Prohibited Methods of Killing Seals

Orders of the Day — Conservation of Seals Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th April 1970.

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Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough 12:00 am, 17th April 1970

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 10, leave out from 'rifle' to end of line 12 and insert— 'of not less than ·240 calibre using only soft nosed or hollow pointed ammunition with a muzzle energy of not less than 1,700 foot-pounds and a bullet weight of not less than 100 grains'. Clause 1 is probably the most important and, at the same time, the most controversial Clause in the Bill. It prohibits poisoning, for which we are all glad, but it makes no reference to knifing or clubbing. Thanks to the initiative of the hon. Gentleman the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson), we had a useful discussion of the subject in Standing Committee after which, as a result of certain assurances, the hon. Gentleman was able to withdraw his Amendment.

It is my dissatisfaction with subsection (1)(b) that has led me to table this Amendment. The paragraph would permit the use of a ·22 Hornet rifle firing a bullet weighing 45 grains and developing a muzzle energy of 625 ft. lbs.; the use of a ·22 Swift rifle firing a bullet weighing 50 grains and developing a muzzle energy of 1,877 ft. lbs., and a ·22 Remington rifle firing a bullet weighing 50 grains and developing a muzzle energy of 1,140 ft. lbs. All these rifles are apparently regarded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and by the National Environment Research Council as being ·22 rifles.

The figures in the paragraph of 600 ft. lbs. and 45 grains are an improvement on the original recommendation contained in a letter dated 23rd May, 1968, addressed to the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare by the Ministry of Agriculture, which stated: We considered carefully whether the use of a ·22 rifle should be authorised for the cull and were advised by the National Environment Research Council, whose research staff has much experience in shooting adult seals, that rifles of this calibre were suitable, provided high velocity ammunition was used. We have no reason to think that the use of higher calibre rifles in the circumstances obtaining on the sands would diminish the likelihood of seals being wounded. Nevertheless, I consider that the calibre, bullet weight and muzzle energy specified in the Bill are too low to kill humanely an animal which, in the case of a master bull grey seal, can weigh up to 1,000 lb., or nearly half a ton.

The advice contained in that letter permitted the use of ·22 rimfire rifle firing high velocity ammunition which, in the case of the ·22 short high velocity cartridge fires a bullet weighing only 29 grains and developing a muzzle energy of 81 ft lbs. That is a type of ammunition commonly in use for shooting rats, grey squirrels, rabbits and hares, and considered unsuitable for shooting larger animals, such as foxes and badgers, whose body weights rarely exceeds 20 lbs. and 30 lbs. respectively.

The reason for the Ministry giving this advice to the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare in the first place is still shrouded in mystery. The Ministry admits that the advice it was offered by the Natural Environment Research Council was that rifles firing Hornet type ammunition should be used, and the Ministry says that this advice was not passed on by it to the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare for the following two reasons: first, the advice was given in reply to a telegram from U.F.A.W., and second, U.F.A.W. did not mention the word "ammunition" in its telegram.

The Ministry's reasoning in respect of the first of these two statements is difficult to follow. The reason given in the second statement simply does not hold water since, in its letter of 23rd May, 1968, it proffered advice in respect of ammunition. The Natural Environment Research Councils reasoning in proffering the advice that rifles firing Hornet type ammunition were suitable for killing adult common and grey seals is less difficult to follow, but, nevertheless, it does not stand up to close examination.

This advice was given by the Seals Research Unit of the N.E.R.C., two of whose officers have much experience in shooting elephant seals in the Falkland Islands. The recognised procedure for shooting an elephant seal is to approach to within a few feet of the animal when on land, annoy it so that it rears up and points its nose in the sky, when it is dispatched by a shot from a 12-bore shotgun through the lower jaw, passing through the roof of the mouth and shattering the brain case.

Since this procedure bears no relation to killing common or grey seals in this country, the following reasons are adduced by the Natural Environment Research Council to support the use of small calibre rifles developing low muzzle energies. First, seal skulls are, in general, rather fragile; secondly, heart shots are not effective where a quick dispatch is required; and, since the animal's physiology is designed to operate without freely circulating blood during diving, the stopping of the heart does not result in a speedy death. Also, neck shots have been found to be ineffective.

The first reason given, in relation to seal skulls, is open to severe criticism. It is doubtful whether the skull of a seal is less fragile in relation to the size of the animal than, say, the skull of a roe deer in relation to the size of the roe deer. The second reason, in relation to heart shots, is purely theoretical and has never been proved. The third reason, in relation to neck shots, is a statement for which no backing or supporting evidence is given and, therefore, I suggest that it should be disregarded.

In 1963, the House passed the Deer Act. That Act lays down that a rifle for shooting any deer in this country shall be of a calibre not less than ·240 or with a muzzle energy of not less than 1,700 ft. lbs., which are two of the specifications that I am seeking to include in the Bill. These two criteria were laid down by legislation which was produced, after careful consideration by experts, to ensure that an animal such as a roe deer, which may at the most weigh 60 lbs. or 65 lbs., shall not be shot with a small calibre rifle developing a low muzzle energy, purely on humane grounds.

Yet this Bill is designed to permit the use of smaller calibre rifles developing only about one-third of the muzzle energy permitted for use against roe deer, to be used to kill seals which, in their adult state, weigh at least ten times as much as a roe deer weighs.

In Canada, where there has recently been controversy over seal culling, legislation now requires that a rifle of not less than ·240 calibre must be used for shooting adult seals. The most recent advice that I have, which was offered by the N.E.R.C. to the Ministry in May last year, is as follows: When a rifle is used for culling British seals, a cartridge firing a soft-nosed bullet of not less than 45 grains and with a muzzle energy of not less than 625 ft. lbs. should be used. It went on to say that the ·22 Hornet, the ·244 Remington and the ·220 Swift will fulfil this criterion.

11.15 a.m.

In that advice which was offered to the Ministry, there is one real criticism in that there is a gross error of fact because there are at least three rifle calibres larger than the ·222 which develop muzzle energies of less than 625 ft. lbs. There are, I believe, four, but I can state the names of three—the ·300 Sherwood, the ·310 Cadet rifle and the ·32–20 Winchester, which develop muzzle energies of 610, 385 and only 400 ft. lbs. respectively. If the advice given by the N.E.R.C. can contain an error of this magnitude, the whole of its case must be suspect.

Photo of Mr John Temple Mr John Temple , City of Chester

My hon. Friend will be aware that those rifles to which he has referred would not be permitted to be used under the Bill.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I am grateful for that intervention. Perhaps my hon. Friend will let me continue my case in relation to foot poundage and muzzle velocity. I will deal with the point which he has raised at the conclusion of my speech.

U.F.A.W. is an animal welfare body which hon. Members have learned to respect and I congratulate it on the care, zeal and compassion with which it has studied the problem of seals. We seldom hear criticism from any quarter, but, at the same time, U.F.A.W. has recommended for some months that a rifle of not less han ·243 calibre should be used for the shooting af adult common and grey seals in this country. After consideration, U.F.A.W. would be prepared to accept the ·240 calibre rifle, as mentioned in the Amendment, provided that it included a specified muzzle velocity of not less than 1,700 ft. lbs. and the use of a soft-nozed or hollow pointed bullet. These three conditions fulfil the criteria laid down in the Deer Act, 1963.

In another place, in May last year, Lord Shackleton used words to the effect that he was full of admiration for the fine work which U.F.A.W. had done in its studies of seals and the fate which befell many of the seals which were not killed outright. He gave examples, from a report by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, of cases where seals had been shot by rifles of low calibre and small muzzle velocity which were not killed outright. He described the case of one common seal which was mentioned in this report, which was unable to reach the water and was killed on the sands by a rifle shot through the head at point blank range.

Another common seal, however, in the same case when a cull took place in the Wash, was wounded and escaped to sea. One 90 lb. immature grey seal, a 1967 pup, was shot in the jaw by a rifle, and made out to sea, wounded. The seal was eventually recovered at sea, but only after a struggle and only after being clubbed repeatedly by one of the hunters and an official from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The culling party in the Wash on this occasion, as mentioned in this report by U.F.A.W., went out again to continue the work on the evening tide, and they took up position just before dusk, firing several shots without effective results. For instance, one grey seal was wounded and was unable to submerge, but managed to struggle for about 150 yards to the sandbank.

Four further shots were fired and one of these caused this animal to go limp, and with the aid of the staff of the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, the seal was recovered from the surf and with some difficulty was brought ashore. A veterinary examination on this seal showed that the animal had a complete fracture of the lower jaw, probably caused by the first bullet and, in addition, it had a wound in the neck.

Yet this seal, even after this long struggle and several other rifle shots had been fired at it, was still alive, although it was unconscious and bleeding heavily. At the request of U.F.A.W., the animal was despatched by a bullet through the head at point-blank range. This case is an illustration of the difficulty which one has with an inadequate weapon in despatching a large seal in an effective and humane manner.

The same evening an apparently wounded seal pup was recovered by helicopter, but it died within half an hour and a post mortem examination on the carcase revealed the entry and exit points of what was apparently a 0.22 bullet. The entry point was at the back of the animal about 6 in, behind the front flippers and the track of the bullet had shattered the thoracic vertebrae and damaged the spinal cord. Yet this seal pup was still alive when it was retrieved.

The same evening two pup carcases were washed ashore and were examined. One had a depressed fracture of the skull and had probably been dead for some hours. The other had been wounded by a bullet entering the right side, causing a multiple fracture of the scapula and dislocation of the humerus. This animal probably died through shock and exposure.

Yet another illustration of the ineffective method of culling seals with inadequate weapons can be drawn from yet another illustration in this report of the same cull in the Wash. A yearling bull seal—not a pup—which had been dead about 12 hours, and was recovered the next day, had been wounded twice by bullets. One bullet had entered the neck above and anterior to the left flipper and came out about 8 in. in front of the right flipper. This was not sufficient however, and a second bullet had entered the left temporal region of the head and completely shattered the left side of the skull.

The same day, two seal pups which had been dead for some time were recovered. One had a fracture of the neck between the axis and the atlas vertebrae and the other had a fracture of the right maxilla and nasal bone, suggestive of a bullet fired at close range through the left eye.

As a result of these observations and others, U.F.A.W. came to the conclusion that .22 weapons and ammunition, although of so-called high velocity, are neither effective nor humane when used against adult seals and particularly grey seals.

The Bill—and, incidentally, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) on his initiative in introducing it and I trust that it will have a speedy passage through the House—is curiously silent on the type of bullet which may be used although surprisingly it is concerned with bullet weight. It has been said that details can, if necessary, be dealt with administratively under Clause 1(2) or Clause 9.

But, frankly, I cannot see why, if the muzzle velocity of the bullet and the calibre of a rifle are considered to be of importance, why the type of bullet is not considered to be of equal importance. The fact that it should be soft nosed or hollow pointed, round or solid should have been worthy of mention in my hon. Friend's Bill.

It is important that attention should be drawn to the fact that the criteria laid down in the Bill for a rifle and ammunition for shooting seals calls for a muzzle energy of not less than 600 ft. lbs. and a bullet weighing not less than 45 grains—criteria approximating closely to the ·22 Hornet rifle which has a muzzle velocity of 625 ft. lbs. and a bullet weight of 45 grains.

Yet during the past five years approximate figures indicate that not more than 50 Hornet rifles passed through the Proof House and of these not more than two or three were new ones and even those had new sleeved tubes. In other words, the Bill on the advice of the Ministry and the Natural Environment Research Council is advocating the use of a weapon and ammunition which is almost obsolete.

It is true to say that every world authority on this subject and on big game—agrees that the broad yardstick for assessing rifle calibre, bullet weight and muzzle velocity is based on the body weight of the specie of animal to be destroyed; whether the bullet to be used is solid, soft-nosed or hollow-pointed depends on whether the animal concerned is classified as hard or soft skinned.

I hope that these few remarks on the muzzle velocity and the calibre of the rifle to be used will convince my hon. Friend that possibly it would be as well if his Bill included similar specifications for what can be a much heavier and larger target than those dealt with in the Deer Act, 1963. I hope that my hon. Friend will perhaps give consideration to what I have said. It is easy to say—as he may well do—that in Clause 1(2) opportunity is given to the Secretary of State to amend these specifications later. That is so, but I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House would like to get the foundation right and to seek as little amendment as possible later.

With respect, I submit that the basis upon which my hon. Friend has founded his case is incorrect and I urge him to accept the Amendment.

11.30 a.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Jackson Mr Peter Jackson , High Peak

I congratulate the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) on the admirable and lucid way in which he has moved his Amendment. He has dealt with the matter comprehensively and there is little that one can say in support.

I shall not repeat what he said. I intend to make one or two additional points in support of the Amendment. First, I should like to draw attention and to spell out in some detail a point which the hon. Member has already referred to—namely, that the Canadian Government have recently revised their legislation. I think that it would be appropriate if I drew attention to the fact that the Canadian Government, in their wisdom, have gone far further than this Amendment seeks to do.

I shall read from legislation which was passed recently in the Canadian House on an amendment to the Fisheries Act. The reference is SOR/67-52. The relevant Sections are 16 and 18 dealing with methods of culling. For the sake of completeness, I shall include a short reference to clubbing seals as well as to rifle velocities.

I quote from a letter from the British High Commission in Ottawa: In SOR/67-52…Sections 16 to 18 of the Regulations are revoked, and seals may be taken in the Gulf Area and or Front Area only by:— (a) a club made of hardwood not less than 24 ins, or more than 30 ins. in length and that for at least half of its length is not less than 2 ins. in diameter". We are not concerned with that matter here. (b) a rifle firing only centre fire cartridges not made with metal cased hard point bullets, with"— this is significant— (i) a muzzle velocity of not less than 1800 feet per second"— I ask the House to note that we do not go as far as that in the Amendment, and all we require is a muzzle velocity of 1,700 feet per second— (ii) a muzzle energy of not less than 1100 foot pounds; or(c) a shotgun not less than 20 gauge firing rifled or 'Poly-Kor' slug shotshells". I do not comment on this third reference. Perhaps we may hear from hon. Members who are more knowledgeable about ballistics.

The significant fact is that the Canadian Government, who have a great deal more knowledge and experience of this matter than we have, have decided that there should be a minimum required muzzle velocity of 1,800 feet per second.

Second, in further support of what the hon. Member for Harborough has said, I draw attention to an interesting study and report undertaken by the Nature Conservancy's Consultative Committee on Grey Seals and Fisheries. This adds considerable weight to the hon. Gentleman's contention, and section 8 deals with the practice of seal culling, drawing attention to the distinction between the methods which should be used for killing pups, on the one hand, and for killing mature seals, on the other: By far the most satisfactory method of killing pups"— note, it is killing pups— was found to be a Webley Scott pistol, as used by veterinary surgeons for disposing of sick animal stock. The operator should stand behind and over the pup, aiming at a point at least two-thirds of the distance from a line between the eyes to the back of the head, at about 6 inches range. It was found that each operator can kill at the rate of 40 to 50 per hour. Death is instantaneous, and there is generally little or no bleeding and thus no damage to the skin. Instantaneous death is also caused with a 0.22 rifle, using soft-nosed ammunition at close range". I ask the House to note that— The seal should be shot high in the neck or in the back of the head". That is just for pups. Perhaps I may say that it is a weakness in the Bill that the Clause does not distinguish between methods for dispatching a pup, on the one hand, and a mature seal, on the other.

Photo of Mr John Temple Mr John Temple , City of Chester

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not wish to mislead the House, but I feel that he is in some danger of so doing. Clause 10, the licensing procedure, will be operative during culling, which is equivalent to the pupping season, and the Secretary of State, in those circumstances, will be able specifically to lay down in the licence the weapon to be used.

Photo of Mr Peter Jackson Mr Peter Jackson , High Peak

I am glad to have that correction. I take the hon. Gentleman's point that, as regards the method of culling pups, the matter will be covered satisfactorily.

I take my other quotation from the report of the Nature Conservancy's Consultative Committee—and this is the operative sentence— For adults, or for pups at longer range, only a high-velocity rifle as used for red deer is suitable. Thus, we have, first, the Canadian legislation, and second, the authority of the Consultative Committee of the Nature Conservancy supporting the contention that our legislation should be in line with previous legislation passed in respect of deer. I gather that that is as far as the hon. Gentleman wishes to go, and I very much hope that the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) will accept the Amendment.

Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall

Having studied the Bill, I am not altogether surprised that the first subject we have to discuss this morning is not the conservation of seals, but the destruction of seals. It would be more honest and less of a mockery if the Bill had been called the "Destruction of Seals Bill".

I support the Amendment, which raises one of my many reservations about the Bill. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) set out the basic reasons why a larger rifle is required. I agreed with everything he said save his hope that the Bill, with this one Amendment, would be carried in its entirety. I hope that the House will do no such thing. The Bill gives great powers to scientists. I am rather less certain than some hon. Members that scientists always exercise their powers with common humanity. Much of the evidence we have already heard in the debate shows that they do not.

What are the Ministry's reasons for accepting the ·22 rifle and standards which are substantially below those which have been called for by the Canadian Government? The Ministry's recommendations have been based on advice from scientists. For the past 10 years and more, the advice of most scientists to the Ministry on the question of seal culling and conservation has been incorrect and misleading, and is still so. Indeed, their advice conflicts with the advice of U.F.A.W. and its scientists and many other people who should know just as well as the scientists from whom the Ministry has had recommendations.

The hon. Member for Harborough has already quoted from the letter which U.F.A.W. wrote to the Ministry, and I shall not go over that again. I turn to a Question which I put to the Secretary of State for the Home Department on 25th July, 1969: What is the minimum calibre and muzzle energy of a rifle to be used for the killing of deer; what is the minimum calibre and muzzle energy of a rifle recommended by his Department for the killing of adult seals; what is the average live weight of an adult roe deer and the average live weight of an adult Common Seal". Our discussion this morning makes perfectly clear why I asked that Question.

The Answer was revealing, and it came from the Under-Secretary of State, who is present on the Front Bench this morning: The Deer Act, 1963, prohibits, for killing deer, the use of any rifle with a calibre of less than 0·240 in. or a muzzle energy of less than 1,700 foot pounds. There is no statutory limit on the weapons to be used for killing seals. I understand that the Natural Environment Research Council considers that no firearm other than a rifle using ammunition having a muzzle energy of not less than 600 foot pounds and a bullet weighing not less than 45 grains should be used for killing seals. The live weight of an adult roe deer is generally between 50 to 70 lb. and of an adult common seal between 225 and 550 lb. The use of a bullet with a greater energy of impact is necessary for killing deer as it is usual to aim at the heart. In killing adult seals only brain shots are attempted, and the use of such a heavy bullet is not necessary". It may well be that only brain shots are attempted, but the evidence we have had this morning shows perfectly well that the marksmanship is less than expert, and even a good shot does not always manage to hit the brain even though he may aim at it. Much of the evidence which we have, not only this morning but in documents prepared by U.F.A.W., shows that not only do people miss the brain, but in many cases they do not even bother to aim at it.

My second Question to the Minister on 25th July asked whether he would introduce legislation to prohibit the use of any rifle having a calibre of less than 0.240 ins. or a muzzle energy of less than 1,700 foot pounds for the killing of any adult seal, and the reply, terse and to the point, was: No."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th July, 1969; Vol. 787, c. 533–4.] What do we have in the way of evidence that this rifle which it is proposed should be allowed to be used is inadequate? Some evidence has been put before us by scientists—U.F.A.W., for example. I should like to quote something which I regard as expert evidence, namely, a letter in the Daily Telegraph of 3rd July, 1969, from the Secretary of the Gamekeepers' Association of the United Kingdom. He said: My association has just received a draft copy of the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, Annual Report 1968–9…on the subject of seals in United Kingdom waters. I do not think that many people would accuse our association of adopting a sentimental or squeamish attitude to the need for controlling certain types of wild life and the methods necessary to effect such control, but the association is appalled at the callous indifference shown by the Ministry of Agriculture, the Natural Environment Research Council and the Nature Conservancy in one particular aspect of the methods approved for killing seals during annual culls in the Wash and on Scroby Sands. I refer to the recommendation by the Natural Environment Research Council that the 0.22 rifle is an effective and humane weapon for the killing of adult seals in spite of clear evidence to the contrary produced by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare. As long ago as 1963 the Deer Act prohibited the use of any rifle having a calibre of less than 0.240 in. or a muzzle energy of less than 1,700 foot pounds for the killing of any red, fallow, silka or roe deer. The muzzle energy for a 0.22 rifle using a high velocity, solid bullet is 168 foot pounds and in the case for a hollow point bullet, 147 foot pounds. The average live weight of an adult roe deer is about 56–60 lbs. and the average live weight of an adult common seal is about 450–550 lbs.; an adult grey seal may be slightly heavier. There, the secretary of the Gamekeepers' Association points out the farce that the Ministry of Agriculture has accepted a weapon for the killing of seals which is substantially less in power than the weapon which it dictates should be used for killing deer whose weight is one-tenth that of a seal. I do not accept the assurance that the difference is made up by the fact that in the case of the seals the shot is aimed at the head and that in the case of the deer it is aimed at the heart. It is only too obvious that the woundings which take place have taken place elsewhere on the body.

As the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) suggested, why should we not follow the example of the Canadian Government? Perhaps I can make a party point by mentioning that the Canadian Government are one of the few civilised Liberal Governments in the world and, therefore, naturally would not bring in inhumane regulations. Why not accept a larger rifle? It would not substantially increase the cost. It would be rather more difficult to handle, particularly in those far, remote and inaccessible places where scientists are wont to conduct their more revolting experiments.

I cannot see why the Minister should not accept the Amendment. I hope that, in view of the arguments presented this morning, he will do so. I hope that the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) who is sponsoring the Bill will be prepared to accept our arguments.

11.45 a.m.

Photo of Mr John Temple Mr John Temple , City of Chester

I am glad that we are having this debate, because I hope that it will enable me to clear up a considerable number of misunderstandings. This is a conservation Measure whose object is to bring healthy colonies of common and grey seals around our shores. Nobody in the United Kingdom wishes there to be any unnecessary cruelty or suffering, but it is necessary in nature to control seals. The only controller of seal population is man. Therefore, some method, and I hope a right and balanced method, of keeping seal colonies at a healthy level must be adopted.

I shall deal with the points which have been made in the best way available to me and then generally with the ballistics situation. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), in a most interesting speech—and I congratulate him on the amount of information which he presented to the House—considered that the minimum weight of shot and velocity of bullet laid down in my Bill was too light and too ineffective. He would have liked something heavier specified which had more effect on impact. He related his argument to the body weights of the animals which were to be shot at. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) also referred to that point.

I cannot agree that body weights are a true criterion of the effectiveness of a shot at an animal. When it comes to the physical structure of animals and mammals, I must rely to an extent on scientists. I am advised that the bones in the head of a seal are relatively fragile and that that is the normal part of a seal at which to shoot, whereas the normal target area for shooting a deer is the heart. I think that that is accepted by all practical people and by the scientists.

One point of slight confusion in the speech of the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) concerned the culls. Sometimes they take place because the seal is used as a resource, and that happens in the northern parts of Scotland. Sometimes they take place to keep the populations at a reasonable level, which is the situation off the coasts of England and Wales. But in the event of culls of common and grey seals, the Secretary of State will lay down, under the Bill, not only the numbers to be killed but the method by which they are killed. Those methods would normally be outside the Amendment.

I shall deal later with the question of the type of bullet, about which I have something to say which may be helpful.

The hon. Member for The High Peak was kind enough, just as the debate was starting, to hand me the evidence which he had just received from Canada. I read it at the same time as he was reading it to the House. He will agree that the Canadian evidence is based on the harp seal and not on the common or grey seal. But, leaving that on one side, it is common practice in Canada for other purposes to use a heavier calibre rifle. It is significant—and the hon. Gentleman did not conceal the fact—that in Canada shotguns are licensed to be used, and are used, whereas under the Bill they are excluded. Therefore, there is not a real or substantial difference between us on that point.

The hon. Member for Cornwall, North, who did not seem to like my Bill particularly or scientific advisers in general, made a point about a letter from the Gamekeepers' Association on how culls were carried out. The association wrote its letter some time before my Bill was published. If it had had the good fortune to be able to read my Bill, it would have realised that the point about the culls was taken care of and that the Secretary of State will be in a position to specify the weapons. I hope that the weapons specified for a cull will please the association.

Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall

Why is the hon. Gentleman content to leave this decision to the Minister? Why does he think that the Minister is likely to make a good decision? He has not done so in the past.

Photo of Mr John Temple Mr John Temple , City of Chester

The reason is that nobody would use a high velocity rifle to shoot a small seal pup because they would endanger the lives of almost all other people in the vicinity. The way to dispatch a small seal pup is probably with a humane killer. The hon. Gentleman may not have had the good fortune, as I have, of visiting a seal colony during the pupping season. I can assure him that one can walk up to a seal pup and it is possible to place a humane killer at its head and dispatch it. I have every confidence that the Secretary of State will know the exact type of weapon to specify and that the weapon will be used in accordance with the terms of the licence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough was right in saying that the ·22 Hornet rifle is not used as much today as it was a few years ago. But I checked only yesterday with the suppliers of Hornet ammunition who told me that there is still a demand for that ammunition and therefore that ammunition presumably is used. The reason that the same number of rifles are not going through the proofing station is that the ·22 Hornet rifle is not now used in deer stalking and the major demand for that rifle has rather ebbed away.

If the Bill is read carefully, it can be seen that what is specified is a minimum. It is more likely that rifles of higher power will be used, and I will explain the circumstances. I spoke to the head of the Seals Research Unit yesterday, who said that he uses ·22 Remington with 1,400 ft. lbs. which is a rifle giving the same kind of ballistic statistics as my hon. Friend specifies in the Amendment. Fishermen, who are entitled in protecting their nets to shoot seals at all seasons of the year in certain circumstances, normally use for this purpose a ·303 rifle using a rather heavy bullet.

I am not a ballistics expert, but I have endeavoured to inform myself on this subject. I have had the opportunity to talk to Mr. Bonner, head of the Seals Research Unit, and have some personal knowledge of shooting game, and I know a little about the shooting of deer, although I have not personally shot deer for many years. Unquestionably we want to avoid the maiming of seals. It is not disputed that one aims at the heart of a deer and, if one misses the heart, the sheer impact around the heart will be great enough to cause death. I am afraid that in the case of a seal, as I am informed by expert advice, this is not so. Neither a heart shot nor a neck shot in seals, however high the calibre of bullet, will be effective in bringing about a swift dispatch of that animal.

A brain shot is the one that must be attempted, though, of course, it is not easy. In that way death is capable of being brought about instantaneously at a comparatively long range by the bullet and ammunition prescribed in the Bill. I have already said that in the close season, which is the normal time shooting takes place, the particular type of weapon and bullet and dispatching instrument will be under licence issued by the Secretary of State.

My hon. Friend has a substantial point in regard to the type of bullet and the point was reiterated by the hon. Member for The High Peak. It was not thought necessary to write into the Bill the fact that the bullets should be soft-nosed or hollow-pointed. Anyone with knowledge of the sporting sphere will realise that either a soft-nosed or hollow-pointed bullet is used. The hard-pointed bullets are those used in warfare, and are not used for sporting purposes.

I give an undertaking, although not a commitment, to look at the matter of specifying in the Bill that the bullet should be of this nature. I feel that it is implicit, though not specified in the Bill. I will ask the noble Lord who is to take charge of the Bill in another place to look at this point.

I hope that I have satisfied the House that the Amendment is not strictly necessary. The Hornet type of rifle with ammunition as specified in the Bill is to an extent phasing itself out. All that will happen is that rather larger calibre rifles will take its place. I hope that with that explanation and the qualified commitment which I have given, my hon. Friend will withdraw the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

This is a Private Member's Bill which has been cogently handled by the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) and which has the support of the Government. I support the hon. Gentleman's views on this Amendment. It seems reasonable that we should look at this point and that some words could be included before the debates on the Bill in another place.

We have looked at this matter carefully and I will give the House the Government's views. The rifle calibre, muzzle energy and bullet weight specified in Clause 1(1)(b) were in the original Bill in another place and were based on expert advice given by the Natural Environment Research Council. Clause 13 provides for N.E.R.C. to give scientific advice to the Government about seals. It is not a heavy political point. It is advice given by scientists to non-scientists. I take the same view as the hon. Member for the City of Chester, which is probably due to my ignorance.

I, too, am often suspicious of scientists. But it would appear that, although the hon. Gentleman does not seem to like the advice of the N.E.R.C., he is prepared to accept advice from university scientists. My view is that if there is sceptisism it should be applied generally rather than particularly. It is therefore reasonable, following the logic of Clause 13, for us to accept advice with regard to weapon sizes.

Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall

Since there is a conflict of evidence between scientists, surely, it is better to err on the side of humanity. The Minister and the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) are erring the other way.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I shall seek to change the view of the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) that neither I nor the Government have any humanity. I am sure the hon. Member for Chester will defend himself against that charge.

12 noon.

The advice which was proffered came from the Seals Sub-Committee of the N.E.R.C. Mr. Nigel Bonner, the head of that section, is an experienced scientist and has Canadian experience. The House may be interested in some of the detailed advice which was provided. Perhaps hon. Members would like to have copies of this advice. I say at the outset that I am not a scientist and that I have never shot at any animal of any kind. It may be that my ignorance in this respect will enable me to pick out the salient points in the document.

It begins by saying It has been claimed by various members of the public and animal protection societies that ·22 rifles are inadequate for killing British seals. During recent operations at Scroby Sands statements were made in the press and elsewhere that included references to 'high velocity' ammunition being used, without specifying the velocities involved. A bewildering variety of ammunition is available in calibre ·22. The paper goes on to say that the committee found 32 types listed in a dealer's catalogue eleven of which were described as "high velocity", but none of which was the type referred to in the context of Scroby Sands.

The committee provided a table setting out ballistic data for the selection of cartridges and its shows that The killing power of a bullet is not determined solely by its calibre (or even its weight) but by a combination of its weight and velocity at the time of impact. When a bullet strikes on arrival it may penetrate a vital organ, such as the heart or the brain, and death will result because of the mechanical damage to the organs. However, a bullet which strikes near to such an organ can still inflict an instantaneously fatal injury if the striking energy is sufficiently great because the mechanical effect of the dissipation of this energy will spread through the tissues. This is why heavier bullets with high velocities are chosen for sporting purposes. The paper continues A bullet will only develop its full energy of impact if it is arrested by the tissue which it strikes…In the case of seal shooting only brain shots are attempted and here the case for a heavy bullet is far less valid. Seals' skulls are in general rather fragile for the size of the animal and even relatively low powered bullets will inflict massive wounds striking the brain case. It goes on to discuss the differences in different parts of the world, and continues From this it is concluded that the ·22 'Hornet' (and of course the more powerful ·222 Remington and ·220 Swift) firing a soft nosed bullet is quite adequate for killing British seals instantly provided the bullet strikes the brain case"— which is the point made by the hon. Gentleman. Neck shots on seals, even using ·303 soft-nosed bullets, have been found to be ineffective. Heart shots are even less effective where a quick dispatch is required. The report goes on to explain why and the nature of the physiology. It ends by saying: It is recommended that, when a rifle is used for killing British seals, a cartridge firing a soft-nosed or hollow bullet of not less than 45 grains with muzzle energy of not less than 625 footpounds be used. ·22 'Hornet,' ·222 Remington and ·220 Swift and all larger calibre ammunition more than fulfil these criteria. Paraphrasing the argument, a heavier bullet with a greater muzzle energy is specified for shooting deer because the shot is aimed at the heart. This is not a well-defined target, and by using a bullet with greater momentum it will cause sufficient tissue damage to ensure immediate death if it strikes the chest, even if it does not pierce the heart. With seals, only brain shots are attempted and, in our view, a weapon and ammunition of the type specified in the Bill are adequate for this type of shot to kill a seal outright.

If the shot misses the brain and hits the seal elsewhere, even the use of a more powerful rifle and ammunition of the type proposed by the hon. Gentleman would not kill the seal outright. This weighs with me, heartless though I am supposed to be, when I try to think of a situation which I have never experienced and listen to the expert knowledge of other hon. Members.

Hon. Members who were present in the Standing Committee will recall that I described the situation in Scotland. This is not a case of every Tom, Dick and Harry going around shooting. It is the circumstances which arise under a licensing system, and, as I explained on that occasion, The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Scotland, together with N.E.R.C. makes a count of seals on each of the islands where seals breed and agreement is reached on the number of pups to be killed on each island. Seal hunters are given permits to kill a specified number of seal pups at a specified locale. They are allowed only to kill blue-coated moulted pups. Conditions are laid down concerning a rifle, or Webley 0·32 humane killer. The permit covers a limited period of two-to-three weeks, and the hunters are required to submit a weekly return of seals killed. The skins must be presented for examination by a departmental officer. Spot checks are made by the Department staff, the local police and a local officer of the R.S.P.C.A. during the culling period to ensure compliance with the conditions laid down."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 25th Feb., 1970; c. 11.] I fully understand the concern of the hon. Gentleman, but it is the circumstances in which the culling of the seals takes place which matter. People will not be pot-shooting at seals while they are travelling in the water at high speeds, when they are likely to miss. Again speaking with a lack of knowledge on this, I would have thought that anybody attempting to shoot a seal travelling at high speed would be very foolish, and that those on the spot would take account of this. What matters are the circumstances in which the culling takes place.

If, as a result of further research, we are advised by the N.E.R.C.—who of course will be involved in discussing the point with people on the spot—that changes should take place, my right hon.

Friend the Secretary of State can make changes by order. It does not require an Amendment to the Bill. Obviously, there will be changes; indeed we discussed other methods than shooting on Second Reading and, obviously, there must be room for change.

The advice of the Government is to support the views of the hon. Gentleman, not least for the reason he gave that this is a minimum. Far more important from my point of view are the circumstances in which the cull takes place. Given those circumstances, our view is that the hon. Gentleman is right to resist the Amendment, although we take into account his view about a possible Amendment in another place.

Photo of Mr Peter Jackson Mr Peter Jackson , High Peak

Before my hon. Friend sits down, will he explain to the House why he thought it proper to reject the advice given to him by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland? I quoted the report on grey seals, and——

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. We are on Report, and we cannot have a second speech disguised as a question.

Photo of Mr Peter Jackson Mr Peter Jackson , High Peak

I apologise. May I briefly draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that he was given advice by expert witnesses from the Ministry of Agriculture which he chooses to ignore. I reported the conclusions of that advice.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

I understand that that was eight years ago. We have had later advice since.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I would not feel so strongly about the Amendment if I did not know from my own experience that a .22 rifle is quite inadequate to destroy a seal. I have a .22 and would never dream of allowing anyone to use it for that purpose.

The assurance given by my hon. Friend that he would consider having inserted in another place the provision that a soft-nosed or hollow pointed bullet should be used is quite inadequate. This will only make a more distressing wound if a weapon of the calibre of .22 is allowed to be used in conjunction with soft-nosed or hollow pointed ammunition.

The Bill fails to make any reference to the calibre of the rifle. It mentions the weight of the bullet and the velocity, but not the calibre. The points of difference between us are so fundamental that I have no hesitation in asking the House to accept the Amendment.

Photo of Mr John Temple Mr John Temple , City of Chester

My hon. Friend says that he has a .22 rifle. Has he a .22 rifle with a chamber large enough to hold Hornet ammunition?

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

Yes. As I was saying, I have no hesitation in asking my colleagues to support my Amendment.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 27, Noes 28.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 12, at end, insert: 'or (c) fires such rifle at other than a stationary target'. My purpose, by this Amendment, is to stop the indiscriminate potting of moving seals. The Under-Secretary referred to the bad practice of indiscriminate potting of moving targets which may occur from time to time. My hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) said that the only place to shoot a seal was in the head. He stressed, and I agree, how important it was to avoid maiming seals. That is likely to happen if potting at them with rifles while they are moving through the water at the high speeds of which they are capable is allowed. Some of the lamentable consequences which I enumerated earlier undoubtedly resulted from people potting seals which were moving through the water at varying speeds.

Seals spend many hours basking on the sands. If human beings are not around and they are undisturbed, at low water, at any rate, they will spend the greater portion of their time basking on the sand and resting. When they are disturbed, they will waddle into the water and then move through it at fairly high speed. However, like some hon. Members, seals have much curiosity and they will not go far before halting in the water, turning round and virtually standing up, so that their heads are sticking out of the water, in order to see what it is that has disturbed them.

The purpose of the Amendment is to use the fact that the seal is so often, both on land and in the water, a still target to provide that a marksman should aim his rifle on those occasions. A person engaged in destroying seals with a rifle has a difficult enough task as it is. We must remember that, whether the seal is stationary or not, the boat in which the marksman has embarked is probably bobbing up and down in the water. There may be a swirling current and visibility may be bad and even with a stationary or static target, an expert marksman has great difficulty in making an efficient kill through the head.

It seems sensible to confine marksmen engaged in culling seals to stationary targets, especially as between its stationary periods a frightened seal is capable of moving through the water at great speed. When it is moving through the water, it presents no more a visible target than does a large fish. It spends much of the time completely submerged and for part of the time only its back, its dorsal flipper, is barely visible. Obviously, that is not a time when a seal should be shot.

In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester recognised that seals move through the water at high speed. I am sure that he would wish to correct any impression which he may then have given by agreeing that it is ineffective and inhumane to fire when seals are moving through the water at this speed, and to do so by accepting this simple Amendment.

Photo of Mr John Temple Mr John Temple , City of Chester

This is not an issue of such great substance as that raised by the last Amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) mentioned it in Committee. He has had the great good fortune of having had more personal experience of seals than most of us. He had experience in the Navy and no doubt he has seen many seals while cruising in Her Majesty's ships and he is, therefore, more familiar than most of us with the habits of seals on land and in the water. It would be extraordinarily difficult to enforce a provision of this nature, because to some extent a seal is always moving and even if the seal is not actually moving the water in which he swims is. It would be almost impossible to determine that a seal was stationary at any given moment.

But, leaving on one side the rather impractical side of the Amendment, I appreciate what my hon. Friend is driving at. He wants to ensure that seals are shot at only when they present a fair target. The most common situation will be when—I will not use the word "hunter"—the person in possession of the firearm has a licence for it. In this connection I should like to mention two relevant factors. First, in recent years the firearms licensing procedures have been greatly tightened up. I know from my own experience with my own registered firearm that the police are very careful to license only those people who have a definite use for firearms. Therefore, what my hon. Friend calls the pot shooting of seals will be largely eliminated.

If the Bill is passed—and we are having constant difficulties about getting it through the House—the use of shotguns will be eliminated. I remind hon. Members that if the Bill is not passed, there will be no protection for common seals and that it will still be possible to use shotguns to shoot seals. To that extent, there is a premium in passing the Bill in the interests of the seal colonies themselves.

If the Bill is passed, the days when persons will wander about the sands with rifles will pass away, the concept of people walking about the sands with a shotgun and perhaps with ball ammunition will no longer be valid. The use of shotguns with ball ammunition, unlike the Canadian experience, will be eliminated and virtually the only people using rifles in these circumstances will be fishermen doing so in protection of their gear and nets.

12.30 p.m.

On the previous Amendment, I explained that fishermen used a fairly high calibre rifle, usually a 303. Nobody wishes to fire a rifle at a seal unless the shot is effective. That shot will necessarily be made when the seal is almost stationary. In Committee, I referred to seals moving at high speeds to indicate that they were capable of moving at high speeds. I did not wish to convey the impression that anyone would shoot at a seal when it was moving at high speed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough, with his great experience, has drawn attention to the fact that seals are inquisitive mammals and that after going some distance from any situation they pop up their heads, almost stationary to use his words, which is the moment when a shot is fired. In Committee, my hon. Friend used the phrase "almost stationary". I agree entirely that that is the right time at which to shoot a seal. But there is a difference between "almost stationary" and "stationary". That is why I explained that I could not regard the Amendment as being technically acceptable, because one could not say that anything which was "almost stationary" was "stationary". My hon. Friend's Amendment says that the creature must be stationary when it is to be shot.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gray Mr Hugh Gray , Yarmouth

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it is said that the seals on Scroby Sands clearly distinguish between summer visitors and fishermen? They realise that they are participating in the entertainment business and remain still when summer visitors approach the sands in boats. But when fishermen are in the vicinity they move off immediately. My information is that fishermen usually shoot the seals when they are moving. Therefore, it seems that the Amendment has some substance.

Photo of Mr John Temple Mr John Temple , City of Chester

I know that the hon. Gentleman has experience of the mixed colony of seals, partly grey and partly common seals. The seals in that area must be remarkably perceptive if they can distinguish between visitors and fishermen. I have not come across this unique perceptive quality in seals, but I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. Nevertheless, I do not think that it invalidates my case.

While superficially it has attractions, as a practical proposition I cannot advise the House to accept the Amendment. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough will consider withdrawing it.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

In view of my hon. Friend's misgivings, and with the consent of the House and not desiring to demonstrate to him the strength of those who might hold other views, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Consideration completed——

Photo of Mr Peter Jackson Mr Peter Jackson , High Peak

On a point of order. Am I right in thinking, Mr. Speaker, that you have not selected Amendment No. 3?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I announced at the beginning of the debate this morning that I had not selected it. A list is posted, in the Division Lobbies usually, indicating the selection of Amendments. Amendment No. 3 has not been selected.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.