HC Deb 18 April 1975 vol 890 cc871-80
Mr. Stephen Ross

I beg to move Amendment No. 33, in page 8, line 11, at end insert Glanville Fritillary, Melitaea Cinxia

I appreciate that it is in the interests of natural history societies and others to seek to obtain as many additions as possible to the schedule. I have resisted the temptation to put forward some additions although a number of plants and species have been recommended to me as being worthy of addition. I have cut that number down to three. This particular species, Glanville Fritillary, is unique to the Isle of Wight. I referred to it in the Second Reading debate and have been since corrected because some of the information I gave was not in order. I said that it derived from the Continent, but I am assured that this is misleading.

The species is resident on the island throughout the year and there is no evidence of its connection with its continental counterpart, which appears to be genetically distinct. This means that there are no other specimens of Glanville Fritillary, which accentuates the need for its protection. I understand that certain of these fritillary are being bred at Brockenhurst. The grubs were removed from the island for the purpose. I think that they are to be returned. At present two sites in my constituency are protected by National Trust byelaws. and I believe that a third may now be coming into protection because it has recently been acquired by one of the local authorities which, we hope, may help.

There is little bite to the protection afforded. Apart from those who collect it, the species suffers from destruction of its feed plant by coastal erosion, from which we have suffered considerably. I realise that the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) does not consider that the species is at risk at the moment. However, I hope he will be able to allow this addition to the schedule.

Mr. John Silkin

We were all interested to hear the account by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) of the Glanville Fritillary, Militaea Cinxia. I hope that the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) now agrees with this pronunciation. He uses the new pronunciation while I use the old. I said that we were grateful to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight, and so we should be, because I understand that, in these islands at any rate, the species in question is found virtually only on the Isle of Wight. My information is that it is to be found only in the southern part of the Isle of Wight. I am told that a number of colonies are to be found on the cliff slopes and in the valleys.

The question whether we should give the species the protection envisaged by Schedule I leads to a consideration of what the species and the criteria adopted under Schedule I should be. The species listed are limited. They are intended to include those species at present needing special protection, and the protection measures in the Bill are quite inflexible: they provide either complete protection or none at all. Therefore, only those species which are truly endangered should be added to Schedule 1. I hope that that is common ground between both sides of the House.

The question is whether the Glanville Fritillary is an endangered species within the definition. I agree with the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight that it is vulnerable to collection, due, I gather, to the tendency of its larvae to congregate together. However, we have gone into this matter and there seems to be practically no evidence of collection. Therefore I must, rather regretfully, part company with the hon. Gentleman in his assessment of the situation.

We have consulted the Nature Conservancy Council on the point and it believes that the species is not currently in danger. If that is so, and in view of the inflexible effect of Schedule 1, there seems to be an overwhelming case for saying that we should not add the Glanville Fritillary to the list in Schedule 1. I think that that must follow from the advice we have received. Accordingly, I advise the House, a little regretfully perhaps, to resist the amendment.

Mr. Hardy

I, too, think that it would be unwise to include the Glanville Fritillary in Schedule I Only one butterfly is listed in the schedule, although hon. Members will be aware that there is a number of species of butterfly and that they are diminishing in numbers. However, it was felt necessary to include one butterfly in the schedule to emphasise the principle that rare creatures of this kind could be covered by the Bill. The point is adequately made by the inclusion of the Large Blue Butterfly in the schedule. If we were to increase the number of butterflies included in the schedule, we should be in danger of making the Bill excessively and unacceptably complex. As I said on an earlier amendment, we need to keep the Bill as simple as possible and to keep the schedule as short as is reasonable.

In Committee the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) drew attention to the Glanville Fritillary species. I am aware that it is not abundant even in the Isle of Wight, which is its only habitat in the British Isles. However, the point made by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Planning and Local Government is valid—that although the species is restricted to the island, it is not in any danger there. I accept that the gregarious habits of the Glanville Fritillary larvae mean that it is vulnerable and could be collected, but it is not collected.

If the Glanville Fritillary were included in the schedule, largely because of the interest, concern and initiative of the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight, this might create confusion because hon. Members would feel it necessary to press the claims of a substantial number of other butterfly species in order to have their local interests properly served. It is clear that a number of other species are in greater danger and are more vulnerable than the Glanville Fritillary, and it would perhaps be unjust to those species if we were to include the Glanville Fritillary and not them.

If there were serious threats to the Glanville Fritillary from the commercial collectors, and if it became even more scarce, the Nature Conservancy Council would, I am sure, bear in mind the hon. Member's interest and would draw the attention of the Secretary of State to its diminishing numbers and recommend its inclusion in Schedule 1. I hope that it never comes to that. I hope that the Glanville Fritillary will continue to add interest and variety to the fauna of the Isle of Wight and that there will be no need to include it in the Bill. If there is ever a need to include it, I trust that the arrangements we have approved in earlier clauses will be of substantial benefit to the Glanville Fritillary and to the island.

However, if the amendment were accepted we should be doing an injustice to other species. We should perhaps irritate naturalists in other areas and we should certainly be increasing the complexity of the Bill in a way which could be prejudicial to its acceptance and to the way in which it is understood in the country.

Mr. Stephen Ross

I appreciate what the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) has said. I realise that there must be great pressure on him, which he has resisted, to add further species to the schedule. I accept that the Glanville Fritillary is not under extreme pressure, but I must pay tribute to my local history society to whose vigilance the species owes its protection. We are not sure whether that vigilance will continue when some of the leading lights in the society pass on. I hope that it will.

I shall not press the amendment because I should not wish to offend the hon. Member for Rother Valley, who has done a marvellous job in promoting the Bill. The question of badgers will arise on Third Reading, when I am sorry to say I shall not be present. I am sad to hear that the hon. Member has been attacked by animal lovers on this subject. I shall defend him to the utmost as I, too, am a great lover of badgers.

I am a little sad about asking leave to withdraw the amendment because, for once, I seem to have got the drafting right—and I have not been criticised for my pronunciation of Melitaea Cinxia.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I beg to move Amendment No. 34, in page 8, line 11, at end insert Whales, dolphins and porpoises'.

I hope it will be agreed that the amendment deals with a matter of great importance and raises a number of issues to which consideration should be given. I realise that the amendment introduces a new dimension in more ways than one to the list of creatures included in the schedule. There could hardly be a greater difference in size between the creatures mentioned in the schedule and the whale.

I wish to, clarify the position concerning the Bill's application to our territorial waters. I hope to obtain an assurance that it is intended to include the territorial waters within the Bill and that, either today or at a later date, creatures of the kind mentioned in the amendment will be covered.

12.30 p.m.

It can be clearly established that not only are the whale, the porpoise and the dolphin under severe attack but, what is more to the purpose of the Bill, that they are under attack within our territorial waters. Perhaps the Latin name cetacea should be included in the wording of the amendment, but no doubt that can be included later if the amendment is accepted.

There is common concern about the danger to whales and allied creatures in the sea. This matter has been taken up and special international conventions have sought to protect these creatures, alas not successfully. But the record of our Government has been good. We have withdrawn our whaling throughout the world. At one time that was a considerable trade, even from Britain. There is anxiety especially about Norwegian whalers which are operating in Scottish and Shetland waters. There is evidence of whaling going on in that area and there is also evidence of landings being made, legally or illegally, in some of our seaport towns in Shetland and Scotland. Evidence is also to be found in Norwegian records of the practice of whaling in Shetland waters. That is not a matter that lies wholly outside our control, although I realise how limited is our power.

By delving into old records, one may find certain historic Acts that relate to whaling, Acts which reserve to the Sovereign the ownership of whales caught in our territorial waters. Whether that can be regarded as an adequate safeguard

for the whale is uncertain. There is some doubt about the extent of the application of the Acts, and I hope that the amendment may provide an opportunity. now or later, for an examination of the position.

The creatures that are included in the schedule are of a limited character and, except among experts and those who are extremely knowledgeable, do not exactly warm the heart. The whale, the dolphin and the porpoise, on the other hand. are creatures about which there is enormous concern and interest in this country, as has been demonstrated during the past year or two when they have been under discussion. The inclusion of my amendment would be a valuable step forward, although I recognise the limited extent to which the powers can be applied.

I introduce the amendment partly with the desire to encourage further consideration of this matter either now or later or even after the Bill has been passed. I invite comments from my right hon. Friend and from others on the possibility of taking a modest step towards the more effective protection of these creatures.

Mr. Mather

I commend the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) on introducing the amendment and raising a subject which needs to be discussed in the House. I recently put down three or four Parliamentary Questions on the protection of whales and I am interested in the amendment.

If it is any comfort to the hon. Gentleman, I can draw a precedent for his attempt to extend the Bill to include territorial waters. The Sex Discrimination Bill also extends to territorial waters, not in connection with frogmen or frog women but concerning activities on oil rigs. There is a precedent there if the hon. Gentleman likes to take it.

A year or two back I was concerned with the Wild Creatures and Forest Laws Bill—now enacted—which specifically dealt with whales. I do not know whether the author of that Bill would he keen to have yet another amendment added to the Long Title, in addition to an amendment to the Badgers Act.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important matter and I hope that the Minister of State will note what he said. There is a convention on whales in session at present to which the Minister has sent a representative. One hopes that the spokesman for the Department will stress that the protection of whales needs to be extended beyond the normal conventions of whaling countries and put under the control of the United Nations.

Mr. Bishop

I agree with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) in support of the amendment, but I feel that he may consider his amendment unnecessary in the light of the facts.

The Nature Conservancy Council has advised us that there is no evidence to indicate that where these creatures are normally found in British waters they are endangered. The safeguards which my hon. Friend seeks are already embodied in legislation and in the procedures. The general feeling is that no action is necessary in connection with the British fishing limits and that all endangered species, including cetacea, are protected by regulations of the International Whaling Commission. The fishing limits also include the territorial waters in the areas that are already covered. My hon. Friend has mentioned, for example, Scotland and the Shetlands.

The fact is that the United Kingdom is an active member of the International Whaling Commission although we ceased whaling in 1963. The adoption of a 10-year moratorium was fully considered by the commission in two successive years but was rejected on the consensus of scientific advice. That matter was not voted on when the commission met in 1974 as an amendment proposal was accepted which will mean automatic total protection for any whale stock which, according to scientific advice, falls below a healthy level.

I think I can give the assurance that my hon. Friend seeks, but I must point out that what he is seeking to do is already covered and that his amendment may be considered unnecessary.

My hon. Friend questioned the legality of the Norwegians and other countries fishing in certain areas. That is a matter which can be stopped only by inspection. Such inspection is normal in our fishing grounds. The fact is that what my hon. Friend seeks to do is already covered.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Will my hon. Friend confirm that further examinations would be carried out by suitable scientific bodies if evidence were to be presented of Norwegian whaling in Shetland waters and if it were felt that there was a danger of the further development of such whaling?

Mr. Bishop

I think that the answer would be a clear "Yes". All these matters are the concern of the fishing authorities and the fishing inspectors can exercise their authority. The point I was making was that such activity is illegal anyway and that new protection, such as my hon. Friend has in mind. is unnecessary. However, I can give him the assurance he seeks.

Mr. Mather

Will the Minister take this opportunity to report any progress that has been made at the current international conference on whaling?

Mr. Bishop

Without notice I am unable to give any assurance. I will look into that matter and write to the hon. Gentleman.

Little research has been done internationally on the smaller cetaceans such as dolphins and porpoises. However, a report of the conference on smaller cetaceans held in Montreal in April 1974 is to be published this summer by the Fisheries Research Board for Canada. The only cause for concern appears to be the by-catch of dolphins in the tropical Pacific tuna fishery. Steps are being taken to develop a net which will allow dolphins to escape if they are accidentally taken. I emphasise the point that dolphins and porpoises are covered by the regulations of the International Whaling Commission.

12.45 p.m.

Mr. Hardy

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) for tabling the amendment. I join my hon. Friend the Minister in asking my hon. Friend not to press the amendment but I believe that he has done the House a Service in bringing the matter to the attention of the Government, and possibly to the attention of the public.

It is now clear that marine creatures which are threatened can be protected by their insertion in Schedule 1. Having that situation made clear has been very valuable and useful. None the less, I have some anxieties. My hon. Friend has spoken of international agreements, but one of the difficulties about whaling is that a number of countries are not parties to the agreements. One or two of the nations which are involved in whaling activities seem to a number of people, and certainly to myself, to behave in a way which is not entirely in the interests of conservation and in a way which does not merit the approval of other nations which are parties to the agreement.

12.45 p.m.

I have been fascinated by information given to me on this matter. It appears that the Statute De Prerogativa Regis, which I believe was enacted in the seventeenth year of the reign of Edward II, means that all whale-like creatures are the property of the Sovereign. The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) has drawn our attention to debates which were held about three years ago when we tried to sort out some of the ancient forest laws. I do not think that consolidation in any way removes the right of the Sovereign to whales or wallenas, as they were called in earlier days. It may be that that statute is still active.

There has been a great deal of discussion and concern in Parliament—and there may be more in the country in the forthcoming weeks, about the issue of sovereignty. Therefore, it might be a little relevant if we were to assert that the prerogativa regis served a useful purpose and should be activated. If we were to say that all cetacea caught in territorial waters—and certainly the territorial waters of England and Wales—were the property of the Sovereign, the Norwegians and others would not be particularly keen to take them as there would be profit for the Sovereign or for the State and none for overseas whalers.

In those circumstances it may well be that whales have dual protection. There may well be a capacity for whales, porpoises and cetaceans of all kinds to be included in Schedule I if they happen to be under severe threat. Of course, it is to be honed that that situation will never arise. We could demand that the statement of prerogativa regis of the fourteenth century should now apply, thus reducing the capacity of the individuals involved in the trade to make any profit.

Having at least one assurance and one rather romantic possibility, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields will accept my thanks for having raised the matter. I hope he will agree that the Minister's assurances are valid and that he will agree to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I welcome what my hon. Friend the Minister has said but I cannot say that I am altogether satisfied. We must all be very concerned about this situation. As I understand it, the International Whaling Convention regulations do not extend to dolphins and they do not regulate whaling operations in many parts of the world, including the Arctic. I am not sure whether they are fully operative in Shetland waters. I still urge my hon. Friend to ask for further thought to be given to this situation. It is a matter of deep and continuing concern.

We are all aware, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) has said, that the most important countries of all in terms of whaling are not parties to the convention. Of course, the old Act to which he has rightly referred does not apply to Scotland. Scotland was a separate kingdom at the time that that legislation was passed. Here we have an area of considerable public concern. That concern might encourage not the whales to swallow up all the other creatures that we are seeking to protect in the schedule but rather the bringing about of a new level of interest in an area that we are all most anxious should be publicly supported throughout the country.

In view of the modest assurance which we have had from my hon. Friend, for which I thank him, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

A mendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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