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Column 282Ireland is in a healthy position in terms of the number of 18-year-olds coming on to the register for the first time, but the position in England, Wales and Scotland is disastrous.
Money should be provided in the estimates to tackle the problem. The Government should have given attention to this point in the review. They had said that nothing was ruled out and nothing was ruled in. I wrote to the Secretary of State for the Environment offering to give information. About two months later, I received a letter from a junior Minister saying that the Department was sorry but it was too busy. Nothing was to be ruled out, but I was part of the nothing and I was ruled out.
Between 1987 and 1990, the percentage of the population on the electoral register fell by 1.5 per cent. in England and by 1 per cent. in Wales. Over a slightly longer period--because the poll tax was introduced in Scotland a year earlier--the number declined by 1.7 per cent. in Scotland. Between 1987 and 1990, electoral registration increased by 0.6 per cent. in Northern Ireland.
The position of those about to attain the age of 18 is far worse than it was at any time in the 1980s or 1990. The figure for attainers in Scotland has fallen from 52,000 last year--which itself was only 69 per cent. of the estimated population of 18-year-olds--to 47,000, compared with the 1982 figure of 70,000.
The same pattern is seen in Wales, although the reduction there is not so dramatic, probably because the effect of the poll tax in Wales has not been so marked as in England.
The attainer figure in England has collapsed between 1990--when it was at a low level anyway--and 1991 by 20 per cent., which has caused electoral chaos. Therefore, although the opinion polls may show that Labour and the Conservatives are neck-and-neck, that is not really the case. Such polls are based on random sampling and do not take account of who is and who is not on an electoral register. The 1.5 per cent. to 2 per cent. of voters missing from the electoral register are likely to be those who have most to fear from the operation of the poll tax--and you can bet your bottom dollar that they are also the people who would vote Labour.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Order. I draw the attention of the hon. Member to the motion on the Order Paper because, although it refers to "certain related administrative expenses", the hon. Member's remarks are going beyond that subject.
Column 283them. If a Conservative Government continue in office, they will put other measures before the House to get themselves out of even more serious difficulties. Even if that is done, estimates will have to be presented to the House to ensure that something is done to defend this country's democratic system, which is based on electoral registration, and which has been seriously and deliberately hit by the Government.
Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen) : It is fitting that I should follow my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) because he, together with my hon. Friends the Members for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) and for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay), served on the Standing Committee that, three and a half years ago, considered the legislation that introduced the poll tax.
That Committee often sat until 2, 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. I suspect that it would have astounded the Ministers who piloted that legislation if they had known what would be occurring tonight. Tonight's proposals for reduction schemes, £140 relief by means of value added tax, and requests to local authorities to shred their bills and spend--or misspend-- millions of pounds on putting right all that has gone wrong would have seemed a fairy tale to those Ministers.
Tonight the Government stand accused of a volte-face--of the biggest collective hypocrisy in 40 or 50 years of political history. Today's proceedings are wholly unnecessary and should not be occurring. The money that we have wasted and that we are proposing to waste is astounding. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) said, the community charge reduction scheme must be the dottiest scheme that we have come across in many years as far as Wales is concerned.
In Monmouth, which by chance happens to be the neighbouring constituency to mine, only four areas will get any relief through the relief scheme : Llantilio Crossenny, £4 ; Rogiet, £19 ; Caerwent, £6 ; and Tintern, £10. The rest of the boroughs, and most of the Welsh districts, will not receive the relief that they should have, according to the needs of the people within them.
Mr. Murphy : The Under-Secretary of State says that two thirds of the community will get it. He does not take into account the people in those communities. The scheme makes no reference to their needs. They could be communities where many people are wealthy and a few are poor, or vice versa. At least the English scheme has the merit of considering the problems of individuals. The Welsh scheme has already been seen to be discredited, not merely by hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, but by all the Welsh local authority associations, which realise that they have made a mistake.
Mr. Bennett : Last year, the Welsh authorities asked for this scheme. Two thirds of all communities will get it and the £62 million available--£40 million more than last year is all going to community charge payers. None of it will go on administration. It is a very good scheme.
Column 284were mistaken. They thought that the scheme would save money on administrative costs, which might have occurred a year ago. However, what has resulted is a unique unfairness, because people are losing out. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West said earlier, the justice is extremely rough.
What is more important is that the scheme should have been unnecessary in the first place. We have effectively wasted nearly £80 million in the Principality by introducing a scheme which would never have been necessary had the tax been fair and just in the first place. That is the greatest indictment of this scheme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) has already referred to the fact that many people will not receive the whole £140. If, under the new and revised community charge reduction scheme, they were to have obtained £140 or more, they will get nothing. People on income support will not get their money. Some will have their bills cut by just £28, including pensioners in the Principality. People with the highest incomes will get most, and those with second homes--an aspect that is especially relevant in the Principality--could get as much as £280 a week off their community charge bills.
One aspect which has not been mentioned, and which hits the valleys in south Wales, is that many thousands of people who were eligible for home improvements and repair grants before this scheme now become ineligible. When we couple that fact, as we must, with the new means-tested improvement grants, the effects upon our valleys, which are trying to improve their areas with such grants and with other schemes, is calamitous. Had the Government thought a little more about their £140 off the scheme, the considerable poverty trap that exists in Wales could have been reduced.
The greatest indictment that falls upon the Government's shoulders must be the administration costs of the scheme. The money that the Government have squandered and wasted in Wales during the past three and a half years is a disgrace. They have spent £10 million more than necessary on introducing the scheme. The Government spent another £20 million more than they had spent prior to that on administering the rates. On top of that, they spent another £80 million on sweetening the poll tax. Over £100 million has been spent in Wales that might just as well, for what good it has done, have been dumped in the Bristol channel.
Only two days ago, the Secretary of State for Wales came to the Dispatch Box and boasted to the House of Commons about the money he was spending on two new hospitals in Wales. Had he not introduced this preposterous and discredited tax in Wales, we could have had another two new hospitals in the Principality. That is a measure of the disgrace that has resulted from the mess that the Government and the Welsh Office have got themselves into over the administration of the poll tax.
We do not, of course, intend to oppose this motion, but another £3 million is to be wasted by giving our councils that sum of money to administer this latest scheme. Welsh councils have had to shred their bills, re-bill and employ extra people. They have had to borrow at least £100 million in order to cover the cash flow loss that occurred as a result of the latest scheme. They have also had to pay back another £100 million in interest rates. The Government will have to find another £3 million--rightly so--to give to local authorities. That is money that could have been spent on many other things.
Column 285The people of Cardiff will come to realise that they have to spend over £1 million a year--£5 for virtually every adult in the capital city of Wales--simply in order to keep alive a poll tax register that will have to linger on for another two or three years. It is a national disgrace for the people of Wales. It costs £5.5 million to administer the poll tax in the capital city of Wales-- £26 for each charge payer.
The administrative cost of sending out many of the poll tax bills is far greater than the cost of the bills themselves.
[Interruption.] Again from a sedentary position the Under-Secretary refers to the valuation registers. Let me tell him that only this week we discovered that the Government have asked the district valuation officers in Wales to use the 1973 valuation register as the basis for a secret valuation of properties in Wales, by means of which they can change the new banding arrangements to something different from what they announced to the House. The Welsh Office said that there should be seven bands, but it has already begun to tell the district valuation officers that there should be nine because it realises that seven is wholly unacceptable to the people of Wales. It would mean that the rich still got richer while the poor got poorer.
We are sorry that, during the past three and a half years, we have had to put up with a load of nonsense from Ministers, saying how marvellous the poll tax was. The fact is that £100 million of Welsh money has been wasted on putting through a measure that has now been abandoned. There are two years yet to go before something that is possibly even worse is put in its place.
Mr. Key : In this short debate we have considered the need for additional funds to cover the costs that local authorities will face as a result of the Community Charges (General Reduction) Act. I need hardly remind the House that the Act was the outcome of three days of concentrated deliberations both here and in another place immediately before Easter. The supplementary estimates for which we are seeking the House's approval also reflect an unusual procedure. This is not the time of year at which supplementary estimates are normally brought forward. I have explained the reasons. However, these unusual measures have had a most benign purpose. They will ensure that throughout the country the community charges originally set by local authorities will be reduced by £140. The speed of the House in concluding its deliberations enabled the reductions to be made. Tonight's deliberations will, I hope, authorise the payment of grant to compensate authorities for all of the £140 that they will not now receive.
The hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) spoke about a volte face, or an about-turn. The only about-turn being contemplated is the Labour party's return to the rates using the 1973 valuations. My hon. Friend the Under- Secretary of State for Wales has answered many of the points about Wales. I have great affection for Wales and for the people of Wales. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales on carrying forward the success of his predecessor in transforming Wales into the flourishing and enterprising community it undoubtedly is.
Column 286The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) suggested going back to the local government finance regime of 1979. That would be a profoundly disagreeable prospect and we are certainly not contemplating it tonight. The hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) complained that the £60 million would be going directly to the charge payers of Wales. Many charge payers in Labour-controlled authorities, such as Lambeth, would be only too delighted to receive the community charge bills being distributed in Wales.
The hon. Member for Normanton asked me to accept that the estimates for extra administrative costs were far too low, but at present they are our best estimates of the costs of computer software, staff training and so on. However, I stress that we have asked local authorities to discuss them with us, we have asked them for their own estimates, for which we are still waiting, and, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State said, we have announced that all reasonable extra costs will be met.
The hon. Member for Normanton also asked whether authorities would be compensated for the short-term costs of borrowing. Of course they would, because compensation comes through advancing payments from the non-domestic rates pool, including an extra payment date on 5 April, as I have explained. In addition, payments of the community charge grant to cover the actual income lost began on 25 April.
The hon. Gentleman also asked whether the Government had seen what he described as the error of our ways and why we did not reinstate the rate support grant. However, I can reassure him on that point. The revenue support grant for this year has already been made. It cannot be made again, so special arrangements are needed. That is the reason for the supplementary payments. Next year, the extra grant will be assimilated into the revenue support grant and distributed in the normal way.
The hon. Gentleman asked why we did not do away with the 20 per cent. minimum payment. We took the view that it was right to reduce the contribution made by all local taxpayers and hence the £140 reduction was made across the board. Those on income support continue receiving a level of support calculated to cover the 20 per cent. of charges. That support has not been reduced, so those people are getting a reasonable deal.
Mr. O'Brien : The abolition of the 20 per cent. minimum payment is an important issue because it will cost more to collect, particularly if it is paid in 10 monthly instalments. Does the Minister not realise that the situation is chaotic and that the minimum payment will cost more than it is worth in local authority administration? Why do the Government not accept that there is an urgent need to reconsider abolishing the 20 per cent. minimum payment by students and people on income support?
Mr. Key : I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is making more of a political than an administrative point. The situation is not chaotic, but is being administered extremely well throughout the country. There seems to be little point in changing those administrative arrangements when the burden is not unfair and has been allowed for in the arrangements and when we are planning to change the local tax system. We fully intend to introduce the council tax in the year from 1 April 1993 and not in 1994 or 1995--the date that Opposition Members have used in their scaremongering.
Column 287My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) complained of the lengthy delay in issuing bills. Perhaps that was a bit unfair.
Mr. McKay : We have plenty of time for what the Minister has to say. Would it not be better for the Government to reconsider abolishing the 20 per cent. minimum payment? The treasurer of my local authority has assured me that the 20 per cent. costs much more to collect than the revenue it brings in. However, if local authorities do not collect the 20 per cent., they could be subject to surcharges. Would it not be possible at this stage to say that if it is foolish to collect the 20 per cent. and local authorities do not collect it, they will not be surcharged?
Mr. Key : I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. The fact that we have now lowered the charge by a substantial amount should address most of the points that have been raised by hon. Members. I can do no more than repeat what I have already said.
My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne was perhaps a little unfair. There is no evidence that any authorities have deliberately delayed issuing bills. For many, the issue of bills incorporating the £140 reduction could not be done before May, and we have had to accept that. Any authorities that delayed on purpose would be cutting off their nose to spite their face. It is simply money lost to the council, affecting the services that local authorities are keen to provide. The point about Lambeth was raised by several hon. Members. We are not compensating authorities that failed to issue bills last year. Some councillors are not aware of that. Entitlement to the new grant depends on collecting the balance due--no collection, no grant. The hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) spoke of £5.7 billion and the fact that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor referred to only £4.35 billion. He inquired about the difference. That is a perfectly legitimate and straightforward question with a straightforward answer. The figure of £4.35 billion is the net cost after savings on the community charge reduction scheme. The hon. Gentleman also referred to the Shetlands. He suggested that in the Shetlands there would be a need for a bill of only 20 per cent. of 97p--the personal charge remaining after the £140 reduction. As he knows, that ignores the fact that water charges are also payable in Scotland. The water charge for the Shetlands is nearly £45. Therefore, revised bills will be somewhat larger.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) clearly believes in conspiracy theories. The electoral consequences of the community charge are his forte. The marginal decline in the numbers on the electoral register is not the consequence of the community charge. Most importantly, there is normal demographic change. The hon. Gentleman cannot fail to have noticed that numbers in schools fluctuate. Sometimes the numbers are up and sometimes we have falling rolls. Also, the hon. Gentleman must realise that there are special circumstances in Northern Ireland.
Column 288I totally reject the hon. Gentleman's assertions that Labour voters are tax dodgers. That was an outrageous suggestion. I was canvassing in Derbyshire last week at the same time as the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould). We were on different sides of the same market in Ripley. I had no idea of the depth of loathing for Derbyshire county council and its Labour administration. It was an education for a Member of Parliament for a Conservative seat in the south to listen to the residents of that town speaking about their county council. This has been an instructive and helpful debate. We must keep our eye on the fact that the consequence of what we are proposing will be a substantial relief for the local taxpayers, and I commend the estimates to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That a further sum, not exceeding £4,834,497,000, and including a Supplementary Sum of £4,013,497,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to defray the charges that will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 1992 for expenditure by the Department of the Environment on grants to local authorities in respect of the community charge and certain related administrative expenses ; on rate rebate grants ; on emergency financial assistance to local authorities ; and on repayments of excess contributions made by local authorities and other bodies in respect of non-domestic rates in 1990-91.
That a further sum, not exceeding £520,381,000, and including a Supplementary Sum of £431,000,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to defray the charges that will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 1992 for expenditure by the Scottish Office Environment Department on grants to local authorities in respect of the community charge and certain related administrative expenses ; on rate rebate and transitional relief grants ; and the special payments scheme to local authorities in Scotland.-- [Mr. Key.]
That a further sum, not exceeding £333,187,000, and including a Supplementary Sum of £33,000,000 be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to defray the charges that will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 1992 for expenditure by the Welsh Office on residual rate rebate for the disabled grants, grants to local authorities in Wales in respect of the community charge and certain related administrative expenses.-- [Mr. Key.] Bill ordered to be brought in upon the three foregoing resolutions relating to Estimates and Supplementary Estimates, 1991-92 by the Chairman of Ways and Means, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. David Mellor, Mr. Francis Maude, Mrs. Gillian Shephard and Mr. John Maples.
Mr Francis Maude accordingly presented a Bill to apply certain sums out of the Consolidated Fund to the service of the years ending on 31st March 1992 : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 139.].
Motion made, and Question proposed , That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Wood.]
Earlier today, I sought to introduce a ten-minute Bill to abolish political honours. I enjoyed a minor triumph by winning the Division, thus depriving myself of any possibility of earning a K.
Political honours pale into insignificance compared with the subject of the debate--the future of the great whale and, specifically, whether commercial whaling will once again blight the planet. I sought the debate because of the growing concern that has been expressed by environmental and animal welfare groups about the possibility of a resumption of limited commercial whaling. Those groups, and indeed Members of Parliament, were alarmed by hints that the Government were retreating from their total opposition to allowing some whaling in certain conditions.
I do not intend to try to score political points ; this is not a party political issue, nor am I seeking to make it one. Plenty of opportunities present themselves in the House for me to score points and turn issues to my advantage, but this is not one. I told the Minister outside the Chamber that I am seeking from him a cast-iron guarantee that in no circumstances will the Government agree to the killing of great whales, in the name of either so-called science or the far more open commercial reasons that are being advanced by the Japanese, Norwegians and Icelanders.
It is not an issue of whale stocks and conservation, or indeed of humane methods of slaughter ; it is a matter of ethics. Whales are intelligent, social, warm-blooded mammals that are close to humans in the order of being. For any of them to be killed is a criminal act that cannot be justified or tolerated.
The alarm bells started to ring when the Secretary of State sent a letter on 27 March to Members of Parliament who had expressed an interest in the subject. He said :
"The situation is now that certain whale stocks are reaching levels where it will be difficult to say that controlled and highly limited catches of whales would harm the stock If there were, at some point, a resumption of whaling, the technology used should be a genuine and qualitative advance on the older methods so that any whaling that takes place is as humane as it is possible to be. At this year's IWC"--
the meeting of the International Whaling Commission--
"the UK will therefore continue to press for a sound and scientific basis to the decisions of the IWC based on the principles of caution and safety, and that any future whaling is conducted as humanely as possible."
That is an ambiguous letter and it was not surprising that The Sunday Times subsequently ran an article under the headline, "Britain may back end to whaling ban". I am not an apologist for any journalist, but that headline, based on a reading of the Secretary of State's letter, was justifiable. But its impact in Japan was nothing compared with our feelings. We were outraged ; the Japanese were overjoyed. I have extracts from Japanese newspapers that are in Japanese script. Fortunately, I have O-levels in Japanese and journalese and can translate them for the Minister.
Column 290The Japanese newspapers, in response to the letter of the Secretary of State and reaction in The Sunday Times , spoke of the United Kingdom turning away from the whaling ban :
"Minister Gummer made clear that the United Kingdom could change policy on the whaling ban that the United Kingdom was reconsidering her policy on anti-commercial whaling that Britain was ready to restart whaling. It will be a big relief for Japan, which is seeking to reopen commercial whaling."
That is what a Japanese newspaper stated. The Japanese were as delighted as we in this country were dismayed.
Obviously, the Secretary of State cannot be held responsible for misreporting in Japan, but it was the Secretary of State's ambiguously worded letter of 27 March to hon. Members that started the whole thing off. I have responded to that letter, expressing my surprise that he appended his signature to a letter that was clearly drafted for him by his civil servants. I await the Secretary of State's reply.
The Minister cannot be in any doubt about the sentiments in the House and the country about the killing of whales for whatever purpose. Nearly 200 hon. Members from all parties have signed early-day motion 697 on the subject. The first three signatories are from the three main parties. One of the co-signatories is in his place on the other side of the Chamber--the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden).
The hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and I went to No. 10 Downing street to present a protest letter to our Prime Minister. We then went to the Japanese embassy to present a protest letter to Mr. Kaifu, the Japanese Prime Minister, in which we said that the great whales belong to all of us on the planet and are not the private property of any particular country to do with as it sees fit. We await a reply from Mr. Kaifu, perhaps more in hope than expectation, that the Japanese Government will reverse their unbelievably selfish, unacceptable and arrogant attitude to the whales.
In the face of what is clearly widespread public concern in this country, the Secretary of State gave an interview to The Times on 26 April in which he stated :
"Britain will not support the resumption of commercial whaling until there is a method of killing whales humane enough to meet British animal welfare standards".
The Minister echoed that sentiment in a written answer to me on 25 April, in which he stated :
"We are not prepared even to contemplate agreeing to the lifting of the moratorium placed by the International Whaling Commission on commercial whaling unless and until it is clear that whale stocks are at healthy levels, a satisfactory management procedure is in place and the methods of killing whales are as humane as possible. These conditions have not yet been met."--[ Official Report, 25 April 1991 ; Vol. 189,c. 552. ]
That answer does not satisfy me, many of the Minister's hon. Friends or the British public. Nobody is interested now in finding humane ways of killing whales any more than we are interested in finding humane ways of killing people. Both are totally unacceptable, and we should not be contemplating killing whales for any reason. In response to Ministers' constant references to "humane ways of killing whales", I refer them to a new publication from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which is entitled, "The Cruel Seas--Man's Inhumanity to Whales". It details the different methods of killing whales, from the cold or non- explosive
Column 291harpoon to the grenade-headed or explosive harpoon. In the slaughter of minke whales, which the Japanese are still carrying out in the Antarctic, they are using a penthrite harpoon, which uses the explosive penthrite, which is six times more powerful than the black powder that is used in other explosive harpoons. All the technical jargon leads to one irreducible fact, that the whales die in absolute agony. The RSPCA document is interesting but horrific for anyone who is concerned about the welfare of whales.
Whales are social creatures with family structures. Who knows--perhaps, as one of their number is dying in intense pain with an explosive harpoon embedded in the flesh, others in the group may be suffering similar feelings of grief and fear as any of us would witnessing one of our family being gunned down by terrorists. Some people might regard that as an emotive comparison, but perhaps it is because we know so little about these magnificent and mysterious creatures that it is an act of criminal folly to kill them. Anyone who has read Heathcote Williams' epic poem "Whale Nation" will have been moved by his description of the humpback whale's music or the awesome size of the blue whale, which is the largest creature ever to have lived on the planet and still be with us--but only just. It is only just with us because of the destruction inflicted on it. The whale nation described by Heathcote Williams which has been destroyed over the centuries stands as an indictment of all of us, now and in the past.
We used to turn all that beautiful animal life into commonplace household products, and now we see the Japanese, the Norwegians and the Icelanders killing minke whales to eat them--that is disgusting and unacceptable and it must stop. But the killing continues to this day. The Japanese, the Norwegians and the Icelanders get round the IWC's ban on commercial whaling by employing the name of science to continue their barbaric activities. That killing must be stopped. I want the following assurances from the Minister in advance of the IWC meeting later this month. First, I want the Government to continue to oppose the lifting of the general moratorium on commercial whaling. I am sure that he can say yes quickly. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Curry) indicated assent.
Secondly, I want an assurance that the Government will vote against any proposal to allow limited commercial catches of some whales, whatever evidence is advanced as justification by the Japanese the Norwegians or the Icelanders, who are the real villains of the piece.
The third assurance is that the Government will use their best endeavours to stop the Japanese, the Norwegians and the Icelanders from continuing their so-called "scientific" whaling.
Fourthly, should any of those countries quit the IWC, as Japan has threatened to do, in order to resume killing whales the Government should have urgent discussions with our EEC partners and with the United States Government so that appropriate sanctions can be imposed on any or all of those countries.
Column 292Lastly, the jurisdiction of the IWC should be extended to the small cetaceans--the pilot whales, the porpoises and dolphins--which are now being slaughtered in tens of thousands, mainly by the Japanese. The Government have enjoyed unanimous support in the House for their opposition to whaling. This is one Government policy that I do not wish to see altered in any way. I ask the Minister to assure the House that the Government's policy will remain exactly as it is, that the Government will represent the House and the entire British people by saying that there will be no resumption of the commercial killing of whales and that the killing of whales carried out in the name of science will cease forthwith.
Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown) : The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) reflects the views of millions of people. I have had the privilege of seeing the magnificent whales in their natural environment in the seas off Alaska. Anyone who has done that or who has talked to people who have studied whales will know that they are highly intelligent, warm-blooded creatures with a social structure and could not justify their slaughter in any way. We know that whales communicate effectively. It is only a matter of time before human beings will communicate with them.
Future generations will look back in horror at the way in which we have treated whales in this and the previous century. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that the Government will remain firm in their policy and will oppose the resumption of any form of commercial whaling.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. David Curry) : I remarked in the office lastweek that it was about time that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) had his Adjournment debate on whaling. I was not disappointed because it came up on the following week's schedule. I note what the hon. Member for Newham, North-West has said. We had the same debate last year and there was no disagreement between us. I hope that we will be in the same position after this debate. I ask the hon. Member for Newham, North-West to accept one proposition--that we are all committed to the conservation of the whale. The hon. Gentleman also referred to hints. I am sure that he will also acknowledge that, in the discharge of my responsibilities, I do not normally deal in hints. Indeed, that has been a problem with my responsibilites.
The argument is not about the classic great whales such as the right whale, the blue, the sperm and the humpback. The argument is about certain specific stocks of whales. I accept that for many people, and especially young people, the fate of the whale, like that of the elephant, is a symbol of man's acceptance that he is just one part of creation and that his role of dominance must lead him to accept the role of stewardship for the earth's diversity. I accept that proposition. However, how do we go about that?
We should not go about it by force. That is clearly not a practical proposition. We cannot use threats either. We must use persuasion and persistant and powerful presentation of sound arguments. The forum for the
Column 293arguments is the International Whaling Commission. We have an important reason to keep the whaling countries in the IWC. The alternative--this is a real alternative, not just a hollow alternative--is that they might pull out of the IWC and form their own organisation and set their own rules. If they did that, there would be one big loser--the whale. Commercial whaling would resume, perhaps in considerable volumes.
How we persuade those countries to stay within the IWC is a practical political question. How do we maintain the moratorium? I must make it clear to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West that the Government's policy has not changed in that regard. We stick to the long-established terms of reference of the IWC. That body's great achievement was the moratorium on commercial whaling of the mid-1980s. As the hon. Member for Newham, North- West said, certain forms of whaling continue under that. Aboriginal whaling continues even in the Alaskan waters. There is also research whaling, some of which, as the hon. Member for Newham, North-West said, is effectively a form of disguised commercial whaling. However, the take has declined, even in research whaling.
At Reykjavik we are fully committed to the continuation of the moratorium. The IWC is working to achieve a series of
long-established objectives which have not changed. All members of the IWC are formal subscribers to those objectives, the first of which is a comprehensive assessment of the state of the stocks, including the Antarctic minke, the central Atlantic minke and the grey whale. The latter is not in commercial contention, but there is a need to find out more about it. It tends to live in waters close to the United States and the Americans are anxious to collect further information about it. These assessments have been carried out. At the meeting this month, the commission should hear reports on assessments of the other stocks which are in contention, such as the north Atlantic minke. An assessment last year, on the north Atlantic fin whale and on minkes in the Okhotsk sea, which is off Japan, was sent back for further work, to come forward to the commission again this year. Those stocks are being assessed this year.