13 The Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 (1985/171 (N.I. 2)) is amended in accordance with paragraphs 22 to 27.
14 In Article 10 (protection of certain wild animals), in paragraph (4A), for paragraphs (a) and (b) substitute—
“(a) a seal (pinniped), or”.
15 In Article 11 (exceptions to Article 10)—
(a) after paragraph (1) insert—
(1A) Article 5(5) (as it applies to Article 10 by virtue of paragraph (1)) applies in relation to seals (pinnipedia) as if—
(a) in sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) the words “otherwise than by his unlawful act” were omitted, and
(b) sub-paragraph (c) were omitted.”;
(b) after paragraph (3) insert—
(3A) Paragraph (3) applies in relation to seals (pinnipedia) as if “or to fisheries” were omitted.”
16 In Article 18 (power to grant licences), after paragraph (3) insert—
(3ZA) But a licence may not be granted under paragraph (3) that permits the killing, injuring or taking of seals (pinnipedia) for the purpose of preventing damage to fisheries.”
17 In Schedule 5 (animals which are protected at all times), in the table, for the entries for “Seal, common” and “Seal, grey” substitute—
18 In Schedule 6 (animals which may not be killed or taken by certain methods), in the table, for the entries for “Seal, common” and “Seal, grey” substitute—
19 In Schedule 7 (animals which may not be sold alive or dead at any time), in the table, for the entries for “Seal, common” and “Seal, grey” substitute—
This new Schedule makes amendments to the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 and the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. The amendments would generally prohibit the killing, injuring or taking of seals, and limit the circumstances in which that can be permitted.
The proposed amendments to the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 and the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 will provide new protections for wild seal populations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland from intentional or reckless injury, killing or taking. It will greatly restrict the circumstances in which any intentional killing of a wild seal is lawfully permitted—for example, animal welfare exemptions to euthanise a wild seal if found to suffer from irrecoverable injury, pain or disease. The amendments are highly beneficial from an animal welfare perspective, as seals are often intentionally killed during interaction with commercial fisheries. The amendments are necessary for the UK to comply with new import regulations being implemented in the USA. From January 2022, the USA will allow imports of fisheries products only from countries that do not allow the killing, injuring or taking of marine mammals as part of commercial fisheries.
In England and Wales, the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 permits commercial fisheries to kill seals under licence granted by the MMO, or without a licence in very special circumstances known as the netsman’s defence. Similarly, in Northern Ireland there is a provision that also allows for the killing of seals in the course of commercial fishing.
Exports from UK wild capture fisheries could be prevented from entering the USA, and UK businesses currently exporting wild capture fish, such as cod, mackerel or shellfish would no longer be able to do so. That would result in a significant loss of export revenue, because last year wild capture exports to the USA were worth well over £13 million. It could also preclude fishery businesses from taking advantage of a future free trade agreement.
The Scottish Government have separate legislation regarding seal conservation— the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010—which they have amended to comply with current requirements, as we intend to do by means of this amendment. These amendments have been developed in conjunction with colleagues in Northern Ireland to facilitate a whole-UK approach, and I commend them to the House.
Labour supports these amendments and we will not vote against them.
Every seal matters and the discussions that we have had with stakeholders show strong support for the measures outlined by the Minister. Indeed, the changes to the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 and the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 prohibit the killing, injuring or taking of seals, as well as limiting the circumstances in which those activities can be permitted. Previously, these activities were prohibited only if particular weapons or poisonous substances were used. These changes provide a broader set of protections for seals.
Seals form an important part of the UK’s marine ecosystem, but face an increasing threat from climate change and hunting. Indeed, seals eat a lot of fish and there is sometimes a sense that killing seals protects fish stocks. In fact, such killing damages the fragile ecosystem that supports all life in our oceans, which is why we need to protect seals.
These amendments will help to protect an iconic and much-loved species, and we welcome them. However, when the Minister responds, I would be grateful if she set out why this amendment and the new schedule have been introduced so late in the Bill’s progress and were not originally included in the Bill when it was published, because they seem to be changes that would carry strong support and are worthy of good scrutiny by stakeholders.
It is unusual in this place that we are adjusting our legislation to amend something that Donald Trump may want for trade with the US, and doing so with full enthusiasm from both sides of the House. However, there is popular support for these changes.
I rise briefly to draw attention to the fact that we are often accused by the Labour party of trying to do a trade deal with the United States that would produce lower environmental standards and lower animal welfare standards than those we have. Actually, this amendment is an example of how, to comply with the US, which has higher standards of protection for marine cetaceans and seals, we have to change our law to bring it up to the American standard. In this case we can demonstrate that by having agreements for freer trade around the world, we are actually tightening up our standards to match those that some countries already have.
In response to the question, “Why now?”, I will simply say that we did not include this amendment when the Bill was introduced last week because we could not ascertain at that stage whether a change to primary legislation was absolutely necessary. We also had to consult properly with the devolved Administrations and make the necessary changes to their legislation, working in conjunction with them. It was important that this UK-wide joined-up approach became real before we were able to table this amendment. We recognise, of course, that seal depredation of fish is perceived as being a major problem for some sections of the fishing industry, and we are working with the MMO to facilitate further research and development into non-lethal methods for—
The Minister says that seals are perceived as being a problem. There are some serious problems, particularly with gill nets, where seals will go down with salmon or sea trout and rip out the livers of all those fish. The seals not only cause damage in that way but render those fish unmarketable.
I accept that there are some real difficulties with seals getting close to commercial fisheries on occasion. Nevertheless, we feel that this is the right step to take at this time and we are very grateful for support from Labour.
I am grateful to the Minister for her support. Noting what the former Minister said, may I challenge the Minister about where the measure will apply to imports? She mentioned that it was being introduced to facilitate the export of British fish to American markets, but to take the example of the hoki fishery in New Zealand, where we know there is licensed and widespread killing of seals in the fishery, we may still import fish from that fishery. Will the Minister set out her intention for fish imports? The principle is a good one, but I want to understand how far it will go.
As we have discussed many times on the Agriculture Bill, it is difficult for countries to legislate for the standards of other countries. This is an interesting example. We are all falling over ourselves to be willing to legislate, because we feel that is the right thing to do for the seals in and around the UK, but whether we should legislate for other countries’ standards is a much broader question, and one that we have rehearsed extensively with the Agriculture Bill. In future, given our views across the House on the killing of seals, we might well want to consider it further.