HL Deb 03 July 1990 vol 520 cc2009-11

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will initiate an international approach to the Japanese Government to propose reductions in the killing of dolphins and porpoises.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, any approach to the Japanese Government would be most effectively made within the relevant international fora. We have, for a long time, insisted that the convention of the International Whaling Commission, as drafted, offers a means to regulate catches of dolphins and porpoises. We shall once again press that view with like-minded countries within the International Whaling Commission at its meeting now talking place in the Netherlands.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is he aware that Japanese scientists, among others, have warned that one species of porpoise is threatened with extinction? Does he agree that extra international measures are now needed to protect marine mammals?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, yes. I am aware that the 1989 report of the IWC Scientific Committee, upon which Japanese scientists are represented, concluded that the 1988 take of Dall's porpoises was clearly unsustainable and that the catch should be urgently reduced to the level of previous years. Since then, we have received assurances from the Japanese that new regulations will reduce the number caught.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we recognise that Her Majesty's Government are committed, as we all are, to the protection of dolphins and porpoises. In those circumstances why are the Government blocking the EC proposal to ban drift nets? Secondly, what representations have Her Majesty's Government made to Japan unilaterally or with other countries, on the wholesale slaughter of cetaceans?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, on the noble Lord's first point about drift net fishing, we share the anxieties of environmentalists about large-scale drift net fishing practised by the Japanese in the South Pacific. Happily, the nations concerned were able to agree last year to a United Nations resolution which calls for an end to large-scale drift net fishing in the South Pacific by 30th June 1991, and, unless scientifically proved unnecessary, a global moratorium by 30th June 1992. The United Kingdom, with its EC partners, was able to play a major and constructive role in those discussions. On the noble Lord's point about making representations to the Japanese, my noble friend Lady Trumpington saw her Japanese counterpart only last week and raised that issue. We shall of course raise it during the course of the present conference in the Netherlands.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, if Her Majesty's Government stopped North Sea interceptory drift netting using nylon monofilament gill nets which kill porpoises indiscriminately, they would be able to approach the Japanese and the international conference without embarrassment?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I shall have to look into the point about drift net fishing in the North Sea to which the noble Lord refers. However, we are in any case in a good position to approach the Japanese without embarrassment.

Lord Ross of Newport

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on their stance over porpoises. May I also thank them for the stand they are taking on Minke whales? Will they continue to resist the request of the Japanese and Norwegians to resume the catching of Minke whales? The Government are doing a good job and I congratulate them.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. Our views on commercial whaling are well known to the Japanese and have been reiterated in ministerial discussions, most recently in late June. Our delegation to the present IWC meeting will resist any suggestion that the present moratorium on whaling should be lifted.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, are there any proposals on the table for verification and enforcement under penalty?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am not quite sure that I can answer my noble friend's question. We have consistently argued in the IWC and elsewhere that we are not opposed to scientific research whaling. However, we believe that specific programmes should only be undertaken when they can fully satisfy the IWC scientific committee. The Japanese programme did not do so. Equally valid scientific data could be collected by non-lethal means.

Lord Northfield

My Lords, in America public opinion has forced the tuna fishing industry to move over more and more to line fishing instead of net fishing because that does not trap the dolphins. Will Her Majesty's Government support that pressure as well as any other measures? Further, is it not the case that the Americans have also developed a kind of net that enables porpoises to escape? Should we not press that aspect as well?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I shall certainly take into account what the noble Lord has said. I am afraid that I am not in a position to give a specific answer at the moment.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, the international conference in Holland to which my noble friend referred takes place this week. Will the Government support a deliberate ban on hunting porpoises and dolphins, as well as pressing for disincentives to catching them in ordinary fishery drift nets?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I shall ascertain whether that can be included in the representations that we make this week in the Netherlands.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, have the Government considered that if they agree to the proposal in the first Question, the Japanese may retaliate by mounting a great worldwide campaign to stop fox hunting in this country?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I believe that there is no comparison between the two. So far as I am aware, the fox is not an endangered species.