HL Deb 28 February 1985 vol 460 cc1015-6

3.12 p.m.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the concern already expressed by major organisations concerned with the protection of wildlife they will give an assurance that there will be no cull of grey seals in Scotland this year.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Gray of Contin)

My Lords, the Natural Environment Research Council, commissioned by the Government, concluded a three-year programme of studies last year of the interaction between grey seals and fisheries. Their report was distributed to interested parties and copies were placed in the Library of the House.

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland is still discussing the findings with the conservation and fisheries organisations most directly concerned. I am not yet in a position to announce the Government's intentions.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that Answer. While we wait for this report is my noble friend in a position to give any assurance that no cull of grey seals in Scotland will take place until everything has been considered by Her Majesty's Government?

Lord Gray of Contin

Yes, my Lords, I can certainly give my noble friend that assurance. There is no question of a cull taking place while my right honourable friend is still considering the report.

Lord Kilmany

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend on the Front Bench to bear in mind that this matter merits some urgency? At the present time there are a great many seals off the coasts of Northern England and Scotland, and in particular at the mouth of the river Tweed, and the degree of damage done by them is highly unacceptable. If we wait forever before we make up our minds, the salmon stocks may be irrevocably damaged.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, I fully accept the point which my noble friend makes, and I can give him an assurance that there will be no undue delay in my right honourable friend reaching a conclusion on the report. Indeed, my right honourable friend hopes to make a Statement within a matter of weeks.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the report to which the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, referred in fact reached a different conclusion from that of the last speaker, and that the findings of the report were that the grey seals do not cause significant damage to fishery interests? Is the Minister aware of that? Is he further aware that man is taking care of the future of the grey seals because the habitat in which they breed is being so drastically reduced that in a very short time there will be no need to cull them?

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, the point which the noble Baroness has made will of course be taken into account before my right honourable friend reaches his conclusion. However, I would remind the noble Baroness that the regular studies undertaken by the sea mammal research unit of the Natural Environment Research Council show that the population of seals in the Scottish colonies has increased in recent years, and is still increasing.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that, while there has been an increase in the Scottish colony of grey seals, the Scottish colony represents a fairly high proportion of the total world population of grey seals? Can the noble Lord tell us what has been happening to that population? Is it also increasing, and how does the Scottish colony relate to it—is it increasing proportionately?

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, without checking my facts I should not like to go into detailed figures, but I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, that the increase in the Scottish colonies is significant.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, will my noble friend agree that salmon are no less important a part of wildlife to be protected than are seals, and that it is just that seals can be easily seen and salmon cannot? If we do not deal with the seals, we shall have no salmon.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely correct. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will of course give all these matters consideration before he reaches a conclusion.