HL Deb 10 June 1971 vol 320 cc389-91

3.14 p.m.


My Lords, 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 action will be taken as a result of the recommendation of the Natural Environment Research Council that the population of seals on the Fame Islands should be reduced.]


My Lords, the Natural Environment Research Council has made no recommendations regarding the reduction of seals on the Fame Islands. I understand that the recommendation referred to in my noble friend's Question formed part of a private report made to the Fame Islands local committee of the National Trust. If any application is made for a licence to cull grey seals on the Fame Islands during the close season, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will consider it in consultation with the Natural Environment Research Council.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that reply, may I ask whether he is aware that, while the fishing interests have for a long time taken the view that too many seals breed on the Fame Islands, it is only recently that we have had a report from people entirely disinterested in the fishing industry urging action on the ground that over-population is not good for the seals themselves and that stricter control is needed? May I ask my noble friend to bear that point in mind when approaching this problem?


My Lords, my noble friend speaks with considerable knowledge and long experience of this subject. I would agree that the harm that can be done by seals to fishing and the effect on the health of the colony caused by overpopulation are factors that must be borne in mind in considering what culling and population control measures may be necessary. If an application is made to my right honourable friend to cull seals in the close season at Fame these are among the considerations that he will bear in mind.


My Lords, are Her Majesty's Government aware that, while no one wishes the undue reduction of the grey seal, one of the largest and most interesting of the British mammalia, it has a high reproductive rate, has practically no enemies except man and its continual increase is a menace to the livelihood of fishermen not only in the Fame Islands but in other parts of the world?


My Lords, the Fame Islands are the property of the National Trust, and it is for them in the first instance to decide what action, if any, should be taken to reduce the number of seals there; and if necessary they may decide to seek a licence in the close season. Outside the close season no licence is necessary.


My Lords, will a decision be taken before the next close season?


My Lords. as I have said, the decision in the first instance is for the National Trust. They are the owners of the Farne Islands. The fact that the National Trust commissioned this report shows that they are giving active consideration to any measures that are necessary.


My Lords, does the noble Lord mean that the National Trust alone, and not the Ministry of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food, are concerned in this matter? One would have thought, in view of the fact that fishing is involved, that it went far beyond the responsibility of the National Trust.


Yes, my Lords; I understand that the National Trust and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have been in close and continuing consultation for many years on this particular subject.