§ Order of the day for the Second Reading read.
THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (EARL DE LAWARR)
My Lords, the grey seal, rather less romantically described as the halichoerus grypus—I think in the Bill described as halichoeri grypi, but later it is to be amended—is a rather rare inhabitant of the more isolated parts of certain islands in Scotland. Some years ago, largely through the efforts of Mr. Lyell, Parliament was asked to pass a Bill to prevent the taking of this particular seal during the breeding season between October 1 and December 15, and that Bill was made to operate for five years. It had a very good effect, and undoubtedly increased the number of grey seals. At the same time it has been decided that there is still a comparative shortage of grey seals, and it is necessary to continue their protection. It is, therefore, suggested that your Lordships should pass this Bill, which continues the protection, but that it should only operate from year to year. Neither the Minister nor the Secretary of State for Scotland would consider removing the ban unless they held very careful inquiry before they did so. I think, probably, it is generally agreed that this is the best way of carrying on the scheme. The Bill has been before the Society for file Preservation of the Fauna of the Empire, and has received their approval. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, who is unfortunately unable to he here to-day, wrote informing me of that fact, and, as he was in the chair, he was in a position to know what had happened. I think that is all I have to say on the Bill except that, we would like to get it through as soon as possible in order that we may send it down to another place.
§ LORD CUSHENDUN
My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, might I ask if he would explain why it is proposed to make it from year to year instead for another five years? Surely that would be a more effective protection?
§ EARL DE LA WARR
That suggestion has been considered. As there has been a very considerable increase already in the number of grey seals, the necessity of continuing for the full five years was questioned, and a compromise was arrived at that we should watch the process of protection, note any increase in the breeding of this particular form of seal from year to year, and then judge the matter as circumstances dictated. I may say that it has been suggested to me privately by certain of your Lordships that it is unfortunate that we should attempt to protect the grey seal because it is harmful to fish, but, so far as we are able to ascertain, it is not the grey seal which is injurious to fishing, but the common seal.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl De La Warr.)
§ LORD DANESFORT
My Lords, as vice-chairman of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and on behalf of the Society itself, I welcome this Bill. The grey seal is one of the largest and most beautiful of the wild mammals now left in Great Britain, and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has for many years past taken an active, and I think an effective interest in protecting the seals, and in seeing that the provisions of the Act for protecting them are duly carried out. I say we support the Bill, but it has been pointed out to me that when the Bill comes into Committee it will require some modification. For instance, in Clause 1, there is a power for the Minister of Agriculture in England and the Secretary of State in Scotland to make orders saying there should be no close season during the twelve months next following the making of the order. That may be quite right, but that order ought not to be made, I suggest to the noble Earl, except after consultation with some Committee of experts which the Minister could appoint. Very probably, without a provision of that sort in the Bill, he would consult some Committee, but I think it would be desirable 275 to have it in the Bill so that that very necessary protection might be duly carried out.
My second point is a smaller one. It is on subsection (2) of Clause 1, where it says that any order made under that clause shall be laid before each House of Parliament for not less than twenty-eight days during the Session of Parliament. I venture to suggest that that is too short a time, because many of the people who are interested in this matter live in very remote parts of the country—perhaps in the north of Scotland or elsewhere—and twenty-eight days would be really too Short a time to allow for them to get knowledge of the draft order and to take advice as to what alterations, if any, should be made in it. Therefore, when the Bill reaches the Committee stage, I shall suggest to the noble Earl that he should give a little longer time, perhaps forty-eight days or something like that. That would not prejudice the making of the order.
The only other point I want to bring to the attention of the noble Earl is this. I suggest that the Minister should make regulations as to the mode of killing these seals, and especially of the baby seals. During the period when there has been no close season in the past there has been a great deal of cruelty perpetrated by the killing of the grey seals, and more especially of the baby seals. It appears that the baby seals do not normally take to the water under a period of from a month to six weeks. They remain on land. They are absolutely helpless and in many cases—certainly in former times and I believe now—there have been attacks made upon these small seals, and both they and the mother seals, which have been engaged in protecting them, have been clubbed on the head and subjected to great cruelty and suffering. Therefore I suggest to the noble Earl that it would be extremely advisable that he should accept some clause by which the Minister should prescribe some humane mode of killing these seals when they are in excessive numbers. Probably shooting would be best, but that would be a matter for consideration. Subject to that, I would cordially support the Bill, but I hope that the noble Earl will give reasonable time before the Committee 276 stage in order that the Bill may be considered and, if necessary, amended.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I have no desire to oppose this Bill, but I confess I should like to hear something more in defence of the proposals contained in it. The noble Earl opposite in charge of the Bill has committed himself to the perfectly astonishing statement that these seals do not eat fish. A seal will not even eat a bun in the Zoo. What else is there for a seal to live on except fish? My impression is that a seal eats an enormous number of fish. We are always being invited to eat more fish, but these seals, every one of them, eat something like 20 lbs. of fish a day. I should have thought that in the interests of the consumer—the consumer being the person in whom noble Lords opposite are more interested than in anybody else—that the sooner animals of this kind were exterminated the better. Personally, I should like to wage war upon seals and porpoises, and all animals that prey upon fish, and I do not think their absence would be regretted in the least, however painful it might be to my noble friend sitting beside me. However, I cordially support the restrictions proposed because they will make killing more certain than it would be in the ordinary way.
§ LORD DANESFORT
May I tell my noble friend that the grey seal eats dog-fish, which is the most pernicious fish. The common seal, I believe, eats all kinds of fish and probably does not deserve protection, but the animal which eats this pernicious kind of fish, the dog-fish, does deserve protection.
§ LORD NEWTON
If my noble friend will give me an undertaking that the grey seal will only eat dog-fish, I am quite prepared not to oppose the Bill, but I confess that so far I have not found the arguments very convincing.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I can assure the noble Lord that the grey seal certainly eats less fish than the common seal. As to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Danesfort, the Government will certainly give them consideration.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.