HC Deb 28 April 1948 vol 450 cc475-82
The Lord Advocate

I beg to move, in page 40, line 20, to leave out from first "steps," to the end of line 21, and to insert "as may be so specified."

This Amendment has been put down because during the Committee stage the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) and I discussed the effect of a recent court decision in Edinbugh and whether as a result of it, this Clause would be effective. In order that we might prevent as far as we could, the decision of the court defeating the purpose of the Clause we have introduced this Amendment which gets rid of the point of doubt which was in the mind of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and myself.

Amendment agreed to.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)

I beg to move, in page 40, line 22, to leave out "or."

I understand that it would be for the general convenience if on this first Amendment there was a general discussion covering the whole field which is raised in my subsequent Amendments.

Mr. Speaker

I was going to suggest that we take the whole thing together, because it is all so closely linked and so many of the subsequent Amendments are drafting Amendments. If that is for the convenience of the House, I think we should adopt that course.

Colonel Goname-Duncan

I do not want to be long over this matter, but it is of very great importance to the country generally. There are two objectives in putting down the Amendments. The first is that we want to be certain that prevention of pests is the aim and not their destruction. We want to prevent pests arriving instead of having to kill them when they have arrived. I think that that aim will appeal to the House as being common sense. The second object is that among the specified pests we wish to include insects, instead of only birds, animals and weeds.

I think the House will be well aware that the essential balance of nature, along whatever line we happen to look at it, is the mainstay of our human, animal and vegetable life upon this planet. If we break the balance of nature down in any particular direction we have trouble. We have the question of birds versus insects in our country and in many other countries prominently before us. We have our old friends the stoats and weasels waging tremendous war on rats and rabbits. We also have the well-known fact that if we kill off all our wasps we have a tremendous plague of flies which will attack our fruit instead of the wasps. These are commonplaces, but they illustrate what I mean by maintaining the balance of nature, if we wish to prevent pests.

In other words, if we destroy one of those things, that upon which it lives will inevitably turn into a pest. One can go on giving examples to prove it. I do not want to take up the time of the House but I recall not very long ago watching a young stoat take no fewer than 11 rats from under a chicken house, one after the other, all baby rats. Eventually, it went back and brought out the mother rat as well. If we destroyed the stoats, the rat world would increase enormously. I have particulars of a case sent to me only yesterday where one stoat killed II rabbits in half an hour. That is again an illustration of what I mean by ensuring that the balance of nature is maintained.

Practically all the birds feed themselves and their young almost entirely on in sects. For instance, I take two very well-known birds, the nightjar and the cuckoo. About 80 per cent. of the food of those birds and their young is composed of insects. The big family of bluetits and other kinds of tits is well-known for eating a most colossal amount of all forms of insect pests. It has been proved that 100,000 song thrushes, which are not likely to be pests, within three months can consume up to 5,000 million insects, caterpillars and so on. There is the example in California of the two big valleys of Sacramento and Joachim, where it has been proved that it takes 193 tons of insects each day to feed the young of one specimen of bird alone, the meadow lark. Surely 13 tons is a pretty efficient way of preventing or getting rid of pests.

With those figures in view, why are birds who have done this job specifically mentioned in the Bill as a pest, while the insect is entirely left out? That does not seem to me to make sense. There is no question about the insect menace all over the world. It is one of the greatest menaces which the human race has to face. That is no exaggeration. The insect menace is moving round the world practically unchecked. Those who have lived abroad know what locusts are like. They make a cloud which comes up and literally darkens the sun, it is so vast. I have myself sat in a train in India which was quite unable to move from the station because millions of locusts were sitting on the line. As the engine tried to advance, it squashed the locusts, until the wheels would not go round. That example is more dramatic than can be provided by our home-bred insects, which do not go quite so far, but which are still active. There are caterpillars of all kinds, and flies, such as the onion fly and the carrot fly. There are the leather jacket and the wire worm. They all do the most colossal amount of harm in this country and they should be denominated "pests," without any doubt.

Our only cure, according to the Bill, is to poison, kill or get rid of them, in other words, to destroy them. Why not prevent instead of having to destroy? It should be made crystal clear in Part III of the Bill that prevention is our first objective. What happens in this matter of insect pests? May I give an example of the folly of waiting until we have to destroy instead of having prevented? For fruit trees, which are subjected today to the attacks of most vigorous insects, a tar oil wash is advocated, as most people know. When it was first started some time ago, the treatment was once a year. A little later it was ordered that it should be three times a year. Today it is seven times a year. Think of the folly of thus waiting for our insects to get to that condition and then squirting at them with poison, which they gradually absorb and seem to begin to like, because they require seven doses instead of one. Pests, like other living things, acquire immunity, and we have a vicious circle in consequence.

I am firmly convinced that if we obey the laws of nature pests will be reduced to a minimum. Let us remember that injurious pests rarely attack healthy plants and trees, any more than diseases attack healthy human beings or animals. The first step in prevention of the spread of pests is to give our attention to that greatest of all preventives, a healthy soil. It is a real preventive of human, animal and plant diseases. Instead of scattering poisons about the land, which does nothing but harm because it kills the useful insects as well as the bad ones, let us concentrate first upon a healthy soil. We shall then have good crops of vegetation producing healthy animals and human beings because they themselves are healthy. When a man is healthy he is also happy, and that is a very great consideration.

Unless insects are included in it, this Part of the Bill becomes, to all intents and purposes, useless. Unless prevention is the first object of this Part of the Bill it equally becomes useless. All animals birds, weeds and insects have their uses in life. It is interesting to remember that the most exquisite and beautiful flowers that we know in this country today are weeds in some parts of the world. Therefore, a weed of itself is not necessarily bad. It is in the increasing of weeds and the breaking down of the balance between the useful and the useless that we have the most serious problem today. I emphasise again that the balance of nature is the sacred secret. Birds cannot eradicate insect pests, but they can and do very definitely prevent them. I say again that prevention is the great aim and that the insect is the greatest menace.

Therefore, let us encourage their enemies. If the enemies of the insect become too numerous, let us encourage again the enemies of each particular thing with which we are dealing. It is interesting to note that all these creatures and their enemies are merely part of a big plan of nature. The Almighty knew perfectly well what He was doing when He arranged that. Man, working with nature in these matters and maintaining that balance, will succeed. If he does not do so, he will not succeed. There are little, shallow minds which talk lightheartedly about man's conquest of nature. There is no such thing, and the insect world is proving it to us today. Man will never conquer nature, but if he works with it he will succeed. He invariably blames his Maker when things go wrong but fortunately his Maker takes no notice of that and the plan goes on. However, we who have to decide these vital matters, should make no bones about it; there are laws of nature which must be obeyed, and the balance is one of the greatest of these laws. The balance as between birds and animals and weeds must be properly maintained, and if we leave out the most important of all, which is insects, we are heading straight for disaster. That is happening all over the world.

I could give a great many more examples but I do not intend to keep the House any longer. I beg the Government to accept these Amendments which are aimed at two things with which all sensible people must agree. One is the prevention rather than the destruction of pests, and the other is the inclusion of insects, one of the greatest of the pests.

8.0 p.m.

Lord William Scott

I beg to second the Amendment.

I do so largely because we believe that this Measure is not a purely temporary Measure. I further believe that we are rather in the early days of the campaign against insects. It is just as well we should realise that far more damage is done to the crops of Scotland by insects and their larvae than from all the injurious animals and birds. The two main enemies of the cereal crops are the wire-worm and the leatherjacket. No one will doubt that in the years to come those pests must be dealt with very much more efficaciously than they have been in the past. As regards livestock, the most injurious of insects is the warble fly. While one realises that special insects can be dealt with to a certain extent by separate orders, it is only right that when we have a part of such a Bill as this for the control of injurious animals, birds and weeds, insects should also be included.

The Lord Advocate

I have listened to the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) on many occasions and on many subjects but I have seldom heard him speak with such authority, such detail of fact to support his argument and such enthusiasm as he has on this subject of pests. However, I am afraid that we cannot accept his Amendments, much as we sympathise with the underlying feeling which motivates them. In the first place, they are to a great extent unnecessary, because if we are concerned about the destruction of animals and birds and the eggs of birds, a fairly liberal reading of such a Clause would indicate that destruction—particularly the destruction of eggs, or destruction in the more general sense—includes prevention. If we are to destroy certain insects, the easiest way to do that is to prevent them from increasing and multiplying.

Insects are already covered by a variety of Statutes. Under the Destructive Insects and Pests Acts, ranging from 1877 to 1927, the Secretary of State has power to deal with insects, including fungi, bacteria or other vegetable or animal organisms which are causative of a transmissible crop disease. Hon. Members will find with interest, when they come to read it in the Report, that if any of these things are destructive to agricultural or horticultural crops or trees or bushes, an order may be made by the Secretary of State to deal with that state of affairs and with the insects, the fungi, the bacteria and the other things to which I have referred.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

There are also Acts and orders which deal with animal pests—

The Lord Advocate

I am coming to them.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

If the animal pests are mentioned particularly here under the same terms, why should not insects be included?

The Lord Advocate

It is not necessary to duplicate legislation, and I am merely trying to indicate what already exists. In so far as Statutes or orders exist, they should be read with this Clause. Under the Destructive Insects and Pests Acts the Secretary of State can make an order and he must specify the particular pests or insects in respect of which the powers are to be exercised. Orders have been made in respect of certain non-indigenous insects like the Colorado beetle to try to prevent their importation and for dealing with other well-established or well-known pests, and I find from the information placed before me—I have not the same personal knowledge as the hon. and gallant Member for Perth—that under the Blackcurrant Mite Order a notice may be served requiring the destruction or treatment of infected hushes. There we have an illustration of the fact that the difficulties referred to by the hon. and gallant Member are already dealt with by existing orders. I must say I was very much impressed by the knowledge that there was in existence an order such as the Blackcurrant Mite Order. Section I of the Destructive Insects and Pests Act, 1927, authorises an inspector generally to take whatever steps he may think expedient to prevent the spread of any destructive insect, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman will appreciate that that is a very wide power under that Statute.

In the case of livestock, insect control would presumably fall to be dealt with under the various United Kingdom Measures dealing with the diseases of animals and the Diseases of Animals Acts. In so far as insect infestation of food, either human or animal, is concerned, no doubt that could be dealt with under the Infestation Order, 1943, which was made under the Defence Regulations. Therefore, it seems to me, inadequately trying to cover the wide territory traversed by the hon. and gallant Member, that we already have machinery to deal with the problem as it arises. We have within the meaning of the Clause a power under the word, "destruction" to use it generally to prevent the growth of these pests or insects, and as a safeguard against the destruction of the birds which the hon. and gallant Gentleman assures us are very useful in preventing the growth of pests or insects, he will observe that under Clause 38 (3) the Secretary of State has powers to reserve certain birds from the operation of the order, and no doubt if there was any case of a particular bird or series of birds being required in order to cope with this pest problem, the Secretary of State could, by order under the Acts referred to in that Subsection, exclude those birds and allow them to get that full consumption which must be the envy of the poor humans who have rather restricted diets on which to live at present.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that all the Acts and orders to which he has referred are for the purpose of dealing with something which has arrived already? That is destruction and not prevention. The only insect pest about which something sensible has been done is the Colorado beetle which we are trying to prevent from arriving. The present Measures will not prevent that, and I am afraid that the results of them will not be what he hopes.

Amendment negatived