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Dolphin and Whale Hunting: Faroe Islands

Volume 718: debated on Monday 11 July 2022

[Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petition 597171, relating to the hunting of dolphins and whales in the Faroe Islands.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I thank the 104,664 petitioners who made this debate possible, and Dominic Dyer for his continued passion and drive to protect animals. On Sunday 12 September last year, a small armada of boats herded a large group of mammals towards a beach. Those in the boats were not tourists, not scientists, and not hungry and looking for food. They were islanders in a sophisticated country in the north of Europe, a country with one of the highest standards of living in the world: the Faroe Islands. The creatures were highly intelligent mammals—dolphins—and they were being driven towards the Skalabotnur beach.

Dolphins are playful creatures and not suspicious of mankind. They probably had no idea of their intended fate until it was too late. It was originally estimated that there were 200 dolphins in the pod, but we now know that the number was much higher. Over 1,400 white-sided dolphins were set upon with knives, ropes and blunted hooks. It took hours to kill them all. Once the hours of senseless killing had stopped, the sea had turned red. The scene resembled something from a biblical plague. Had that killing happened here, the thugs responsible for such a wantonly cruel act would face the full force of the law and would serve prison sentences. Remarkably, however, in our near neighbour, the Faroe Islands, what was done was absolutely legal. Although what happened was grotesque, the killing of mammals on such a scale is, sadly, a regular occurrence. Last year, excluding the event on 12 September, 667 long-finned pilot whales were killed in the Faroe Islands. This year alone, 182 have been killed—intelligent aquatic mammals needlessly, brutally killed.

The practice of driving whales into specific bays is called Grindadrap or, more commonly, the Grind. It has its origins in the middle ages, when sailors would drive the whales and dolphins to beaches and kill them with spears and rowing boats. The killing of whales at that time was justifiable. The whales, killed in far fewer numbers, were vital to the survival of the Faroese people, who lived at the edge of northern Europe in an unforgiving winter climate. I know a bit about those climates—my family on my father’s side are from the Outer Hebrides. My surname, Nicolson, is Nordic and from Orkney, the Faroe Islands’ southern neighbour. My family lived for countless generations there, too.

All three archipelagos have suffered famines throughout much of their history. Fresh meat and whale oil were once vital to the survival of folk so reliant on barley, seafood and, later, potatoes. But no longer. The Faroes are, thankfully, highly prosperous. The slaughtering of dolphins and whales is not required for meat. In fact, the slaughtered animals are hard to get into the human food chain, as so few people, especially young people, want to eat them.

As for the method of slaughter, who could justify it? And on what basis? Tradition? Sailors now use boats with electric motors to drive large numbers of whales and dolphins into killing bays. I apologise in advance, but it is important to know exactly how these mammals are killed. It is not a quick death. Sea Shepherd has reported that the killing of dolphins regularly takes over two minutes and can take up to eight—eight minutes dying at the hands of sailors using rudimentary tools such as knives and blunted hooks.

The fate of the whales is even more monstrous. They are killed by what is called a spinal lance. If used correctly —an unfortunate word under these circumstances—it will paralyse the whale, which will then slowly bleed to death. On average, the process takes 13 minutes—13 minutes of that wounded, paralysed, sentient being floating in its own blood while other creatures are killed round about it. The killing is indiscriminate, with pregnant mothers, juveniles and calves all being slaughtered. All of that takes place in the 21st century, just 250 miles from the coast of Scotland.

The UK Government have expressed their opposition to that barbarism and to the hunting of sea mammals more generally, and that is welcome. The International Whaling Commission has condemned the killing too. However, no amount of condemnation has worked, so we must get tougher. That is why this petition advocates a greater use of the Government’s levers of power. That is the only way that we can ensure that that brutality does not continue.

There are very few advantages to Brexit, but post Brexit, the UK was able to enter into a free trade agreement with the Faroe Islands. Although the isles have a minuscule impact on our trade, we have a disproportionate impact on theirs. Their exports to the UK have gone up 157% since we signed the free trade agreement. We import £864 million of goods and services from the Faroe Islands, yet we export only a minuscule £17 million to them. For us, obviously, that is an inconsequential deal, yet for the Faroe Islands it is vital.

We have the power to make the Faroe Islands focus and desist. Condemnation alone will not stop the medieval practice of the Grind. We must let them know that we will back our condemnation with trade action, and we will not be alone. On Capitol Hill, congressmen increasingly see this issue as part of their environmental agenda, and focus on the Faroe Islands is increasing. We must let them know that their ghoulish barbarism will not be excused by mutters about tradition. The days of the Grind are numbered.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Christopher. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (John Nicolson) on speaking with such horrific eloquence about what is going on with the—I think it is pronounced “grinned” rather than “grind”, but I am not sure. I was just googling, but perhaps it is—

Okay. Well, the hon. Member is closer to the Faroe Islands than I am, but I think it is pronounced “grinned”. Regardless of that, I was researching for this debate and saw the footage of what is happening there.

I once went to an event—I think it was probably something like Vegfest in Bristol—where someone on a stall showed me a tourist brochure for the Faroe Islands. There was a double-page spread showing red water with the bodies of animals in it. This was, “Come and witness our cultural traditions.” It was actually seen as a wonderful, spectacular event, in the same way that people might have been invited to watch bullfighting in Spain. It really was quite horrific, and I think the hon. Member from the Petitions Committee more than did justice to how horrific it is.

Over the years—this dates back to discussing the derogation at EU level—I have seen so many excuses made by people who are really just washing their hands of the blood of these thousands and thousands of whales and dolphins. I gather that the Faroe Islands Prime Minister promised a review at some point, but we have seen very little in terms of outcomes.

My understanding is that we have now seen the early fruits of that review. It has resulted in a cap. The Government’s position is that any continuation of this practice—notwithstanding the reduction through that cap—is still unacceptable.

I thank the Minister for that response. That wipes out one of the questions I was going to ask him. He can keep intervening on me; then he will not need to do a winding-up speech.

It is worth clarifying for the hon. Lady that the cap is set—on a provisional basis until 2022-23—at 500 dolphins. The problem is that that number is not only higher than the total number of Atlantic white-sided dolphins that are usually killed in a year, but could be increased in future.

I think we all agree that allowing the slaughter of even one dolphin or whale is unacceptable.

I pay tribute to conservation groups such as Born Free and Sea Shepherd, as well as to Dominic Dyer, for their campaigning on this matter. However, the burden of pressing for change should not fall on them; change requires international pressure and trade negotiations at Government level, where we have leverage. It is clear that the British public think that the Grind is horrific, but consumers who would be absolutely sickened by the bloody images from the Faroes are simultaneously—if completely unwittingly—buying products from the Faroe Islands in British supermarkets. There is a separate debate to be had about transparency around the issues in our food supply chains, be that deforestation in Brazil, the worst animal welfare practices in other countries or human rights abuses. Clearly, if people knew that they were propping up the Grind, they would not continue buying these products.

Where we are now is a post-Brexit development. We were told that we would be masters of our own destiny after Brexit, so I do not understand why our Government, who have placed on the record their strong opposition to the hunting of whales and dolphins, have failed to make banning it a prerequisite for any trade agreements. As we have heard, the Faroe Islands have very little leverage—we are way bigger than them in terms of what we bring—so this would have been an ideal opportunity to put pressure on them.

The Government’s response to the petition states that they are opposed to the hunts and are committed to

“upholding high animal welfare standards in…trade relationships”,

but is unclear what will happen if the hunts continue. Should the UK not model its opposition by playing a stronger hand to encourage bringing the hunts to an end?

I agree with the hon. Lady. I have seen this so often. I remember sitting in a meeting with a Trade Minister—this goes back some time, because I have been around for quite a bit. When I spoke about human rights in China—I was shadowing the human rights Minister in the Foreign Office team—I was told that trade is a separate matter. I was told, “Human rights is dealt with by the Foreign Office. We are here to talk about trade and to get deals done.” That is entirely wrong. I could mention all sorts of examples that we should not accept of a lowering standards or of human rights abuses in other countries. We should use trade negotiations to set a clear marker on our standards and the standards we are prepared to accept from other countries.

The Government said in February that the UK

“continues to call on all whaling nations, including the Faroe Islands, at every appropriate opportunity to cease their whaling activities”.

I do not understand why the trade negotiations that took place in early 2019 were not an “appropriate opportunity”. What counts as an appropriate opportunity? Perhaps the Minister can tell us what discussions were had back then.

The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech. Does she share my concern that, in addition to the cruelty and barbarity of such spectacles, there is—according to our research briefings—no real idea of the number of whales left in the ocean surrounding the Faroe Islands? Indeed, the last assessment was conducted way back in 1997. Are arguments about the Grind being sustainable not completely undermined by that very omission?

Yes, they are. We should protect and preserve the ocean, not plunder it; what is in the ocean is certainly not there for the sake of such horrific pastimes. There is a conservation issue, and that is one reason why successive Governments have taken such a firm stance against whaling.

Some people would try to defend whaling as a traditional activity, but a snap poll of Faroe Islanders, conducted following the infamous 12 September Grind, found that over 50% of respondents were in favour of halting dolphin hunting. Save the Reef reported that fewer than 20% of Faroe Islanders consumed any pilot whale meat or blubber at all. Yet that meat was the reason for the derogation; it was said that it was needed for the local food supply. We know that that is nonsense if we look at the numbers of whales and dolphins that have been killed. As has been mentioned, a record 1,428 dolphins were slaughtered in the 12 September hunt last year—the single largest killing event in the islands’ history. It is clear that that was for no other reason than for pleasure and the spectacle—it was nothing to do with food.

It is important to recognise cultural traditions, and the role they play in binding communities together and sustaining age-old customs. However, we have a responsibility to evolve, as we have seen in this country with the discussions about fox hunting and in Spain with the discussions about bullfighting. There are many practices that would once have been deemed acceptable but that no longer are.

On that point, does the hon. Lady agree that arguments in favour of the practice continuing on the basis of cultural heritage would be far more powerful if hunts were conducted, as they used to be back in the 15th century, using wooden rowing boats and rocks, rather than modern machinery? To my mind, the idea that this pines back to cultural heritage is somewhat hollow, given that they are not conducted in the way they were in the 15th century.

I am not sure I would advocate throwing rocks at whales and dolphins—although I suppose there is a good chance they would miss, so it has to be better than the way things are done now. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point: this has evolved into something way beyond the traditional practice.

Whale and Dolphin Conservation, which I have worked alongside in the past, described pilot whales as very sociable and incredibly loyal, with an inquisitive nature. They are highly intelligent social mammals. Humans have taken advantage of that social nature by subjecting pods to incredibly stressful hour-long hunts that culminate in whales watching their kin being killed in front of them and bleeding to death. There is no regulation or oversight; killings can be indiscriminate and methods are unchecked. It is not always apparent that a spinal lance has been used to administer a quick death, and there are frequent reports of knives being used to hack away at the meat. We have heard some of that before.

This practice falls well below anything that the UK would accept, but the fact is that we are tacitly accepting it, although I know the Minister will try to assure me that we are not. We are endorsing these methods by virtue of the fact that we are signing a trade deal with the country that carries them out. It will be the people and the Government of the Faroe Islands who ultimately determine if and when the slaughter ends. However, we have an opportunity to play our part and to end our complicity by suspending the free trade agreement. I hope that the Minister, who I need to welcome to his place—it is so confusing at the moment, because we have no idea who may turn up—will get off to a flying start by telling us all exactly what we want to hear.

I, too, welcome the Minister to his place. I am delighted to participate in this debate calling for the suspension of trade agreements with the Faroe Islands until all whale and dolphin hunts end. The debate was well opened by my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (John Nicolson). The petition attracted 104,664 signatures from across the UK. People in my constituency of North Ayrshire and Arran care deeply about the welfare of animals, and I believe that is replicated in every constituency across the UK. The practice of hunting whales and dolphins dates back some 1,200 years, but not all traditions are worth preserving, with about 800 whales being hunted every year.

The practice of hunting whales and dolphins is cruel, inhumane and must be condemned. In any case, we now know that the meat on pilot whales—the type of whale that is primarily hunted—is toxic, as it contains high levels of mercury, and can cause health challenges when consumed by humans. It is no longer the case that the people of the Faroe Islands need to hunt whales to survive—those days are gone. It is the scale of the slaughter, as well as the cruelty, that has caused international concern. Last year, more than 1,400 dolphins were slaughtered, and the outcry against it prompted the Faroese Government to review the practice. That shows that when concerns are properly expressed and directed, the international community can effect change—if, that is, we drive that intention to its end, which we have not yet done.

The review is obviously welcome, but it is not enough—action is needed. The frustration and deep concern about the hunting of dolphins and whales has led to calls for the suspension of trade agreements until the practice has ended. The call for the suspension of trade agreements is borne of deep frustration with the Faroese Government’s lack of action. The reality, particularly in Europe, is that such unnecessary and cruel treatment of our fellow creatures makes most people recoil with horror. There is little tolerance of it, even if such cruelty is carried out in the name of sport, culture or some half-baked excuse about necessity. It simply will not do.

I continue to be deeply opposed to and concerned about Brexit, but I recall how many Tory MPs were willing to proclaim the huge benefits that Brexit would bring. Well, with Brexit came a UK free trade treaty with the Faroe Islands, which by the end of 2021 accounted for more than 25% of the islands’ global trade. The agreement’s value in Faroese exports to the UK reached a staggering £864 million; in comparison, total UK exports to the Faroe Islands were a mere £17 million in the same period. The UK Government are therefore perhaps uniquely placed with the leverage to effect real change and to encourage the Faroe Islands to prohibit the barbaric practice of dolphin and whale hunting, in line with the rest of Europe.

The hon. Lady is making a passioned argument for some of the benefits of an independent trade policy, although I accept that, in this respect, that has yet to be fully realised. Will she clarify whether the European Union is taking any action, and whether it is now the policy of the Scottish National party not to abrogate responsibility for trade deals to the European Union?

The point I am making is about the Brexit that was trumpeted and sold by the Tory Government. I remember Minister after Minister saying on television that Brexit would provide the opportunity to improve animal welfare standards. I have seen no evidence of that, but the Minister has an opportunity today to show me not only that he believes in it, but that he is willing to sell that message abroad. From what he has just said, I fear that he is not. He is using what-aboutery to excuse a lack of action; that is really not the big, shiny Brexit we were promised.

A massive 69% of people support the UK Government taking some degree of diplomatic or economic trade action against the Faroe Islands to encourage or pressure that country into ending the practice, and 65% of people in European countries would support boycotts over it. There is real concern about this matter. Of course, once the Minister has sold the unacceptability of this practice to the Faroe Islands on behalf of the UK, he could go and evangelise in Europe if he thinks it helpful and set an example to all of us.

The fact is that the health of our oceans and marine life has been undermined over a long period by mankind. We need more marine mammals in our oceans, not fewer. Marine mammal movements in the ocean account for a remarkable one third of all ocean mixing, transporting vital nutrients around the world and oxygenating the ocean. In addition, whale and dolphin faeces stimulate the growth of phytoplankton—the ocean plants that produce most of the world’s oxygen. Enhancing and encouraging cetacean species can therefore help tackle climate change.

Encouraging or pressuring the Faroe Islands to outlaw the horrific practice of hunting whales and dolphins could boost its economy. Nations that used to allow whale hunting now engage in whale watching, which generates far more economic benefit and employment through whale tourism than hunting ever did, as well as winning international approval.

It has to be remembered that in the so-called review that the Faroe Islands said it would establish and that we were told was being carried out, only the dolphin hunt is currently being reviewed and not the entire grind tradition, which Members have spoken about. In the Faroese grind tradition, grind hunters surround dolphins or pilot whales with a wide semicircle of fishing boats and drive them into a shallow bay, where they are beached. Then, as we have heard, fishermen on the shore slaughter them with knives.

In February, it was reported that the Faroe Islands had begun discussions about the future of its controversial dolphin hunt, with a decision expected in subsequent weeks. Meetings were held to discuss the conclusions of the so-called review, which started last September. We were told that several options were on the table. In February, we were told that a decision would be announced in a few weeks, but here we are in July and nothing seems to be happening.

We have waited and waited, and I got to the point where I honestly thought that the Faroese Government had no intention of outlawing the practice of hunting dolphins and whales in any meaningful way. Their review was so limited in scope that many feared it would not result in much at all. It has taken so long, and has led to very limited action on the issue. I thought it was all starting to look as though the review was announced not because the Faroese Government felt that change was needed, but simply to placate international outrage after the mass slaughter of more than 1,400 Atlantic white-sided dolphins was publicised and sparked an outcry last year. And no wonder—it was the biggest organised killing of dolphins on record.

It seems that I was right to be suspicious. The review has now concluded. The cruel hunts are not to be banned. Instead, the Faroe Islands has proposed an annual catch limit of 500 dolphins on a provisional basis for 2022-23. Not only is that number higher than the total number of Atlantic white-sided dolphins normally killed in a single year; the total could be increased in future years, potentially making the already appalling situation worse.

The Government of the Faroe Islands are simply not listening, even though most people in the Faroe Islands want these hunts to end. No quota can be substantiated scientifically. It is clear that the international community must look less to carrots to influence the Faroe Islands and use a bit more stick. The UK Government have a significant stick that they could use in the UK’s importance to the Faroe Islands as a trading partner.

I know that the UK Government refuse to consider suspending their free trade deal with the Faroes over this barbaric practice. Sadly, I am not surprised by that, since we know that the UK is willing to sell arms to the most barbaric of states; consequently, killing dolphins and whales is unlikely to cause much of a ripple around the Cabinet table.

As is often the case, the public are well ahead of the Government on this issue. They do not approve of the cruel and barbaric hunting of whales and dolphins, and they want the UK Government to use whatever clout they have to encourage and pressure the Faroe Islands to end this practice. The Government should listen and, alongside the rest of Europe, exert every lever of influence they have over the Faroe Islands to stop this unacceptable and shocking practice, which has no place in an enlightened society.

It is clear that the Government of the Faroe Islands are not serious about stopping this practice, so the UK and other European nations need to do more to persuade and encourage them, in the strongest terms, to get serious, and should lay out what consequences will be faced if the practice continues.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir Christopher.

It is also a pleasure to welcome the Minister to his seat. I think he is three days in—well, one parliamentary day in. Wikipedia says that he was appointed on Friday, but this is his first full day as a Trade Minister and I welcome him. Doing so makes me feel like an old-timer.

I am pleased to speak for the Opposition in this important and timely debate on the cruel and abhorrent treatment of whales and dolphins in the Faroe Islands, and to follow the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (John Nicolson), my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and the SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson). There have been useful interventions as well.

As has been pointed out, over 100,000 people have signed the petition, which shows that people across our country are rightfully concerned about these awful practices. Equally, they want the Government to do much more. Over 150 of my constituents have signed the petition; they are concerned about the UK’s ongoing failure to do more on animal rights, whether that is on whaling, the imports from trophy hunting, or the sale of fur or foie gras. I note that 92 people in Uxbridge and South Ruislip have signed the petition as well, so I am sure they are looking forward to the Prime Minister leaving No.10 and becoming a doughty and dogged constituency MP on this issue.

We have heard from hon. Members about the horrific ongoing hunting of whales and dolphins around the Faroe Islands. The hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire described what has happened very graphically and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East said, the pictures we have seen of the sea turning red are truly horrific. The events of last September, when over 1,400 white-sided dolphins were killed and butchered, as well as a number of whales, represented the single largest slaughter of dolphins recorded in modern history. As the charity the Born Free Foundation said, the “ferocity and scale” rightly caused outrage around the world, including in the Faroe Islands.

The conservation charity Sea Shepherd reported that the dolphins were driven into shallow waters by speed boats and jet skis, and every single one of the 1,428 dolphins was killed. As we have heard, they died slowly because of the time it took to kill such a large number of dolphins. New technology, such as jet skis, can do things that more old-fashioned boats cannot. I have seen the pictures, and anyone who, like me, has had the honour to be on a boat with dolphins swimming alongside will be particularly moved by what they have seen and heard.

Turning to the role of this Parliament and this Government, we cannot merely be bystanders to this slaughter and throw up our arms in horror. We can do something; this Government can do something. We have the UK free trade agreement with the Faroe Islands. Faroese exports to the UK are valued at £864 million, while UK exports to the Faroe Islands are a mere £17 million. That sets the context for the influence that Ministers at the Department for International Trade have—the power of the pen and of diplomacy.

What have UK Government Ministers done to tackle this shocking practice? I fear that Ministers at the Department for International Trade have tended to follow the same old playbook—the same one we see when trade unionists are killed in Colombia and when women’s rights are trampled on in the Gulf states. The Government say, “By nature of our trading arrangement, we are able to have influence over the actions of other countries and to raise these issues directly with so-and-so Government.” Indeed, the Government will boast that the animal welfare Minister, Lord Goldsmith, wrote to the Faroe Islands Minister for Fishing and that the Faroe Islands Government have launched a review, but we are still waiting for the results and changes from the review, so what has happened since then?

In February this year, the Government signed the annual agreement on fish quotas with the Government of the Faroe Islands. The Labour party supports the UK’s fishing industry, yet we also believe that the Government must not sign these agreements in a vacuum—certainly not a vacuum of values. I looked at the Government press release of 8 February announcing the fish quota update; the Government did not mention animal or whale hunting, whether the UK had raised this issue before signing the new agreement, or what further steps the UK Government would be taking. Once again, it seems the Government are using the same old playbook of sweeping important issues under the carpet and pretending that they do not exist.

One issue that is raised is the cultural history of whale and dolphin hunting in the Faroe Islands and how, historically, people needed dolphin meat and, in particular, whale meat to stay alive. However, I have just looked it up, and the Faroe Islanders are not poor. In fact, they are better off than we are. The GDP per capita in 2017 was $54,800, whereas the figure for the UK was $40,200, so the Faroe Islanders are better off per capita than UK residents. As we have heard, there is strong evidence that Faroe Islanders themselves, especially young people, increasingly oppose this slaughter, particularly since the September 2021 slaughter.

This brings me to the wider problem and the failure of our approach to trade. The only significant discernible trade policy the UK Government have is to secure free trade agreements with countries covering 80% of UK trade by the end of this year. That policy leads the Government to rush to sign any deal they can, without thinking about the influence the UK could have in the trade negotiations. We are—when I last looked—the sixth largest economy in the world. Whether it is on animal welfare, climate change, women’s rights, workers’ rights or environmental considerations, the UK can and should be using trade as a way of ensuring that our basic and fundamental values are protected around the world and as a lever to improve them. Trade cannot and does not happen in a vacuum.

I would like to ask the Minister a couple of questions. Since the letter that Lord Goldsmith sent, what further steps have the UK Government taken to raise this issue directly with the Faroe Islands Government? What assessment did the UK Government make of the protections in place for dolphins and whales when they signed the recent fishing quota agreement? What plans do the UK Government have if the Faroe Islands Government do not implement any of the required changes?

I thank the tireless campaigners who have worked so hard to raise awareness of dolphin and whale slaughter, particularly Dominic Dyer of Sea Shepherd, and the need for the UK Government to act. Whether it is the charities that have lobbied, the individual campaigners or even those who took the step of signing the petition, they have made a difference, so I thank them. Now we will see whether the UK Government are prepared to play their part to make that difference.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate the mover of the motion, the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (John Nicolson). I know that he cares deeply about the health of our oceans and has done much over past decades to protect the animals and other marine life that live within them. I thank the Petitions Committee, Dominic Dyer and the more than 100,000 people who signed the petition for enabling us to hold this important debate and rightly use Parliament’s voice to send the clear signal that we call out this practice. Both side of the House are united in condemning it. This is clearly an emotive issue, which evokes a strong response from parliamentarians and people across the country. We have heard many deeply considered contributions during the debate, and I thank all hon. Members for those contributions. I will do my best to respond to as many points as possible.

First, let me be clear that promoting animal welfare is a key priority for this Government. This debate is about the best means to end whale and dolphin slaughter, and no one disagrees with that. As we chart a new course, which is something we heard about from the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), a new UK independent trade policy promoting animal welfare in all its manifestations is central to our trade negotiations and dialogues with partners. We will continue to negotiate dedicated animal welfare articles into new free trade agreements, which hon. Members will know we have done recently in deals with Australia and New Zealand—something we could not have done before we left the European Union.

We continue to utilise our existing trade agreements—those that have been negotiated in the past, not more recently—to keep diplomatic channels with partners, such as the Faroe Islands, open. We will work with Members of Parliament and stakeholders to ensure that we deliver the policies in the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which will strengthen domestic animal welfare protection for kept animals, by delivering this Government’s manifesto commitment to end the export of live animals for fattening or slaughter.

As the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran reminded us, not all traditions are worth preserving. I and this Government agree. The Government are deeply concerned by the hunt that took place on 12 September last year and the continued hunting of cetaceans in the Faroe Islands. As we heard in several contributions, almost 1,500 beautiful Atlantic white-sided dolphins were killed in one day. That is more than six times the number of white-sided Dolphins usually killed in an entire year. The hunts are cruel and unsustainable.

We heard from the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire and others about the fate of those mammals and the inhumane methods used to kill them. In the years prior to the hunt, the UK Government consistently raised concerns with our Faroese counterparts. We have urged them to switch to alternatives to hunting cetaceans and have emphasised the economic and social benefits that responsible, fantastic whale watching can bring to the community. We heard from the hon. Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for North Ayrshire and Arran about the benefits to the local economy, which is many times any economic benefit that can be achieved through the slaughter.

I assure all Members that we will continue to make those points ever more strongly further to this petition. As the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) reminded us, it was after that hunt that my colleague Lord Goldsmith, the Minister of State for the Pacific and Environment, wrote directly to the Faroese Government in the strongest terms to express our condemnation of the hunt—something agreed by all sides of the House—and to call for the end of hunting of cetaceans in the Faroe Islands. In his letter, he stated how unacceptably cruel the hunts were and talked about the immense stress and suffering that they caused those animals.

The Government continue to engage with their Faroese counterparts on this important issue. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), visited the Faroe Islands in the last few weeks and raised this issue. I hope that goes some way to answering the question of the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth about what the Government are doing to take forward this campaign following Lord Goldsmith’s letter.

The hon. Member for Bristol East reminded us that 50% of the Faroese are in favour of ending the practice. One can only imagine that, due to both the pressure of the world community and the fabulous education that younger generations now receive on issues such as the climate and the marine ecosystem, that number will increase over time. No suspension of a trade agreement would end the practice; it will be ended only by the action of the Faroese Government themselves.

Although there is further to go, I am pleased that the collected efforts seem to be starting to make a difference. In my earlier intervention I talked about the cap, and the Faroese Government have started to review the regulations around it. It is a step in the right direction, but we remain strongly opposed to the killing of any dolphins, and we will continue our calls to the Faroese Government to stop the practice.

Now I have set out some context, I will turn to the specific circumstances of the trade agreement. Since leaving the European Union, the UK has agreed trade agreements with 70 countries, including rolling over the agreement that we were previously party to in our membership of the European Union. The agreement, which dates back to 2019, exactly mirrors the text and the abilities that we had under the European Union, where member states had less power to act bilaterally as we do now. We have reformed these deals with these countries, which allows us to deepen our relationships because they become bilateral relationships. It gives us a greater ability to influence crucial issues such as animal welfare.

That is why the Government’s position is that removing the deal—aside from the legality—would be counterproductive. We all want to achieve the same aim, which is to end this barbaric practice; the question is how best to achieve that. As I have said, we are fully exploiting all the different channels that our free trade agreement opens to us. It strengthens diplomatic ties between our nations, which gives us the power to influence and change practice.

The Minister talks about the bilateral relationships that free trade agreements give the UK, which allow it to influence animal welfare. That is a very good point. On that basis, can he tell us specifically what influence the UK Government have had on stopping the practice or getting the Faroe Islands Government to a point where they will stop the hunting of dolphins? The new cap that he talks about is just smoke and mirrors. What other influence have the Government brought forward?

It is about the continued engagement that we are able to have on a bilateral basis—not just Lord Goldsmith’s engagement, but across a panoply of international forums and issues, including the upcoming UN convention on biological diversity. With us holding the seat ourselves, as an independent nation state, we now have influence in all of those.

There are growing ties between the part of the United Kingdom that the hon. Lady represents and the Faroe Islands, including significant economic ties. I am unsure of the pronunciation, but there is a term for the significant investment being made by Faroese companies in Scotland and the United Kingdom.

We have managed to obtain groundbreaking animal welfare provisions in the new agreements we are signing, including those we have recently agreed with Australia and New Zealand. For the first time in any such free trade agreements, we have dedicated chapters on animal welfare, including commitments on non-regression and working together to raise standards. Such provisions are not in the Faroese agreement, but they are in agreements using our new powers going forwards. That is equally true of the agreement with New Zealand, which includes a standalone chapter on animal welfare, on non-regression, non-derogation and, again, measures to champion animal welfare.

Outside of our trade agreements, as I hope hon. Members on both sides will recognise, the UK will continue to work internationally to protect whales and other cetacean species. As a country, we are proud to play a leading role in the International Whaling Commission, where we work with international partners to encourage countries around the world to protect species. In addition to our subscription fees to the IWC, we have made several additional contributions to its voluntary funds. One such fund that is relevant to the dolphin species that we have spoken about is the small cetacean fund, which funds important conservation work focused on small cetacean species—dolphins—around the world. We will continue to encourage the Faroe Islands to engage with the IWC.

We are also playing a leading role internationally in protecting the ocean in the lead-up to the conference of the parties on the United Nations convention on biological diversity, which will take place this December. The UK is leading a coalition of 110 countries committed to protecting at least 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030 and, of course, 30% of the species within those oceans.

In conclusion, the Government welcome the petition, the debate that it has sparked, and the opportunity to send a clear message today. We appreciate and share the signatories’ reaction to this abhorrent hunt, and the Government stand strongly against the hunting of cetaceans in the Faroe Islands. The review announced by the country’s Prime Minister was welcome, but it is just a start. By maintaining, using and exploiting our diplomatic channels with the Faroese Government, we will continue to prosecute the case to encourage them to reform their practices.

As an independent trading nation, the UK is leading the world in improving environmental, animal welfare and labour standards more than ever before. In the years and months ahead, we will continue to use our independence to defend the rights of animals through international forums. We will put animal welfare provisions at the heart of our trade negotiations, and we will continue to promote animal welfare through the diplomatic channels that our agreements create. Protecting animals is part of Britain’s DNA—we love doing it as a nation—and that is exactly what we are doing as an independent trading nation.

I reiterate my thanks to the members of the public up and down the country who signed the petition and secured this invaluable debate. I stress that the UK Government stands with them against this abhorrent whaling practice. Through our diplomatic channels and our free trade agreements, we will continue to encourage reform and seek to replace cetacean hunting with new, better and more humane economic opportunities for the Faroese people.

Thank you, Sir Christopher, for chairing today’s debate. I thank the hon. Members who spoke and, belatedly, welcome the Minister to his place. I thank the constituents who have written to us for their engagement and, indeed, those who are sitting in the Gallery. There is a great deal of agreement across the House, and I was delighted to see the recognition of the Faroe Islands’ extraordinary financial turnaround, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury). It is remarkable what a small independent country can do, is it not?

On the substance of the Minister’s point, I do not think that exploiting diplomatic channels is enough. It is too opaque. I do not think that angry letters from Members of the House of Lords in ministerial positions is enough. Exhortation is not enough. Action is now required. Financial pressure is essential.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered e-petition 597171, relating to the hunting of dolphins and whales in the Faroe Islands.

Sitting adjourned.