HC Deb 11 December 1975 vol 902 cc631-3
4. Mr. Raphael Tuck

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has had concerning his refusal to take steps to prohibit the import of sperm whale products into the Unted Kingdom.

36. Dr. Glyn

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in view of the policies now adopted by the United States Government and the Government of New Zealand on the banning of whale products, if he will now reconsider his policy not to do the same.

Mr. Bishop

I have received a number of letters from conservation societies and others on the extension of the existing ban on the import of whale products to cover products of the sperm whale. I believe that products from the sperm whale should continue to be exempt from the ban since stocks of sperm whales are not indanger of over-exploitation and because certain industries would face very real difficulties if these products were not available. However, United Kingdom research into satisfactory substitutes continues with Government encouragement.

Mr. Tuck

Why did my hon. Friend refuse to accept a parcel of sperm oil substitutes delivered to him for examination this morning by the Friends of the Earth? Is he aware that there are adequate substitues for all uses of sperm oil and that I have a list of them with me if he wants to see it? Does he realise that the whale may disappear from our oceans and never return? Will he at least follow the example of the United States and New Zealand by banning imports of sperm oil products and work towards a 10-year moratorium on commercial whaling as resolved at the Stockholm Conference?

Mr. Bishop

I shall clarify the position. I am aware that many hon. Members were told that the Friends of the Earth were meeting me today. Unfortunately, I had not been told. The Friends of the Earth later wrote to tell me that they would see me at 9.30 a.m. when, as Opposition Members know, I was involved in preparing for a Commitee debate. I wrote to the Friends of the Earth saying that I would see them this evening, and I am looking forward to doing so. I am sorry that there has been a mix-up in communications. In any case, I do not accept gifts.

For many years I have been concerned about finding ways to conserve whales. We have not done any whaling since 1963 and we are actively concerned with research into substitutes for sperm oil. Those who want an immediate ban on the use of sperm whale products must recognise the consequences to industry and the costs, because the oil is very important to us. We are pressing for the use of substitutes as soon as we can find them.

Dr. Glyn

I am not as interested in the lobby of the Friends of the Earth as I am in the preservation of the whale. Does the Minister agree that there are alternative substances, either natural or synthetic, which can replace sperm oil, whether in the manufacture of ladies' gloves or for other purposes? Will the Minister's Department look into the question, not necessarily from the point of view of a 10-year moratorium, but to see whether we can bring ourselves into line with two other Governments—New Zealand and the United States—both of which have considered this matter seriously? Will the Minister tell me of one product which cannot be replaced synthetically?

Mr. Bishop

Substitutes for the manufacture of ladies' gloves are not to hand, but we are pursuing the possibility of substitutes. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern—and that of others—but I remind him that the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission has given us advice, which we accept. In the International Whaling Commission talks in London—which I was honoured to open—an amendment, called the Australian amendment, was passed, categorising the scarcity of species. We are aware that we must try to keep all the members of the Commission together, because if members do not co-operate, nothing can be done. We are very much seized of the importance of this matter.