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International Whaling Commission

Volume 407: debated on Thursday 19 June 2003

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If she will make a statement on the outcomes of the annual International Whaling Commission meeting in Japan. [120184]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
(Mr. Ben Bradshaw)

As you know, Mr. Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is unable to be present today due to her attendance at the Agriculture Council in Luxembourg.

The outcomes of the 54th annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission, held in Japan in May 2002, were detailed in the letter of my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), of 10 July 2002, a copy which was placed in the Library.

This year's annual meeting, which is being held in Berlin, ends today. I will report on the outcome in due course, but I am pleased to announce to the House that, so far, the UK has achieved all its key objectives, including maintaining the moratorium on commercial whaling and successfully adopting the so-called Berlin initiative. That UK co-sponsored resolution reinforces conservation as a primary function of the IWC and will help to give greater focus to the conservation agenda. The conservation groups have described that achievement as historic.

I welcome the Minister to his new post. I submitted this question before the reshuffle and was told that it might be answered by the Secretary of State for Wales.[Interruption.]

The UK Government have a good track record on whale conservation and promoting whale sanctuaries, and the progress at Berlin in the past week has been good. However, not all countries will abide by the agreements. What positive action can the Government take to bring those rogue states into line?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm welcome and for his recognition of the positive role played by the Government and by my predecessor, now the Minister for the Environment, who has an excellent track record and has achieved so much on this issue. The UK Government will continue to work very hard with other pro-conservation Governments around the world and the relevant non-governmental organisations to ensure that those rogue states, as the hon. Gentleman calls them, come into line and properly address this very important issue of conservation and cruelty.

What about the plight of small cetaceans? Randall Reeves, who is the chair of the IUCN specialist cetacean group, says that they

"are dying in droves every year in fishing nets",
that they
"lose out in the shadow of the whaling controversy"
and that the
"scale of the cetacean by-catches problem was highlighted in a recent survey of boats fishing off north-west Spain."
The number of common and bottle-nose dolphins is now unsustainable. This is a real problem.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is a very serious problem. The specific resolution on by-catches that the UK co-sponsored at Berlin has not yet been discussed, but the Berlin initiative itself should have a positive impact on the problem that he outlines. He may be interested to know that the Whale and Dolphin Conservative Society has already called the Berlin initiative

"a positive step for the world's cetaceans",
and that the World Wide Fund for Nature went even further by describing it as an
"historic day for cetacean conservation".
I should also add that the trials that the Government have undertaken off the south-west of England to try to prevent the problem of the by-catch of small cetaceans have proved very successful and we shall try to roll them out next year, as well as talking to fellow EU members to encourage them to initiate similar trials.

I also welcome the Minister to his post. He has got an easy start because the Government have a very good record on whaling, and I have paid tribute to them for that for many years. However, does he share my concern about the increasing use of sonar technology in the oceans, particularly for military purposes, which deafens and kills whales? There have been examples of that in the Bahamas and elsewhere. In particular, will he reflect on the fact that the US Administration, under President Bush, have apparently given permission for the navy to use sonar technology in 75 per cent. of the world's oceans, which could have serious consequences for the whale population? Will he raise that with the American authorities and the IWC?

I would be happy to do so. I admit that I know a great deal less about this subject than the hon. Gentleman, as I have been in the job for only a few days, but I understand that the primary responsibility for the issue falls to the Ministry of Defence. I will ask my ministerial colleagues for their reaction to his remarks.