HL Deb 24 June 1912 vol 12 cc136-7


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill which I ask your Lordships to read a second time this evening is one upon which I need not address the House at any length. Although it is a Bill of considerable importance and of a great deal of interest, it is one which can certainly be described as entirely non-contentious. As many of your Lordships are aware, there has been for many years a steady and somewhat alarming decrease in the number of fur seals in the Behring Sea, and this decrease is undoubtedly principally due to the practice of what is commonly known as pelagic sealing, which may be briefly described as the shooting of seals in the open sea outside the limits of territorial jurisdiction. This is both a barbarous and a wasteful method. It is barbarous because by far the greater number of the seals so killed are females, and consequently their young, which have been left on land, inevitably die of starvation; and it is wasteful because a number of the seals so shot cannot be recovered. The principal sufferers from this practice are the United States, who own the Pribilof Islands, the principal breeding ground of the large herds of fur seals. In a lesser degree the Russian and Japanese Governments also suffer, as they own other islands where some of the smaller herds of seals are in the habit of breeding.

As far back as the year 1894 the United States Government entered into an agreement with the British Government by which the nationals of both countries were prohibited from the killing of seals within a certain area of the Behring Sea; but in spite of this agreement the decrease steadily continued, partly owing, no doubt, to the fact that the area prohibited was not sufficient in extent, but also owing to the fact that Russian and Japanese scalers, being bound by no Treaty obligations, were at liberty to pursue their calling and to kill seals even in the prohibited area. Accordingly the United States summoned a conference of representatives of its own, of His Majesty's, of the Russian, and of the Japanese Governments. The result of this conference was a Treaty which was signed by the representatives of all four countries on July 11 last year, the main provisions of which were the enlargement of the prohibited area in the Behring Sea and an absolute prohibition to sell the skins of any seals which had been killed by means of pelagic sealing.

As regards our own interests in the matter, compensation is to be paid to the Canadian sealers who lose their occupation owing to the provisions of the Treaty. I may also say that the Treaty itself is approved by the Canadian Government, who were themselves represented at the conference, and that His Majesty's representative at the conference had the advantage of the assistance of certain experts in the seal skin trade from this country. This Treaty was finally ratified and came into force on December 15 last year. The other parties to the Treaty are now engaged in preparing the necessary legislation, and this Bill is desirable in order that we on our side may be in a position to carry out the obligations by which we are bound in this Treaty. I therefore hope that your Lordships will give a Second Reading to this Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Herschell.)

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.