HC Deb 28 April 1948 vol 450 cc485-90
Mr. T. Fraser

I beg to move, in page 47, line 10, to leave out "except in a rabbit hole."

This Amendment was on the Order Paper during the Committee stage. I am not sure whether it was moved, but it was discussed with another Amendment dealing with the use of the spring trap. We had a long discussion on the matter and the Government took the view that we have to retain the use of the steel trap to deal with a pest which causes loss of valuable foodstuffs by the depredations it makes in different parts of the country. However, it was clear that on all sides of the Committee there was a desire to be rid of the use of the steel trap altogether. My right hon. Friend has given further consideration to the employment of the steel trap and to what was said in Committee about its employment. Having regard to the arguments then used, the humanitarian considerations advanced, and to the fact that hon. Members on all sides of the Committee were anxious that farmers and landowners should be required to deal with the rabbit pest by other means than the use of the steel trap, he decided to put this Amendment on the Order Paper. I think it will be generally accepted by the House.

Mr. J. S. C. Reid

Of course, everyone in every part of the House would welcome the abolition of these traps if they were assured that there is some practicable alternative method of keeping down this extremely destructive pest. Have the Government accepted the Amendment without having in mind any alternative which is adequate to keep down rabbit stocks? If so, I wonder what are going to be the consequences. If there is an alternative, it is essential that we should be told what in the view of the Government is a practical method of dealing with this pest. We cannot suddenly accept the Amendment on humanitarian grounds without facing up to the practical alternative. We have seen certain persons inclined to take that view in the past and the results were not by any means happy.

I am sure the Department examined this matter very closely after the English Bill was in Committee when, I understand, there was a long discussion on this, and I understand that in the English Act these traps are still allowed. Has the right hon. Gentleman, or the Under-Secretary, received any practical advice as to the effect of this Amendment? If they have we ought to be told what it is. If there is any reasonable alternative method of dealing with rabbits, everyone would welcome the Amendment. If there is such an alternative we would have expected it to be discovered by the Government long ago, considering the importance that was obviously attached to this matter a year ago in England. We ought to be told what is the Government's view and whether there is any reasonable chance of an alternative being successful. If that is the position, I find it difficult to understand why the provision was inserted in the Bill in the first instance.

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

There is a very simple alternative, and a very desirable alternative. All we have to do is to organise the poachers, and we will get rid of the rabbits.

Mr. Snadden

I wish to reinforce what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) said. We are facing an extremely stringent food position, and possibly this matter has not been fully explored. What are the alternatives if we do away with the steel trap? It is difficult to gas rabbits on very rocky ground, and if they are gassed they cannot be used for food. Snaring is only effective when the grass is long, and that method cannot be used in the winter. If this Amendment is agreed to, we shall put on to an already small labour force a heavy burden. I am very keen to see the abolition of the steel trap, which I dislike very much, but I would like to know if, before it was decided to put down this Amendment, there was proper consultation, not only with the humane society people, but also with those responsible for the production of the nation's food. There is a danger of a great loss of food and, possibly, a great increase in the millions of rabbits which there must already be in this country.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. McLean Watson (Dunfermline Burghs)

To the best of my recollection there was no opposition to this proposal during the Committee stage. In our discussions upstairs we agreed that the spring trap should be abolished. I suggested a means whereby rabbits could be trapped not only in the rabbit hole, but outside. When the poacher goes forth he does not go armed with a steel trap. He does not use a steel trap in a rabbit hole. According to the Bill, a steel trap is only to be used in a rabbit hole and not outside. There are other means of trapping rabbits in rabbit holes. I suggest that the snare, the weapon used by the poacher is the proper thing to use in order to catch rabbits. The use of a steel trap in a rabbit hole is a brutal affair. I hope that we shall stand by the decision reached in the Committee upstairs. The Secretary of State undertook to have the matter reviewed before this stage of the Bill. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen can rest assured that other methods than the use of the steel trap could be found for dealing effectively with the rabbit nuisance.

Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)

One of the difficulties about putting this Clause into the Bill is that it will be extremely hard to enforce its provisions. There is no wholly satisfactory practicable alternative, at any rate during the winter. In the summer when there is plenty of grass it is relatively easy to use snares. Is it not possible to use an improved trap? Recently a constituent showed me a steel trap with a rubber grip which came down on the rabbit. That trap would kill the animal if it went in from one direction, and would hold it if it went in from another direction. The difficulty about the use of the steel trap is that a leg is apt to be broken and the animal may be held in great pain for a considerable time. I did not see this trap in use, and I kept my fingers well out of the way. If it is true that the trap would hold the animal without breaking any bones, that would remove the trouble attached to the steel trap. Would it not be possible to insert words such as "a steel trap of a design approved by the appropriate authority"? It is a principle of legislation that one should not make a law which one is unable to enforce. Nobody likes the steel trap. Everyone would like to avoid the cruelty involved in its use. If we could have a steel trap which did not cause cruelty, it would be better to use that instead of putting something into the Bill which cannot be enforced.

Lord William Scott

We are all aware that rabbits are not only vermin but pests. This Bill is designed to assist agriculture. It is not a Measure for the preservation of rabbits. If we accept this Amendment the obvious result would be, somewhat similar to the result of an action which is being discussed in another place at the moment, the preservation of rabbits. I hope that the Lord Advocate will tell us whether any single section of agriculture has supported this Amendment. We know that certain humane societies have been extremely anxious for many years to get rid of steel traps. We are well aware that steel traps are horrible instruments, but until such time as something can be put on the market to take their place, it seems desirable that in a Bill to assist agriculture we should not do anything to assist one of the farmer's worst enemies, that pest and vermin the rabbit.

The Lord Advocate

I cannot follow the trend of this Debate, bearing in mind the Debate which we had on this topic in Committee upstairs. If there was one subject on which there was complete unanimity at the end of a discussion during Committee stage, it was that we should consider removing from the Clause the words: except in a rabbit hole, in order to prevent the continued use of the steel trap in Scotland. I can under- stand the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) putting forward his argument. I can excuse him from the impeachment, because the discussion took place on one of the few days when we had not the benefit of his presence. Therefore, I cannot hold him as committed to the general view which was expressed. The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) suggested that the words "in the open" should be added to the Clause to permit the use of the steel trap in the open. The hon. Member for Cambridge-shire (Mr. Stubbs) spoke to an Amendment which he had on the Order Paper advocating the abolition of the steel trap altogether. After he and various other hon. Members had spoken, the Secretary of State said that he would give sympathetic consideration to the argument that these traps should be excluded from use. The hon. Member for West Perth then informed the Committee: In view of that assurance, for which we are all grateful, I am prepared to withdraw the Amendment. I think that we are all agreed in our dislike of the use of the steel trap. I do not want anyone to think we are in favour of it. [OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee on Scottish Bills, 3rd March, 2948; c. 524.] Not only did we get the support of the hon. Member for West Perth—

Mr. Snadden

Not for its complete abolition.

The Lord Advocate

—but we got the support of the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie), who not only gave his own view, but rehearsed, as usual, the views of all the other Members on the Committee on the point. There was complete unanimity in the Committee. I cannot understand why opposition should now arise from hon. Members opposite to something which was conceded as being desirable—

Mr. J. S. C. Reid

I certainly did not express any opposition. I asked whether, before putting this Amendment down, the Government had had regard to the practical consequences, and I asked what those consequences would be. If the Lord Advocate can tell me that they have done that and that the practical consequences will be desirable, of course there is no opposition.

The Lord Advocate

Again, I willingly exclude the right hon. and learned Gentleman from my impeachment. I intended to deal with the points he has raised. We are left with snaring, gassing or shooting. As usual in Scotland a movement is always going on whereby we are experimenting with a view to ascertaining what further humane methods could be adopted. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead said that England rejected this a year ago, but we have prided ourselves on the fact that we have always been in advance of England where agriculture is concerned. We introduced the restriction on the use of the steel trap in the rabbit hole 50 years before England did so, and I think, therefore, we need not he persuaded by the fact that England accepted this a year ago.

Mr. Reid

I used the English position merely to point out that the Scottish Department must have had its attention directed to this matter at that time, and I did not in the least argue, and I do not argue now, that we ought to follow England. All I say is that the discussion on the subject in England must have set inquiries afoot with the Scottish Department, and if a practical method was found to deal with the situation it is rather surprising that this ever appeared in the Bill at all.

The Lord Advocate

As we are very much a democratic institution, we left this matter for consideration by the Scottish Grand Committee, and the Scottish Grand Committee were quite obviously unanimous in the view that this should be taken out of the Bill. We are giving effect to that unanimously expressed wish —expressed after a very full Debate—and in those circumstances I do not think it is necessary to rehearse the arguments. We do hear representative opinions from interested bodies, and we have regard to those opinions, but in the last analysis the people to whom we give regard are those who constitute the House of Commons or the Committee of the House of Commons which is examining the Bill. In view of the unanimous opinion expressed during the Committee stage and the arguments advanced in favour of this Amendment, we have put the Amendment forward and we trust that it will be acceptable to the House.

Amendment agreed to.