HL Deb 25 June 1958 vol 210 cc258-88

6.54 p.m.

LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE rose to draw attention to the cruelty involved in the present method of whaling; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I make no apology for bringing this Motion before your Lordships' House. If any justification were required I think it would be in the terms of the resolution carried at the Conference at Geneva a few weeks ago relating to the sea; that is, the United Nations' Conference about which your Lordships will remember there was disagreement over the extent of territorial waters and fishing limits. But the Conference agreed (as the noble Viscount on the Woolsack has just said on the Resolution we have just passed) nemine dissentiente to a resolution couched in these words: The United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, requests States to prescribe, by all means available to them, those methods for the capture and killing of marine life, especially of whales and seals, which will spare them suffering to the greatest exert 'possible. The reason why these two marine animals are referred to and singled out specially is that they are mammals and, as such, have a nervous system similar to that of the land mammals and are subject to physical pain comparable to that of land mammals under similar treatment. My Motion deals solely with whales. I do not refer to-day to the question of seals, because it is an entirely separate matter and merits entirely different treatment.

I propose to begin by reciting a few facts which I believe are not in dispute, and they will speak for themselves. I shall then direct your Lordships' attention to a new method that is being tried for the killing of whales, on which there is some difference of opinion, especially with regard to its success—and by "success" I refer not merely to its humanity but also to its efficiency for the purpose for which it is designed. Then, finally, I shall make an appeal to the Government. Perhaps at this stage I should make one disclaimer. I have not myself taken part or witnessed any whaling expeditions, but I base my case on the testimony of those who have had direct experience. Moreover, I have been at considerable pains to have my facts checked by expert members of the whaling industry, and where there is a divergence of view I shall not attempt to disguise that fact from your Lordships.

Whaling has a long history. The original method was that comparatively small boats went out after a whale; they directed at it, and pierced it with, an ordinary harpoon. The whale carried this harpoon in its body and dragged the boat about with it for a period lasting several days, until at last it expired from exhaustion and loss of blood. I believe that that original method has been superseded entirely. The present method, which I shall describe later, uses much larger boats, catcher ships, with a factory ship to which the killed whales are taken; and these catcher ships use what is known as the explosive harpoon.

In 1946, a conference was held in Washington, out of which grew the International Whaling Commission to regulate the industry. That Commission has its headquarters in London and its official office is that of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food here in Whitehall. One of the main functions of this Commission is to regulate the number of whales that may be killed in a single whaling season, which lasts from the late autumn to the spring. The reason for doing that is that at one time there was an Arctic whaling industry, which came to an end because they killed so many whales that either there were none left at all or they all migrated to another part of the oceans. So to-day one of the principal functions of this Commission is to impose for all whaling companies taking part an aggregate limit to the number of whales they may kill in one season. By what seems, to an outsider, to be a peculiar method the limit is stated not as so many whales but as the number of "blue whale units." the practical effect of which is that it amounts to something like 25,000 whales a year.

There are many experts who think that this limit is far too high and that, unless it is reduced, the whale is likely to become extinct in the Antarctic, as it has already become extinct in the Arctic. That is a matter on which I should not like to express any opinion, particularly as I know that there are others who take an entirely different view. But the fact, important as it is, has no direct relevance to the Motion I am moving to-day; therefore, I do not propose to refer to it any further.

I now come to describe the actual method of killing whales at the present time. The catcher ship, having sighted a whale, pursued it and caught up with it, fires into it a harpoon. Almost immediately after it has entered the body of the whale the explosive head of the harpoon explodes, not infrequently in the whale's intestines. But owing to the enormous bulk of a whaleߞfor your Lordships must realise that some of these great whales are ninety feet in length and proportionately large in bulkߞthis does not result in the immediate death of the whale. Dr. Lillie, who has taken a very active part in this industry and who was himself, some little time back, a surgeon in a whaling fleet, takes the view that the whale survives for something like an hour; and he reports an extreme case (I do not suggest this is typical, but I instance it to show your Lordships what can happen) of a female whale carrying young that was struggling for five hours with the harpoons, of which as many as nine were in its body, before it was dead.

I am informed that to-day the time of killing a whale has been considerably reduced by the process of putting additional explosive harpoons into the whale after the first one. I am informed by an expert authority on behalf of the whaling companies that the average time of whale killing has now been reduced to about half an hour. Of course, I am not in a position to check that statement, but I have no reason to believe it to be a little optimistic. It may be correct, and I am not going to dispute what I am told by good authority of this kind. It is also saidߞand this is also trueߞthat, putting aside the question of humanity, it pays the whaling companies to kill the whales as quickly as possible, because in that way they are able to catch a larger number of whales in a day.

When, after the vast struggles and torments it undergoes, the whale is at last disposed of, it is inflated so that it floats, and a flag is put on it, so that the catcher ship can proceed to kill other whales, return and pick up its prey and take them ultimately to the factory ship. That is the actual process, and I think that the facts speak for themselves.

Your Lordships are aware that in recent years most civilised countries have concerned themselves extensively with improving the method of slaughtering domestic land animals so as to reduce to a minimum the time taken and the amount of pain inflicted in killing. I do not think that I am going too far in saying that in many cases the time required for killing has been brought down to a matter of seconds. If it were proposed to inflict on a domestic land animal anything like the torture which is inflicted on these whales, and that it should go on for even an average of half an hour ߞand still more, of course, if it went on longerߞI am perfectly certain that it would arouse among large masses of people in this country a feeling of horror which it would be difficult, to allay. It may be said that that is a question of domestic land animals, and that here we are dealing with wild sea animals; but I venture to suggest that that does not alter the intrinsic merits of the case. The question is: what are we to do with regard to this matter?ߞa matter which I think is contemplated by the Geneva resolution to which I have already referred.

If there were only two alternatives, one to kill whales by the present method and the other not to kill whales at all, the question would arise: are we entitled to carry on an industry on those lines?

That would be an ethical question, upon which I do not propose to embark at the present time; but I submit to your Lordships that it is not the question at the moment. The question now is whether we cannot find a superior, more rapid and more humane method of killing whales which does not involve the intense cruelty which the present method undoubtedly does. Dr. Lillie, to whom I have already referredߞwho is well known for all he has written and the part he has taken for exposing this question and others have invented a new method of dealing with this problem, known as the electric harpoon.

The harpoon has an electric cable connecting it with the ship, where there is an electric generator, and when the harpoon strikes the body of the whale the electricity is turned on. It is claimed by those who favour this method, first, that the whale is almost invariably stunned immediately the electricity is turned on; secondly, that the whale dies much more rapidly, and in quite a short time; and thirdly, that owing to the rapid death, the contamination of the flesh which is injured is much reduced, with the result that the flesh is saleable, owing to the lack of putrefaction, which is not the case to the same extent at the present time. That would be of particular value to those countries which make a point of selling the flesh as well as the oil. I may say that the oil is not affected one way or the other. As I said, I believe the Japanese are the people who still sell the flesh, although we used to at one time. I remember during the war that I had the opportunity of going to a good club where we were frequently given whale to eat, and I did not find it at all appetising.

Here I want to pay a tribute to Sir Vyvian Board, who, when he was managing director of the Hector Whaling Company, induced the company to spend no less than £100,000 on experimenting on this new process of killing whales. It is the opinion of several people that the experiments reached a high degree of success which justified their adoption. I told your Lordships that I was not going to mislead you as to differences of opinion, and I have to tell you that there is a considerable divergence of opinion about the success of these experiments. Some of the experts of the company say that the experiments were not a success. As against that, Mr. Marsden, who is an electrical expert, who tested out this electric method in person some years ago and who has had reports of the more recent experimental expedition that went out in the season of 1956–57, takes the view that, broadly, these experiments were successful. That is the divergence between them; and I am forced to try to find what is the truth as to these divergent opinions, which I do not think are reconcilable.

What happened was that in some of the experiments the crew were not fully acquainted with or accustomed to the new method and they failed to reach its proper conclusion. It is essential that the amount of electricity used shall be adequate and of a sufficiently high voltage. It is claimed by Mr. Marsden and his assistants that when a crew fully acquainted with the method and fully trained to use the apparatus apply it in the proper way, it is thoroughly successful, far more efficient, more rapid and humane than the other method. There are involved, of course, a certain number of people who are accustomed to using the old scheme. They do not like being asked to use new tackle and a newfangled project; and there are some of the older gunners who do not want to lose their "know-how" and who may bring a certain amount of deliberate opposition to the coming into being of a new scheme. The net result of all that is that some further experimental trial is probably desirable. It is estimated by Mr. Marsden and Dr. Lillie that this will cost something like £10,000. The ship has to be hired; it has to be fitted up and sent out for the season, and a crew has to be trained in order to work it. The company, which has spent £100,000, is not prepared at the present time to continue the experiment, which may involve at least another E10.000, and the question is, what is to be done?

It is here that I come to Her Majesty's Government. What I ask the Government to do is, first and foremost, to take an active, direct and positive interest in this new scheme. The Government have a considerable responsibility. As I have already pointed out, the headquarters of the Whaling Commission is actually in our British Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which shows that in the eyes of the whaling concerns Britain is still a leading, and perhaps the leading, maritime country of the world; and from the Geneva Conference, to which I have already referred, it is evident that the United Nations regard this as a matter of supreme importance. After all, £10,000 in these modern days is not very much money and is neither here nor there. Surely, it would be an outrageous thing if this scheme were allowed to die down and the present cruelty were continued for the sake of spending a sum of £10,000.

I do not think it is too much to ask the Government to find this money. I would remind them that the country which finds this money and proves (if it is proved) that this electric method is the best and most efficient, as it is held out to be, stands to profit considerably from that finding. But the Government may say, "The Anglo-Norwegian Company, the Hector Whaling Company, has already spent £100,000 on it. Let some other nation come in." If that is the Government's point of view, I shall regret it. But even then, what will the Government do to support such a proposal? Will the Government take some initiative in moving to get this money raised and the experiment put on a proper footing? I believe that that would be in accord with the Government traditions in this country, and I believe that the Government and this country would gain by this action. But I would not disguise from your Lordships that I am concerned primarily in this matter with the cruelty involved to these marine animals that share the world with us. I believe that I am by no means alone, in this animal-loving country, in wanting to remove from the civilisation of the world this blot in its treatment of the animals which live in the sea. I beg to move for Papers.

7.20 p.m.


My Lords I must ask for the indulgence of your Lordships on this first occasion I have had the honour to speak in your Lordships' House. I venture to do so partly by reason of the principles which are involved in the Motion and partly through an interest in whaling which started when, as a member of the British Graham Land Expedition, I spent a month in South Georgia at Leith Harbour, a whaling station, when we were on our way back from the Antarctic in 1937, and from there took passage to Las Palmas in company with several of the Norwegian gunners whose friendship and stories were greatly enjoyed. This interest was continued in the post-war years when I was Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge.

The best known reference to whales in the scriptures might lead one to suppose that in relation to the wording of Lord Pethick-Lawrence's Motion the boot could be on the other foot, though in point of fact the whale in question in that incident is depicted in the friendliest of roles as a lifeboat and rescuer, coming to the rescue when Jonah's shipmates threw him overboard, and then catapulting him safely on to terra firma. Whether a whale airborne to Coney Island might be regarded as a reciprocal gesture I rather doubt. There is, however, a general principle which runs through Holy Writ which applies to this Motion: the principle that man's sovereignty over the natural creation is to be regarded not only as a right but also as a stewardship for which he bears responsibility to the Creator.

That principle obviously has a wide application and wide implications. Frequently the principle is recognised and observed. Frequently the principle is threatened. Frequently the principle is flouted. The view that man is a sort of monster callously and irresponsibly engaged, out of his lust for gain and power, upon the rape of the earth, and for that matter the rape of the sea and even of the air, regardless of the waste of natural resources, regardless of the disfigurement of the earth's natural beauty and regardless of the suffering inflicted upon the animal kingdom—that view is, of course, a distorted one; it does not represent the whole picture. But there is enough truth in it to justify our serious concern. It is the more urgent and essential that we should be concerned at a time when through the rapid development of science and technology man's capacity to master the whole world has been and is being enormously extended and increased.

Limitation of suffering so far as is practicable is one important factor in the morally responsible exercise of man's sovereignty over the natural creation. The question is how much suffering is inflicted on whales in the present method of their killing and to what extent that suffering can be reduced or limited. I do not think it can be denied that the explosive grenade harpoon of the type developed some 80 or 90 years ago by Svend Foyn frequently involves a great deal of suffering, and this is the method still in general use in killing whales to-day.

The time taken, to which the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, referred, between the explosion of the charge when the grenade hits the whale and the death of the whale varies a good deal. It depends very largely, of course, upon where the whale is hit, and that in turn on the skill of the gunner, the weather and the elusiveness of the whale when being pursued. If the whale is hit in the heart, or if its back is broken, or if the grenade penetrates its thick skull and explodes inside its brain, it may be killed instantly. If the whale is hit in the stomach, and that quite often happens, there can be a long period, 30 minutes, 40 minutes, sometimes an hour, or even in exceptional cases, as the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, said, though I think they are very exceptional cases, four or five hours, before the whale dies. There are, as far as I am aware, no accurate statistics available by which one can estimate the average length of time between when the shot hits the whale arid the time the whale dies. But if the estimate given by the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, of half an hour is one which would be generally accepted, the time between the wounding and death is probably greater than that which applies to any other creature and to any other mammal which is killed by man for food or for other purposes.

A great deal, of course, depends on the skill of the gunner, and an estimate of the average time for a highly-skilled Norwegian gunner (and there are a number of gunners in this class) is probably of the order of five minutes. The number of these highly-skilled gunners is, of course, limited, and at the same time the number of whaling expeditions from various countries proceeding to southern areas is increasing. The proportion of less skilled gunners, particularly among companies and from countries relatively new to whaling, is therefore tending to grow, and accordingly the suffering to the whale is likely to become greater on that account.

The infliction of suffering on animals is a subject on which strong emotions can be aroused. I believe that much harm is done to the case of those who have animal welfare at heart, and indeed to the truth of the situation, by ascribing to animals the same feelings and the same reactions to pain as those experienced by human beings, and even sometimes by presenting animal suffering in an even more significant light than the sufferings of man. We do not live like whales; we do not think like whales; we do not imagine like whales. We can never know precisely what the whale does feel. But, granted that the suffering of wounded whales may be quite different in grade and intensity from the suffering which man would experience under the same conditions, all the evidence goes to show that whales, as other mammals, do suffer when wounded.

The brain of a whale is absolutely larger than that of any other animal and the cerebral hemispheres are elaborately folded. Little is known in detail about the sensory equipment or powers of the animal, but the nature of the brain and nerve structure is such as to suggest that it is a creature Which can feel pain acutely. For instance, the delicate covering of the brain is very responsive to inflammation, giving rise to intense headache in human beings and in other higher animals; and there is good reason to suppose that a whale which had its meningeal membranes damaged by a grenade or harpoon which missed the main substance of the brain (in which case of course it would be killed outright) would feel intense pain.

Or to take another instance, the stomach of the whaleߞI must apologise for these anatomical details, but they are germane to my argument. The stomach of the whale has two sets of nerves in the stomach wall, the meissners plexus, a purely sympathetic set of nerves coming from the sympathetic roots of the lumbar region, and the auerbachs plexus connected with the vagal nerve. Those sets of nerves in the stomach wall will reflect pain, and do so even with the relatively small centre of inflammation like a stomach lesion or an ulcer. When a grenade bursts within the stomach of a whale the pain suffered as the result of the laceration of the stomach walls must be of a very acute order and, as I have I already indicated, such pain may be sustained for quite a long period of time —sometimes an hour or more.

Even if it is mistaken to compare the nature of the suffering in an animal or a mammal with that of a human being,this still does not alter the fact that severe and continued pain is frequently inflicted on whales by the present method of their killing; and it does not exonerate us from taking every practicable step which is possible to limit such suffering to the minimum. And this for two reasons: first, out of consideration to the creature which is placed under our responsible domination, and secondly, out of consideration for the men who do the job. To submit men to inflict suffering on animals like that which occurs in the present-day method of whaling is to ask them to do something essentially distasteful and abhorrent. The death flurry of a harpooned whale is a most gruesome sight. To submit men to this kind of experience as part of their daily work is to make them liable to become insensitive, callous and even brutal. That, I submit, is a very serious matter.

But is it possible, practically, to remedy the situation? The answer to that question, I believe, is, not immediately—by which I mean that there is no apparatus available which will kill whales painlessly and which could be supplied to the whaling companies straight away. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, has already indicated, the amount of knowledge already gained in a method of killing by electrocution is far enough advanced to give promise of success, provided some further research is undertaken. There are two particular technical difficulties in the electrical method which have not been so far successfully overcome. The first is to find a really satisfactory way of including an electrical conductor in a rope which will not break due to the differential stretch between the rope and the conductor, which will keep the electrified rope sufficiently light to be practically useful, and which will prevent its unlaying as it flies out from its coil.

That is one difficulty not yet successfully overcome. There is a second—namely, to devise a connection between the rope and the harpoon which can be quickly, simply and safely handled by a seaman on a deck covered with ice and salt water. Already much progress has been made, and it would not, I think, be over-optimistic to describe the position as one of near-success—though, of course, one can never tell in advance, with working apparatus of this kind, exactly how such a research project will work out in practice and how long it is going to take to complete a satisfactory method.

Whilst at the present stage one must still, I believe, keep an open mind as to the extent and the nature of pain inflicted on whales by different types of injury—by harpoon, grenade or by electrical or other methods—from the experiments already made in electrical harpooning it appears as if this may well be a significantly more humane method than the Svend Foyn harpoon, because the average period between the harpoon hitting the whale and the death of the whale is likely, in the case of the electrical method, to be shorter; and electrocution which paralyses the nerve tracts is generally considered to cause less acute pain than the type of wound which is commonly inflicted by the explosive grenade. It would be a mistake, I believe, to limit further research only to electrical methods, or at this stage to pre-judge the question as to, whether such a method will necessarily be the most efficient humane method of killing which is economically feasible to operate.

The possibility of carbon dioxide shells or rockets fired from a catcher or from a helicopter deserves examination. It is reported that a harpoon has been invented of such a kind by Wetlesen in Norway which releases two and a half cubic feet of carbonic acid upon striking the whale, and the expansion of the gas causes acute hemorrhage and stops the heart in a matter of seconds. Furthermore, it prevents the carcase from sinking, which is an obvious economic advantage. That is another method which I suggest should be further considered, and further experimentation should be made upon it. There may be other methods of quite a different kind which a research party could produce.

Although I do not base my argument on economic grounds but on grounds of reducing suffering, the economic factor is naturally important. I have no information as to the cost of the carbonic acid method, but I am informed that the cost of fitting out a catcher with an electrical harpoon equipment like that used in the experiments until recently undertaken by the Hector Whaling Company works out at about £3,000 to £4,000 per catcher, and that the expendable parts of the equipment are perhaps double the cost of the explosive killing, These figures, whilst approximate, nevertheless indicate that the electrical method is unlikely materially to raise the overall cost of an expedition provided it is once developed as a reliable and efficient method, when one takes into account particularly on the credit side two factors to which the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, has referred: the saving in time in hunting and the smaller wastage of meat. Electrical harpooning therefore, or other more humane methods, might indeed prove cheaper than the present method, but it is really still too early to say.

There is, however, one further point which needs consideration, a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, has also referred—the attitude of the whaling crews and particularly of the gunners, for experiments already undertaken show how important this is. It must be remembered that the gunners are immensely proud of their craft and it is not unnatural that a gunner will he reluctant to limit his own inherent skill by adopting new methods until or unless he has been convinced that they are really going to work efficiently, safely and with a reasonable measure of success. That will not he achieved until further research has been undertaken.

A good deal in the way of research has already been done, but the contribution made since the war by the Hector Whaling Company, formerly United Whalers, is, I venture to suggest, most notable. They have spent a lot of money on the experiment, rather more, I am told, than the figure given by the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence—in the region of £118,000. Now that the whaling industry as a whole is going through more difficult economic times, and since the industry is competitive, it is asking a good deal to expect an individual company to bear the financial brunt of such further researches as are needed, and I should have earnestly hoped that some means might be devised to make funds available. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, I feel that an estimate of £10,000 would be overoptimistic for the amount of money that will be required.

The experiments themselves, at least in their testing stage, would, of course, need to be carried out in the context of an actual whaling expedition, and clearly, therefore, co-operation with one or more whaling companies would be completely essential. In order not to alienate crews, it would be necessary, when carrying out the experimentation, to compensate crews on their pay and bonus method for catches they would lose when the equipment did not work or when there were delays caused in testing or altering the experimental gear. I hope that it may be possible for such research to be put in hand and at an early date.

As your Lordships are fully aware, delay in scientific and technical research of this kind means waste, not necessarily of apparatus but in the use which can be made of past experience; for some of the knowledge and practical experience which has been gained in the last few years might not be readily available if the matter were allowed to stand over for a further period. In any event, where suffering is involved relief becomes a matter of urgency—a matter of moral urgency. By bringing this matter to the attention of your Lordships the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, has brought nearer home a wrong that needs to be righted. If whales were hunted by our own crews and our own gunners in the seas around this country instead of in the distant seas of the Southern Ocean I am sure that public opinion and public conscience would have faced this issue long before to-day. Out of sight, out of mind. But is the principle really any different from that of our own slaughterhouses? And if we have found fit to make killing in our slaughterhouses more humane here at home, why not in the slaughterhouses of the Southern Seas?

7.45 p.m.


My Lords, it is my good fortune to follow the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Portsmouth, and I am sure it would be the wish of your Lordships that I should not only congratulate him on a maiden speech outstanding both in knowledge and in the manner of its presentation, but also express the hope that we may hear him often in the future. It is particularly gratifying that it should fall to me to welcome his speech, not only because we have known each other for almost forty years but because I have been unable to find any other Member of your Lordships' House who shares with us firsthand experience of the Antarctic whaling industry.

In his opening speech the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, would seem to have relied on somewhat limited information; and, indeed, judging from what he has said, one might go so far as to suggest that some of his sources may have lacked balance in their impressions of the industry. In order to see this problem in its true perspective, it may be useful first briefly to review the reasons for whaling and to examine the structure of the world's whaling industry. So long as the human race remains carnivorous, we must kill in order to eat. Most of such killing is done in slaughterhouses over which there is a greater or lesser degree of control, but it must be borne in mind that conditions in some slaughterhouses, even in this country, are even now considered to be in such need of improvement as to necessitate a new Act of Parliament.

Uncontrolled killing for human consumption embraces the fishing industry, the whaling industry and, to a lesser degree, the catching of game. The whaling industry produces about 500,000 tons of edible oils per annum, of which approximately 100,000 tons is for human consumption in the United Kingdom. Your Lordships will be aware that, whereas in ancient whaling the carcase was flensed—that is to say, stripped of its blubber and cast adrift—in modern whaling, by regulation, all useful parts of the whale must be worked up; and in addition to the edible oil to which I have referred the Antarctic expeditions produce for Japan about 60,000 tons per annum of frozen whalemeat for human consumption. Furthermore, the industry produces some 30,000 tons per annum of animal feedstuffs in the form of meat meal, almost all of which is consumed in Great Britain.

Before dealing with how these products are harvested, I would point out that the question inevitably arises whether they could be replaced from other sources. Under present conditions it could be argued that if whaling were to cease the world might still be able to produce, at a price, both the oils and fats, and the animal protein. from other sources; but that would not have been true in the immediate post-war period when the yield of the whaling fleets represented almost 15 per cent. of the very limited supply of edible fats outside the dollar area. Moreover, whale oil is unique in that it can be held in strategic reserve almost indefinitely, and certainly it keeps better in storage than any other edible fat.

Thus far my remarks have referred to the baleen whale, which is the primary target of the expeditions; but one must not overlook the catch of sperm whale, which yields an oil that is in fact a liquid wax, with unique industrial applications, and the ambergris so necessary in the manufacture of perfumes. In considering whether any change could be introduced in the techniques of whaling, even if it were desirable, it is essential to bear in mind that this industry is perhaps the supreme example of individual enterprise. In the recent Antarctic season there were twenty pelagic expeditions on the whaling grounds from five countries, including Japan and the Soviet Union. These twenty expeditions operate in fierce competition each to take as large a share as possible of the restricted world limit catch. Of these twenty expeditions, only three were British, and your Lordships will appreciate that any change in technique could not reasonably be undertaken by the expeditions of one country if it were in any way to give rise to practical or economic handicaps in relation to the others. Your Lordships may like for a moment to consider the broad economics of this industry. The catch of the British expeditions is effectively home-produced food, and if this had to be replaced by purchases from abroad, the loss in foreign exchange would be not far short of £7 million per annum.

In these remarks, I hope to have shown why whaling continues; and I turn now to how it is done. Many of your Lordships will be familiar with the exhibits in the Natural History Museum, and there has already been a reference to the fact that a large whale can be ninety feet long. But even having been to the whaling grounds, I find it useful to remind myself that the blue whale is the largest animal that has ever lived on the earth, and that an average blue whale is in size approximately equivalent to twenty-five fully grown elephants. It is important to bear this fact in mind when considering the mechanism of killing.

To seek this animal—and I would remind your Lordships that the whale is not a fish but a warm-blooded mammal —requires an expedition which, apart from the few land stations, includes a floating factory ship, usually of 20,000 tons or more, about ten shooting catchers and ancillary craft, such as whale tow boats. In addition it requires tanker transportation to carry fuel oil to the whaling grounds and whale oil homewards. One whaling manager was recently asked how much it cost to kill a whale, and he replied that the first whale of the season cost him almost £2 million, but that subsequent whales cost rather less. It is a fact that the cost of sending out an expedition can be as high as £2 million. This point is important when one considers any question of the deviation of effort which is an essential part of any experiment in new techniques; for the expedition may operate only until the world limit is reached, and in recent seasons this has meant, in both fair weather and foul, that the operating season has been restricted to something between sixty and seventy days.

Your Lordships will undoubtedly have in mind an impression of the whaling industry based partly on the ancient techniques of the open boat and the hand-thrown harpoon. The modern catcher is a highly specialised craft, capable of sixteen knots or more, and no longer depends solely on "Thar she blows" from the masthead, but is assisted by such techniques as "Asdic" and the helicopter. This high-speed boat finds and chases the whale, and must be so skilfully handled that the gunner on the forward platform is not much more than thirty yards from the quarry when it rises for the three seconds that it is exposed to the shot. The harpoon weighs about 170 lb., carries at its head an explosive grenade fired by a time fuse and is shackled to the light forerunner rope. Again, in modern whaling the synthetic fibres such as nylon and Terylene have replaced the weaker, heavier ropes formerly used. Lt may seem brutal to attack with an explosive harpoon of almost two cwt., but it must be borne in mind that this would be equivalent to a missile of 2 oz. shot at a deer.

The gunner wants to kill quickly, and with a good shot behind the shoulder blades the whale is killed instantly. As has been said, it is impossible to know accurately how many whales are killed immediately, but it is estimated that up to 30 per cent. are thus killed, and that, whereas in the old days of weaker ropes and slower catchers, and before that in the days of open boats, there might elapse very long periods of fight, the average time now to catch a whale in the Antarctic is of the order of fifteen minutes; and it is very seldom that the whale is not killed and tied up alongside the catcher within half an hour. It is also most important to bear in mind that, unlike the deer forest or the grouse moor or the salmon river, it is almost unknown, with present methods, for a wounded whale to get away.

Quite apart from the question of humane killing, it has always been in the interests of the whalers to kill as quickly as possible in order to free the boat for further operations. Gas harpoons have been tried, the poison curare has been tried, and it is over twenty-five years now since the experiments with electric harpoons were first carried out. It may be that electric aneæsthesia, followed by a killer harpoon, is more humane and more efficient than the present method, and there are those who believe that this is so. Despite all that has been said, however, there is no positive knowledge whether the whale has any sense of pain; nor is it known whether, if there is any sense of pain, the whale is necessarily anæsthetised by an electric shock, even though that shock may induce paralysis. I refer to the so-called electric curarisation effect, which is known to have occurred with the killing of pigs.

On the question of whether the whale has any sense of pain, I recall having seen a whale held fast by a harpoon, yet continuing to swim on its course, sometimes even towing the catcher without any apparent struggle. If new and improved methods of killing are to come into force, they will come through the efforts of the whalers to improve their competitive position in the industry. I submit that this is a valuable industry and one which should be encouraged to proceed in the way in which it is going. I would remind your Lordships that throughout history this industry has cradled many of the finest seamen and that where whaling is strong the Merchant Navy also has been strong. The industry has its full share of "cranks" and "crackpots," and I suggest that irresponsible, inadequately-informed criticism might be allowed to remain in the province of the more sensational section of the weekly Press, if they wish to print it.

7.57 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to those which have already been extended to the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Portsmouth. I am sure we are all grateful to him for giving us the benefit both of his experience and of his knowledge. I felt that in his speech, whilst keeping his feet well on the ground, he expressed the voice of humanity and of morality.

My interest in this matter stems from my connection with the association which looks after the interests of officers of the Merchant Navy, and on that account I have attended whaling conferences. I remember, in particular, one conference which I attended at a whaling headquarters at Sandifjord in Norway, and it was one of the most interesting experiences I have ever enjoyed. The gunners are a most remarkable race of men, and it may interest your Lordships to know that a first-class gunner may earn anything up to £5,000 in a season. I have a particular interest in this matter of gunners because so far the Norwegian gunners have formed practically a "closed shop". In fact I know of only one English gunner who has ever broken into the charmed circle, and he did not stay there very long: he is certainly out of the whaling industry at the present moment.

The difficulty that is brought forward as an excuse for this "closed shop" is that a great deal of use is made of radiotelephony on the whaling grounds, and that few Englishmen who go to sea are sufficiently well acquainted with the Norwegian language to enable them to follow proceedings in that language over the radio-telephone. All connected with whaling are a hardy race. I was interested to hear that at Sandifjord there are men who do not come home with the expedition but over-winter down in South Georgia and join up with the expedition when it comes out again. I do not know what life is like in South Georgia, but I gather that it is pretty tough and I think that men who of their own choice would over-winter down there when they might come home must be an exceptional and tough body of men.

I have not been to South Georgia, but I have been aboard a factory ship which had come back from an expedition and had been lying at Sandifjord for some months and had been scrubbed and painted. Even then, I could not eat my lunch, such was the smell still remaining. When I apologised to the Captain for my inability to eat the very good lunch he had prepared for me, he said, "You have nothing to be ashamed of. Men who have been on expedition after expedition still cannot eat when the separator is working." If these men are not knocked out by the smell until the separator is working, they must indeed be a hardy race.

To come back to the question of cruelty, to my mind the important point is how far it is wanton cruelty. I am clear that the men who direct the British whaling industry would not tolerate wanton cruelty for a moment. As I shall show in a short time, their efforts are directed at removing the stain of cruelty which undoubtedly at the present moment rests upon the industry. Modern whaling dates from 1864, with the introduction of the first steam whale catcher. Before then, and afterwards, many whales escaped wounded and in many cases a long time elapsed between the harpooning and the final despatch of the whale. The whole effort from 1864 onwards was to reduce the time taken to kill a whale: that was the governing idea behind all the improvements which were attempted. As a result of what was done, certainly fewer wounded whales got away and the time between wounding and death decreased. The proportion of whales killed immediately on the bursting of grenades greatly increased while the damage to those not killed and the time required to draw a whale to the catcher to be killed by another grenade decreased. To illustrate the improvement in speed which has been made possible by modern methods, I would point out that during the 1957–58 season one gunner took twenty-nine whales in the course of twenty-four hours—that is, including the hours of darkness To grasp what that involves, it must be remembered that very generous time must be allowed for catching up a school after killing a whale.

As the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, pointed out, whaling is a highly competitive international industry and every expedition strains to catch the maximum number of whales within the permitted total in the course of the expedition. As regards what has been said about the permitted total, I am not at all sure that other countries which send out expeditions are quite as scrupulous as British expeditions are in observing the quota. At any rate, the fact remains that every hour of the season is of importance to the expedition, and the quicker the whale is killed, the sooner after the next one. So there is a strong economic pressure in favour of swift killing.

Many experiments have been made to substitute for the grenade some method which would cause immediate death. Already reference has been made to experiments with gas, with CO2, and with curari, but there has been an immense amount of experiment with electricity, and I should like to give a few facts in respect of that. These experiments began about 1932 and an outstandingly able gunner experimented in a British whale catcher in the season 1935–36. A Norwegian group followed up these experiments with electricity in the same season and again in 1939–40, and further trials followed after the end of the war. Experiments were carried out by the combined Norwegian companies, but they were abandoned after 1952–53, partly due to there being a lack of information about the amount of current required to kill a whale. In 1948, in Britain, the Universities Federation of Animal Welfare secured the co-operation of a British whaling company and of a leading manufacturer of electrical equipment and a catcher was sent out with electric killing apparatus.

The same company tried out another method of electrical killing in 1949–50 in the Antarctic. In that season fifty whales were killed electrically and useful data was obtained, particularly concerning the whale's reactions and the time necessary to render it unconscious and killed. Work was started on a new type of spigot gun firing a heavier electric harpoon, and that was tried, unsuccessfully, in 1951. Further trials in 1952 at first looked encouraging. The sponsoring company sent the equipment to the Antarctic for the 1952–53 season. Again a number of whales were killed electrically, but disappointingly the equipment did not fulfil its promise. Another experimental team was sent to the Antarctic in 1953–54 with modified equipment, which was not a success.

The cost of producing equipment was mounting and it did not look as if the industry would invest in the equipment, as it was becoming too expensive and the results were not entirely encouraging. In 1956, it was decided to modify the electrical equipment in the hope of making it cheaper to produce. This modified equipment was tried out in the 1956–57 Antarctic season, but again it failed to prove itself. Since then further development work has been held up. On the information available to date (it may not be the final or conclusive information), it does not look as if electric killing will prove any quicker than the existing methods. Electricity can kill whales successfully, but before it can come into extensive use much more experimental work must be done; and at the moment, the fact must be faced that no satisfactory electric whaling equipment is available for sale to the whaling companies. It cannot be said how much expenditure would be involved in research and experiment to perfect the equipment, but some work continues on a harpoon using gas which is to be tried out in Iceland. I trust that I have not wearied your Lordships in giving those facts about electrical equipment to date, and I think they bear out my opening statement that there is not wanton cruelty on the part of the whaling companies; that they have tried, and are still trying, hard to find a satisfactory electrical equipment which will still further reduce the time taken in killing a whale.

I have only two things to say, in conclusion. I feel that we may perhaps be able to place some hope in the work of the scientists. At present the scientists seem to me to be proving themselves the worst enemy that mankind has ever encountered in its long history—these nuclear weapons are all the work of the scientists—but perhaps they and the chemists might turn some attention to a gentler pursuit and see whether it is possible to produce in the laboratory some of the products with which the whale is now killed. I do not know whether that is a wild hope, but as there seems to be the idea abroad that there is nothing to-day the scientists and chemists cannot do, perhaps they can do that. Incidentally, whaling is not a cheap industry to run, and possibly what could be done in the laboratory would reduce the cost.

The other thing I have to say is this. I imagine that the Government, and especially the Department of the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, are in touch with the leaders of the whaling industry in regard to this matter of cruelty to the whale, which has more than once occupied considerable attention, and I am sure that the Department of the noble Earl is very much alive to it. I wonder if they have consulted with the leaders of the whaling industry to ascertain whether they would welcome some Government assistance for development and research. I do not, of course, speak on behalf of the whaling industry, and for all I know they might not welcome the Government's taking a hand in this matter. But it has occurred to me to wonder whether possibly, as has already been suggested, the Government could come to the assistance of the industry, with sums which I do not think need be particularly large, although perhaps larger than was mentioned by the noble Lord who moved the Motion. It seems to me that it would indeed be money well spent to try to forward an enterprise which would finally put an end to what I am sorry to say is, as it exists at the present moment, a most barbarous and cruel matter.

8.15 p.m.


My Lords, this subject has been so exhaustively debated that I do not intend to delay your Lordships for more than a few minutes, more particularly as so many of the speakers have first-hand knowledge of whaling, which I cannot profess to have. The only reason I intervene in the debate is that I have read Dr. Lillie's wonderful book, The Path Through Penguin City, from cover to cover; and after reading that book, and hearing the remarkable speech of the right reverend Prelate, I am convinced that there must be some cruelty in the present method of whaling and I think it is our bounden duty to support the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, in his Motion.

There is one side of the matter, apart from the cruelty, that I should like to stress. I do not think the serious diminution in the whaling population can be divorced from this question of modern and easy methods of killing whales. These, so far as I understand, have brought the industry in the northern hemisphere practically to a standstill, so scarce have the whales become. So far as I can see, the whole history of whaling has virtually been one of exploitation and then practically extermination of the whales. First, it was the waters of Spitzbergen; then it was East and West Queensland. All these waters have been —I cannot say fished out, because the whale is not a fish, but a mammal, as has been said a number of times; but they have all been exploited. I am told that in the waters of the North Pacific the Californian great whale has been entirely exterminated by whaling activities. Now all hands are turned to Antarctica, and it seems to me that there is a grave danger of the same thing happening there. The total permissible quota of blue whales, about which the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, spoke—was it 60,000?


I think the actual figure is something like 14,000 units. I daresay the noble Earl Who is to reply can give the exact figure, but it is about 14,000 units, which works out at about 25,000 whales.


Dr. Lillie, who, it has been said, is a man having expert knowledge of the subject, considers that this is far too high a figure for an animal that produces only one offspring every two or three years. That is a most important point. Another point to which I must make reference is that, to my mind, the whaling industry cannot be a very efficient one if it loses £10 million annually through waste of meat and oil through putrefaction; and that is the figure that Dr. Lillie places as the annual Antarctica loss to the whaling industry.

I will not detain your Lordships further, except to say that I always feel that our wild life is a great heritage: something that has been handed on to us, and something in trust that we have to hand on to others: whether it be life on land or marine life, it is the same thing. I believe that we are far too slow to realise our responsibility towards our fellow creatures of the world. But perhaps we are learning slowly. The law demands now that some birds and animals must have more protection, and in some instances even vermin must be humanely killed. As the right reverend Prelate said, these poor whales live so far away that nobody cares about them and nobody knows anything about them. If we did, it might be quite a different story. That is why I think the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, has done a great service in bringing this matter to the notice of your Lordships' House, and I trust that his efforts to bring about some more humane method of killing these whales will be crowned with success.

8.20 p.m.


My Lords, I have some hesitation in intervening in tins debate on account of the number of very well-informed speeches that have been made on the subject. I have only two points to raise. One is perhaps a rather amateur query about the electrical method of killing. An electric current has to pass in a closed circuit from battery back to battery, and in the other two normal methods of killing creatures by electricity great pains are taken to ensure that the electric current passes through the brain of the creature to be killed. When animals are being electrically stunned in slaughterhouses there is a kind of caliper which ensures that the electric current shall pass cleanly through the head from side to side and through the brain. In the other form of killing creatures by electricity, which is practised in America, the victim is seated in a chair and the current passes through his head to the seat and so it is ensured that the current shall pass through the brain.

I do not understand how you can ensure that any amount of current which it is practical to pass through can kill a large animal like a whale, if it depends on the passage of electricity from the point of delivery to the body of the whale either back towards the water, by water return, or possibly to another forerunner conducter which makes a closed circuit I back to the battery. I mention this because I had intended to give the same kind of information which the noble Lord, Lord Winster, has given about the large number of experiments which have been made with electrical apparatus. I venture to suggest that the invention of electrical apparatus will cost very much more than the £10,000 which the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, indicated in his opening speech. I should say myself, knowing very little about it, that the delivery of a more lethal charge of gas or paralysing charge of curare, or something that could be delivered into a single place in the whale, have very much more prospect of ensuring the quick and painless death of the whale than continuing experiments with electrical apparatus. That is one of the points I want to make.

The other point is that I do not think it has really been put to the noble Earl who will reply to this debate that he should tell us what the Government is doing to comply with this obligation which has been put upon our Government, in company with other Governments, by the resolution unanimously adopted by the United Nations which has been read out by the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence. I think we should all very much like to know just what the Government are doing about that and what they propose to do.

8.25 p.m.


My Lords, we have, I think, had a remarkable afternoon, in that we have had a full hand of maiden speeches, and I think your Lordships will agree with me, that each and every one has been an ace. But if one can have one better ace than another, if I might be permitted to say so I feel that the right reverend Prelate gets undoubtedly the best ace. I hope that we shall hear from him on many occasions in the future. We are in sore need of counsel of the type which he gave the House this afternoon.

I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Lord. Lord Pethick-Lawrence, for drawing the attention of the House to the question of cruelty to whales. I have no doubt that all noble Lords share his concern to prevent any avoidable cruelty to animals. It is right that we should consider the methods used in killing whales which, after all, by their very nature and because of their size and of the difficulty of hunting them in the dangerous Antarctic waters, must almost inevitably involve some degrees of cruelty. As I think has been admitted by most noble Lords, the modern explosive harpoon used for the catching of whales is an efficient weapon which often kills instantaneously. The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, was at some pains to point that out.

But though we must keep the question of cruelty in proper perspective, I think there is no room for complacency in this matter. We must face the fact that there are occasions when the explosive harpoon fails to kill quickly and when considerable suffering is involved before the whale eventually dies. What we really are considering this evening is whether this suffering is in fact avoidable. I think the real question is whether other means of killing whales can be found which are more humane than the existing explosive harpoon. The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, and the noble Lord, Lord Winster, said it is very much in the interests of the industry as a whole and of the whaling companies themselves, their gunners and their crews, that quick killing should be developed as far as practicable. In the Antarctic, where about 80 per cent. of the world catch is taken, the catch is controlled by an overall limit which last year was actually 14,500 blue whale units, and I believe I am correct in saying was of the order of some 25,000 whales all told. As your Lordships know, when the catch reaches the total the season comes to an end. Therefore it is obviously very much in the interests of everybody concerned that they should get as high a percentage of the total catch as quickly as possible. I would once again emphasise that it is very much in the interests of each and every catcher, apart from any humanitarian feelings that they have, to see that the kill is made as quickly and as cleanly as possible.

As has been pointed out by various noble Lords, the companies engaged in whaling have in no way been blind to the advantages which they can gain from quick killing. Much work has been done to evolve a substitute. The noble Lord, Lord Winster, has given us a most detailed account of the experiments which have been conducted by one particular company. But I think all noble Lords would agree that the attempts to get a really satisfactory alternative have not been successful up to now. It is in the electric harpoon, to which many noble Lords have referred, that I think there is the greatest possibility. But we cannot assume for a moment that the electric harpoon has already been developed to a stage where it can prove to be a practical alternative.

There is not any bias on behalf of the commercial interests to try to prevent its use. As the noble Lords, Lord Pethick-Lawrence and Lord Winster, have said, this company has spent something in the region of £100,000 in an attempt to develop that harpoon, and with their expedition in the 1956–57 season they took out a specially fitted catcher and made special arrangements for paying the crew extra money, and so forth, in order that they could carry out experiments in natural conditions. But the information that I have is that, as the result of those experiments, the firm is no longer convinced that electric whaling will ensure quicker killing than the present method. I was most interested to hear what the noble Lord said as to the company being optimistic, and that with a further £10,000 they might be able to get the right answer. I should very much like to hear more of that, because, frankly, it is the first intimation that I have had that that is likely. If the noble Lord could let me have some more information, or if the company could give their views on this to my Department, I should be happy to arrange that.


I do not want to mislead the noble Earl. Es he suggesting that I am saying that the Hector Whaling Company would like to pursue further inquiries? If I gave that impression, that was not correct.


I am sorry; I am afraid I must have misunderstood the noble Lord. I was under the impression that he was saying that the company felt that they were in sight of success. I am afraid I got the wrong impression.


It is not the Hector Whaling Company; it is Mr. Marsden and Dr. Lillie and their associates who have that view, and Mr. Marsden has had personal experience in the Antarctic.


I thank the noble Lord. As the right reverend Prelate mentioned, other types of harpoon have been tried out. There is the carbon dioxide harpoon which he mentioned. But at present neither that nor any other substitute has reached the stage of technical development where it could compete commercially with the explosive harpoon, or could in fact guarantee any more humane killings. But, as I have mentioned, commercial success and humanity do, in fact, tend to go together, and in the absence of any satisfactory substitute for the explosive harpoon that weapon must continue to be used. Indeed, I think it would be wrong to encourage the hope that a satisfactory substitute will easily be found.

Nevertheless, I think your Lordships are entitled to ask what steps have been taken to ensure that the possibility of developing substitutes is kept to the fore and that all reasonable efforts are taken to that end. I have explained that there are these powerful incentives for the industry to develop a more effective substitute, and the question which I think arises is: How can we help the industry in ensuring that all reasonable lines of inquiry are explored?

There is one line, I think, to which recent developments have laid emphasis. The noble Lord who moved this Motion read out in detail the resolution which was passed at Geneva. That resolution is undoubtedly a request which all reasonable men will heed, and one to which those interested in whaling will undoubtedly give special attention. This week a meeting of the International Whaling Commission is taking place at The Hague. As your Lordships know, the Commission is an organisation designed to promote international co-operation in the conservation of the whale stocks, and this meeting will be attended by representatives of nearly all the countries interested in whaling, all of which subscribed to the resolution to which the noble Lord referred. The. United Kingdom Commissioner has instructions to refer to the resolution passed at Geneva and to invoke its full consideration by the Commission. I hope that that will encourage all interested countries to renew their efforts to find a satisfactory substitute for the explosive harpoon.

My Lords, we have heard many interesting views on this subject this evening. I feel that basically it is a responsibility that must lie primarily with the industry. We will assist in such ways as we can, but I feel that the primary responsibility lies with the industry. It is more in their interests than those of anybody else to produce a satisfactory substitute, and I feel that, with a little encouragement, in due course—I repeat, in due course—a satisfactory substitute may be found.

8.40 p.m.


My Lords, at this late hour your Lordships will certainly not expect another speech from me. I should like to thank those who have taken part in this debate, and I would add my compliments to the right reverend Prelate for his able and most interesting speech, to which I listened with deep attention and pleasure. I cannot say that I am altogether satisfied with what we have been told by the noble Earl representing Her Majesty's Government. I had hoped that he would have been able to go a little further than he has done, and give more encouragement to trying to find a more humane method of killing whales. As I understand, however, he has said that the High Commissioners have been instructed to call attention, at the Whaling Commission, to this resolution carried at Geneva. With that small ray of hope, I am afraid that I have to leave the matter for tonight. I therefore beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.