HL Deb 03 December 1930 vol 79 cc454-61

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Earl De La Warr.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Close season for grey seals.

1.—(1) Subject as hereinafter provided, there shall be, both in England and in Scotland, an annual close season for grey seals (halichœri; grypi) extending from the first day of October to the fifteenth day of December, both inclusive:

Provided that, in the case of England, the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and, in the case of Scotland, a Secretary of State, may at any time by order direct, either generally or as respects any area described in the order, that, notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provision—

  1. (a) there shall be no close season during the twelve months next following the making of the order; or
  2. (b) the next close season shall commence and end on such dates as may be specified in the order.

(2) Before any order is made under this section, the draft thereof shall be laid before each House of Parliament for a period of not less than twenty-eight days during the session of Parliament and, if a Resolution disapproving the draft or any part thereof is passed by either House of Parliament before the expiration of that period, no further proceedings shall be taken on the draft, but if no such Resolution is passed, the Minister, or, as the case may be, the Secretary of State may at the expiration of the said period make an order in the terms of the draft, and an order so Trade shall have effect as if enacted in this Act.


My Amendment to this clause is merely drafting.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 8, leave out ("halichœri grypi") and insert ("that is to say, seals of the species known as halichœrus grypus.") (Earl De La Warr.)


I am very much obliged to the noble Earl for moving this Amendment. I think it is the correct name. If it had been put in italics, I am told that it would be absolutely correct, but I Jo not know that it is necessary.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD DANESFORT moved, in the proviso in subsection (1), after "time", to insert "after consultation with a committee of independent experts to be nominated in the case of England by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, and in the case of Scotland by a Secretary of State." The noble Lord said: The reasons for this Amendment are these. I entirely agree that there will be, or sometimes may properly be, an order for no close season, or altering the close season in a particular area, because the conditions differ in different localities; but I do say that that ought not to be done without previous consultation with experts. May I just give one or two illustrations why it is necessary? The breeding season varies in different places. In the Scilly Islands, I am informed, the breeding season begins in August.


No, in September.


My information is that in the Hebrides it begins in October, and in the Scilly Islands it begins earlier. Therefore, if that is right, the close season for the Scilly Islands should begin earlier. Again, in some localities there is an excess of grey seals, and it may be proper there that either there should be no close season at all, or that the close season should be restricted. On the other hand, in other localities, there are far too few grey seals, and no injury to fishing at all, and there the close season might be much longer. From that point of view I venture to think that the Minister should have the assistance of experts, such as I have suggested.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 13, after ("time") insert ("after consultation with a committee of independent experts to he nominated in the ease of England by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, and in the case of Scotland by a Secretary of State").—(Lord Danesfort.)


My right hon. friend would rather that we did not insert this Amendment, because I think it is really rather hard to see what this independent expert committee would do that could not be done by those who are already employed by the Government, who are perfectly competent to carry on the work. It is unlikely, I think, that any order would he made under this clause unless complaints were received indicating that the number of seals had very largely increased, and that damage, therefore, was being done to the fisheries. If such complaints were received then the appropriate procedure would be to send one or two of our expert officials, who are in full touch with all the information on this subject, to the breeding ground, as indeed was done in 1927 or 1928, to make an approximate estimate of the grey seal population. The information which was obtained from the census of two years ago showed that there were 5,000 grey seals in Scottish waters. I cannot tell your Lordships on what they based those estimates. I think the officials that we have already can do their work and, furthermore, if the next Amendment on the Paper, standing in the name of the noble Lord, is accepted, as we propose to accept it, I think really there will be ample opportunity for any one particularly interested in this subject to approach the Department and make representations. I hope, therefore, the noble Lord will not ask me to insert this Amendment.


I do not think the inspectors can be accused of being unfriendly to the grey seals, because at the time mentioned by the noble Earl I invited an inspector to come clown to the Scilly Islands. He did so, and went into the matter, and he said that the seals were not too numerous, and there was no necessity to do away with the close season, or to make any alteration. As the noble Earl gave an undertaking on the Second Reading that there will be a full inquiry, I think that is really all that is necessary. The official inspectors are fair and impartial, and do their work well.


After what is practically an undertaking that the Ministry will not make an order of this sort without consultation with experts, I perhaps ought to be satisfied. I think it would be a little better in most cases to put such a provision into the Bill, because the noble Earl may be succeeded by somebody who is not so broadminded, and who may think of making the orders without consulting experts. If it were in the Act of Parliament he would be kept in the right path. Perhaps, therefore, the noble Earl will consider between now and the Report stage whether it would not be better to put something of this sort in the Bill. All I want to do is to make it quite certain that experts will be consulted before orders are made. I do not press my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

LORD DANESFORT moved, in subsection (2), to leave out "twenty-eight" and insert "forty-eight."


I accept this Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 24, leave out ("twenty-eight") and insert ("forty-eight").—(Lord Danesfort.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2:

Offences in relation on to grey seals during close season.

2.—(1) Every person who—

  1. (a) during the close season knowingly and with intent kills, wounds or takes a grey seal; or
  2. (b) being an owner of a boat uses, or permits any person to use, it for the purpose of killing, wounding or taking a grey seal during the close season; shall be guilty of an offence under this Act and shall on summary conviction be liable—
    1. (i) in the case of offences under paragraph (a) of this section, to a fine not exceeding five pounds in respect of each such offence; and
    2. (ii) in the case of offences under paragraph (b) of this section, to a fine not exceeding ten pounds in respect of each such offence.


The noble Viscount, Lord Bertie of Thame, has on the Paper an Amendment to move in subsection (1) (b), after "owner," to insert "charterer or hirer." He has asked me to move this Amendment. I therefore beg to move it, and to accept it.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 12, after ("owner") to insert ("charterer or hirer").—(Earl De La Warr.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

LORD DANESFORT moved after Clause 2, to insert the following new clause: .In the case of England the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, and in the case of Scotland a Secretary of State, shall make regulations as to the best and most, humane mode of killing grey seals at times other than during the close season.

The noble Lord said: This is really an urgent question, because the evidence that I have collected and read is very strong to show that the existing methods of killing grey seals are exceedingly cruel. May I call the attention of my noble friend to two well-known authorities on the subject? The first is Major Hesketh Pritchard, who wrote an important book called "Sports in Wildest Britain." It is an exceedingly interesting and well thought-out book, and the author says in the strongest terms that there is great cruelty in the mode of killing both adult seals and what they call the baby seals. That is not all. Mr. Seton Gordon, who has given great attention to the subject, wrote an article in the Empire Review for November, 1925, and it corroborates every word of what is said by Major Hesketh Pritchard. I have also personally interviewed a Mr. King, who has been resident in the Scilly Islands for a number of years, and who is very familiar with the mode of breeding seals and of killing seals.


I know him well.


I am glad to hear that. At any rate I had a long talk with him and he described in minute detail some of the great cruelties practised in killing these seals. He says that men, probably fishermen—I am not saying that fishermen are any worse than others, but if fish have been killed they would not be very friendly to the seals—go round with clubs and batter these unfortunate seals on the head. Unfortunately they do not always kill them immediately. It may take several blows to kill them, and Mr. King assures me that in some cases he has known it take as long as a quarter of an hour. I am sure the Government would not approve of that method of getting rid of the seals, and I hope the noble Earl will be prepared to introduce a clause into the Bill which will enable the Minister to prescribe a more humane mode of killing them. I believe the simplest way would be by shooting, but I leave that to the Minister, and I hope he will accept this clause or any amendment of it that he thinks better, in order to stop this very horrible form of cruelty.

Amendment moved— After Clause 2, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Danesfort.)


I should like to support this Amendment. I have heard exactly the same story about the clubbing of seals. No doubt anyone who goes and clubs an old bull seal must be a plucky individual, because that seal is a formidable monster. I do not think, however, the practice has been followed for a good many years, but I have heard exactly the same story from Mr. King. If the seals are shot in a sportsmanlike fashion, which is the right way to keep them down, there is no cruelty at all. The fishermen, who used to club them, though I do not think they have done it for a good many years, had not got the rifles and other appliances, and therefore when there was a complaint of there being too many, they resorted to this means.


I confess I have been impressed by what the noble Lords have said and I would like to meet them. The trouble is really that seals are so very widely distributed, and they are killed just by odd fishermen who come across them in some districts in Scotland. I think rewards are offered by fishery interests to fishermen for bringing in the seals. It would be very difficult to lay it down that every fisherman had to carry a rifle in case he came across a seal. On the other hand, I think we might meet the noble Lord to a certain extent. I was going to make this suggestion, that there is something to be said for giving the appropriate Minister power to include in any order, when the protection is to be removed and seals are going to be slaughtered in any numbers, provisions for the regulation or control of the killing of grey seals and their rookeries during the breeding season. We might well consider the possibility of putting down an Amendment for this purpose, I think, before this Bill leaves your Lordships' House, but I am afraid that further than that I cannot go.


Might I suggest, as being a person who comes from one of the counties where these seals exist, and perhaps as one of the few people in the House who has seen these seals, that it should be left to the local county council to deal with the matter? They know much more about it than your Lordships do, or than the Ministry do. Personally I would very much rather see grey seals killed with clubs than by an amateur firing a rifle at them. They have been killed with clubs for centuries, and when they are hit they are killed immediately. It is much the most practical way to leave it to the counts council. I do not move any Amendment, but I would suggest that to the Government.


I understand the noble Earl will produce on Report a clause which he hopes will meet the case. That being so, I beg to withdraw my Amendment. But may I express the hope that the clause will do something to prevent this undoubted cruelty, which has been going on quite recently. I hope the noble Earl will draw up his clause as strongly as he can.


I am afraid it will not entirely meet the noble Lord's point, but it will go some way.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Remaining clause agreed to.

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