§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. HANBURY
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a, Second time."
I should like to point out that the general agreement on all sides of the House shown by the backers of this Bill is a happy augury for the eventual passing of this valuable Measure. It is also a notable symptom of the remarkable trend of agreement among all parties in the State that practical measures of assistance for the great basic industry of agriculture are necessary to-day if we are to preserve the life-blood of the nation, a happy and contented rural population, and to develop the economic resources of our land. This is not a new Bill, but one that was carefully considered in the early months of this year, not only on the floor of this House, but upstairs in Committee, and it failed to become law only because of the pressure of business in another place. We observe, moreover, that powers very similar to those asked for under this Bill were put into operation by the Rabbits Order, 1917, which was incorporated in the Corn Production Act, Part IV. That Act, unfortunately, was repealed in 1921, and the rabbit was fully alive to it, and grew and prospered.
Under this Bill, if an owner or occupier of land can convince a county council that excessive damage is being done to his crops, trees, fences, or pastures by reason of the neglect of a neighbouring occupier of land to repress, keep down, or exterminate the rabbit, the county council can require that in 14 days this occupier who is causing the nuisance shall abate or prevent the damage; but if he does not comply, the county council has the right to send people to carry out the reduction of the rabbit and, further, the offending occupier may be called upon to pay the expenses. The county council, moreover, at the request of the complainant, can send an inspector or inspectors who can send in a report, and the complainant is charged a fee of £2, but— and this was a very happy Amendment brought in by the Labour party—he can recover this fee if his claim is upheld. On the other hand, there is a right of 1228 appeal to the county council from the occupier who is presumed to be the offender in not having kept down his rabbits, and in that case the county council can take no further action until they have heard the case of both the complainant and the defendant.
Landlords throughout the country may object to a public body being given the right of intrusion, visitation, or inspection of their property; but I would submit that if we pass this valuable Bill, the mere threat of such action being possible will be sufficient to ensure the carrying on of those harmonious relationships which have always existed between landlord and tenant and between all classes in the countryside. It is only a power which eventually will work out for the reduction and keeping under control of this verminous pest, the rabbit. In my view, the rabbit, this hardy and prolific rodent, can be either a crop or a pest, either a source of revenue and income or a dangerous spoiler of the ground; and under our all too haphazard methods in the past of treating the rabbit, he has become in many parts of the country a dangerous nuisance to growing crops on arable land and to the increasing and valuable industry of forestry. On the other hand, if properly controlled and restricted to otherwise unproductive land, I can see great developments possible in making the rabbit a useful crop for food, fur, and other economic purposes; but he must be very severly fenced about and kept in his proper place. Every restaurant-keeper knows the value of rabbit in the construction of chicken cream, and where would the great fur industry be without the coney and lapinski, so valuable in the sable, dyed ermine and mink markets of the world?
But what we are really considering is the question of excessive damage done by rabbits in this country. If we take a farmer who has growing crops on arable land near woods, over which he has no control, in the spring I have seen half a crop of corn eaten down, and the same with turnips later in the season. What has been his remedy in the past? He could call upon the landlord to give him compensation, or if an owner-occupier, he would have to fence about his land the next time he planted a crop, which is all very expensive and not by any means 1229 efficient in keeping out Mr. Rabbit. Then there is the young coppice, be it ash or hazel. That, we all know, is going to be a very valuable crop, cut every eight or 10 years, and made into hurdles or put to other agricultural uses. In the case of young coppices or young plantations, so necessary after the felling carried out during the Great War, I say that all these must be most carefully fenced about, at great expense, and it is at best a chancy business. In a small way, in my own plantations I have lost 200 trees in a night from the depredations of rabbits.
Then we must consider railway embankments and canal banks. These are often infested with rabbits, which prey upon the land of neighbouring farmers, who are unable to take any action because of the law of trespass, and we cannot expect that the railway officials should cope with this evil in their spare time, beyond setting a few gins and traps, which are most undesirable. We have all heard of the misplaced enthusiasm which introduced the rabbit into Australia and New Zealand, and has resulted in one of the most serious pests with which the farmers out there have to contend. The climate there is suitable to the rabbit, its enemies are too few and lowly organised, so that it has increased enormously. I do not pretend that conditions here are similar to those in Australia, but I mention this because it is 'a valuable warning of what might become a rabbit pest if not properly controlled.
I have said enough to show that control is the valuable principle underlying this Bill. We want to make the best use of our agricultural land, and the splendid work which has been done by our scientists in increasing crop output by artificial manures, in the war on blights and vegetable pests, is in danger because of this four-footed and charming but rascally rodent. Unlike the legendary pheasant of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), whose depredations on crops have never been substantiated, the rabbit has been carefully considered and it has been found to be like matter in the wrong place, dirt and a verminous pest. I ask the House to endorse the words of that East Anglian parson who was frequently asked to a great house in the 1230 neighbourhood, and who, when asked to say grace on one occasion, is reported to have replied as follows:Of rabbits young, of rabbits old,Of rabbits hot, of rabbits cold,Of rabbits tender, of rabbits tough,We thank the Lord we've had enough.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND-TROYTE
I beg to second the Motion.
The Mover of this Motion has explained the Clauses clearly, and has pointed out that rabbits cause a great amount of harm. We all agree with him. He also touched briefly on the history of the Bill, and Members will realise that it is a hardy annual. It was originally the Rooks and Rabbits Bill, but the rooks have disappeared, largely as a result of a Select Committee which was set up by another place. In 1928, the Bill passed through all its stages in this House without a division and without Amendment, either on Report or in Committee. It. went through the other place, and failed: to pass there, although they, to a great. extent, fulfilled the requirements of the Select Committee. That Committee in its Report said:No witness was willing to ascribe to these destructive animals any compensating virtues. Whatever virtue their carcases may have after death, during their lives rabbits are unmitigated nuisances to the good farmer and foresterThis is only a small Measure, but it will be of considerable benefit to the efficient farmer, who is the farmer we want to benefit. There may be some farmers opposed to it, but the organised farmers, speaking through the National Farmer's Union, have been urging for a long time that this Bill should be passed. They are very keen on it, and anxious to see it become law. It has also the approval of the County Councils' Association, who are of opinion that the county councils can easily work it. We all agree that rabbits are a nuisance, or can be a nuisance, and the efficient farmer will do all he can to get rid of them. If a man wants to keep rabbits on his own land, there is nothing in the Bill to prevent him. It is not a Bill to exterminate rabbits, but to prevent damage by rabbits. It is intended to assure that if a man wants to keep rabbits, he shall feed them himself, and not make his neighbour feed them. That can be agreed to on all sides by landlords and tenants alike, and is perfectly fair.
1231 It is, of course, true that an occupier of land has the right to destroy rabbits on his own land, but this is not in all cases sufficient, and, therefore, the question we have to decide is what is the best way to deal with them. The only alternative I can see to the method suggested in this Bill is by way of compensation, but that would not be as good as the method proposed. The good farmer likes to go about his farm and see his crops in a flourishing condition and growing well. He wants to produce as much as he can for his own benefit, and the benefit of the country, and compensation will not prevent damage being done. It is poor consolation for a farmer to see his crops damaged, and to have to haul his neighbour before the county court and claim compensation. He might have to do that year after year, whereas under this Bill the damage will be prevented. If the farmer had to proceed by way of compensation, it would cost him a considerable amount of money, and without doubt it would cause more friction than would be caused by this Bill.
I expect that it will be suggested that the county councils are not a suitable body to deal with this, and that it would be much better to have proceedings before the county court. The county councils, however, are quite prepared to do it, and are able to do it. They will delegate their powers to one of their committees, presumably the agricultural committee. These agricultural committees are composed of sound, practical men with a knowledge of country life and agriculture, and we may be certain that they will not ask the owners and occupiers of land to take any steps which are impossible for them to fulfil. They know what can be done, and they will only order things to be done which can be done. If we agree, as I think we do, that rabbits are a nuisance, there is a way of dealing with it. When a nuisance of another kind is caused, the procedure is not to go to the county court, but to the local authority, and ask them to cause it to be abated. In the case of housing, if a house becomes unfit for human habitation, the procedure is much the same as the procedure in this Bill. The local authority first instructs the owner to do repairs, and if the owner refuses, the authority enters the house 1232 and puts it in repair at the expense of the owner. That is analogous to what is done in this Bill in the case of rabbits.
It may be urged by some of the opponents of the Bill that undesirable people will be allowed to enter on land and do considerable damage when they are killing their rabbits. The county councils can be trusted not to send un-desirable people on the land. They understand the position, and will see that responsible people are sent to do the work and cause as little trouble as possible. I do not believe that it will be necessary to exercise the powers in this Bill very often. The simple fact that it is in existence will cause people to keep their rabbits down, and the threat of sending a man to destroy the rabbits will make the owner of them take steps immediately to reduce them, without waiting for the order to be put in force. It is our business to encourage land to be used in the best possible manner, and to do all we can to encourage the growing of good crops. This Bill is a small Measure, but it will do something to stop crops from being damaged by rabbits. I hope that it will receive its Second Reading, and pass through all its stages before this Parliament is dissolved.
§ Mr. GEORGE LAMBERT
Let me congratulate my Conservative friends upon their advance on this question of rabbits. When I first came to the House, the rabbit was regarded almost as a sacred animal. Now, in the words of my hon. Friend, it is "a rascally rodent." I am inclined to agree with him, and congratulate him on his advance. My opinion is that a rabbit is a very good thing in a pie, but. on the land it is a pest, and I am very glad that any Measure should be introduced to control the ravages of the rabbit. Some years ago, in Devonshire, I farmed a good deal of land. We had a series of dry summers, the rabbits increased enormously and we had great difficulty in getting them down. To anyone who has seen the ravages of rabbits in a field of wheat, or a field of roots in winter, or, again, in a field of clover, it is perfectly outrageous the amount of damage that rabbits can do. Therefore, I welcome any Measure which reduces the destructiveness of rabbits.
I had this experience on my own land. I had great difficulty in eradicating the 1233 rabbits. I employed a trapper, and I found out afterwards that he always left a few rabbits for seed, with one eye on the next year. A few weeks ago I saw a meadow absolutely overrun with rabbits, which were an absolute nuisance to the neighbours. But this Measure does not go far enough for me. It is rather a milk-and-water Measure. The person who has sustained damage has first to complain to the county council. My hon. and gallant Friend who seconded the Motion knows the Devon County Council as well as I do. Suppose I complained to the county council. It does not meet until December. Then it has to refer the complaint to the agricultural committee, and that has to get to work. What will the rabbits be doing all that time? The Bill is not strong enough for me. If a man kept rabbits to the detriment of the neighbourhood, I would prosecute him. That is the only way. This keeping of rabbits is a form of poaching, although the great bulk of owners of land in this country do their duties well. I would say one word more on the question of steel traps. I wish that the steel trap could be avoided.
§ Mr. HANBURY
That is in the Bill.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I know, but I am sorry to say that in my own county the steel trap is used. The rabbits have to be killed, but I wish someone could invent some kind of trap which would be equally efficacious. I have heard rabbits squealing in the traps, and it is a terrible thing. One has the choice of having the crops destroyed or of hearing the rabbits squealing. I give the Bill hearty support. I do not think it goes nearly far enough, but I do hope that, having passed its Second Reading last Session, it will this year go through all its stages.
§ Mr. ROSBOTHAM
I support the Second Reading, and deeply regret that the Bill did not become an Act of Parliament last Session. We have had serious discussions throughout the week, but this morning we seem to be in a very light-hearted vein, and there is the holiday spirit prevailing. I am afraid it is always so when there is something appertaining to our greatest industry, agriculture, before this House. As this Measure did not become an Act of Parliament last Session, bunny is still enjoying himself, 1234 and is taking moonlight picnics in the fields of neighbouring owners, and destroying crops. I am going to make an appeal to the Minister of Agriculture that he should accede to the reasonable request that this Measure should become a Government Measure. I feel sure that if that had been done last Session, it would have become an Act of Parliament in a very few minutes. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman because, in view of the programme which he is launching in the Land Settlement Bill, for the creation of more market gardens and smallholdings, it is essential that this Measure should be passed into law. The occupiers of these smallholdings and market gardens will otherwise be placed at a great discount, and put to the risk of having serious losses to their crops. You cannot possibly encourage these small cultivators without protecting them by Acts of this kind.
§ Mr. LLEWELLYN-JONES
I do not think that many words are required from me in support of this Bill. An hon. Friend has suggested that when a Bill of this kind is introduced by a Member on the benches above the Gangway, and supported by the Farmers' Union, it ought to be welcomed by all who are interested in agriculture. When I started practice and was representing tenant farmers of North Wales on a commission, in every part of the country to which one went one heard constant complaints of damage done to crops by rabbits coming from neighbouring land; and in many parts of the country the complaints are equally serious to-day. A small farmer does not care to embark upon costly litigation which brings him into conflict with his neighbour. He is faced with an unpleasant choice; either he must suffer considerable loss by the depredations of rabbits, or go to an enormous expense to fence his land to keep the rabbits out. It is unfair that he should have to face either of these alternatives, and I believe this Bill will very largely meet the complaints that one hears from farmer occupiers. Attention has been drawn to the damage done to young trees. On more than one occasion I have noticed in those parts of North Wales with which I am familiar that young trees have been attacked by rabbits when they have been unable to get any other sustenance during a hard winter, and now that a con- 1235 siderable sum has been expended on afforestation, not merely by the Forestry Commissioners but also by owners and occupiers of land, it is grossly unfair that so much of that expenditure should be nullified by the depredations of these little animals.
I support what the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Rosbotham) has said regarding the importance of dealing with this difficulty at the present moment. If the projected land legislation of the Government is enacted, I hope it will be effective in settling a large number of people on the land. It is possible that many of them will not have had very wide experience, and anything which occurs to discourage them in the early years will be a calamity. They ought to be able to start farming with every encouragement, and in some parts of the country there will be no greater encouragement to them than the knowledge that the Ministry of Agriculture are taking steps to ensure that they will not be raided by these little animals. The right hop. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) suggested that the Bill was not strong enough, or that the machinery might be slow in operation and that, in consequence, it would not attain its object. I take it that the best body to deal with these matters is a county council, because one realises that when any measure of this kind is referred to a county council it will at once delegate its powers under it to the county agricultural committee. I am not able to say what kind of agricultural committees there are all over the country, but I have been impressed by the activity of some of those with which I am acquainted, and I feel sure that if this Bill gets to the Statute Book, the agricultural committees will at once authorise their officials to inquire into any complaints that are made before any matter is brought before the committee itself or any sub-committee, so there need not be any delay.
Personally, I am a little more concerned about the provisions of Clause 2 dealing with appeals to county courts. I am not certain whether the promoters of the Bill realise it, but in many scattered rural districts a county court judge sits once only in every two months, and I know of certain areas where he sits 1236 once only in three months. That may lead to cases being held up for long periods; any country solicitor can say how the game is played in this connection. I would prefer to see appeals to the justices of the peace for the division. Cases are rare in which magistrates do not meet once in every 14 days at any rate or once a month at the outside; and there would be a distinct advantage in having an appeal to such a court in that the local magistrates have a more practical knowledge of these matters. Local magistrates are now representative of all classes of the community. On most country benches there are not merely members of the land-owning class, but there are representatives of the tenant farmers or occupying farmers, and they could deal readily with such a question as this, which arises under Clause 2 where objection is raised to a notice served under the Act on the ground:(b) that no damage sufficiently substantial to justify the service of the notice is being caused or is likely to be caused by reason of any failure on his part to restrict the number of rabbits on the land to which the notice relates; or(c) that adequate steps have been taken by him to abate or prevent such damage.If a county court judge has to deal with such a point, he may require a considerable body of evidence before he can come to a decision. Local magistrates, with an intimate knowledge of the district, could deal with the matter more expeditiously and more successfully. I would remind the House that in the Land Drainage Act it is provided that certain appeals will lie to the local justices, and I am certain that appeals under this Measure can be more successfully dealt with by magistrates in petty sessions. That, however, is only a matter of detail which can be brought up if the Bill goes to Committee. I am certain that this is a Measure which is earnestly desired by all occupying farmers. It has received the support of the Central Farmers' Union and, I believe, of practically every county farmers' union; and I hope that the Minister of Agriculture will give the Measure his support and see, as far as he can, that it is pressed through all its stages, so that it can become an Act during the present Session of Parliament.
The speakers in this Debate have not over-stated the case for controlling rabbits. I note that on this 1237 occasion a much keener interest is being taken in this question. It was my fortune on two occasions to pass a Rabbits Bill through this House, and I experienced a much rougher passage than seems to be in store for this Measure today. Even under the proposals of this Bill the occasions will be very rare on which the extreme method of destroying the rabbits will need to be adopted by the local authority. No doubt there are certain obstinate people who are quite indifferent to the complaints of their neighbours in present conditions, but I think we are all agreed that there is an urgent case for controlling rabbits, and preventing such an injustice as that which has been brought to my notice where people have given up farms, and ceased to cultivate their land, owing to the damage done by rabbits.
Complaint has been made that there is a possibility of undue delay under this Bill, but I do not think that, in practice, delay will actually arise. I would like to remind the House that similar provisions to those contained in this Bill were in force during the War under the Defence of the Realm Regulations, and a similar provision was re-enacted in the Corn Production Act. Experience of those Measures has shown that it has seldom been necessary for county councils to put into force the power of destroying rabbits provided in this Bill. The reason for that is that when the owner of the land realises that some action is likely to be taken, he takes steps himself to destroy the rabbits. When a complaint is lodged, it will no doubt be the normal procedure of the county council for the official responsible to make an inspection, and in that way the inspector will generally be able to convince the responsible owner of the rabbits that, unless he puts his land in order, further steps will be taken.
The actual administration of this Measure will, no doubt, be put into the hands of sub-committees. It will be possible to appoint small ad hoc committees to deal with this question. There is no doubt that to-day there is an overwhelming consensus of opinion amongst agriculturists in favour of this Bill. I am sorry that this Measure was not brought forward as a Government Bill, and I am sure that if the Minister of Agriculture would set his mind to controlling rabbits, he would be 1238 doing much more good than by promoting the other agricultural Measures with which he is now occupied. I do not think there is any doubt that this Measure will he given an easy passage through the House of Commons. I congratulate the Mover upon having secured first place in the Ballot, and upon devoting that opportunity to the Rabbits Bill. As you may not sow weeds on your neighbour's land, it is very unjust that you should be allowed to destroy his crops with rabbits. The county council has no difficulty whatever at the present time in administering the provisions controlling weeds, and I feel sure that they will have no difficulty whatever in administering this Bill by a similar procedure. No one contests to-day the principle that you may not pasture cattle on your neighbour's land, and it is equally unjust that people should be allowed to pasture rabbits upon it.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Dr. Addison)
The Government are quite ready to accept the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill, and we hope it will be more fortunate this year than it was last year. This Measure has become rather a hardy annual, and when it has become law, as I have no doubt it will, we shall look back upon it as we do upon Bills like the Daylight Saving Bill, and wonder why on earth we did not pass it before. I should think the rabbit has rarely been called more names than it has to-day. There is only one point in the Bill which I will mention, and it is the provision dealing with the initiation of the procedure. The first Clause of the Bill provides that:If any person proves to the satisfaction of a county council.That means that nothing happens under the Bill until some person proves to the satisfaction of the county council. It, means that initiation of the proceedings depends upon the complaint of the neighbour who suffers loss. I do not think that that is the best way of dealing with a matter of this sort, and when the Bill comes to the Committee stage I shall suggest a modification of this procedure. I would like to say to those in charge of the Bill that our draftsmen will be quite willing to give their help in drafting the necessary Amendments. That is the only point of substance that we have to make with regard 1239 to the Bill. I spoke on the Bill last year, and I have nothing to add that I know of to what I said then; everything that can be said about it has been said much better by other speakers.
I observe, however, that the Bill has the support of all parties in the House, and that it has the support of the National Farmers' Union. I have been getting into trouble just lately with the National Farmers' Union, over some remarks which I made in this House last week, and which, I think myself, they have taken a little too seriously. If we are to wait until we are all agreed about everything, it will be a long time before we do anything. Nevertheless, I am glad that we are all pulling together on this point, and perhaps I might suggest, as a suitable subject for a cartoon, Captain Morris and myself shaking hands over the body of a rabbit. It might provide a bond of peace. There is only one thing which I regret and to which I daresay we shall have further opportunities of referring. That is that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Guinness) appears to think that this Bill, good as it is, is more important than, for instance, the Marketing Bill. I do not quite share his views on a matter of that sort, but still there will be plenty of opportunities, I hope, of discussing it. This little Bill has, shall we say, burrowed its way through the intricacies of this House quite a number of times, and I can quite imagine that, when the little animal escapes from this stuffy Chamber and scampers along the passage to what it might believe to be the freer airs of the more spacious domains of the aristocracy, it will have a happier time there.
§ Mr. ERNEST BROWN
They are better shots there.
§ Dr. ADDISON
Instead of saying, as the hon. Member has said, that they are better shots, I was going to say that it would have found itself regularly entangled in a snare. However that may be, I am sure that here on all sides there is a unanimity of hope that this time it will have better fortune.
§ Colonel CLIFTON BROWN
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now", and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months".
1240 12 n.
After having heard the remarks of the Minister of Agriculture, I feel that I must take it upon myself to move the rejection of this Bill. I must confess that I thought that the Minister was most unfortunate in his opening remarks. He said that he hoped that this Bill would become like the Daylight Saving Bill, upon which everyone is now agreed. I wonder whether the Minister is aware that there are many farmers in the country who strongly objected to that Bill, when it was introduced and who are by no means reconciled to it yet. They would be surprised at the lack of knowledge on the part of the Minister of Agriculture as to their deep feelings on that matter. The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Rosbotham) hoped that the Government would take up this Bill and give it their blessing. I think it is a very suitable Measure for this Government to take up and support, because, after all, it will only be adding one more to the perfectly useless and harmful Measures which this Government are imposing upon agriculture. This Bill is a perfectly useless Bill. You cannot kill rabbits by Act of Parliament. Attempts have been made for a very long time, by orders and one thing and another, to kill rats. We have county council inspectors for the purpose of killing rats, and the rat still flourishes. Under this Bill the county council is to kill rabbits, but it is not going to do the rabbit very much harm. One of my reasons for moving the rejection of the Bill is that the Minister of Agriculture himself said that he would alter some of its procedure. He proposes that, instead of its being necessary to prove to the satisfaction of the county council that damage is being done by rabbits, rabbit inspectors, I suppose, should be appointed all over the country, who would wander into everybody's property and make their reports, and then, apparently, without having to prove a case of any kind, they would be able to come down on the landlord or occupier and serve upon him an order for the destruction of rabbits. I think that that is a very dangerous principle. Instead of the necessity for proof to the satisfaction of the county council, the Minister himself suggests that there should only be the necessity for proof to 1241 the satisfaction of the county council's inspector, and this, apparently, is going to be one of the first steps of the Socialist Government to do away with every right of property in land.
From the point of view of killing rabbits, the Bill is quite useless. What is the good of it if you cannot use traps? I know something about killing rabbits, and, although I hate it, I know that you cannot possibly deal with rabbits Unless you use steel traps. I believe that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are trying to ascertain the most humane methods of trapping, but trapping is absolutely essential. It is not possible in any other way to get rid of rabbits from railway embankments and the banks which exist in the western counties of England. Otherwise, you will have the county council entering on to the land and spending weeks there ferreting and so on, but doing nothing properly to destroy the rabbits. That is a vital objection to this Bill, and one which, so far as I have heard, the Mover and Seconder of the Bill did not attempt to answer. While there may be a rabbit pest in the West of England and in other parts where there are a great many rabbits, that is not the case with us in the North. We are more anxious to keep our rabbits, and a great many of our farmers look after their rabbits and are glad to see a few about, though in the mining districts we know that we are not going to keep them very long, however much we may want to do so. Therefore, this problem is not such an urgent one with us as it may be elsewhere. I do think, however, that it is a dangerous principle to allow another body to come in and say, "You must do what we like with your own land." I feel certain that in the end it will be best to trust to publicity in this matter. This Bill is unnecessary, will be useless, and will not achieve the purpose for which it is proposed.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
I beg to second the Amendment.
Perhaps I should not have been so anxious to rise to second the rejection of this Bill if it had not been that there was a sort of chorus of understanding between the Minister of Agriculture and the late Minister of Agriculture that "It is only a little Bill; let us put it through." Friday appears to be a day 1242 upon which people who have little Bills hope to put them through the House of Commons. I would remind the House of Commons that it is these little Bills which very often strike a blow at public and private interests and rights, and at the liberties of the subject. I want to know who asked for this Bill. I am sorry that I was not in my place—[Interruption]—owing to my having been unavoidably detained, when the Bill was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Hanbury), but I understand that the farmer and the smallholder, whose case has been so ably put to-day, already have the right to abate rabbits on their land, and I cannot see why we should pass a Bill which is going to allow a county council to come in and do work for the farmer or smallholder who is either too incompetent or too lazy to do the work for himself. If he has already the right to abate rabbits on his land, why does he not do so without asking the county council to come in and do it for him? I hold no brief for the rabbit. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not? "] Because at the present moment I have three rabbits in my garden. But I am not prepared to go to my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who is vice-chairman of the Surrey County Council, and ask his assistance to abate those three rabbits. I am prepared to abate those rabbits for myself. I cannot see why further duties should be placed upon local authorities. As my hon. and gallant Friend has said, it means the creation of rabbit inspectors, and the Minister himself seems to adumbrate the idea that there should be more inspectors. Is he not content with the number of inspectors he will probably have to have by reason of the Bill he is going to introduce in the matter of agriculture?
Then he complained that it really was very unfair that you should have to wait till someone else has complained before anything is done. Surely we have a right to say that, before the county council should be asked to move in a matter of this kind, the complainant should have to state his case and have it gone into. The question is really much more serious than the light-hearted references of Members backing the Bill would have us believe. The local authorities are not only to appoint inspectors, they are not 1243 only to go on people's land against their wishes, a further interference with the rights of owners of property, but they are also to become local traders, because on page 2 of the Bill it says they may make arrangements for the sale of rabbits. So that now we are going to have our county councils setting up as rabbit purveyors. This is an instance of grandmotherly and unnecessary legislation. Have we nothing better to occupy our minds with at present, when really serious legislation is needed, than abating rabbits, which can be well abated by farmers and small holders for themselves? Then we find that the county council is to delegate its power to someone else and, further on, that any expenses incurred by the county council—and they are not slow to incur expense—are going to be borne by the ratepayers. How many ratepayers are anxious to foot the bill for the abating of rabbits on someone else's property by their local authorities?
There is a point which I think should be considered. Clause 2 says that if a person upon whom notice has been served considers for various reasons that it should not have been served upon him, he may within seven days after receipt of the notice send his objection in writing to the clerk of the county council, and if the county council do not reply within seven days, he may within 14 days apply to the county court. Under the first Clause, the county council may serve on the occupier a notice—as if the occupiers of the land are not getting enough notices at present—ordering him to abate or prevent the damage within a time not being less than 14 days. So that he has to abate the damage within 14 days and, if he wishes to say that this is an unfair notice, he has to wait 14 days before he can go to a county court. I presume that, during the 14 days while he is forced to wait, the county council will have put in its horde of inspectors armed with every lethal weapon it can find except the steel trap, and they will be busily engaged in abating the rabbits while he is waiting for a reply from the county council and the county court. The Minister says it is only a little Bill, but it is a little Bill full of totally unworkable and unnecessary arrangements. If you are going to begin by abating other people's rabbits, which you might abate yourself, for at present you have legal 1244 right to do so, would hon. Members who are interested in other forms of sport be as interested if the right was given to abate deer, for example, that went on someone's land? Hon. Members opposite will agree with that. If rabbits, why not deer, why not pheasants, why not anything that belongs to anyone else? You are going to encourage the interference of the local authorities, always at the expense of the ratepayer who is not at all anxious to have his money spent in this totally unnecessary way. You are going to have the county councils engaged in interfering with people all along the line, not only with rabbits but in many other ways, and for that reason it is a Bill that is unworkable and unnecessary, and I do not believe it is really wanted by the main body of people of the country, the ratepayers, who are most concerned.
§ Mr. EDE
It seems to me a great pity that, at a time when the country is suffering from acute distress, the House of Commons has nothing better to do than for its members to vie with one another in bestowing abusive epithets on the prettiest quadruped of the countryside. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken said he would not like to ask me, as vice-chairman of the Surrey County Council, to send in the county council's inspector in order to abate three rabbits which, I understand, afflict him. I assure him, as a friend, neighbour and fellow-magistrate on the same bench, that, if he will say nothing there, I have several friends who, without the trouble of going to the council, will relieve him of far more than three rabbits at no expense.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
I said I was quite able and prepared to abate my three rabbits myself.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is doing it.
§ Mr. EDE
I have never poached, but I have found in the morning hanging on my fence the results of other people's poaching. I have asked no questions. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) says, rabbits are very good in a pie, especially 1245 if your wife is a good cook. My constituency has a historic interest in this controversy. Seven hundred years ago the ancestors of my constituents, like their successors to-day, were the proprietors of a very valuable and interesting class of dog, which -did so much depredation in the warrens that then existed in South Shields that the Prince Bishop of Durham fulminated against them with both his ecclesiastical and civil powers unless they desisted from the practice. After all, that is the real reason of the rabbit trouble. If the rabbit were not protected by the law at present, its numbers would be far fewer than they are. I do not know exactly what you are going to do under the Bill with the rabbits to be found on commons. I suppose you are going to serve notices on the lord of the manor as the owner of the freehold. Why not, if you desire really to abate rabbits in the place where they breed with the most damage to surrounding property, repeal the law that enables a man to be prosecuted for being on a common in pursuit of a rabbit? It seems to me that would be a far more practical way.
Again, I think that this Bill, if it really is meant to deal with damage to agriculture, does not go nearly far enough. I imagine that far more damage is done to poultry by foxes than is done to other forms of agriculture by rabbits, and there is not a word in the Bill about foxes, which is, as the right hon. Gentleman would say, one of the sacred animals of the countryside. Then you have the hare. My agricultural friends assure me that the hare is a worse fiend than the rabbit, because the rabbit nibbles and does little else, but the hare not merely nibbles, hut tramples down. It is interesting to recall one of the greatest agricultural writers of the country, William Cobbett, who seemed to think that the hare was a far bigger nuisance than the rabbit. Writing over 100 years ago, one of the most beautiful of his many beautiful descriptions of the countryside and its farms, he said:—However, my farmer friend must get in his crop before the hard weather comes; or my Lord Carnarvon's hares will help him. They have begun already; and it is curious that they have begun on the mangel-wurzel roots. So that hares, at any rate, have set the seal of merit upon this root.Nothing is done in the Bill about anything like that. The way I have suggested 1246 of dealing with this topic is far more easy if all that we are doing is really aiming at the rabbit. But if hon. Members want to do something to assist agriculture against this sort of pest, as they are pleased to call it, they ought to go in for a thorough, sweeping reform of the game laws. I am astounded to see Members from agricultural constituencies on this side of the House getting up and supporting a miserable measure of this kind instead of doing something which I should have thought the Labour party in agricultural constituencies would have been the first people to wish to see done. The rabbit, in my opinion, is one of those animals the utter destruction of which would result in the countryside being a far less interesting place than it is. I know of few things more beautiful than rabbits scampering across the fields fairly late in the evening. While I do not agree with what has been said by the Mover with regard to some of the aspects of the case, I think the House would be well advised not to put this Bill in front of other more useful Bills which are going to be considered by Standing Committee B, but should reject this Bill to-day, and rely upon the Minister of Agriculture of a Labour Government to bring in a proper sort of Bill to deal not merely with the rabbit but with the hare, the pheasant and the fox, and then I am sure he will find he will not get so much support from the other side as, unfortunately, he seems to get for nearly all his Measures.
§ Sir JOSEPH LAMB
I have had the honour of being associated with this Bill ever since it has been before the House. I should like to associate myself with the action taken by my hon. Friend in bringing forward this Measure again, and I am glad he has been fortunate in the ballot. On the first occasion that I introduced the Bill from the back of the Chair it included rooks as well as rabbits. That, unfortunately, was the reason, after the Bill had passed through this House, why it did not receive assent in another place. On the last occasion I brought in the Bill I introduced it through the ballot, but, unfortunately, my position was not very early. Although the Bill passed through this House without a Division, with very little opposition, and went through Committee upstairs, without any opposition at all and only two slight Amendments, put in to comply with suggestions made on the Floor of 1247 the House, unfortunately, owing to the rules in another place, it could not be taken there owing to its late arrival. I sincerely hope, after what I imagine will be a very early passage in this House today, we shall have better luck when the Bill reaches another place. I do not propose to detain the House by putting forward the arguments which I introduced on previous occasions, because most of them have been very well presented by those who have spoken in favour of the Bill. I have risen only for the purpose of associating myself with it, and for the purpose of replying to some of the criticisms of the Bill to-day. I find very little to which to reply with regard to the opponents of the Bill. It is true that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hexham (Colonel Brown) has moved the rejection of the Bill, though I do not think that it was seriously done.
§ Colonel BROWN
§ Sir J. LAMB
Perhaps I am not entitled to say that, hut the friendly way in which he moved the rejection, at any rate, leads me to believe that there will not be very great grief on his part if he is not successful in the Amendment which he has put before the House. In the first place, his argument was that he was an advocate for the continuance of the use of steel-traps. I only regret that he was not in the House when my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) spoke earlier in the debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "He was."] I think that probably he would have realised that the right hon. Gentleman undoubtedly voiced the opinion of a large number of people that it was desirable, in this connection, at any rate that the use of the steel-trap should tie prevented. Provision was included in the last Bill, because there had been great opposition to the use of the steel-trap. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shipley!"] Perhaps I may be allowed to refer to the interruption and to say how very glad I am to have heard the news. The correspondence which I have received with regard to use of the steel-trap since I have had charge of the Bill came from those who were opposed to the steel-trap. The weight of opinion is strongly in favour of the exclusion of the trap as a means of destruction in this particular case.
1248 The next argument used by the hon. and gallant Member was that, although he admitted that in the South and in certain districts there was a considerable amount of damage done through the depredations of the rabbit, in the North— I do not think that he speaks for the whole of the North; in fact I know he does not—in certain places, the rabbit was appreciated. I wonder whether he would like to carry that line of argument in its application to the use of a fire engine. If his neighbour happened to have a fire, is his neighbour, simply because the hon. and gallant Member does not have a fire in his district, to be precluded from having the advantages of the fire engine to try to remove his trouble. It is not an argument which contains any justice whatever. The fact that an injustice or hardship does not exist in one place is no argument why the opportunities for relief from injustice or hardship should not be given in other districts. He said he wished to keep rabbits. I defy him or anyone else to point to any provision in this Bill which would prevent him from keeping rabbits. The only thing which this Bill does is to say that if he keeps rabbits, he must not allow them to go to other places for food. There is nothing to prevent a man from taking large tracts of land if he desires to keep a rabbit farm, but this Bill provides that his rabbits must be kept at his expense, and not at the expense of other people.
The second question that has been put is, who has asked for this Bill I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that it is asked for by the whole of organised agriculture. I do not confine that statement to those who are occupiers of land. I have had considerable correspondence with landowners, through their associations, and I have spoken to them individually, and this Bill is accepted by them. One and all look forward with great desire to the passing of this Bill, because it will bring about the destruction of a very considerable number of rabbits. My hon. and gallant Friend made amusing remarks with regard to three rabbits on his own premises. [An HON. MEMBER: "When did he count them?"] Unless he counted them this morning, he does not know how many there may be, because rabbits breed very quickly. He stated that he could abate 1249 the nuisance himself. It may be possible for him to do that, but I doubt whether he or anybody else can prevent damage being done by rabbits in gardens and farms adjacent to them. He cannot control them, and surely if he is desirous of keeping rabbits he ought to be compelled to maintain them.
A question has been raised with regard to expense. This Bill need not, and will not be any expense to the county council. The only duty that the county council will have to perform under the Bill is to have an inspection made by an officer who is already in the service of the county council, namely, the agricultural officer. Any expense incurred in the destruction of the animals will fall upon the occupier of the land. From the proceeds of the destruction of the animals the county council will be empowered to claim their expenses, and any balance there may be will be paid to the occupier of the land. The county councils are already performing duties similar to those they are asked to perform under this Bill, in regard to rats and mice, and I cannot conceive the justice or the wisdom of asking for the destruction of the rat if you do not ask for the destruction of the rabbit. The rat, undoubtedly, consumes a far greater amount of corn than most people realise after the corn has been grown, but the rabbit consumes far greater quantities than the rat, because he eats the corn in the early stages and prevents the production of the corn itself.
We shall be doing far greater benefit to agriculture than most people realise by passing this Measure. If there is one thing which occupiers of the land value to-day it is the good relationship which has existed from time immemorial between landlord and tenant. There is nothing in this Bill which in any way can be thought to interfere with the good relations between the landlord and tenant. This Bill safeguards those relations. At the present time, the only remedy that the occupier has is that he shall proceed by action in the court for compensation, and we know from experience the disastrous results of the procedure in regard to the relations between the landlord and the occupier of the land. Under the Bill it is only necessary that the occupier shall give notice to the 1250 county council of his desire for inspection, and when the inspection has been substantiated by the officer, means are taken to see that the rabbits are destroyed. I hope that the Bill will receive a speedy passage, and I am confident that a, very great sense of gratitude from all those connected with the land in the cultivation of crops will be felt when the Bill becomes law.
§ Mr. W. B. TAYLOR
As my name appears on the back of the Bill, I should like to congratulate the Mover and the Seconder of the Second Reading. With regard to Clause 2, I would suggest amendment. Last year when the Bill was under discussion, I called attention to the provision under which the person desiring to be relieved of this pest., due to encroachment from this neighbour's rabbits, was charged £2 in order to get his case considered. I would make an appeal that that provision should be withdrawn. It looks very much like penalising the small man.
§ Sir J. LAMB
According to the Bill, if the appeal proves to be frivolous the £2 can be returned. That is one of the Amendments which was put in the Bill upstairs.
§ Mr. TAYLOR
I accept that partial attempt to meet the case, but a man who pays money to a, public authority is much in the same position as the man who pays money to the rate collector. He will find it thundering hard to get it back. As the man himself is already a victim, it seems hard that he should be fined for reporting that he is a victim. Seeing that the Bill contains no means which will compel the defendant who really is the aggressor in these cases to put up the £2, it seems to me to be the old tale of a fear of touching anything approaching the owner of these woodlands from which very often hordes of rabbits come to do the damage on the land of the tenant farmer. I speak rather feelingly in regard to this matter, because three years ago when barley was a good price I was unfortunate enough in a field of about 20 acres to have seven acres eaten completely by hordes of rabbits which came from the woods of the landowner. If I as a tenant farmer had dared to set foot in these woods, I should have been regarded as a very questionable person in that portion of the countryside. I 1251 would ask my hon. Friend to withdraw the £2 fine on the sufferer, on condition that there is no Amendment moved to impose a fine on the man who really causes the damage by allowing his stock to trespass on other peoples land. It is a very simple law, which is generally recognised, that every man is supposed to fence against his own stock. Why not include rabbits in that stock, and instead of compelling us, as we are compelled, to net and protect ourselves against the incoming of these very pernicious little animals, we should be in a position to be safeguarded from their depredations.
There has been a very considerable measure of agreement in regard to this Bill, except on the part of those who happen to be diehards on both sides of the House. I am delighted to find the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) becoming such a left-winger. I know the interest he has taken in the preservation of common land and, having secured the commons for all time, his next effort and crusade will probably be to go after foxes and pheasants, which he will find much more difficult to catch than the rabbit. I understand that the Government will give facilities for the passing of this Bill on which there is such a measure of agreement. Even the National Farmers' Union is co-operating in support of the Bill and, therefore, we may reasonably expect that the same spirit will prevail in relation to far more important matters affecting the welfare of the agricultural industry.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
I desire to support the rejection of the Bill, because I am opposed to any extra burden being placed on the ratepayers of this country. The promoters of the Bill do not expect that it will entail any extra expense; but I am afraid that every Bill which comes before this House entails some further burden upon the rates and taxes, and that is why I desire to support the rejection of the Measure. The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. W. B. Taylor) believes that it would be very difficult to get repayment of any money which has been paid in the way of a fine. That is the experience of everyone. It is very easy to pay money to the tax collector, or the rate collector, but very difficult indeed to get a penny of it back, and if you do it is only after a very great 1252 struggle. I object to the promiscuous destruction of rabbits. I play cricket and golf, and I come across scores of rabbits, and a promiscuous destruction of these animals may result in due course in my own extinction. I also come across a considerable number of ducks, but they are generally on the opposing side. If all these rabbits are to be sold in the market, there will be a glut of rabbits, and we shall have considerable trouble with the butchers. I am not anxious to record a vote against this Bill. I realise that there is a coalition between the promoters of the Bill and the Minister of Agriculture. The Measure is probably required, but at the same time I do object to all Acts Parliament which are likely to result in increased taxation. We cannot afford it in these days, and whether it means a penny extra rate or whatever it is, there is no doubt that at the present moment we want to cut clown, not increase, taxation.
§ Sir WILLIAM WAYLAND
I desire to make a few remarks on this Bill, because I possess a farm where the number of rabbits per acre is as great as on any farm in the United Kingdom. In summer time at the bottom of my garden, if I throw a stone 150 yards—
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
Can you throw a stone 150 yards
§ Sir W. WAYLAND
No, I cannot, but at a distance of 150 yards I can count rabbits thicker than. I can see sparrows in St. James' Park. A bunny has two sides—a utility side and a destructive side. Take the utility side first. His body is good food, and many tons of rabbit food are sold in this country throughout the year. People are able to obtain cheap and wholesome food. In the second place, he has a skin which, prior to the War, was valued at about ld., but to-day is valued at from 3d. to 7d. That value has increased solely owing to feminine vanity. Every woman looks forward to possessing a little bit of fur. Whether she is a factory worker or a noble countess, it makes no difference to her desire to adorn her person with a little bit of fur. The ordinary working girl cannot afford real fur which is obtained from the Northern parts of Europe and Alaska, but the development of the rabbit as a fur-bearing animal has 1253 enabled any lady who is in possession of a moderate income to adorn her coat with fur. That is a very great asset. Naturally, the contentment of a woman is the great desire of every man whoever he may be. If a worker in the possession of £2 or £3 per week is able to say to his wife, who is generally his domestic slave, "Well, my dear, I am quite willing to give you the money for this coat that you desire and for a little bit of fur," that woman is a contented wife. Feminine vanity has given rise to a British industry which has developed enormously not only in the preparation of rabbit skins but also in dyeing skins, and at the recent exhibition at the Crystal Palace we saw the wonderful way in which the skins of rabbits have been turned into furs which one never would have thought any rabbit had ever worn. That is on the asset side. The rabbit is an important asset from the point of view of food and also from the furibearing point of view.
It has also another asset. In these times of agricultural depression farmers are turning their attention to the destruction of rabbits more than ever before. In parts of my division there are farms where there used to be a large number of rabbits; to-day it is very difficult to find one. I have a small share in a, small syndicate. On the ground, covering about 1,500 to 2,000 acres, we used to shoot hundreds of rabbits before the War. Last year we were not able to get hold of more than 15 in the whole season. The farms were shot over and so well snared and netted and ferreted that there were no rabbits left. Before the War when farmers were fairly prosperous they disdained the rabbit as food, but they use that food to-day, and in addition sell rabbits in the market in order to purchase groceries or other foods for the following week.
Now we come to the other side of the account. Rabbits are destructive. have found them very destructive. But I made a balance sheet, and I placed the cost of protecting the farmer against the rabbits on one side, and on the asset side I placed the amount of money that received from the rabbits. My account last year left me a credit to the extent of £30 to £40. I am hopeful that this year my loss on my farm will he reduced by nearly £100 owing to the sale of the 1254 rabbits. There is the question of the injury to the farmer. If I do not net a field where I grow cabbages, naturally the rabbits will eat those cabbages. If I do not net a field where I am growing roots, the rabbits will have a considerable portion of those roots. Rabbits even learn after a time to jump over 30-inch netting; I have known that done. On the netting losses are very small. I guarantee that in a country such as I farm, and within a radius of probably 20 miles, where you used to find more rabbits per acre than in any other part of England, to-day if you canvass the farmers you will find that the great majority of them would vote against this Bill. I shall vote against the Bill.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
But your name is on the back of it.
§ Sir W. WAYLAND
I know, but there was a misunderstanding about that. I am afraid that I cannot go back upon my conviction that this Bill will do considerably more harm than good. The rabbits to-day do considerably more good than harm.
§ Major LLEWELLIN
I take the view that the Bill is not a good one. What happens under it is this: A man may go to a county council to complain about his neighbour without the neighbour being there at all. He may go behind his neighbour's back to the county council, and then, more or less in, camera, a committee or one of the officials decides the case against the neighbour, who perhaps has had no notice that anything is being done or said against him. What happens then? If a notice is served by the county council 14 days only are given for the abatement of the nuisance. If the nuisance is a real one it is clear that 14 days are insufficient completely to abate the nuisance to the satisfaction of the county council, and if the nuisance is a small one the order ought never to have been made. Look further and see what the farmer has to do once an order has been made against him. He has to take on his own shoulders the responsibility of starting an action in the county court in order to protect his rights. He has seven days in which to state the grounds of his objection. If the objection is not withdrawn within seven days he is given 21 days in which to go to the county court. 1255 But within that time the county council are already authorised under the Bill to come in and start abating the nuisance. There is no provision in the Bill that if the farmer is appealing to the county court the county council must hold their hand.
I hate to see any legislation passed that will ultimately raise rates or taxes. I see no provision that the county council must pay if they take a wrong decision—a decision which, after all, they have taken on one-sided evidence in the absence of the man on whom the notice has been served. I would like to see in the Bill a provision that the two parties concerned should appear before some judicial committee or some committee of the county council and have the matter thrashed out fairly. It should not be left to a man to go to the council and merely say, "I think that rabbits are coming on to my land from my neighbour's." The Bill puts a power into the hands of an unscrupulous man to go behind the back of his neighbour. What real evidence have we that rabbits coming from neighbouring ground are such a plague? When a man's crops are eaten down by rabbits those rabbits are nearly always the rabbits which he has not bothered to exterminate on his own land. If rabbits stray to neighbouring land there are obvious runs through the boundary hedges, and a man can put wires there and catch the rabbits that come off another man's land. The proposals of the Bill might well cause unnecessary friction between neighbours. If I am wrong in my interpretation of the provisions I have misread the provisions of Clause 1, which says:If any person (in this Act referred to as a complaint) proves to the satisfaction of a county council that, by reason of the failure of an occupier of land within their area to restrict the number of rabbits on the land in his occupation, substantial damage is being caused or is likely to be caused to crops, trees, fences or pasturage on land in the occupation of the complainant, the county council may serve on the occupier a notice requiring him to abate….The farmer has no notice whatever that anything is being done until he gets a notice from the county council, who have already decided the case on the prima facie evidence of someone who comes along and says, "I have seen a dozen rabbits on the other side of my hedge and damage is likely to be caused to my 1256 crops." That power I dislike, and I shall vote against the Bill.
§ Captain WATERHOUSE
I must apologise to the House for not being here earlier to listen to this very interesting discussion, and it, is with great gratification that I find that there has been such a prolonged debate on this subject. I have only been in the House six years and I think there has been a Rabbits Bill each year since I came here. I remember that on one occasion I was the only person to rise in my place and, amid the usual groans and "grousing" of my fellow Members, to protest against the arbitrary powers which it was proposed to hand over to a body of people under a Bill of this kind. This should not be called a Rabbits Bill; it is really a "County Councils Jollification Bill." Under it, county councils will be given new and, in my opinion, most dangerous powers. I am proud to say that many of my nearest and dearest personal friends are members of county councils, but, for some extraordinary reason, once they get into the council chamber, all that makes them near and dear to me seems to vanish. They become extravagant and, very often, a most arbitrary body. I take a very definite stand against all extensions of the powers of county councils. They are just remote enough from the electors to feel irresponsible and they are not large enough bodies to feel their full responsibility. County councillors almost without exception, when one charges them with their shortcomings say, "You and the House of Commons thrust these duties on us, and force this expenditure on us, and make us inquisitorial, and therefore it is your fault." It shall not be my fault to-day if the House of Commons decides to increase their inquisitorial powers in this instance.
What would be the position of the farmer or the landowner under this Bill? The county council can appoint a committee to take over these powers. On county councils there are many people, especially to-day, who are fond of rabbit shooting and other forms of shooting, and many would be only too glad to join a committee of this sort. It is not too much to suppose that members of such a committee would have friends fond of shooting, and those friends might suggest likely places for rabbit-shooting. In all seriousness, this Bill might make it pos- 1257 sible for the committee of the county council occasionally to have a Saturday's shooting over somebody else's land. Some of us on going home at the weekend, hoping to have a little shooting, might be told, "No, sir. You cannot shoot to-day; the county council are shooting to-day." Surely the House is not going to permit such an atrocity to get on to the Statute Book. I think this is the fifth occasion on which a Bill of this kind has been introduced, and I hope it will be the last. I hope that this time a sufficient number of rationalists have been able to attend here on Friday morning to give the Bill its quietus.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Mr. CHARLES WILLIAMS
I have a great aversion from giving a silent vote, but I so often have to do so, that I hope that on this occasion I may be allowed to state my opinion of this Bill. There are four great troubles or nuisances in this country. The first, which is diminishing itself by degrees, naturally, because of the folly of the people concerned in it themselves, is Socialism. The second is the matter of lawyers which is beyond our discussion to-day. The third is the question of officials and the fourth is that of rabbits. Officials and rabbits, to my mind, both prey on the land of this country. They both take a great deal out and give back very little. Both have excellent points, but their excellencies are almost invariably entirely outweighed by the damage which they do. I have studied the rabbit, and I must admit that he shows a considerable quality of brain on some occasions. As a gardener, I have always noticed that if you put down a half-guinea plant and a half-crown plant in your garden, the rabbit will always eat the half-guinea plant first. Wealthy Members opposite who can go in for guinea and five guinea plants of course suffer very much more loss than I do in this respect.
I hold that the only way of dealing with rabbits is something which has not yet
§ been mentioned. I hope that in due course we shall have once again a really intelligent Minister of Agriculture who will deal with the matter in the proper way. Trapping has not diminished the number of rabbits. It has increased them throughout the whole of the West Country, and the nuisance is very much worse now than it was 30 or 40 years ago. The real way of dealing with rabbits—I believe it has been tried in other countries with some success—is by birth control. This is perfectly serious. It is well known that in these matters the rabbit has gone to excess, if I might put it in that way. What I would like to urge on any respectable Minister of Agriculture would be to go into this matter from a scientific point of view, and to see whether he could not exercise, by degrees, some control in this particular way. That, I believe, is the real solution. This Bill merely sets up more committees and gives more work to already overburdened county councils. It goes upon entirely wrong lines in attempting to deal with this matter, and although I have a great respect for those who are associated with the Bill, I think they are not quite as up-to-date as some of us, and are not setting about this matter in the right way. I hope that sooner or later we may have a Government which will adopt the proper means, but in the meantime I do not see how I can vote for these proposals. The Government have introduced many indifferent and inadequate Measures, and if they are going to support this Bill—and I believe they consider it to be very valuable—I hope that, at any rate, we may deal with it in the Committee stage on the Floor of the House. Although I have no great aversion from the principles in the Bill, I must vote against the Second Reading. My quarrel with the Bill is that this is not the best way of doing what it seeks to do.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 147; Noes, 21.1259
|Division No. 4.]||AYES.||[1.5 p.m.|
|Aitchison, Rt. Hon. Craigie M.||Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Cameron, A. G.|
|Aske, Sir Robert||Blindell, James||Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S.W.)|
|Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley)||Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Chater, Daniel|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley (Bewdley)||Brothers. M.||Church, Major A. G.|
|Batey, Joseph||Butler, R. A.||Cluse, W. S.|
|Bennett, William (Battersea, South)||Buxton, C. R. (Yorks. W. R. Elland)||Cocks, Frederick Seymour.|
|Courtauld, Mayor J. B.||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Shakespeare, Geoffrey [...].|
|Cove, William G.||Mansfield, W.||Sherwood, G. H.|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||March, S.||Shield, George William|
|Daggar, George||Margesson, Captain H. D.||Shillaker, J. F.|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Marjoribanks, Edward||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Markham, S. F.||Simms, Major-General J.|
|Eden, Captain Anthony||Marley, J.||Simmons, C. J.|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Messer, Fred||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U., Belfst)|
|Egan, W. H.||Mills, J. E.||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Elliot, Major Walter E.||Milner, Major J.||Smith, Alfred (Sunderland)|
|Elmley, Viscount||Mitchell-Thomson, Rt. Hon Sir W.||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B||Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)|
|Fermoy, Lord||Montague, Frederick||Smith, H. B. Lees- (Keighley)|
|Foot, Isaac||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.)||Smith, W. R. (Norwich)|
|Freeman, Peter||Mort, D. L.||Smithers, Waldron|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Moses, J. J. H.||Snell, Harry|
|Glassey, A. E.||Mosley, Lady C. (Stoke-on-Trent)||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Gossling, A. G.||Muggeridge, H. T.||Sorensen, R.|
|Gould, F.||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter]||Stewart, W. J. (Belfast, South)|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Sutton, J. E.|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Noel-Buxton, Baroness (Norfolk, N.)||Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S.W.)|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley)||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Walker, J.|
|Henderson, Thomas (Glasgow)||Penny, Sir George||Wallace, Capt. D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield)||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)||Wallace, H. W.|
|Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Perry, S. F.||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Hore Belisha, Leslie||Picton-Turbervill, Edith||Watkins, F. C.|
|John, William (Rhondda, West)||Pilditch, Sir Philip||Wellock. Wilfred|
|Jones, F. Llewellyn- (Flint)||Pole, Major D. G.||Welsh, James (Paisley)|
|Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Potts, John S.||West, F. R.|
|Jowitt, Sir W. A. (Preston)||Ramsay, T. B. Wilson||Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)|
|Kelly, W. T.||Raynes, W. R.||Whiteley, William (Blaydon)|
|Kennedy, Thomas||Reid, David D. (County Down)||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Romeril, H. G.||Winterton, G. E.(Leicester, Loughb'gh,|
|Law, Albert (Bolton)||Rosbotham, D. S. T.||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Lawrence, Susan||Rowson, Guy||Womersley, W. J.|
|Lawson, John James||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Leach, W.||Samuel Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)||Wright, W. (Rutherglen)|
|Lee, Frank (Derby, N.E.)||Sanders, W. S.|
|Lee, Jennie (Lanark, Northern)||Savery, S. S.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Lees, J.||Sawyer, G. F.||Mr. Hanbury and Lieut.-Colonel|
|Lloyd, C. Ellis||Scrymgeour, E.||Acland-Troyte.|
|Balfour, Captain H. H. (I. of Thanet)||Gibson, C. G. (Pudsey & Otley)||Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart|
|Beaumont, M. W.||Gower, Sir Robert||Southby, Commander A. R. J.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Longden, F.||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Bowyer, Captain Sir George E. W.||Lowth, Thomas||Wayland, Sir William A.|
|Campbell, E. T.||McElwee, A.||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Pownall, Sir Assheton|
|Ede, James Chuter||Rathbone, Eleanor||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—.|
|Ferguson, Sir John||Reynolds, Col. Sir James||Major Llewellin and Colonel|
Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.