HL Deb 12 December 1966 vol 278 cc1437-9

2.36 p.m.


My Lord, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied that the recent slaughter of Atlantic grey seal pups carried out in Orkney with the sanction of the Secretary of State for Scotland is under efficient control, and, furthermore, whether Her Majesty's Government consider the slaughter of seal pups is the most desirable method of control.]


Yes, my Lords. The cull was the fifth in a series recommended originally by a committee of the Nature Conservancy in order to control the numbers in the Orkney seal colony. Its successor, the Seals Sub-Committee of the Natural Environment Research Council, after reviewing the damage done by seals to salmon, to nets and to other fisheries, endorsed the earlier recommendation by proposing a cull of 750 grey seal pups this year. To ensure humane culling, permits were issued to experienced seal hunters only, and strict conditions were imposed as to the numbers each might take, the area and duration of the cull and the method to be used. In the event, 750 pups were taken in the cull. Officers of my Department visited the area both before and during the cull, and two of our fishery cruisers undertook patrols in the vicinity, visiting a number of the islands concerned. The local police and the representative of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals were kept closely in touch with the detailed arrangements throughout and were conveyed by fishery cruiser on visits to the islands.

As to the second part of the Question, having accepted the distasteful necessity for culling, we also accept that it should be done as recommended in the report of the Nature Conservancy's committee, which discussed other methods of culling and explained the objections, of both practicality and humanity, to the killing of adult seals.


My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that very long reply may I ask him whether he is aware that during the first week of the cull no official set foot in the Orkneys? This is rather disturbing. For, taking the 1963 cull as a precedent, is the Minister aware that the Department then said that nearly a thousand seal pups were killed—that is, two or three hundred in excess of the number allowed by the licence?

While also thanking the Minister for his answer to the second part of my Question, might I suggest—




My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he does not agree that it would be far more humane to kill the cow seals when they come to the islands to have their pups? May I ask the Minister, further, whether he does not agree that killing the seal pups at four weeks old is really very cruel, because the cow seals still have a strong maternal instinct at that stage?


My Lords, it is perfectly true, as the noble Viscount has stated, that in 1963 an excessive number of seal pups was culled; that is to say, it was excessive in relation to the numbers intended. But since then the cull has taken place under much more close and careful supervision, so that at no time during the years 1964, 1965 or the present year have the numbers killed exceeded the numbers intended.

With regard to the suggestion that it would be more humane to kill the female adult seals, this point was considered and, as I stated in my somewhat lengthy reply—deliberately lengthy, because I thought that it might cut down the number of supplementary questions; but perhaps that was a pious hope the advice which we received was that it would be the reverse of kindness to attempt to kill the adult seals. The adult seal is extremely mobile, and the colony would have made its way into the water in circumstances which would have made it extremely difficult to ensure that the adult female seals were killed outright. Furthermore, in any dispersal into the water they would possibly have killed by crushing quite a number of the pups, which are far from mobile. Also, of course, there would have been the resulting deaths of the pups because of their abandonment by the females.

In all these circumstances, my Department is satisfied that the advice received from this completely impartial body is the best way of dealing with this regrettable necessity.

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