Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Tony Banks : The assessment that is taking place is not to try to find out more scientifically about whales so as better to understand their lifeform, their welfare and all the other aspects to which the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) referred, but to establish whether it is possible once again to opt for more commercial whaling of that species. That is the whole point. We do not believe that there should be any killing of whales in any circumstances. The science is not about the understanding of whales ; it is about whether the Japanese can be allowed to kill them in larger numbers than they do already.

Mr. Curry : I accept that point. Of course we do not have the power to stop whales being killed. The object of the exercise is how to achieve the maximum conservation of whales. Our judgment is that we must keep the debate in that forum. If we say that that forum is now to be used for a wholly different purpose from that for which it was set up, countries that wish to whale might walk out. I cannot judge what assessment they will make of the risks


Column 294

of doing that. That is for their own judgment. However, if they were to resume, we might end up with more whales being killed than otherwise. The judgment to be made is how, within that forum, we are able to persuade those countries that whaling is not in their broader interests. That is the task in front of us. I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying.

If we allow the debate to escape from the International Whaling Commission, we shall risk the whale being the loser, and nobody would accept that. The management of that dilemma is a difficult political decision, but we must address it. It is clear that the Japanese, the Norwegians and the Icelanders are members of the International Whaling Commission so as to achieve an agreed international rule for resumed whaling of the minke and the fin whale stock. We are not fools. We know that that is the purpose. In a sense, that is what the constitution of the organisation says, so that is a legitimate expectation on their part.

The question is how, within that framework, we move on the debate. Our position is perfectly clear. The United Kingdom believes that the present state of work does not permit us even to contemplate the resumption of commercial whaling. Three vital questions must be addressed. The first concerns the re-establishment and conservation of healthy whale stocks ; the second, the fully developed management procedure ; and the third--the hon. Gentleman has said that he regards it as irrelevant, but we think that it is important--the methods of killing.

Those criteria have not been fulfilled. Therefore, the question whether whaling should resume ceases to be scientific and becomes ethical. It is not even on the agenda at the moment, because the clear criteria that we wish to debate have not been fulfilled. On those scientific grounds, we believe that no case is made out for the resumption of whaling. The first reason for that is that the revised management procedure is not yet fully elaborated. Indeed, the options will not be presented to the commission until the end of May. Even if a possible procedure is identified or decided upon, or if some procedures are shortlisted, there will still be much work to be done. On top of that, enforcement and related arrangements must be addressed. There is a considerable volume of work, even in satisfying criterion No. 1, to be done. Secondly, as the hon. Gentleman has acknowledged, we are not satisfied with the slaughter methods that are used.

We are going to the International Whaling Commission meeting with clear criteria and with a clear objective. Our objective is to hold it together so that we keep the debate within the practical political forum that has now been established and that has a good track record in reducing the hunting and harvesting of whales. In fact, it has the moratorium to its credit. As there is no other forum, there is no reason to bust that one.

I emphasise that there is no question of our agreeing at Reykjavik to the resumption of whaling. We must persuade the whaling nations that it is in their interests to stick with the international approach. Equally, it is in our interests to stick with the international approach. If either we or other countries walk away, both will lose. I accept the hon. Gentleman's point about how the whale is seen and about its particular qualities as an animal. But the biggest loser, if there were to be a departure from the international approach, would be the whale itself.

It is perfectly legitimate to say that this matter should be tackled on the basis that it is directly ethical, directly emotional, or directly moral. Clearly, however, we have to


Column 295

use a coherent political process to give expression to that concern. That is the only means that we have. Declaiming does not save one whale. We must maintain the political engagement. That is how, in the past, we have managed to save whales, and I believe that it is how we shall do so in the future.

Mr. Tony Banks : Consider the argument that has been going on about Antarctica. What is to stop any country from going into Antarctica to mine? What would the British Government or the United States Government do if some country were to say, "We do not care that all these nations say that this should be a wilderness park. We are going in"? Why should not we adopt towards the whale the same attitude as we adopt towards Antarctica? Why should we be blackmailed by the Japanese? In effect, the Japanese are using blackmail. They are saying, "If the IWC does not do what we want, we will quit it, and will go out and kill whales." Should that kind of blackmail be allowed?

Mr. Curry : If we were to adopt the attitude that, on that basis, all the work of this organisation should be set at naught, they would say that we were using blackmail. We cannot just sweep to one side all the work of the IWC on the purely ethical ground that we want total prohibition, for reasons that go beyond any of the criteria that brought us into the organisation.

As I have made clear, the United Kingdom Government do not want to see whaling resumed. It is not my purpose to argue the Norwegian case, the Icelandic


Column 296

case or the Japanese case, and I have no interest in doing so. I do have an interest in trying to conserve the whale. Not for a moment do I impugn the sincerity of the hon. Gentleman, and I am being absolutely genuine when I ask what we could do if those countries were to walk out of the IWC and start whaling. We could not send a gunboat to stop it. Clearly, force is not a practical option. Some may ask about the possibility of economic sanctions. Let us not forget that there is aboriginal whaling in the United States. I find it difficult to imagine that, in that case, economic sanctions would be a practical proposition.

We are left with the option of trying to operate the system as we find it, of using the only forum that exists for this purpose. The British Government's position is clear. Our policy has not changed. At Reykjavik, we shall oppose the resumption of commercial whaling. I was at a meeting in Oslo less than a fortnight ago, and whaling was very much at the top of our agenda. I explained directly to the Norwegian Minister the force of the argument and the power of the emotion that goes into British people's beliefs about whaling. I asked her to realise that this is a matter of great importance to her country. We must continue the negotiations. Their purpose is absolutely clear. It is to make sure that there is no resumption of commercial whaling in Reykjavik. We maintain that forum, and we maintain the framework in which we have managed to do a great deal for the whale. We continue to preserve it as one of the rarest animals in our creation.

Question put and agreed to .

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Twelve o'clock .


Written Answers Section

  Home Page