natural environment.

The rest of the Bill is what I call the usual mechanics, and I do not think that that calls for any detailed comment.

I hope that I have clearly explained the general principles of the Bill. This is possibly the first conservation Measure of this nature ever to be brought before a national assembly. My task has been to reconcile conflicting interests. I hope and trust that my supporters and myself have had some success.

With those thoughts in mind, I have pleasure in commending the Bill to the House.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. Again I remind the House that almost every Member in the Chamber wishes to speak in the debate.

12.08 p.m.

Mr. Peter M. Jackson (The High Peak)

I am happy to give qualified support to the Bill, but I must nevertheless point out to the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) that others are perhaps more critical than I am inclined to be. In fact, one person whom I consulted about the Bill said, "Really, the Bill is a misnomer. It should be described as a Bill for the protection of the salmon fisheries."

The hon. Gentleman has argued that he hay tried to strike, and has struck, a balance; but I have a certain sympathy for that point of view. I think that the hon. Gentleman goes too far, and I hope that he will be prepared to accept certain Amendments in Committee.

The balance hinges on the extent to which seals are regarded as a threat to the fishing industry. I was surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not call in aid the available evidence. He will know the counts which have been undertaken by the Scottish Fisheries Board, and I should like to draw his attention to some of those figures.

I understand that in the period 1952–58, 231,000 salmon and 191,000 grilse were taken. In the period 1959–65, the figures are 233,000 salmon and 218,000 grilse. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman recognises, this represents a marginal increase in salmon landings, and yet over this period there has been a considerable increase in the seal population.

I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the data provided in the report on Scottish fisheries. In 1966 there were 237,000 salmon, grilse and sea trout as against a Fame Islands population of 5,900. In 1967, there were 300,000 salmon, grilse and sea trout landings compared with a seal population of 6,200. These figures are not disputed, and I think that it is incumbent on the hon. Gentleman to account for this increase.

If one accepts the hon. Gentleman's contention, there should be a decrease. I agree that seals are predators, and acknowledge that they cause damage to the fishing industry. The question at issue is whether the damage is on such a scale as to be thought insufferable. In my view, the losses which could be attributed to seals are minimal and should be borne by the industry.

Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

We do not dispute the hon. Gentleman's figures, but surely the crux of the argument is the number of seal-marked fish entering the London market? In 1960, 2 per cent. of all fish entering the London market were seal marked. In 1969, figures collected by Messrs. Barber & Sons, one of the leading salmon factors on the London market, show that 5 per cent. of the total catch sold on the London market was seal-marked.

Mr. Jackson

I am not in a position to dispute the hon. Gentleman's figure, but I ask him whether that is not acceptable. We must make certain sacrifices if we are serious in our intentions to conserve these mammals, and that is a tolerable figure. If he had said that the figure was 20 per cent. or 25 per cent., I should have been far more convinced by his argument.

Hon. Members will have read the debate in the House of Lords and will have seen the suggestion by one noble Lord that the depredations caused to the salmon population are no more than the equivalent of lifting the nets for a quarter of an hour in any one year. That is a significant figure. I see the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) shaking his head. I should not like to say upon what basis that calculation was made, but I assure him that if he refers to the debate in the other place he will see that that was the figure given by Lord Strang, who took a considerable interest in this matter, and one presumes that he went to some trouble to obtain that information. I therefore suggest that this is the size of the problem. I put it to the House that it is not a very great problem, and I therefore wonder whether the powers in the Bill go too far.

I do not intend to discuss the matter in any detail, but I said in my intervention that there was no real evidence to support the hon. Gentleman's contention on the question of lung-worm. The incidence of lung-worm amongst cod fisheries in the Clyde Estuary is far greater than on the East Coast, and, as the hon. Gentleman said, there is no seal problem in the Clyde Estuary. I think that that contention is not supported.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson

Will the hon. Gentleman answer the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple)? Is it a fact that there is a difference between the grey seal and the common seal, and that the common seal does not eat marketable fish, as the Ministry of Agriculture told me in 1938?

Mr. Jackson

That is the information given to me; so this is a problem, not of the common seal, but of the grey seal.

My second point is perhaps directed more at the Minister than at the hon. Member for the City of Chester. It concerns the threat to the salmon population by the use of Greenland nets. My hon. Friend will have noted the point made by many noble Lords about the loss to the salmon fisheries by the indiscriminate use of Greenland nets by Danish fishermen. If we are really concerned, as I am sure we ought to be, about the problems of the salmon industry, this is a matter of far greater concern than the problems created by seals.

I should like to declare an interest. I am on the Executive of the National Trust, and, as the hon. Member for the City of Chester knows, although he did not strictly admit, the National Trust is concerned about the Bill. It has made representations to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that he listened sympathetically, but he appears to have made no concession to the National Trust's view.

Clause 11 deals with the right of entry, and although this is a proposition which might be disputed, I suggest that this Clause has been put in to deal with the problem, so called, of the National Trust being reluctant to give access to the Ministry to undertake culls on the Fames. Some hon. Members will doubtless argue that the Trust is behaving in an unreasonable manner in being relucant to give access, but I remind the House that when this matter was first put to the Council and to the Executive of the Trust in the early 'sixties most of the members of the Council had no strong feelings one way or the other. In fact, I am told by Lord Chorley that he and some others were disposed in favour of a cull, but others argued that we should look at the evidence. The Trust called for the evidence, and it was such that the case in terms of damage to fisheries was not made out. The Trust is therefore reluctant to accept the terms of Clause 11. That was its view having looked at the evidence following the cull of 1963, and that is certainly its position today.

The Trust has no sentimental or emotional objection to a cull if it can be convinced that it is really necessary, and I therefore put it to the House that the onus is on the hon. Gentleman to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Executive that a cull is necessary.

Mr. Ramsden

Surely an important factor must be the public outcry at a cull? If that is so, it should be said, because the House should have the opportunity dispassionately to consider the validity of this kind of thing.

Mr. Jackson

The Trust is a voluntary organisation, and it responds to the wishes of its members. I think that the outcry was proper in that the coast of the Fames was littered with carcases. I hope that the hon. Member for the City of Chester has views on this problem. If a cull is to be undertaken, doubtless the Trust would agree to that in certain circumstances. It is incumbent on the persons executing the cull to dispose of the carcases in a civilised way. The outcry was not because a cull was undertaken, but because of the manner in which it was carried out, and the fact that the carcases were left around to rot.

I put it to the House that 28 days' notice is not enough. This is doubtless a Committee point, but I feel that the Trust and other owners of land are entitled to more notice than that. I hope that we can consider this in Committee.

I am glad that certain methods of killing are to be proscribed, and that we shall no longer be sickened by the use of strychnine. I am not an authority on logistics and I cannot comment on Clause 1(1)(b). It has been put to me that the Clause should be more sophisticated, in that certain types of bullets are appropriate for cubs and not for mature seals. The .22 rifle, which has been indicted so much in the past, will not kill a mature seal beat is adequate to kill cubs. I hope that we can examine that point in Committee.

A more substantial objection to the Clause arises from the fact that it contains no reference to clubbing. I am horrified by this practice. It tends to brutalise the person undertaking the clubbing, and in Committee I shall put down an Amendment relating to it. I hope that the hon. Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) will make some comment upon it later. I should like to know whether this matter has been considered by the promoters, because I want to hear their comments on it. It is a brutal form of killing, and I hope that my Amendment will be accepted in Committee.

In the other House the noble Lord, Lord Burton, drew attention to the use of the crossbow. I gather that crossbows are now being used to shoot and kill seals, especially in Scotland. I am told that they do a lot of damage, but do not necessarily kill the seals. That is another instrument that we might consider including in Clause 1.

Clause 4 refers to the apprehension of offenders. As the hon. Member for the City of Chester has said, we wonder to what extent the Clause will be policed. We know that seals occur in remote parts of Scotland and on the coast of Northumberland, in areas where there are very few policemen. I wonder how many prosecutions there have been under the previous legislation. I would have thought that there were very few. I am sure that no hon. Member would wish the Clause to be a dead letter, and I wonder whether the hon. Member has considered extending the policing powers to coastguards. I am not a lawyer, and such a provision might be technically impossible, but the coastguards are stationed all around our coasts and I would like them to have power to enforce this legislation.

The hon. Member did not comment upon the fact but I think that he will agree that a certain amount of commercial sealing is being and will continue to be undertaken, and in such circumstances I put it to him that the fines that he seeks to impose in Clause 5 are derisory. A fine of £50 is nothing. I am sure that a professional sealer would pay this with impunity. I therefore give the hon. Member notice that in Committee I shall move an Amendment to increase the fines.

Mr. Temple

The hon. Member should recognise that with the fines will go the forfeiture of all the equipment, including the boats used. That is regarded as a fairly heavy penalty in itself.

Mr. Jackson

I take the hon. Member's point, but I hope that he has an open mind about the form of the Amendments which will be put down on this point.

I very much welcome the opportunity taken by the hon. Member in using his high place in the ballot to sponsor the Bill. My speech has been somewhat critical, but I nevertheless welcome the Bill and hope that in Committee he and the Minister will have flexible minds.

12.25 p.m.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) on bringing in the Bill and on the way in which he has done so. The work involved in sponsoring a Bill of this kind is very great. I know something about the matter, having had several years at the Home Office and having had to sit at the opposite end of many such Bills.

I should declare both a general and a particular interest in the matter. I am fond of the recreation of salmon fishing, and I am the fortunate owner of a short length of river in which salmon sometimes appear—although, so far, we have not been worried by seals off the coast of Hampshire.

I venture to trouble the House with an account of a personal experience in this matter. Some years ago I took part in an expedition for the purpose of killing a seal. A complaint had been received that it was doing damage to fishing—and, in particular, to some nets—in the Scilly Isles. I went out with the expedition to try to get rid of the seal. We went in a boat and we saw a seal in the neighbourhood where we expected it. It disappeared on seeing the boat. We left one of our number, armed with a fairly substantial rifle, concealed on a small rocky island, and we went away. The expedition was wholly unsuccessful.

My only reason for mentioning the episode is that it showed me two things fairly clearly. The first was that an attempt to kill a seal casually, with a rifle, can easily result in wounding rather than killing the seal. The other was that it is very difficult to enforce restrictions against the killing of seals unless those who are affected by them broadly approve of the restrictions.

If a Bill of this kind is to be at all effective it must carry the broad consent of those who are directly concerned with seals and with the damage that they are either doing or are thought to do. I have no expert knowledge of the subject, and I have no personal knowledge of seals, but I am sure that there is no simple solution to the problem.

We cannot deal precisely with the problems involved by means of an Act of Parliament. We cannot say, "We shall allow so many seals to be killed", or, "Not more than so many seals are to be taken." In considering a problem which involves a conflict between scientific, humane and commercial interests one always finds that there is no ultimate solution which satisfies everybody—and there never will be. There has to be some balance between the interests involved. That balance can be only a temporary one, at best, because the tastes of those who are commercially interested, the climate, and international circumstances involving the actions of other Governments, and so on, are always changing. Therefore, what is necessary is a flexible measure to deal with the situation in a broad way by simply laying down the general method. In this respect, the Bill is right.

Many worthy people say that we should not interfere with nature at all. Some of my constituents take that view. Living within five miles of this place, they do not know the practical difficulties of the situation. To them, the seal is a beautiful animal which does them no harm, so they do not want him killed. They think that, if there are too many, nature will solve the problem, perhaps even in the way my hon. Friend described.

But we cannot help interfering with nature. We should be interfering even if the Bill were nothing more than a preservation Bill because the natural predator of the seal has always been man. If we were forbidding the killing of seals, there would be a considerable increase in numbers. There has undoubtedly been an increase in the depradations. Evidence is very hard to get, and I do not suppose that conclusive scientific evidence is possible. However, I have here some figures supplied by a well-known firm of salmon fishers and merchants on the east coast of Scotland. These figures are certainly true for that firm.

All those who engage in salmon fishing know that from time to time they get fish which are seriously wounded, perhaps with deep gashes in their sides, and no one doubts that those wounds are the result of the fish escaping from the clutches—if that is the right word—of a seal.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

My hon. Friend will bear in mind that otters are known to inflict similar damage to salmon.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

This may be true, but when salmon are taken in or near the estuary of a river, it is fairly conclusive that those wounds cannot have been inflicted by otters and that, therefore, nothing but seals could have been responsible.

These figures relate to salmon damaged in this way, taken in the nets either in or just above salt water. The figures are all for the month of April. In 1965 there were 4 per cent., in 1966 6.1 per cent., in 1967 6.9 per cent., in 1968 7.4 per cent., and in 1969 10.3 per cent. Those are striking figures, showing the steady growth of this kind of damage just when there has been a substantial increase of grey seals in this area. There is little doubt that the damage is due to the increasing number of seals.

Of course, the figures are not conclusive. The area is a limited one, circumstances like the water can alter the situation and there are other factors, but there is practically no doubt that there is an increase in depradations by seals of the salmon of the whole country. That was stated pretty well categorically by the Secretary of State for Scotland in a written reply on 21st July last, in which he spoke of the increased activity of seals at the netting stations and also of the increased infestation of cod by codworm, which he attributes, as everyone does, to the increase in the number of seals.

The hon. Member for the High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) was inclined to suggest that the Bill was wholly friendly to the salmon and against the interests of the seals, but he did less than justice to my hon. Friend. The Bill's result may be friendly to the salmon and unfriendly to the grey seal in a particular way, but the common seal is totally unprotected at the moment, so this is the first defence that a large section of seals has ever had.

My hon. Friend estimated the damage at about 10 to 15 lb. of fish per day per seal, which is a loss of about 100,000 tons of fish as a whole—not just salmon—around our coasts in a year. The damage to the salmon fisheries has been estimated at between £50,000 and £100,000, which is probably a conservative estimate, although one could never ascertain the total damage precisely, however careful the research. What is certain is that great damage is done to the fishing industry as a whole, and to the salmon fishing industry, having regard to its size.

If the ordinary people could see seals doing the damage they do, and if seals were readily amenable to the ordinary means of control and destruction, I am sure that they would have suffered the same fate as the wolf. One reason why they have survived is that they are remote and not generally seen by people and recognised for the damage-doers that they are.

For this reason, the Bill is sensible and reasonable. It enables a reasonable balance to be drawn between the different interests involved. There is a fair case for control of all seals but this Bill will draw a just line. Slight alterations may be necessary in Committee, but I hope that the Bill will reach the Statute Book in good time.

12.39 p.m.

Dr. Hugh Gray (Yarmouth)

I congratulate the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. John M. Temple) on having introduced an extremely balanced Bill. The inshore fishermen of Yarmouth were at first alarmed by its Title, but once they become aware of its contents I am sure that they will no longer be so. I am also extremely glad that the hon. Gentleman has directed his attention not to salmon fishing alone but to fishing in general.

Ever since I became Member for Yarmouth I have continually received representations from differing interests concerning the seals on Scroby Sands. First, I have received representations from the entertainment industry, which is concerned with taking tourists out to Scroby Sands to see the seals. Secondly, there are the naturalists who are rightly perturbed at the way in which the seals have been killed. I hesitate to say that they have been killed by fishermen because when I said on television that it was common knowledge that this killing had been done by inshore fishermen, the Secretary of the Inshore Fishermen's Association properly pointed out that there was no proof of that; there was proof only that the seals had been killed. I have, of course, received representations from the representatives of the inshore fishermen themselves.

At this point I mention that the inshore fishermen hold that the common seals take fish, particularly cod. The hon. Member for the High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) made the point that common seals do not take salmon. I cannot prove my point but I can assure the House that fishermen have continually told me that seals kill fish, and Mr. Moore, of the Inshore Fishermen's Association, has shown fish on the Anglia Television programme in Norwich which have been mauled not by grey seals but by common seals. The colony of seals on Scroby Sands is mixed, with a predominance of common seals. These seals are viewed by fishermen as predators.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson

Has there been any dissection to find out whether the common seal takes the fish? The expendition which I mentioned dissected seals and found no evidence of that.

Dr. Gray

I am simply repeating the allegation made by inshore fishermen who showed fish which they alleged had been bitten and damaged by common seals. There is no other evidence of this known to me. I hope that the Minister will tell us exactly what investigations have been made to ascertain whether common seals take fish.

Mr. Temple

Is the hon. Member not aware that the seal's digestion is so fast that any evidence of the type of fish—or, indeed, whether it was a fish—dissolves almost immediately inside the seal and there is, therefore, no hard evidence of the fish which it has eaten a few moments before.

Dr. Gray

I thank the hon. Member. What he said supports the case of the fishermen. The fishermen maintain that seals are predators. When one talks to fishermen about the activities of seals one receives the impression that on the coast of Great Yarmouth there are two rival groups of fishermen operating—or rather, that there are fishermen who operate there, on the one hand, and a gang of skilful poachers, on the other, who, according to the fishermen are almost equally successful.

In the representations which I have received from people who object to the culling that has taken place by individuals, it is sometimes forgotten that on one occasion the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food accepted its responsibility to carry out a cull. That cull was a total failure, and it excited derision throughout the whole of Norfolk. The Ministry did not consult local naturalists or local offshore fishermen before they organised the cull, and, indeed, both naturalists and fishermen told me before the cull took place that it would be a failure on the basis on which the Ministry organised it. That failure was not perhaps surprising because the expedition was accompanied by television cameras and an enormous number of national Press men. As fishermen pointed out, seals are extremely intelligent, and they immediately realised what was happening and they all disappeared. Since then unofficial culling has continued, and this is extreme unsatisfactory.

On one or two occasions bodies of seals have been washed up which have sown the signs of having been clubbed, and, therefore, it was with considerable interest that I noticed the point made by the hon. Member for the High Peak. Although most seals which have been unofficially killed have been shot, there have been incidents which have excited deep distress among my constituents, and I hope that this is a point which we shall discuss in Committee.

I particularly welcome Clause 10 because I hope that it will lead in the future to a situation in which a scientific cull is carried out and that there will be discussions with local interests—which there were not on the last occasion. I hope that people will be authorised to undertake the culls in private and not in public.

Just as the Bill strikes a balance, I think that off the coast of Great Yarmouth, at Scorby Sands, we must hold a balance between maintaining this colony of seals and culling them in the interests of offshore fishermen who make their living in this way. They are the last fishermen left in Yarmouth, once a predominantly fishing town. As I walk through the corridors of the House hon. Members often ask me. "How is the fishing?". There is no fishing now in Great Yarmouth except by those inshore fishermen, and we must pay due regard to the fact that they are earning their livelihood in this way. We must protect both them and the seals.

12.47 p.m.

Sir Robert Grant-Ferris (Nantwich)

Before coming to my main point, I should first like to say to my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) how much all those who want to see a balanced seal population support him in his Bill. I should like to emphasise something he said this morning, because I can corroborate it from my own personal experience.

My hon. Friend spoke of the effect of seals upon fish when they are gathered together, and the wounding which takes place, in a great measure to fish which the seals have no intention whatever of eating. I was navigating my vessel one day in the beautiful Loch Sunart, at the head of which the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) intends so wisely to spend his retirement. I handed the vessel over to someone else as the sea was calm and there was no wind, and I went below for a few moments.

I was called back suddenly by the man at the wheel to see the whole state of the Loch in a tremendous flurry. Fish were jumping about everywhere and one very fine salmon hit the top of my taff-rail near the cockpit and left a bloodstained patch on the white paint. Other fish were rising. The fear among fish at the sudden appearance of seals has to be seen, as it was by me, to be believed. It is small wonder that the fishermen are very concerned that there should be proper control of the seal population.

I wish to speak briefly on what I know is a very unpopular theme indeed—and it will do me no good to talk about it. But I feel that in all honesty one must speak the truth about these things. In spite of any emotions one must deal with the proper conservation of animal life in the best and most painless way.

I wish to deal particularly with a subject which the hon. Member for the High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) mentioned in his speech, although he passed quickly from it. I refer to the clubbing of seals. There are few issues which raise more emotion than that, but to my mind these emotions are often wrongly roused. If one takes the trouble to follow the debate in another place in the last Session one sees that it was abundantly proved by those most qualified to speak, by those who have made a study of the problem—the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton; the right reverend Father in God, the Bishop of Norwich; and the proposer of the Bill, the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook—that this was the most effective way of dealing with the problem. They were under no illusions about it. They recognised that the most effective way of dealing with the seal population was to take the pups during the breeding season and to deal with them there and then.

On the face of it, that seems abhorrent to all kind people. But is it? We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester exactly what is the situation—and it is a situation which arises with the utmost regularity, to within a matter of days, every year. At that time the young seal is most susceptible to being dealt with efficiently and expeditiously by the use of a properly designed club. With great respect to the hon. Member for the High Peak, whose personal courage is so well known in the House that it needs no commendation from me, it would be wrong for the Minister in Committee to accept an Amendment which precluded the use of this method. Indeed, I should like him to go further and to say expressly that the method could be used, subject to a licence which he would give to his own officers or would delegate to responsible associations or societies connected with the problem. He should say that the problem should be dealt with in that way at that time.

The skull of the young seal at that time is extremely brittle, and it will yield immediately to a blow. The seal will die as quickly as it is possible for us to make anything die. Those of us who have had anything to do with agriculture know that if one wring's a chicken's neck the chicken will sometimes run about for a short time afterwards because of muscular reflexes. No doubt the same thing would happen with a seal but that does not mean that it is not dead; it is stone dead.

The Canadian Government, who are as much concerned with this problem as we are, if not more concerned, have had no hesitation whatever in making this method of dealing with the seal population completely legal. I noticed that Mr. P. I. Hughes, General Manager of the Ontario Humane Society, visited the Canadian sealing operation near Magdalen Island and reported: We checked hundreds of skulls. We came to the conclusion that where the young seal had been struck a blow on the top of the head the skull was completely shattered and the brain destroyed. We noticed a very definite and sometimes extensive post-mortem involuntary muscular reaction. In other words, the seals after they were dead, wriggled for an unusual length of time. Reaction of this sort is common in animals. What was uncommon with seals was the length of time that the reaction lasted … The young seals have a two-inch covering of blubber which commences at the back of the head. There is no blubber to speak of on top of the skull itself. The skull is brittle and shatters easily". I do not want to belabour this point or to take up the time of the House unduly, but I felt that someone had to say these things, however unpopular they may be. I am sure that all hon. Members will accept my honesty in saying them and will understand when I say that this is the method which should be adopted.

Mr. Peter M. Jackson

May I draw the hon. Member's attention to a recent news item in The Times

Mr. Speaker

It must be a brief intervention. The hon. Member has made his speech and he cannot make a second speech by means of an interjection.

Mr. Jackson

I did not intend to make a second speech, Mr. Speaker. I wish to draw the hon. Member's attention to a news item in The Times of 13th November in which it was reported that there is a new Canadian ruling stating that pups cannot be killed for three years—until they can escape.

Sir R. Grant-Ferris

I am at a loss to understand that without studying the news cutting. I do not know what is the purpose of that proposal. But I know for a fact that if the pup, at a very young stage on land, is struck a blow on the head, it will be killed immediately.

I cannot accept that this has a brutalising effect. It is no more brutalising than the butcher in the slaughter house who is dealing with cattle which we shall all eat later as meat.

Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)

My hon. Friend mentioned butchers' slaughter houses. Is it not possible, if one gets close enough to club a young pup, to use a humane killer?

Sir R. Grant-Ferris

That may be so, but these humane killers are not inexpensive. Human nature being what it is, what will happen if a fisherman who is out in his boat finds a seal marauding his nets? What will he do? There are very good reasons why he should not carry a rifle in a small boat which is rocking about. He might put a hole through the boat or be knocked overboard by the recoil. That is not a feasible method. What will he do? He will hit at the seal as hard as he can with his oar, which is a totally unsuitable instrument for doing the job. Would it not be much better for him to possess a type of instrument approved by the Minister so that he can do the job at any rate with the greatest possible chance of success.

We all know the difficulties which we experience when we begin to deal with questions of economics, humanity and science at the same time. But we must keep a sense of proportion. I felt it only right to draw this matter to the attention of the House so that when the Bill is taken in Committee the Minister will give it his attention. I hope that the Minister will not include in the Bill the kind of Amendment which the hon. Member for the High Peak would like, but, instead, will consider an Amendment which will make it possible to use the most humane method of preserving the seal population.

1.0 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Sir R. Grant-Ferris) raised the question of clubbing because all expert evidence shows that a blow on the head is probably the kindest way of despatching a young seal pup. Whether or not this can be done by a humane killer, I do not know, but I trust that the matter will be investigated.

One of the most important features of the Bill lies in its Title, and particularly in the use of the word "conservation". It is now widely recognised that conservation is an international duty, not only from the scientific point of view, because of the need to preserve wild life and because of the strong feelings among animal lovers, but because conservation can result in considerable economic benefit.

I recall seeing a film called "Africa Addis" which contained some horrifying scenes of many square miles of bush littered with the hones of slaughtered wild animals following the declaration of independence of an East African country. Fortunately, changes have occurred rapidly and most countries in that part of the world now realise that conservation can be a tangible asset, particularly for tourism. I also remember visiting a restaurant in San Francisco, the fame—and no doubt the profits—of which was due to it being situated opposite a rock where seals gathered.

In dealing with the question of the conservation of seals, we must heed the strong feelings of animals lovers and the general indignation that is aroused by reports that appear in the newspapers. For example, in the Sunday Telegraph of 13th July last there was an article under the heading, "Wounded seals swim away to die." A week later another article appeared headed, "400 baby seals shot in Wash". The Daily Express carried a story headed, "The Killers of Thief Sands…". These articles are bound to arouse indignation in us all.

It is for this reason that the common seal must share the protection which has been given to the grey seal since 1932. It was obvious that the grey seal needed protection more than the common seal. After all, it takes about four weeks for grey seal pups to migrate into the water, where they are reasonably safe. But at a time when baby seal skin is fetching between £5 and £10, there is obviously a temptation to exploit the common seal in the three days during which the pup remains on land before entering the water.

The despatch of seals can be obtained by one of three methods; by official culls, by professional killers and by the amateur. When they are killed in professional culls, death is brought about by the use of either a rifle or a club. Professional hunters use the same methods, although sometimes they run down baby seals in speed boats, which cannot be considered a pleasant form of death.

But it is the amateur whom this legislation will affect most. I refer to those who use shotguns against seals, wound them but do not secure their death. It is this action that we wish to prohibit, and that is what the Bill is designed to do. In other words, the Bill is designed to check cruelty and mass killing. It will do so by the control of weapons and by creating a close season to protect common seal pups while they are most vulnerable; that is, while they are on land before taking to the water.

As to whether there should be official culls, it is worth recalling that my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) pointed out the need for balanced legislation. On one side there is the need to conserve these mammals—together with the feelings of animal lovers and the desire to end cruelty—and, on the other, we must consider the damage that seals do to fisheries.

Seals affect our inshore fishing interests in three ways: first, by eating the fish; secondly, by interfering with nets; and, thirdly, by passing on the infestation of codworm.

Mr. Ramsden

My hon. Friend has distinguished between killing or culling by seal hunters and official cullers, by which I take it he means culling done by Ministry officials. Does he consider that to be a valid distinction? It is important to recognise that under the Bill official culls may be undertaken by professional hunters working under licence.

Mr. Wall

I am pleased that my right hon. Friend mentioned that point, because it is obvious that I have not expressed myself with sufficient clarity. I agree that official culls have often been undertaken by professionals licensed by the Ministry. There are, in addition, professional sealers who go out to kill baby seals for profit and without considering whether or not there is a need for a cull. Without legislation, there will not be a close season and there will not be any restriction on the activities of this type of professional sealers.

It is estimated that an adult seal eats about one stone of fish a day. In previous debates on this on a similar bill in another place—I am thinking particularly of the debate which took place in the House of Lords on 1st July last—a Government spokesman said that the salmon industry lost between £50,000 and £100,000 a year because of the amount of salmon eaten by seals. He also said that seals ate up to 100,000 tons of salmon and white fish every year.

There is, however, another side to the story. Hon. Members will readily call to mind the controversial cull in the Fame Islands in 1964. But I understand that the earnings of salmon fisheries in the North East area have increased by about five times since then. [HON. MEMBERS: "And prices."] I agree that prices have increased, particularly since 1964, but I do not think that they have gone up by five times.

It was also pointed out in the debate in the Lords on 1st April that seals ate cod and that cod ate small haddock and whiting. Thus, if one eliminates cod one may have more haddock and whiting. I mention this only to show how difficult it is to prove the case scientifically one way or the other, and this is why a balance must be maintained by the Bill.

Reports from salmon netting stations show a large increase in the number of seals near nets and many instances of seals causing damage to salmon. I noted that my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester pointed out that the amount of damage done to salmon by seals had increased by about 10 per cent. in recent years. This matter is dealt with in Clause 8.

Mr. Temple

I said that the present seal damage caused to salmon in coastal nets was estimated to be 10 per cent. It was my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) who said that the figure had gone up from 4 to 10 per cent. in recent years.

Mr. Wall

I am grateful for that intervention, which, in any event, shows that the interference to salmon fishing nets is on the increase.

Codworm has a great effect on white fish. Seals are known to be the only definitive host of codworm in British waters. This parasite gets into the cod and eats its flesh, although this does not make the fish dangerous for human consumption, the fish takes on a poor appearance and no housewife looking at a fish infected with this parasite would purchase it. The result is that quite a lot of cod must be withdrawn from the market because of infection.

I understand that the seal eats the cod which may be infected with this bug and that the bug is passed out of the seal in its excreta on to the sea bed where it infects the plankton which is, in turn, eaten by the cod. Thus, if one removes the host or carrier one breaks the cycle, and this could reduce the scale of infestation of cod. I am told that there is considerable evidence to show a marked increase in the number of cod infected by this parasite since the end of the war, especially off the coast of Scotland.

Indeed, a recent report said: The loss to merchants from worm-infested cod cannot readily be measured, but this is a problem which is increasingly affecting all branches of the industry. After pointing out that the housewife would not buy marked cod, the report continued: As nearly half of the fish eaten in the United Kingdom is cod, it is in the interests of both the public and the fish trade that an effort be made to stop the growth of this infestation and, if possible, to reverse the trend. That is the third way in which seals can damage the fishing industry.

I stress again the need for the balance between the animal lovers and the conservationists who want to preserve the seal, and the damage seals do to the inshore fishing industry, and I believe that the Bill strikes the right balance. It is a conservation Measure that allows for culls. There have been culls in the Orkneys each year from 1962 until 1967, and in the Fame Islands from 1963 to 1965, when they were stopped. Since then, the seal population there has grown to about 6,000.

The result of stopping the cull is referred to in a report in the Fish Trades Gazette of October, 1968, which reads: Fishermen in north Northumberland could decide to take the law into their own hands and kill grey seals in a brutal and savage fashion if the National Trust persist in refusing to allow further culls of the animals on the nature reserve of the Fame Islands. Neither I nor, I am sure, other hon. Members, would support that violent language, and I quote it only to show that the subject of conservation and culls arouses emotions on both sides.

Clause 11 proved controversial in another place. The Government spokesman said: In my speech in the Second Reading debate, I drew attention to the need for some provision in the Bill for powers of access, to enable seals to be counted and observed for research purposes, and destroyed in the interests of management and fisheries protection."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 1st July 1969; Vol. 303, c. 466.] Those words very clearly show that the Government insist on this entry Clause, not only for the reasons there stated but for the protection of seals by the avoidance of overcrowding.

We must have common treatment all round our coasts; the kind of treatment that has been evidenced in similar legislation dealing with pests such as rabbits, deer and hares. In other words, this Measure is a compromise, and the price to be paid for the protection of the common seal is in a provision such as this entry Clause, to which a number of people, certainly in my constituency, have very strongly objected.

The Report of the University Federation of Animal Welfare has called for the protection of the common seal and this Bill also has the approval of the National Environment Research Council. My hon. Friend is to be congratulated on producing a Bill which can be supported by both sides to the controversy, but if the balance is destroyed one side or the other will object very strongly. That will make the Bill very difficult to implement so, in commending it to the House, I repeat that the balance must be preserved if the Measure is to have the full effect which I believe the whole House would wish.

1.15 p.m.

Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)

This Bill, so ably introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple), is by all agreed to be a very suitable subject for a full Friday's debate, because one sees that there are many different sides to it and many different interests represented. My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) has rightly said that this Bill is a balance between interests. Who better than he to know the particular problems of the fishermen in the white fish trade? How many times have we heard him speak on Bills concerning that industry.

It is important here to confess one's interest; first of all, one's own commercial interest, if one can call it that, and, secondly, one's personal interest. If one is a salmon fisherman and is able to get away from one's Parliamentary duties here and in the constituency for two or three days in the year, as some of us can, one has a particular commercial interest.

If, like my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), and myself, one owns a stretch of river with salmon coming up it one must, again, confess an interest. Although that part of the river may be 100 miles from the sea and one's constituents live 40 miles down the river, one has a decided interest as to who catches the salmon. If the citizens of Hereford catch all the salmon down there, the fish do not come up to the Wye Valley, so perhaps I should keep quiet on this point!

For most of my life I have had an interest in salmon fishing, and I have worked on the Wye River Board, which is now the Wye River Authority. There are numbers of seals round the Welsh coast and in the Bristol Channel—one can see them in Cardigan Bay and off the coast of Pembrokeshire—but the great weight of the grey seal population is off the Hebrides, off the coast of Scotland, and off the Fame Islands in Northumberland.

I welcome the Bill because I believe it to be an effort to combine the interests of the commercial fishermen—not just the riparian owners and rod fishermen, but the people who catch fish in nets on the high seas. The conditions in which those fish are caught and in which these men work are very different from the conditions in the House of Commons. As my hon. Friend took us in imagination to the rocks, the tides and the waves of Northern Scotland and Fame Islands, one was transported to a very different world.

My personal interest is different. It is increasingly felt by the population that we have a great responsibility for caring for the various species of animals and birds, and of other life, which exist in this country. This was very forcibly and well brought out by the Lord Bishop of Norwich, speaking in another place. It was one of the best speeches in that Second Reading debate and, if I may say so, it does the Church immense good when a man of this sort, who has lived a roughish life in the Antarctic on more than one occasion, can state the balance, as he did, with such depth and feeling.

Discussing the extent and intensity of suffering, he said that we have to take every practical step to reduce suffering in animals to a minimum. He went on: I say this for two reasons: first, out of a consideration for the creatures as part of God's creation which are placed under our responsible care; and, secondly, because it is dehumanising and, indeed thuggish for man to inflict unnecessary suffering on animals. People need to be re-related into the state of responsible compassion towards Nature especially where, as in the case of seal pups, Nature is at its most vulnerable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 10th June, 1969; Vol. 302, c. 596] I do not think that the noble Prelate could have put it better.

Most of us during our lives, both in peace and in war, have had occasion to cause suffering to human beings and to animal life. The older we get the more we regret that. It is a fact of human life, perhaps, that the older one gets the less one wishes to kill and the more careful one is about harming other humans or animals. I think the reason for this regret is that we increasingly feel responsible for sustaining life and avoiding unnecessary pain.

This is what lies behind the intense feeling that most people have, as we have seen in the debates in the past week on the agonising wars taking place in Vietnam. Nigeria and the Middle East. Those feelings are very closely allied in human nature. There is a deep feeling that human misery and pain should be reduced to the minimum.

My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice said that some of his constituents feel very strongly about this. We read in the newspapers about what happens to seals washed up on the Cornish coast. It is not for nothing that newspaper proprietors use pictures of seals on the front pages of their newspapers. No doubt there are other things of greater international interest, but they have to sell their papers and they know what the British people are thinking. Anything that concerns animal welfare goes to many people's hearts today.

It is our job in this House to try to strike a balance among the interests of sea fishermen, naturalists, the sealers and seals themselves. It can be properly said that in relation to this Bill seals are uppermost in our minds. I think the Bill gets the balance about right. It gives the Secretary of State power to cull seals and to keep them in reasonable numbers in various areas. It specifies the methods which must be used if and when seals have to be killed. It also places on the Natural Environment Research Council the duty of giving to the Secretary of State scientific advice without which no Government could carry out a balanced programme of conservation.

I will limit my remarks to two particular aspects of the Bill, first the type of methods which may or may not be used to kill seals, and secondly, methods which should be used by the Natural Environment Council to mark seals without which a real scientific advice and research cannot be complete. Both these matters concern suffering and how best to limit it.

With other hon. Members, I strongly support the provision in Clause 1(a) to prevent the use of poisons to kill or take fish. It is quite remarkable that this provision has not come forward a long time ago. It is remarkable that in 1969 it is still possible to use strychnine for poisoning these animals. It is the most deadly and persistent poison known to man. When I was a boy strychnine was used fairly widely in the countryside and it may still be used to worm moles. It was used to poison certain winged vermin. This was a very bad practice which should never have been carried out.

I remember a terrifying story about strychnine. A young man put strychnine in a dead rabbit and hung it in an outhouse. There were two or three clean rabbits also hanging in the outhouse. He was suddenly called away about 12 noon and as he went out he shouted something to his wife which she did not properly hear. The end of the story was that the woman took the wrong rabbit and cooked it for lunch and she and her three children were dead when that young man came back.

Strychnine is the most persistent and vile poison and its use must be stopped certainly in dealing with seals. It can infect marine life. A damaged salmon might be picked up by a person or an animal and it could be poisoned. I am sorry to horrify the House with this story, but it is important that the full bestiality of strychnine should be understood.

An hon. Friend has referred to the use of narcotic poisons. We have to be very careful, because if we legislate to accept narcotic poisons we have to remember that they are extremely dangerous. Veterinary surgeons and other people might use them to knock out a seal for a period for any purpose of research or zoological demand but everyone should be careful about using narcotics.

I come to the question of which weapon should or should not be used if and when seals have to be killed. I do not altogether agree with what some hon. Members have said about the use of clubs. If one is lucky enough to get a day's fishing and to catch a salmon one of the most difficult things to do is to put that salmon out of pain by hitting it on the head as quickly and as hard as possible. Often there is no big stone handy. I know of anglers who use a heavily loaded bludgeon to hit a salmon or pike on the head. Probably at the first stroke the fish may be put out of pain. There could be occasions on a rocky shore where the use of rifles would be extremely dangerous because of the ricochet of the bullet.

The seal may be near to a static fishing net, or it may be wounded and one wishes to put it out of its misery and it might be utterly impossible to use a rifle. I hope that when we consider the Bill in Committee my hon. Friend will not entirely overlook the fact that a rifle cannot always be used to finish the job.

I come to the question of the rifles. I have here an interesting paper concerning tae whole question of the size of shot and of muzzle energy. Under the 13ill the muzzle energy required is to be not less than 600 footpounds. There may be some disagreement in the House as to what energy is required. It depends entirely on the type of seal being dealt with, whether an adult or a pup. For an adult seal a reasonably large and heavy rifle is required and I doubt whether a muzzle energy of 600 foot-pounds is sufficient.

The Canadians, dealing with the much larger Harp seal, insist on a considerably larger rifle with a greater muzzle energy. I accept that .22 rifles and anything less than 600 footpounds are unacceptable and suggest that it should even be considered whether a slightly larger rifle is necessary.

Mr. Kimball

Does not my hon. Friend agree that it is not the muzzle velocity but the footpoundage with which the bullet hits its target? If there is a good footpoundage it is possible to tell whether the animal is wounded because it gives a good jump. If it is hit with a high muzzle velocity but a low footpoundage it is rot possible to tell whether it is hit.

Mr. Gibson-Watt

I expect my hon. Friend is right. I have never shot at a. seal and hope I never have to do so. With the outlawing of any other form of weapon, one is limiting oneself to a rifle with one bullet. Anyone can hit a seal when it is motionless. On the land it is so simple that a duffer could not miss. Shooting at a seal in the sea is another matter. The boat is going up and down and so is the sea. The use of a shotgun with BB or SG should not be outlawed. This may be abhorrent to some people and some of my hon. Friends may ask if there is not a danger of such weapons being misused.

Sir George Sinclair (Dorking)

Clause 1(2) allows the Secretary of State to make any variation that he may wish as to the calibre and type of weapons used as experience shows advisable. This point can be clearly made in Committee.

Mr. Gibson-Watt

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out. The fact that there is this provision in the Bill supports my argument and convinces me that I am not adducing an alien argument.

A good deal of scientific work has been done on marking. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester referred to the great work done by Mrs. Grace Hickling on marking seals on the Fame Islands. There are three methods of making—hot branding, which I do not like, freeze branding, or tagging. [An HON. MEMBER: "And dyeing."] That may be possible: I do not know. Most of us have experience in the marking of animals, such as cattle, with a hot brand. Very few of us have experience of freeze branding. Tagging is normally used on farms to mark cattle, sheep, and sometimes pigs.

On the question of which method should be used, hot branding is a very painful method, although the pain would be of short duration. I have not sufficient experience of freeze branding, but I would think that it is less painful to an animal like the seal than hot branding. To tag, it would be necessary to catch the animal, which is reasonably easy when it is in the pup stage but it would be impossible to tag adult seals.

A significantly tagged animal becomes conspicuous to other members of its own species and there may be occasions when such an animal will receive undue attention from other members of its own species. The question of marking is undoubtedly one on which the Natural Environment Council will do much research work.

The Bill will undoubtedly help fishermen and the common seal. It should show that Parliament has regard for a balance in these matters. It combines regulation, conservation and humanity, and I wish it well.

1.38 p.m.

Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)

Most of the Wash lies within my constituency. The Wash is where a great deal of the so-called seal hunting takes place. Since becoming the Memfor the County of Holland, I have acquired the pleasure of walking down to the mouth of the River Nene and, from a point beyond where the two lighthouses stand bestriding the river, watching the common seal diving and rolling in the sea.

I am glad that so far, at least, no hon. Member has sought to malign those of my constituents that carry out so-called seal hunting. It is done in the main by shooting. I hope that the House will take the view that shooting by almost any weapon is not necessarily the most humane method of killing a seal, as it is not necessarily the most humane method of destroying any creature. It may not be particularly difficult to kill a seal outright when it is static, but it is impossible to guarantee killing a moving seal. Seals move very quickly. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) likened them to torpedoes.

I am concerned particularly about the Long Title of the Bill. It puts the intention of the Bill quite shortly, namely, to Provide for the protection and conservation of seals in England and Wales and Scotland and in the adjacent territorial waters. I believe that that choice of words may put the whole cause of conservation of seals in some danger. As we know, nations are not united in what constitutes territorial waters. In the United Kingdom, territorial waters mean a limit of three miles from the coast. A case was argued on behalf of the United Kingdom, known as the Anglo-Norwegian Fisheries case, and in 1951 it was taken to the International Court of Justice, where it was argued on behalf of this country that territorial waters were waters within a three-mile line following the sinuosities of the coast at low-water mark, except in the case of bays wider than 10 miles base line drawn across the point where it narrows to 10 miles.

That particular definition, which was pressed on behalf of the United Kingdom at the International Court of Justice, has a very important bearing upon the common seals in the Wash. The Wash, at its mouth from Gibraltar Point to Gore Point, is 12 miles across, and, therefore, wider than the definition of a bay. From Gibraltar Point by Wainfleet Swatchway down to Clay Hole, on the mouth of the Haven, the distance is 14 miles. If one goes across from there to the base of the Wash to Bulldog Sand it is 13½ miles even at low tide. From Bulldog Sand to Gore Point is 12 miles. The narrowest part of the Wash, which is between Stubborn Sand and Wrangle Flats, is just over 10 miles. The significance of these distances is that there is a great part of the centre of the Wash which will be outside the scope of this Bill.

Mr. Ramsden

Under the Clean Rivers (Estuaries and Tidal Waters) Act, 1960, which I had the honour to introduce in this House, if my recollection is correct, according to the Schedule, by drawing a line between the two seaward extremities of the Wash, the whole of the Wash is an estuary. I am taxing my memory at the moment, but I think that that is correct, and if it is an estuary it must fall within the definition of territorial waters.

Mr. Body

I am not sure about that. With all respect to my right hon. Friend—I must not quarrel with his experience of that Measure—I must be guided to some extent by the definition of territorial waters as argued by the United Kingdom in the case to which I have referred.

This point may be argued in some courts in this country in the future and I hope that the sponsors of the Bill will take a course which will enable us to arrive at a precise definition. There is in the centre of the Wash a bank known as Roaring Middle, and upon that bank many seals are to be found. If this definition of territorial waters is accepted, it must mean that seals on Roaring Middle will be outside the protection of the Bill.

Mr. Temple

I had experience of the principal Act, 1963, concerning river authorities, and I can confirm that it is extraordinarily difficult to draw the seaward boundaries for anything. There are all kinds of seaward boundaries, as there are all kinds of different limits for territorial waters. But, in fact, for the purpose of this Bill, territorial waters are waters within a three-mile limit and no other limit.

Mr. Body

I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)

May I intervene to say that I am having this interesting matter investigated. While the hon. Gentleman was right in his interpretation of territorial waters, I suspect that there is something—indeed, more than something—in the point that the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) mentioned. I am, therefore, having the matter looked at, because I think that the hon. Gentleman has raised a most important point and we ought to get it clear this afternoon.

Mr. Body

I am grateful for that intervention.

It prompts me to make a suggestion which I hope the Under-Secretary will consider in 1970 in relation to conservation. I understand from the history hooks that the three-mile limit was adopted merely because that was the range of a cannon. In 1970, we cannot have a conservation policy restricted to a three-mile limit. We know—and the point has been emphasised already—that one cannot isolate the conservation of seals from the conservation of fish.

Mr. Ramsden

I have been able to refresh my memory. The estuarial part of the Wash is within a line drawn across the Wash from Gibraltar Point to Gore Point. That will mean more to my hon. Friend than it does to me.

Mr. Body

That would help, because from Gibraltar Point to Gore Point is, I think, 12 miles. If my right hon. Friend is right, the seals on Roaring Middle, will be protected. However, I am not entirely convinced and for that reason I welcome the assurance of the Under-Secretary that further inquiries will be made.

I was seeking to emphasise that one cannot isolate a policy of conservation of seals from that of conservation of fish. This has already been considered by the Government of Iceland. It may be remembered that the Anglo-Danish Convention was renounced by Iceland soon after that country acquired independence, and the Iceland Parliament enacted a law concerning the scientific conservation of Continental Shelf fisheries. This enabled the Iceland Minister of Fisheries to make regulations to establish conservation zones. It was thought necessary to extend those zones to a point 40 miles from the coastline of Iceland to cover the whole of the shelf of Iceland.

This, again, was considered by those who took part in the discussions leading up to the convention on fishing and conservation which was presented to this House in July, 1966. Those who took part in those discussions at Geneva will remember the considerable dissent which made the convention a compromise document, and it was necessary to include Article 9—a lengthy article—to enable procedure to be introduced whereby different countries, having disputed what were territorial waters, could come to some kind of arrangement to effect conservation.

My proposal—I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will comment on this—is that, as 1970 is to be a year of conservation, it might be a gesture which could come well from the United Kingdom to propose another conference on the law of the sea to consider the question of conservation. We have had two conferences. In 1958, and 1960, it was fairly clear that those who spoke for the United Kingdom took the most liberal view of all and advocated maximum freedom of the sea. I accept entirely that the seas should be kept open, but, from the standpoint of conservation, we cannot regard three miles as a satisfactory maximum if a good conservation policy is to be followed.

Having made that criticism, I temper it with some gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester for having made sure that Clause 8 will afford some kind of safeguard in that those who go out in launches from the East Coast and elsewhere will run some. risk in destroying seals even though they may do it outside our territorial waters.

My other criticism relates to Clause 2. I want a close season for seals—that is common ground—but I thought that the purpose was to have the close season coinciding with the breeding season. That seems to be the case for the grey seal, but not for the common seal. I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but I understand that the common seal breeds throughout May and June, and that period does not coincide with the close season laid own for the common seal.

The hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) made an interesting suggestion about enforcement. He doubted, as I do, that it is wise to put another burden upon our policemen. Although, in Lincolnshire, our problem is not so serious as in some areas, our authorised establishment is 1,590 and our police strength is 1,449, so that we are 7 per cent. short, and any added task must be looked on with some apprehension.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that coastguards might be enlisted for this task, but I cross swords with him about that. The coastguard service is becoming much smaller than it was, some of its stations are being closed, and its methods of guarding our coastline is now very different from what they traditionally were. I doubt that its present methods could be easily reconciled with the kind of policing action necessary for enforcing the Bill. I suggest, therefore, that we could have some arrangement whereby special constables were recruited for this work.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

As my hon. Friend knows, part of my constituency is in Lincolnshire. Any legislation which we bring in puts a greater burden on the police, but I suggest that there is this difference in connection with the present Bill. As a lawyer, will he accept that in this case the police will not find that there is competition for their time between the seals and the protestors?

When we pass reasonable laws, it is usually expected that people will keep them and that we shall not, therefore, need a great policing operation, whether by regular police or special constables. In this case, there would be general acceptance of the law, would there not? There might be the occasional case, but that in itself would help to create a situation in which the whole law was observed.

Mr. Body

Almost half of my hon. Friend's constituency is in Lincolnshire, so he is as well qualified as I am to say that we in Lincolnshire are law-abiding. But some of the seal hunters are not Lincolnshire born and bred. They come from other parts of the country. I believe that there have been one or two operating from Scotland, and I dare say that London has exported its share of people who are willing to do it. I accept that the Bill, if enacted, will be recognised as a sensible Measure by the people of Lincolnshire, but there may well be a few who go to Lincolnshire for the purpose of destroying seals, having in mind that they can sell the skins in London for a good price.

Those are my few criticisms of the Bill. Nevertheless, I support it wholeheartedly, and I am sure that it is equally supported in that part of England, which I have the honour to represent, where the numbers of common seals are now being decimated.

1.58 p.m.

Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) on having selected this Bill after drawing a high place in the Ballot, and I congratulate him also on his fascinating discourse about seals and the excellent case which he made in general support of the Bill.

The Bill marks another milestone in our growing interest in every aspect of the environment. There was a time when we took nature and the environment for granted, when it was thought that together they could supply man's needs for food, clothing and recreation ad infinitum. It was thought that there was no need to control or conserve, for it never entered people's heads that they could cause harm to the point of major destruction impossible to rectify.

Through bitter experience, we are learning our lesson. The extinction of species at one time became almost commonplace, and still we continue to pollute the sea, our rivers and the countryside with chemicals, with industrial waste, and even with bad planning. But increasingly we are taking note of what has been done, of how, too often, nature has been desecrated, and thus we are attempting—sometimes too late and sometimes still too tenatively—to halt or reverse what has occurred.

It is because the Bill aims at conservation, rather than complete protection or preservation, that I support it. I believe it is right that the common seal should now he joined with the grey seal in a measure of protection of this nature. But it must be pointed out that these two varieties of seal, which come from the order pinnipedia, the flipper-footed aquatice carnivores, are Jekyll and Hyde characters, appealing, attractive, sloppy, endearing creatures, sad faced perhaps and heartrending in their moans and wails. But in water these lovable creatures can turn into savage hunters chasing their quarry with ruthless speed and efficiency. They certainly live up to their description as carnivores. Therefore, our sympathy should not be wholly one-sided.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) pointed out that man was the only natural predator of seals. It has occurred to me on other occasions in this House, when we have been discussing Bills dealing with the preservation of predators, that if seals are not controlled by man they are bound to have an increasingly adverse effect upon numerous varieties of fish. The type of fish most often mentioned is salmon, and we should not forget that salmon are threatened considerably by disease, ulcerated dermal necrosis, and by netting in the sea.

In addition, we must remember that if the seal population is not controlled it is likely that nature will impose a natural control by starvation of disease or shortage of breeding grounds. This may be the root of the trouble in Cornwall.

Like others, I believe that the Bill achieves a reasonable compromise of the views and sentiments of naturalists and animal lovers, the interests of fishermen and, to a lesser extent, the interests of those who hunt seals for their fur value, and fie need for seal population control.

I am sure that Clause 1 is absolutely right in forbidding the use of poison. I associate myself entirely with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) about the use of strychnine. Like him, I wish that the use of this poison could be stopped in the control of moles as well.

But is it right to limit the method of killing to firearms? Hon. Members have already referred to this point. I should like to call in aid something written by Dr. Backhouse, the well-known authority on seals, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester referred.

In his book "Seals and Man", he wrote: Considerable charges of cruelty are also levelled at the sealers, but in general this is apparent rather than real. Clubbing is an efficient method of killing pups, but messy, and neuromuscular activity even after death often indicates life to an anxious observer. Clubbing sounds horrific, but, in the light of a good deal of evidence, there is much to be said for it as an efficient and humane method of control. In any case, Clause 10 allows exceptions to the rule on firearms. Therefore, would it not be better to allow seal control generally to be undertaken by methods of any type approved by the Secretary of State, after consultation with the Natural Environment Research Council?

Under Clause 4, a constable may sell or otherwise dispose of any seal seized when apprehending an offender. When I saw that I thought it a little odd. I wondered whether there was a precedent for a constable selling goods which are the source of a crime. There may be excellent precedents, but I feel that it might put a constable in an invidious position, despite the safeguard at the end of the Clause.

Clause 13 states that it is the duty of the council to provide the Secretary of State with scientific advice. The council is the Natural Environment Research Council or, more accurately, the Seals Sub-committee of that Council. Originally that sub-committee's work was done by the Consultative Committee on Grey Seals and Fisheries, established by the Nature Conservancy, and was made up of conservancy and fishery representatives. I am not quite sure what the makeup of the N.E.R.C. sub-committee is. Is it made up in the same kind of balance? Does it contain representatives of the various interests which have to be reconciled? In any case, is the N.E.R.C. the best place for this Seals Sub-committee? Would it not be better for the Nature Conservancy, which is generally in closer contact with wild life, to have overall responsibility for seals? I shall await the answers to these points with interest.

I repeat my general welcome for the Bill. We now know that we must concern ourselves with management of wild life as much as with management of domestic animals; perhaps more so, since wild animals are subject to greater risk. I hope that the Bill, albeit amended, will reach the Statute Book.

2.9 p.m.

Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)

Like many hon. Members, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) on introducing this Bill. I should also like to thank him for the immense amount of work that he must have put into preparing his interesting speech, which was almost a lecture on seals. I have learned a tremendous amount, for which I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

Many people are far too sentimental when talking about animals. They have a very sentimental idea about seals, and particularly about seal pups, and do not realise the great damage that they do to the fishing industry. There must, therefore, be a balance between preserving these delightful sea mammals and avoiding injury to the fishing industry.

We have to decide on the method of preservation. None of us likes cruelty, but cruelty can often occur through ignorance, and that is why I am glad to see that the Bill states the various methods that are and are not allowed. The idea of clubbing seals sounded rather revolting to me, but having heard my hon. Friend's interesting discourse I see it in a different light. Nevertheless, I am pleased that Clause 1 lays down a minimum for size of ammunition and muzzle energy of firearms. That is a very important provision. Underpowered weapons have disastrous results on certain animals. A wounded animal is one of the most unpleasant things one can see.

I have no great knowledge of seals. I have not seen one coming down the main street of Bromsgrove, but I have seen them off the west coast of Scotland and I know what charming animals they are.

Three classes of people are involved in this problem. There are those who kill seals for their blubber and skins. There are those who would like their destruction, as they believe that that would help more fish to be caught. There are those in this House and in the country who would like to see a realistic balance struck.

I agree with my hon. Friend for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) when he said that this must be. We must have a flexible Measure. We cannot enact that only so many seals or seal pups may be culled in a year, because conditions can and do change. Pollution must also be considered. The other day, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food denied that any of the dead seals that were recently found were killed as a result of pollution, but only yesterday the Prime Minister rather seemed to suggest that pollution was occurring and was killing in a mysterious way seals and other forms of wild life.

Not long ago one of my hon. Friends got a Bill through the House for cleaning up rivers and the question of pollution has been raised time and time again. People in Redditch, where we have a fishing tackle industry, are naturally interested in pollution. I raised the subject some time ago, and expressed the opinion that in many of our rivers there was more stench than there were tench.

Last Sunday, the Sunday Telegraph had an article on the subject of pollution: "UNITED NATIONS WARNING TO BRITAIN ON WILDLIFE SEA DEATHS. The Government is to be warned by the United Nations World Health Organisation that unless it organises an immediate scientific inquiry into the mysterious deaths of seals, wild fowl, seabirds and fish off the West Coast of Britain in recent weeks, the United Nations will ask permission for their own naturalists to do the job. Such a sweeping statement as that would not have been made without there being some foundation for it. The article went on to say that the deaths in the sea …have led to the Irish Sea being called Death's Ditch'. Would such strong language have been used without foundation?

The Bill will be slightly altered in Committee, but I am sure that all hon. Members of good will will realise the sanity of its provisions, and give it a good passage.

2.17 p.m.

Mr. A. W. Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

I am interested in the Bill for a number of reasons. First, as a countryman born and bred, I am most intrigued to find the first seal conservation Measure coming before the House. I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple), and I congratulate him on bringing it forward and on his presentation of his case for the Bill.

Secondly, as a Member for a seaside constituency I have recenly found myself in the extraordinary situation of finding dead seals being washed up in the Severn Estuary and on the beach at Weston-super-Mare. As this part of the country is not a natural habitat for seals, such an incident causes a great deal of interest there. These dead animals, covered with ulcerated sores, washed up on our beaches, are highlighting the problem of the pollution of our coasts. The pollution of the Severn and the Severn Estuary is a well known and long-term business, and it would not be right to discuss it now.

I agree that seals are emotive animals, but they are also remarkable animals. I remember as a boy going out of the way to watch the activities of the seal colony at Abersoch, in Cardigan Bay, Little has been said in this debate about the animal itself, but it has one or two remarkable characteristics which make it of special interest in the conservation world.

It is little realised that a wild seal can swim in excess of 15 miles an hour under water. It can dive to between 1,000 and 1,500 feet. It has one and a half times the amount of blood that a land mammal of comparable size possesses. It can drop its heartbeat from 150 a minute to 10. In the research that is being done in many parts of the world on fish- farming and exploiting the ocean, I believe that the seal will have a great deal to tell us. The scientific investigation of the seal will be of vast economic importance to this country.

As a council member of the Country Landowners Association, I should declare that interest. The association has not asked me to mention this, but I am sure that it would be right to discuss Clause 11, about entry on to private land. We are all very jealous of our rights to preserve our territory as private property, yet, in the public interest, a large number of people have the right to enter our land. I am reluctant to see that number increased without close examination of the reasons.

The principle that conservation includes culling is obviously accepted and there would be a difficulty if a landowner on a stretch of coast or an island refused to take part in culling. This could destroy the benefits gained in a large area of sea and countryside. I hope that the Government will remember that it is only too common under provisions like Clause 11, although subsection (3) reads: Any such authorisation may impose other conditions on the exercise by the person authorised of the power of entry or the manner of giving effect to the authorisation.", for authorities like the Secretary of State to give a full brief to people having compulsory powers of entry. This subsection will enable the Secretary of State to limit the powers of those having entry and I hope that this will not be forgotten.

Subsection (2), concerning the number of seals which must be taken, may have to be examined in Committee. What is being asked of an owner is that, if he can prove that he has killed X number of seals, he will be able to refuse entry to an officer on the ground that he has done his part. If he cannot, the officer will be able to enter, kill the seals, take them away and sell them for the benefit of the State.

Much has been said about the unpleasant topic of destruction, and I am sure that this is what concerns most people. Some hon. Members may have had the misfortune, while serving their country, to be hit by a rifle bullet. My father, who was one of these, said that the impact was as if someone had hit him with a hammer. He felt nothing and was bowled over, as a shot rabbit is. I suppose that it depends where one is shot, but the general opinion seems to be that it is as painless a way of being struck down as any known.

We have been asked to consider clubbing. I draw the attention of the House to two articles by Elizabeth Simpson, of the Department of Animal Pathology, University of Cambridge, in Nature, one on 17th June, 1967, and one on 17th November, 1967. Having done intensive investigation of the methods of killing seals in Canada, she came to the conclusion that, if the clubbing fractured the cranium, instant unconsciousness and death was effected, but, unfortunately, in a substantial number of cases, particularly in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, it would appear that the cranium was not fractured.

In the first of these articles, she wrote: The presence of an ante-mortem fractured skull, with its concomitant brain injury, was taken as evidence of unconsciousness before skinning. In most of these carcases, the fracture was comminuted and brain damage was so great that the animal would have been dead before it was skinned. The presence of an unfractured skull was taken as evidence of doubt as to the state of consciousness of the animal before skinning. She concluded: These post mortem findings suggest that a large percentage of the hunted animals die in a manner which is of doubtful humanity. In this case, 36 per cent. of the total number of carcases examined on her particular trip to the Gulf of St. Lawrence apparently did not have fractured crania.

In the second article, the same author compared the killing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence with that in the Pribilof Islands. There, only 1.9 per cent. of the carcases had unfractured crania. The difference was simply that, in the Pribilof Islands, the killing is done by professionals, at a reasonable ambient temperature, working for reasonably short periods properly clothed and refreshed. In the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the killing is done by amateurs, on the ice, totally unsupervised.

Therefore, when this matter is discussed in Committee, if a Clause is included on the subject of clubbing, I hope that it will specify, first, the size of club, as the Canadians do, and, second, that those who wield the club are not only profes- sionally trained, but, if possible, supervised. Perhaps a not uninteresting fact is that, in The Times on 17th October this year, a note appeared dealing with a ban on the hunting of baby seals on the east coast of Canada, which concluded: The ban, in effect, means the end of hunting with clubs. Turning to the penalties, and appreciating that this may be a Committee point, I cannot believe that a penalty of £50, whether or not the hunters' gear is confiscated, will be adequate to deter people from breaking the law, when one remembers that a professionally prepared pelt fetches between £5 and £6. Just in case anyone will think from that that by killing a seal he could get £5 or £6, I should point out that an amateur would be lucky to get 25s. for his inexpertly slaughtered and skinned pelt.

On conservation, we must ask ourselves why we should conserve any animal. For many thousands of years—indeed, since the first Egyptian turned the first stretch of soil with a wooden plough—Man has been upsetting the balance of nature. It has at last come home to us particularly—we lead the world in this, I believe—that we cannot go on indiscriminately slaughtering various species without at the same time looking to their conservation for the good of all mankind. We have seen many examples in the countryside of misapplied attempts at conservation. I will not bore the House by giving examples. I welcome the Bill as a great step forward for conservation.

2.30 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)

It might be helpful if I intervene briefly at this point to explain the attitude of the Government to the Bill. First, I want to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) not only on the Bill but on the comprehensive and lucid explanation that he gave us. To all intents and purposes this is much the same Bill as that which came from the Lords.

The Government are well aware of the public disquiet that has been expressed about the alleged wholesale slaughter of seals; the concern felt about some methods of killing; and the anxiety felt in some quarters for the survival of these attractive creatures. We therefore welcome the Bill and the opportunity that it has provided for the House to express its view on the subject.

I want to say a few words about the general problem. The hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) read an article from a newspaper, which I recall seeing All I can tell him is that the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries issued a statement saying that it was aware of no foundation for the complaints made by foreign fishermen or by the United Nations, or any of its agencies, or for any suggestion that there has been an attempt to cover up the facts. From the official point of view there is no substance in this article.

The question of culls has exercised the emotions of many people in recent years, and the situation has attracted the criticism of protectionists. Above all, there has been widespread public concern in Press reports about the hunting of common seals by commercial hunters and others, particularly off the Norfolk coast and the area of the Wash. As with most species of predator, the views of different interests tend to conflict. To the fisherman they are pests which need to be reduced to the level where damage to his fish and gear is minimal. To the seal hunter they are a resource which should produce as large an annual surplus for cropping as possible. To the nature lover and protectionist they are wild life to be protected and disturbed as little as possible. In the Government's view the Bill makes a genuine attempt to reconcile, and strikes the right balance between, these varying and sometimes conflicting interests.

There is no doubt that both species of seal are responsible for substantial damage to commercial fisheries by the destruction of a considerable quantity—assessed at about 100,000 tons a year—and a wide variety of fish, including salmon, whitefish and herring; by damaging nets and fishing tackle; and by the spread of parasitic worms of which the seal is the definitive host. Studies of the food of seals have been conducted by scientists at the Marine Laboratory at Aberdeen. An examination of the stomach contents has shown that the food of both species consists predominantly of fish of commercial importance.

Mr. Kimball

That is important, in view of what the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Dr. Gray) said. The Ministry is saying categorically that the stomachs of common seals contain traces of commercial fish?

Mr. Rees

That is exactly what I said.

My hon. Friend the Member for the High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) stated that the Government should be more concerned about the damage done to the salmon industry by high seas fishing for salmon off Greenland, which causes a greater loss than occurs through seals. The Government are well aware of the damage that could be caused if high seas fishing for salmon off the coast of Greenland and elsewhere is allowed to develop. At the instigation of the United Kingdom Government, the international organisation responsible for the conservation of fisheries passed a resolution recommending to member countries that high seas fishing for salmon should be banned. Unfortunately, the Governments of Denmark, Sweden and the Federal Republic of West Germany have not been able to accept these recommendations for a total ban, and their co-operation is essential. The Government are examining the situation to see what other approaches would be sensible.

Conservationists have a strong interest in protecting any species whose numbers are depressed, but I can reassure the House that there is no evidence to suggest that the survival of either species of seal is in any way endangered in British waters. The number of grey seals is increasing in some areas. Conservationists are also concerned in seeing that there are not too many seals and that the populations do not become so large as to create a threat to their own viability or the ecology of other species. To some extent, therefore, the objects of both fishermen and conservationists in relation to seals are similar.

It seems to the Government that the main issues are that while seal stocks do not generally appear to be threatened at present it is desirable to provide reasonable measures to preserve seals, and for these measures to be strengthened at short notice if the survival of either or both species ever appears to be endangered. We want to protect seals against cruelty, whether from inhumane methods of destruction or from needless killing in the breeding season when they are most vulnerable to attack by man.

Mr. Temple

The common seal population has fallen to about one-tenth of what is was a few years ago. Today the common seal is threatened. That is not quite in accord with what the Minister has said.

Mr. Rees

I have taken soundings on this. I am simply giving the House the scientific observations that were made. I have no doubt that we can consider the question in more detail in Committee. That is the scientific advice that we have received.

We want to avoid adding to the problems of fishermen by unreasonably restricting the killing of seals for fisheries protection purposes. We want to provide scope for the conservationists to have suitable opportunity for the selective culling of seals in the interests of the regional management of seal population.

The Bill meets all these requirements, and its provisions are in line with what the Government think appropriate in a Measure of this kind. The Government therefore support the Bill. But I want to make it clear that formally the Government's attitude is one of benevolent neutrality, in that Members on this side of the House will be allowed a free vote in the Bill.

Some hon. Members may feel that Clause 1 does not go far enough in restricting other methods of killing, such as the use of clubs. As one who knows very little about the practical side of this question, I found the discussion of killing by clubs to be one that we ought to take much further in Committee. I should perhaps explain that a club can be used effectively only on very young seals. It would be quite impracticable to try to club an adult seal. Therefore I took it that the reference in the articles in "Nature" were to club seals.

The close seasons prescribed by Clause 2 coincide with the breeding seasons—when baby seals are likely to be around—for the respective species, and as the killing of seals is prohibited in the close seasons, except under licence, the casual use of clubs will effectively be prevented. I agree that we may need a wider discussion on this subject in in Committee.

As for the provisions for licensing the destruction of seals in the close season for fisheries protection or management purposes, both the Natural Environment Research Council and the fisheries Departments consider it unlikely that effective culling, especially of grey seals, can be carried out except in the close season. This means that such culling would have to be done under licence, but it appears likely that the need to cull for management purposes will coincide with the need to cull for fisheries protection, and such culls would, whenever possible, be co-ordinated.

The Government attach considerable importance to Clauses 11 and 12, which provide for the exercise of powers of compulsory access on to land to enable seals to be counted and observed, for research purposes, or destroyed in the interests of fisheries protection. I know that that is exercising the minds of many hon. Members. Even with the limited protection for seals provided under the present law, the reluctance of certain interests to agree to seals being killed on their land has led to much difficulty in carrying out some culls that have been fully justified on scientific grounds. The greater degree of protection afforded to seals by this Measure underlines the need for the rational management of seal stocks, and we consider that the Bill would be incomplete without a provision of this nature.

It has been said that 28 days will not be long enough for the occupier to make the necessary arrangements with a seal hunter and to have the cull completed. Where the fisheries Minister was satisfied that the occupier was genuinely making arrangements to have the job done he would be allowed to carry on and no entry authorisation would be issued, but the Clause as worded—and this is a Committee point—would permit the issue of an entry authorisation after the expiry of the period of notice if it appeared that the occupier was deliberately dragging his feet.

Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)

Will the Minister give us his understanding of the effect of Clause 11, particularly subsection (8)? The deer Act, which I had the honour of sponsoring through the House in 1963, was also a Home Office Bill. It was a policing Bill, designed to enforce a close season and impose restrictions on ballistics in the same way as is done in Clauses 1, 2 and 3 of this Bill. But this Bill is different—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Interventions must be brief. Many hon. Members wish to speak.

Mr. More

This Bill is different in so far as it gives power to reduce the population of seals. It seems a strange concept that it should be under the control of the Home Office. Subsection (8) contains a reference to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It is not clear what the respective responsibilities will be.

Mr. Rees

Subsection (8) says: Any reference in this section to the Secretary of State shall, in relation to England and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Wales, be deemed to include a reference to Food … This is a drafting device, whereby the Ministry of Agriculture can be brought into the picture, whereas in some of the other Clauses this is not the case.

Mr. More

Where does the responsibility lie?

Mr. Rees

The overwhelming responsibility lies with the Home Office, but in this instance there is a responsibility which will be put on the Minister of Agriculture. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the Clause has been drawn too loosely, perhaps we can deal with this in Committee.

The hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) referred to the breeding season of the common seal. The breeding season tends to vary between latitudes, but the common seal does not breed in the Wash in May, according to the Natural Environment Research Council. The close season specified in Clause 2 was originally 1st June to 31st July, but amended to 31st August on Report in the other place.

The interesting suggestion has been made that the Government should take the lead in holding a further international conference on the law of the sea to secure better provision of conservation factors and needs. It is too early for me to comment on this, but I have noted what the hon. Gentleman said, and I shall bring it to the notice of my right hon. Friends concerned.

Mr. Body

I was suggesting not that there was breeding in the Wash in May but that common seals generally breed in May and June. Has the hon. Gentleman any information on that?

Mr. Rees

We have taken advice from scientists on this. My advice is that the Clause is drawn correctly, but if the hon. Gentleman has some detailed information on the breeding habits of the seal which proves the advice that I have been given to be wrong, no doubt we can discuss this in Committee.

Enforcement is likely to pose the biggest problem in Scotland since, of the estimated 35,000 grey seals in the British Isles, about 30,000 are in Scotland, and the majority of the common seals are there, too, many of which inhabit the more remote areas. I need hardly stress that the police are pretty fully extended in dealing with serious crime, and would not be able to devote a great deal of time or facilities to the enforcement of criminal legislation with respect to seals. It may be that we can look at the point made by my hon. Friend about broadening this to see whether anything can be done. My hon. Friend realises the difficulties, I am sure, but I undertake to do that.

This is a useful Bill. It could do much to protect seals from cruelty and to put the conservation, management and control of our seals on a sound scientific basis, and it is one which the Government would be happy to see reach the Statute Book. In Committee there will be a number of more detailed points to investigate. I said that I would have the point about the Wash looked at, but I have not yet had a firm answer on this, and I hope, therefore, that it can be dealt with in Committee. I repeat that the Government would be happy to see this Bill reach the Statute Book.

2.45 p.m.

Mr. Christopher Chataway (Chichester)

I should like to add my congratulation to my hon. Friend the Member for Chester (Mr. Temple) for bringing forward this Bill. It is not the first Measure of this kind for which he has been responsible, because in 1961 he introduced the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Bill. I think that my hon. Friend may reflect this afternoon that in the intervening years there has been a considerable growth of interest in conservation and problems to do with environmental pollution. It is a happy coincidence that just before Conservation Year my hon. Friend has had the opportunity to bring in this second Measure.

It may sometimes be felt that in the growing concern over these matters there is a tendency in some quarters to exaggerate. We saw a great deal of concern—and the Minister referred to it briefly—about the problems of dead seals in North Cornwall apparently having suffered from some kind of pollution. That incident sparked off some very extreme articles.

One feels on occasions that there are those who need to feel that a disaster is just ahead, but I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will welcome the fact that there is now a growing realisation that our wild life and our whole national environment are increasingly threatened, and threatened really, I suppose, by two major developments: first, by the development of our own technology and the waste which that technology produces; second, by the growth in world population. The concern over this mammal which has been the subject of discussion today arises from both developments.

There is some reason to fear that the pollution of the sea is having its effect upon seals as upon fish. There is the realisation that without some measure of control the voracious demands of man as a hunter now equipped as never before will soon result in the extinction of these mammals.

There is a necessity to try as best we can to restore the balance of nature. Every hon. Member must have had large numbers of letters from constituents who believe that that must simply involve leaving the poor animals alone. An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear.") The hon. Member lends support to that view. Perhaps he will reflect for a moment that man himself is absolutely essential to the maintenance of the balance of nature and that man himself has over so many millenia been the principal predator. If, by legislation, man is removed from this equation the balance of nature itself is upset. One of the prime reasons for the Bill is the fact that the 1932 Act has resulted in too many grey seals, a subject to which I shall return.

There is, therefore, an attempt in the Bill—I believe a well-directed one—to try to restore the balance of nature. But a balance must also be struck between the interests concerned, and they are all legitimate interests. We have the interests of animal lovers, tourists, the public, owners of salmon rivers, commercial fishermen and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) rightly stressed, the interests of the sealers. They do not get much good publicity, but there is no escaping the fact that the seals around our shores are a natural resource which has for a long time provided many people with a livelihood.

The main opposition to the Bill today —[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] When this Measure has been presented in various guises in another place—

Mr. Eric S. Heller (Liverpool, Walton)

There has been no opposition today.

Mr. Chataway

When a body like the—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is an orderly debate.

Mr. Heifer

It was until now.

Mr. Chataway

When a body like the National Trust, which has a considerable place in the respect of most people, has grave reservations about the Bill, one must consider that as opposition to the Measure. I see the hon. Member for the High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) nodding assent, and he expressed a number of those reservations.

The National Trust's opposition to the Bill and to its predecessors has stemmed from the ownership by the Trust of the Fame Islands. I appreciate that considerable pressure must be brought to bear on the Trust by its members and the general public when culls take place. It is a natural emotional reaction on the part of the public to believe that they are cruel and unnecessary. Thus at various times the Trust has objected, and its objections have been on two broad grounds. First, it was pointed out in another place that there was considerable objection to what is now Clause 11 of this Measure—the right of entry—a subject about which some of my hon. Friends have expressed reservations.

I understand that there are precedents for legislation of this kind. For example, where rabbits are allowed to multiply to the point when they are likely to be a threat to neighbours, there is, similarly, a provision for entry on a landowner's property, even if his agreement is not forthcoming. I believe that in a case such as that before us there is sufficient evidence to warrant legislation to enable the Secretary of State, after consulting the Natural Environment Research Council, to authorise entry.

The main burden of the opposition from t he National Trust is directed to the question whether culling is necessary at all. The burden of proof, therefore, clearly lies on those who wish to introduce fresh legislation. Is it proved that the grey seal, if allowed to multiply beyond a certain point, has an effect on fishing? The advice of the Natural Environment Research Council is definite on this point. The Third Report of the Council, for April, 1967, to March, 1968, says flatly that the grey seal is known to play a significant r—le in the transmission of the codworm parasite, and much of the argument today has revolved around the question whether it is really proved that the seal has this effect.

There has been no dispute about the effect that seals have on fishermen's nets, although the extent of this has been questioned. But again, the expert advice seems absolutely clear. The Under-Secretary referred to some research evidence which he had received to show that both the grey seal and the common seal eat fish suitable for human consumption in considerable quantities.

One of the definitive studies of the seal by Dr. Backhouse stresses that the grey seal eats between 10 and 15 lb. of fish a day. When there is an exceptional explosion of a seal population, as is likely to occur in the Fame Islands, there is not much doubt that it is the fishermen who are required to a large extent to pay for it. In these circumstances, I hope that the National Trust will accept this legislation.

If many years are allowed to pass without any significant culling taking place there will come a time when it will be essential to have so large a cull that it will amount to a massacre, and this is undesirable on two counts. First, I am advised that if one had so large a cull as that, one would be likely to drive the whole seal colony away. Secondly, if that sort of action became necessary, the public revulsion would be so great that any sensible management of the seal population would be extremely difficult thereafter.

I was surprised that the Under-Secretary suggested that the common seal was not in any way threatened at present. While he welcomed the Bill, I thought that he laid all the emphasis on the Measure's advantages in enabling a more systematic, and probably a greater, culling of grey seals, and he seemed not to accept that the Bill was necessary to preserve the common seal.

The advice I have received from the Natural Environment Research Council is that in Shetland there has been a substantial reduction in the number of common seals in past years; that there appear to be only about 10 per cent. of the number of seals today compared with the number that were to be found in the Shetland area 15 years ago.

I pass quickly to two or three of the detailed points raised on the Bill. First, the weapons: there is no doubt that the vast majority of people recoil with considerable horror from the pictures which are shown every year of sealers standing, wielding enormous great clubs, over defenceless seals. Never having had an opportunity to look into the whole matter very much before the presentation of this Bill, I must confess that on seeing those pictures in the newspapers, in the past, I, too, have thought what an appalling thing it was and wondered why the Canadians did not do something about it.

When looking calmly into the matter it is hard to avoid the conclusion that on many occasions a club is the most humane weapon to use. Certainly, that seems to be the balance of informed opinion. Therefore, I should not want, as some people have suggested, to see in the Bill any prohibition of the use of clubs. While I recognise the need for regulation, I obviously want them to be as simple as possible.

Turning to Clause 2 and the controversy over the close season, there ought perhaps to be provision in the Bill—and I do not see it at the moment—for the Secretary of State to vary those dates if subsequent research shows them not to be accurately pitched. What is known now about the breeding habits of seals is not likely to remain without change for many years.

Clauses 4, 5 and 6 deal with enforceability, fines, and so on. I am glad that the Under-Secretary said that he will look at the suggestion made by the hon. Member for the High Peak for more effective enforceability. I believe that these fines are probably pitched too low. My hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester said that it is possible under Clause 6 to confiscate the hunting equipment and even the boats of any people who offend against the provisions of the Bill. But I suspect that there would probably be considerable inhibitions on many occasions on the part of the courts to go as far as to confiscate a boat. There is no doubt that often a £50 fine will mean very little.

Nothing has been said so far said about the cost of this Measure. The seal unit established by the Natural Environment Research Council consists at present of only three scientists. The Bill places a considerable additional burden on that unit. There must be some cost involved in this Measure, and I should have liked the Under-Secretary to say what he thinks will be the consequence in terms of increased staffing.

Mr. Temple

May I inform my hon. Friend that since his information reached him the staff has been increased by one highly qualified scientist, which I think is adequate, without any further increase?

Mr. Chataway

I am reassured, but perhaps a little surprised by that. I should have thought that the establishment was a little too small, but I accept my hon. Friend's advice.

A matter which surprises me about the Bill and the debate is that it should be the Home Office Minister who is to reply. I believe that that is an indication of a very curious division of responsibility which exists in this field of environmental pollution and conservation. Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced some new arrangements in this field, and, although I cannot comment widely on them, I believe that, from the point of view of the Bill, as from the point of view of conservation generally, it is important that there should be a more rational concentration of responsibility in this field within Whitehall.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), who has done so much work in this respect and who played such a large part in the Select Committee, may take some satisfaction from the setting up of a standing Royal Commission and by the acceptance by the Government of some of the recommendations of his Select Committee. But it still seems to me that all too often the responsibility in these matters falls between half-a-dozen Departments—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must not widen the debate. There are still a number of hon. Members who wish to take part.

Mr. Chataway

At one point today there was some misunderstanding about the division of responsibility in respect of the Bill between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Home Office. The Department of Education and Science is also involved, because it is the Department responsible for the Natural Environment Research Council. That, I believe, is indicative of the difficulties which arise from the haphazard distribution of functions throughout Whitehall.

I believe that this Measure is indicative of a more scientific, more important and more determined approach to the whole question of conservation, and on those grounds I very much welcome it.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

Mr. William Price (Rugby)

On a point of order. [An HON. MEMBER: "Take your hands out of your pockets."] If the hon. Member is not careful I will wrap them round his neck.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am waiting to hear the point of order.

Mr. Price

In view of the fact that many debates in the House on highly controversial business are conducted in one-and-a-half hours, Mr. Speaker, will you advise me what would be a reasonable time for a debate on a subject about which there is unanimous agreement?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have to decide whether to grant a Closure. I have decided not to grant a Closure.

Mr. John Ellis (Bristol, North-West)

On a point of order. May I refer you, Mr. Speaker, to Standing Order No. 31: After a question has been proposed, a Member rising in his place may claim to move, 'That the question be now put', and unless it shall appear to the Chair that such motion is an abuse of the rules of the House, or an infringement of the rights of the minority, the question, 'That the question be now put', shall be put forthwith, and decided without amendment or debate". There may be factors of which you are not aware. Many hon. Members have attended the House for the whole of the day. I have been in and out of the Chamber throughout the day, and it seems to me that there has been no substantial opposition to the Bill throughout the day. Having been in and out of the debate all day, I think that I am entitled to my opinion when I suggest that an abuse is taking place not of the minority, but of the majority, in so far as hon Members have spoken on this Bill when they have not the guts to speak against the Bill which they really oppose—the next Bill on the Order Paper.

We have done the House a disservice today. I believe that there has been adequate debate of the Bill and that we are now in a position that the majority of the House in attendance today has been done down and ill-used by hon. Members opposite, mostly Conservatives. I therefore ask, Mr. Speaker, with all the sincerity that I can command, that you reconsider this matter so that we may get on with business and have fairness all round.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am dealing with a point of order. I am not without sympathy any Friday for any hon. Member who has the second Bill or the second Motion on the Order Paper, but the custom governing the Closure is the one I am following in this case. I refuse to accept the Closure.

Mr. Heifer

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that on a previous occasion the Bill to abolish live hare-coursing was discussed for a number of hours. Because of parliamentary procedure, we could not then proceed with it. That Bill has now been before the House on four occasions. You will recall that on the previous occasion when it was before the House hon. Members opposite continued a full day's debate on a Bill which was largely not controversial, which has been accepted by the Government, and has gone through the House.

I suggest that we have now reached the stage where there must be some provision to allow Members to have a genuine discussion of controversial Bills of this kind, particularly as not one hon. Member opposite has opposed the Bill now before the House. Is it not clear that if hon. Members opposite were genuine in their desire for true and democratic discussion in this House, they would at least have allowed one hour's discussion on the second Bill in the Order Paper so that we could get to some conclusion based on the fact that on a previous occasion we had three-and-and-a-half hours' discussion?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member will know what I am in possession of all the facts about the Bill in which he is keenly concerned; that it has been before the House several times; that he has failed to win, by the luck of the Ballot, first place. The fact that he has second place today does not change the position. If the first debate stops, we shall get on to his Bill.

Mr. Farr

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of what has been said, I should like to call two points to your attention. First, the vast majority of hon. Members opposite who are now complaining have not been sitting in the Chamber all day—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order.

Mr. Farr rose

Hon. Members

Sit down.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Whatever one thinks, noise does not do any good at all. Mr. Farr.

Mr. Farr

My second point is that some of us who are anxious to catch your eye are very much opposed to this Bill in detail and in principle—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and if we are successful in speaking later we will prove that point to your satisfaction and that of the House.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have ruled on the Closure. We must move on.

Mr. Edwin Brooks (Bebbington)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I, with great respect, again draw your attention to Standing Order No. 31? It appears to us, and I speak with the utmost respect, that it is upon the onus of the Chair that this particular Motion to have a vote shall be rejected. The Chair shall act in this way only if it appears that a vote taken now would be an abuse of the rules of the House or an infringement of the rights of the minority.

I put to you two points. First, in reference to the rights of the minority, there is no minority in the House today because there is no one who has expressed any opposition to this Bill—[Interruption.] No one has expressed opposition to this Bill in this Chamber. The only points which have been raised that are critical are quite clearly points for Committee deliberation. If there are now hon. Members opposite who claim that they have speeches yet to deliver which are opposed to the Bill in substance, I draw your attention to the fact that on earlier occasions, when Private Members' Bills have been debated, it has been your practice, when it has appeared that there was a remarkable unanimity of opinion in the House, specifically to ask any hon. Member who opposed the Bill to rise in his place. There has been no such request made this afternoon, and those of us who are urging you to reconsider your decision must seriously question whether or not it is an abuse of the rules of the House to proceed with the debate.

Mr. Speaker

If the hon. Gentleman questions that Mr. Speaker's Ruling is an abuse of the procedure of the House, he has his remedy: he must table a Motion criticising Mr. Speaker.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must proceed.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

On a point of order. I wish to draw one further matter to your attention, Sir. Hon. Members opposite have been seeking to canvass the support of additional Members to speak in this preliminary debate, with the obvious object of trying to delay our proceeding to the further business of the House. This is a matter of which you, Sir, should be aware.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Speaker can only rule on order. I have refused to accept the Closure.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

On a point of order.

Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)

Speak for England!

Mr. English

To the best of my knowledge and belief, my parents so legitimately arranged it.

Mr. Speaker, you implied in your original Ruling that you were basing yourself upon precedents in relation to the granting or refusal of the Closure. I submit to you, Sir, with the greatest respect, a general point relating to this and to many other Rulings from the Chair by yourself and by all previous Speakers.

It was once the custom that precedent governed the law of England. This House, as part of the Court, followed precedent. The Chair, in its quasi-judicial capacity, followed precedent. That principle was abolished from the law of England by the Lord Chancellor and by the noble Law Lords in the House of Lords about five years ago.

I submit that the reasons for its abolition in the general law are equally applicable to Parliament. Circumstances change and precedents are not necessarily appropriate. With the greatest respect, I submit, Sir, that you might as a general point consider whether, in future, Mr. Speaker should always follow precedents of this character or should adjust himself to the circumstances and requirements of the particular case.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for putting his point so courteously. Obviously, Mr. Speaker is bound by many precedents. There are occasions when he is not bound by precedent. He does seek to adjust himself to the occasion, but this is not an occasion to be adjusted to.

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Poplar)

On a point or order. Mr. Speaker. May I respectfully put two points to you? First, I fancy, if I may say so without disrespect, that you misunderstood the point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington (Mr. Brooks), because you said to him that, if he were charging that Mr. Speaker was abusing the order of the House he should table a Motion. As I understood my hon. Friend, he was not at all so charging; and he would not do so. He was saying that the Standing Order says that the Motion for the Closure shall be taken, unless in taking it there were to be an abuse of the House.

Though you, Sir, have been kind enough to give us a number of observations, you have not been so kind as yet as to tell us why you think that your taking this Motion at present would be an abuse of the Order of the House. I think that enough of us have sufficient curiosity to want to know why your taking such a Motion at this time would be an abuse of the Order.

I put my second point, Sir, knowing your passionate regard for and defence of the rights of hon. Members. If the procedure that has gone on today is continued—if it is to be continued, I, for one, am prepared to continue it—it could be continued in such a way as to ensure that no Private Member's Bill, including that which is now being debated, will ever be passed.

If we are to get to that stage you, Mr. Speaker, with your regard for the House would be the first to recognise that this would be a gross infringement on the rights of private Members, but, being a practical man, you also know that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander and that improper action invites retaliation. It will be a bad day for the House if we get to the stage—and we are very near getting to it—when no Private Member's Bill will be passed this Session. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] That is a distinct possibility. I invite you, Sir, in considering the matter as a whole and giving, as I hope, your views on the first point I raised, to take that point into account as well.

Mr. Speaker

The first point is exceedingly simple. From time immemorial debate on the first Bill on a Friday has continued until four o'clock if it was the wish of those who took part in the debate so to take part. There is nothing unusual in this.

On the second point, I share the hon. Member's desire that nothing shall interfere with the rights of private Members, but I have to consider the rights of private Members today, including those who have won places in the Ballot.

Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is clear to hon. Members on this side of the House that Conservative hon. Members are using the democratic right to speak on the Conservation of Seals Bill as a means of ensuring that the Deer Hunting and Hare Coursing Abolition Bill shall not be debated.

During the exchanges which have taken place in the last few minutes one or two hon. Members opposite have joined in cheering the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), who indicated that he wished to oppose the present Bill. The point on which I seek your guidance is that if you are not—as, indeed, you are not—to accept the Closure of the debate on this Bill now, would you be prepared to accept the Closure a few minutes to four o'clock?

Most of us are in favour of the Conservation of Seals Bill, but we should like to demonstrate to the electors and the public at large the disgraceful and despicable conduct of those hon. Members who claim the right to speak today purely to avoid a vote being taken on the Deer Hunting and Hare Coursing Abolition Bill. It would be my intention at a later stage, if I could do so on a point of order, to move, That the Question be now put, so as to expose the disgraceful conduct of the Conservative Party.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must decide that when the hon. Member moves it. I cannot associate myself with any criticism any hon. Member makes of any other hon. Member's motive. From the Chair's point of view, everyone in the House is equally pure.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I hope that we can get on.

Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)

I do not in any way wish to challenge the Ruling that you have made on continuation of the debate, Mr. Speaker. The House well knows that you are bound by the procedures of the House and we would not wish to alter them, but I seek your guidance on two further points.

First, in view of the fact that the winner of the first place in the Ballot is able to secure this pre-emption, is this a matter which should be appropriately discussed by the Select Committee of Procedure? Secondly, if it is possible lo reach a conclusion on the second Bill when a precedent has been established in the previous Session may the Leader of the House—who is the servant of the whole House and not just of one side—in view of what he may deem to be an unfair use of the time of the House, seek to rectify that before the Session closes?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The question of procedure and an hon. Member unfortunate enough to have second place is not something that the Chair can do anything about, but it is not new in history. In the time of most hon. Members in this Parliament the hon. Member who has succeeded in getting second place stands a chance, as he did last week, of getting his Bill debated on Second Reading, or of its not being reached.

Mr. Heller

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Standing Order No. 22 says: Mr. Speaker or the chairman, after having called the attention of the House, or of the committee, to the conduct of a Member, who persists in irrelevance, or tedious repetition either of his own arguments, or of the arguments used by other Members in debate, may direct him to discontinue his speech. As most hon. Members who have spoken have now argued the same case, I wonder whether, from this point onward, if there should be any tedious repetition, you will direct those hon. Members to this Standing Order?

Mr. Speaker

That is a very interesting point. The Chair has the right to rule that a Member should desist from speaking if he is guilty of tedious repetition. The difficulty is that hon. Members are sometimes tedious and sometimes repetitive, but not always together. Mr. Speaker decides that.

Mr. McNamara

On a point of order—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member has already addressed me.

Mr. McNamara

With the greatest respect, I rose to move the Closure Motion, and you, as you were entitled, refused to accept the Motion. I should like to point out to you, on a point of order, further to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo), that it should be borne in mind that we on this side of the House were severely tempted earlier this afternoon to cause this particular Bill to be lost. Having gone carefully round all the rooms in the House, we found that there were not sufficient Members here to have supported the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple). However, out of courtesy to him, and because we realised his sincerity in the matter, we did not call a Count, as we could have done.

I should like to suggest that hon. Members opposite should remember the courtesy which we have done to the hon. Member for the City of Chester. Further, may I say that we regard their conduct in the same sense as some of them would have regarded the conduct of people who should shoot foxes—as ungentlemanly. In other words, their type of conduct is equivalent, in parliamentary terms, to shooting foxes, and we resent this fact bitterly.

Mr. Speaker

Hon. Members will, no doubt, take note of what the hon. Gentleman has said. I cannot rule on a hypothetical Count which did not take place. Mr. Ramsden.

Mr. Ramsden

I am interested—

Mr. Arnold Shaw (Ilford, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not a fact that when a Member on the other side of the House has spoken in debate, it is customary for a Member on this side to be called? I was proposing to speak in the debate.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has been some time in making up his mind. I did not see him rise just now.

Mr. Roebuck

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I direct your attention to a factor which might influence your Rulings on this matter? Several hon. Members have come here Friday after Friday in the hope of having a proper debate on the subject which my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has tried to bring before the House. On each occasion we have been thwarted principally by the activities of the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), that fine-looking John Bull over there, who has used the procedures of the House constantly to frustrate the will of most of the House.

May I put this point to you, with respect? At the moment it is very important indeed that the whole nation should increase its productivity—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It may be. The point which the hon. Gentleman is putting to me has been put more concisely by one of his predecessors.

Mr. Roebuck

I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker, but, if you will bear with me in my lack of clarity and my difficulty in expressing myself in the English language, I wish, with respect, to put this further point to you.

As the great forum of the nation, the House has a duty to show an example in productivity. As far as I know, no hon. Member has yet opposed the Bill now before us. Had any done so, I should have been here myself, perhaps, to participate in the debate. However, I have been in the building attending to constituency business throughout the day, and waiting for this point to come up. I draw again your attention, Mr. Speaker, both to Standing Order—

Mr. Speaker

Order. My attention has bean directed twice to the Standing Order. I have ruled. I am not prepared to vary the Ruling. Mr. Shaw.

Mr. Ramsden

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understood you to call me eariier, and I imagined that I had been successful in catching your eye—

Mr. Roebuck

Tally ho!

Mr. Ramsden

—after rising almost every minute for the last quarter of an hour or so, in anticipation of making the speech which, I now understand, you had called me to deliver I have been here throughout the whole debate and heard almost every word said. Am I to understand that I shall not have an opportunity to address the House?

Mr. Speaker

Other hon. Members seeking to catch my eye have sat through the whale debate. I must look to one side and then the other. Mr. Shaw.

Mr. Arnold Shaw rose

Mr. Wellbeloved

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the light of the new situation which has arisen in the last few seconds, the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) having been called, and then my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Arnold Shaw), being called, it seems that you have changed your selection of hon. Members to speak. In view of that precedent, may I ask whether you would be prepared to consider changing your decision in respect of the Closure Motion?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Shaw.

Mr. Arnold Shaw

It is not my intention to speak at length—

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is not the situation becoming farcical? I submit, with respect, that the nation is greatly interested in both the Bill now before us and the one which is No. 2 in the list today, the Deer Hunting and Hare Coursing Abolition Bill. It seems to me—I think that this view would be shared by many hon. Members—that some hon. Gentlemen opposite who are opposed to the second Bill have not the guts to voice their opposition publicly. Can anything be more loathsome than to use the rules of the House of Commons to suit their cowardice and shield behind them?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Shaw.

Mr. William Price

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall take no more points of order on the Closure.

Mr. Price

With respect, Sir, it has nothing to do with the Closure. May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider whether you ought to call my hon. Friend or the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden)? In the interests of a balanced debate, ought we not to hear the opposition's case from the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr)?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Shaw.

3.34 p.m.

Mr. Arnold Shaw (Ilford, South)

It is not my intention to speak at length on this question, but I wish, first, to make one point which many of my hon. Friends seem to have missed. The fact that the Deer Hunting and Hare Coursing Abolition Bill, my Bill is down as No. 2 today has encouraged a number of hon. Members opposite to come to the House. If they had not done so, perhaps many a hind, deer or stag might now be mortally wounded on the hunting field.

It seems to me that the substance of the protest made by my hon. Friends is strictly correct. The debate has been carried on for the specific purpose of keeping out the second Bill. I say at once that I entirely support the Conservation of Seals Bill. I am one of the sponsors supporting the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple), and I congratulate him on bringing his Bill forward, although I must say that he spoke for a great length of time.

There is, however, another point which should be brought out this afternoon. I understand that the Bill has the blessing of a society known as the Fauna Preservation Society. During the course of the last few days I have had a good deal of correspondence from a number of societies, each of which is in favour of in one way or another preserving our fauna, whether in the wild state or in captivity. That is not one of the societies which has sent its good wishes on my Bill.

I have had a number of good wishes, even from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I am wondering whether that particular preservation society has been subjected to the blackmail by the British Field Sports Society to which the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has been subjected.

I draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, and that of hon. Members to an article in yesterday's Guardian headed Blackmail accusation on hunting bill. [An HON. MEMBER: "What has this to do with it?"] It has a great deal to do with it in so far as we want to get to the bottom of the whole of the machinations of hon. Members opposite. There is a serious allegation in this which may have a bearing on the Bill which is being brought forward today.

I am not satisfied with the statement made by the Press agent of the British Field Sports Society when he says: I think it is true in a general way that we have made representations about these sports. The B.F.S.S. has, in the nicest possible way, put the terms of reference as a charity before the R.S.P.C.A. But it has not said anything about this bill specifically.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must come to the Bill.

Mr. Shaw

This is concerned with the Bill, Mr. Speaker, because here we have a society which, in effect, has not supported another Bill, the implication in this being that this society has probably been blackmailed, and has accepted blackmail, whereas I am not so sure about the position of the R.S.P.C.A.

However, having made that point, and, as I have said, not wishing to keep the House from going further into the debate, I am sure that many more important points will be raised from the benches opposite, and I am waiting to hear them. Reference has been made to tedious repetition. By God, we had it this afternoon, and we are getting sick and tired of hearing it. I feel very much that the House has been done a disservice by the continual filibustering which has been going on this afternoon. In saying that, my blessing is with the Bill.

3.38 p.m.

Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)

I assure the House that there will be no tedious repetition from me. I am interested in the Bill concerning seals. Eight years ago, I had the honour of piloting through the House a Bill about the conservation and cleaning up of estuarial waters. I have since been interested in almost every Measure relating to conservation and the care of animal life.

I do not share the view of hon. Members that simply because a Measure happens not to be highly controversial in the ordinary sense, its discussion should, therefore, be curtailed in this House. Although I sympathise with the feelings of hon. Members, and particularly with the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Arnold Shaw). I think that on reflection the House will agree that on a Measure like the Conservation of Seals Bill, which trenches widely on scientific ground and raises issues in fields of scientific inquiry which have not been widely studied and are not known about in great detail, it is useful for points of view to be put arising from the experience of a number of hon. Members in their various contacts.

I propose to raise briefly, because I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) will wind up on behalf of the supporters of the Bill—[Interruption.] That is a matter for Mr.Speaker—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Ramsden

I propose to raise four points which are highly germane and which have not been raised before.

Mr. Heffer

On a point of order. I should like to have this point clarified. I do not want to hold up the right hon. Gentleman. However, on a previous Friday, when reference was made to the fact that I possibly would wind up the debate for this side, the point was made that I could not because it was a Private Member's Bill. We accepted that position. Do I understand that in this case a different situation will be allowed from what we had the other week?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall have to decide that if the point arises.

Mr. Ramsden

Hon. Gentlemen opposite may wish to talk out the Bill. I cannot guarantee to extend my oratory long enough to prevent them doing so, but I hope that that will not be their wish. I shall be as brief as I can.

My first reservation about the Bill is that I do not believe that it will be effective against poaching. It will need amendment if it is to effect my hon. Friend's wishes to protect seals of both species against poaching.

One of the best studies that I have been able to find and read about seals—in particular, the common seal, about which rather less is known that the other species—is contained in a symposium put together by the Universities' Federation for Animal Welfare. This is an extremely well-balanced document, because the authors have seen fit not only to display the views of the conservationists and scientists, but also to give space for expression of the views of the commercial sealing interests.

Among their recommendations for the conservation of seals, as a result of their studies, they include one of great importance which has not been taken up by my hon. Friend, namely, that any Bill should provide that when seals are killed for commercial or other purposes the skins should be sold or exported only on production of the relevant licence.

It is my hon. Friend's intention to establish a close season and to allow culling by officers of the Ministry or by commercial interests upon licence. But I understand that when no control on the common species of seal has operated, a number of commercial sealing interests with a certain amount of capital invested in this game have grown up, and that people have got used to doing it. Therefore, there will be a temptation, if licences are not issued in large numbers, for poaching to occur.

The Minister referred to the difficulties of enforcement of the Bill in remote areas. The hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) also touched on the difficulty of poaching. He said that he doubted whether a fine of £50 would be sufficient to prevent poaching. This is a real difficulty which could have been met by legislation. I am surprised that my hon. Friend did not see fit to impose some such provision as I have suggested, especially as I understand that the relating of commercial transactions to the licence has been suggested in the past by commercial sealers.

I also understand—and hon. Members will find this on page 22 of the leaflet—that the fur trade voluntarily accepted arrangements not to take seal skins unless they came from sources which had been licensed by the Ministry of Agriculture. This does not, therefore, seem to be an impracticable proposition, and if the Bill is to work effectively, as we are all anxious that it should, this should be looked into by both my hon. Friend and by the Minister.

Mr. Gibson-Watt

I agree with what my right hon. Friend has said, but is not there the difficulty—and it was raised earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Chataway)—that a multiplicity of Ministries deals with this matter? This is one of the fundamental difficulties of the Bill. I see the Under-Secretary shaking his head. With respect to him, I think that he is wrong. That is the difficulty in the way of the argument which my right hon. Friend is putting forward.

Mr. Rees

For many years the Home Office has had responsibility for animals, and under all Governments it has carried out that responsibility properly.This is the first time that I have heard the argument that a multiplicity of Ministers is involved. What has been done in the past is a sensible way of doing things, and I believe that it will be so in this Bill.

Mr. Gibson-Watt rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is rising on an intervention on an intervention.

Mr. Ramsden

I recognise my hon. Friend's desire to be helpful. I do not seek to deny that there is a multiplicity of Ministries—I do not need to—but I do not think that that has very much bearing on the issue. I am anxious to do everything that is practicable to achieve effective conservation. I believe that that is the intention of the Minister. The Bill as it stands goes some way towards that, but I believe that there will be poaching, and that the Minister is right when he says it would be difficult to prevent it.

It has been recommended by the commercial sealing interests that there should be controls on the lines voluntarily operated by the fur trade, and I think that, on reflection, my hon. Friend might see fit to include something of that sort in the Bill as that suggestion has the backing of the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare.

Mr. More rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. Many hon. Members still wish to speak. Interventions prolong debate.

Mr. More

I am one of those who wish to speak against the Bill, but I have not been able to catch the eye of the Chair, as I think you are aware, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Pavitt

Come into the Lobby with us.

Mr. More

I am concerned with—[Interruption.]—the provision in Clause 11—[Interruption.].

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price) must contain himself.

Mr. William Price

I am finding it difficult.

Mr. More

I am concerned with the provision in Clause 11(5) about the ownership of the seals. This subsection provides that they shall be the property of the Secretary of State. I shall be grateful if my right hon. Friend will comment on this, because it seems to be a serious invasion of the rights of property.

Mr. Ramsden

I wish to touch on that later, not because it has much to do with the rights of property, but because this is a somewhat surprising subsection to find in the Bill, and I think that it requires an explanation from my hon. Friend or from the Minister.

I turn, now, to the question of humane killing, which is dealt with in Clause 1. It is clear from the speeches that this is accepted as one of the most important objects of the Bill. I do not believe that humane killing will be achieved by the provisions of the Bill as they stand, permitting as they do the use of .22 rifles and bullets, even those of the "souped-up "Hornet type. If the Bill had extended protection to all adult seals—a course suggested by some commercial interests—and simply made provision for the reduction of numbers by a cull of pup seals during the close season it would have been reasonable to allow the .22 rifle to be used. The culling of pup seals is habitually successfully done with a .22 rifle. There is no argument about. its being satisfactory for the purpose.

But that will not be the position. The position will be that pup seals will be culled during the close season under licence, but at other seasons adult seals may be shot at or taken by fishermen or anybody else. The .22 rifle is not a proper weapon for use against an animal as big as an adult seal. There are likely to be cases of wounding and suffering. Something should be done by my hon. Friend in Committee to confine the use of the .22 rifle to pup seals.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

On a point of order. In view of the fact that the overwhelming majority of hon. Members are of the opinion that the Bill has now been adequately debated, Mr. Speaker, will you now be prepared to accept a Motion, "That the Question be now put"?

Mr. Speaker

Not at this moment.

Mr. Ramsden

In an earlier intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) said that he believed that the casual shooting with a rifle had led and does lead to much suffering among the seal population. It has been recognised by many hon. Members that in the interests of fishermen the shooting of adult seals should continue to be allowed. I accept that, but let us make sure that it is done in a way that is humane, and let us exclude the .22 rifle.

If we exclude the .22 rifle, we should not dismiss from our minds the possibility of including a shotgun used with ball ammunition. A shotgun is a much more readily accessible weapon that a heavy calibre rifle, and the purchase of ammunition for it, as far as I know, does not require a firearms certificate. if it were used, ball ammunition would have to be stipulated, because the use of a shotgun would be extremely cruel if it were used with small shot. With ball shot a shotgun has a killing power far in excess of the majority of sporting rifles. The weight of the bullet is 490 grains and the: muzzle energy is 2,509 lbs. foot-pounds. I recommend this from my experience, because on occasion I have had to use it in the humane dispatch of animals which could not be disposed of at close quarters. The use of a shotgun with ball ammunition should not be excluded from our considerations.

One hon. Member mentioned the use of narcotics. I hope that the Home Office Ministers will think carefully before recommending the more widespread use of these so-called incapacitants. I have made inquiries about the possibility of their use in connection with the control of another species. Although it is true that they work—incapacitating an animal for a short time, enabling scientific observations to be taken, so that the animal can be released afterwards—the difficulty is that they are absolutely lethal to a human being. There is no antidote and no recovery. The smallest scratch occurring by accident—by accidental discharge, for example—can cause a fatality and represents a degree of risk which is not present in the case of conventional firearms.

Who is it intended should, in the main, be responsible for the culling which, it is accepted, is necessary during the close

season for the reduction of the seal population? Who are to be the main agents of control? Nothing has been said in this debate on behalf of the commercial sealing interests, but I hope that the main agents for culling will be the existing commercial sealers—first, because they can do the job without any charge being incurred by public funds, and, secondly, because experience has shown that as a general rule the best and most effective conservationists of any species are those having a direct interest, whether economic or of any other kind in the species continuing to flourish.

This must obviously be so. Anyone who lives by taking the cull of an animal population, no matter what type, is interested in the existence of that species; and he does the job in such a way as to ensure that his livelihood continues. Nobody has heard of a rat catcher killing the last rat: he has more sense. Nobody has heard of a farmer being so foolish to eat his seed corn. I hope that it is intended to licence existing seal hunters to cull, where culling is required.

The hon. Member for The High Peak said that much of the public odium against the National Trust, which has led to its giving up the practice of an annual seal cull, arose because the job was badly done. Wounded seals were washed up on the coast; people saw them, and naturally a great public outcry arose. This is understandable. We can respect the difficulties experienced by the National Trust.

Mr. Wellbeloved rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Mr. Temple rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Mr. Speaker

There are similar points of order from two places.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 105, Noes 5.

Division No. 37.] AYES [3.58 p.m.
Abse, Leo Beaney, Alan Boardman, H. (Leigh)
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Bell, Ronald Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)
Balniol, Lord Blaker, Peter Boston, Terence
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Blenkinsop, Arthur Brooks, Edwin
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Hamling, William Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Heffer, Eric S. Parker, John (Dagenham)
Coe, Denis Hill, J. E. B. Pavitt, Laurence
Costain, A. p. Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Dance, James Jeger, Mrs.Lena (H'b'n & St.P'cras,S.) Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Price, William (Rugby)
Devlin, Miss Bernadette Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham) Rankin, John
Dickens, James Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Rees, Merlyn
Drayson, G. B. Latham, Arthur Richard, Ivor
Driberg, Tom Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock) Roebuck, Roy
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Ellis, John Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Russell, Sir Ronald
English, Michael Lomas, Kenneth Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Ennals, David Loughlin, Charles Sheldon, Robert
Evans, loan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Lubbock, Eric Snow, Julian
Eyre, Reginald Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Taverne, Dick
Fisher, Nigel Mackie, John Temple, John M.
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Marks, Kenneth Tomney, Frank
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Marquand, David Tuck, Raphael
Fraser, John (Norwood) Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Freeson, Reginald Mendelson, John Wall, Patrick
Gibson-Watt, David Mikardo, Ian Weitzman, David
Glyn, Sir Richard Millan, Bruce Whitaker, Ben
Goodhart, Philip Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Grant-Ferris, Sir Robert Molloy, William Wiggin, A. W.
Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Morris, Aifred (Wythenshawe) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Winnick, David
Gregory, Arnold Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Worsley, Marcus
Gresham Cooke, R. Newens, Stan TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Griffiths, Eddie (Brightslde) O'Halloran, Michael Sir George Sinclair and
Guntcr, Fit. Hn. R. J. Orbach, Maurice Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies.
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Farr, John More, Jasper Mr. James Wellbeloved and
Kimball, Marcus Mr. Kevin McNamara.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).