HC Deb 01 July 1948 vol 452 cc2435-40

Lords Amendment: In page 47, line 15, leave out "of a spring trap."

Mr. T. Fraser

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This Amendment and the following two Amendments in lines 16 and 20 bring us back to the question of the employment of spring traps for killing rabbits. We discussed this matter at some length during the Committee stage, and it was also discussed very fully in another place. When the Bill was introduced, we proposed that the status quo in regard to the employment of spring traps should be maintained. During the Report stage we provided for the complete prohibition of spring traps, and the Amendment which I am now asking the House to accept provides that spring traps shall be permitted only if they are of a type approved by the Secretary of State, except that the Secretary of State may by order authorise the use of other traps. What we have in mind is the ordinary gin trap, which is being used at the present time, and it will be used only by the authority of the Secretary of State.

One of the Amendments provides that the Secretary of State may by order restrict the nature of the land on which he will grant authority to use a trap of a non-approved type. At the end of the day, when he is satisfied that there are sufficient supplies of traps of an approved type to satisfy the needs of those whose business it is to destroy these destructive animals, he may by regulation withdraw all authorisations given. My right hon. Friend has given a lot of thought to this matter. He was appreciative of the desirability of limiting to the utmost the employment of instruments which are cruel in their use. It was for that reason, and in response to the views expressed on Committee stage, that he moved the Amendment during the Report stage prohibiting the use of steel traps. It was evident then that the Government were not wholly satisfied that the rabbit menace would not increase as a result of the complete prohibition of the spring trap.

The matter was discussed at great length in another place, but since then we have had the strongest representations from agricultural interests in Scotland. I myself, during an extensive tour of agricultural areas in Scotland, spoke to many farmers, and others whose interest it is to protect crops, and nowhere did I find anyone who believed that we could keep the rabbit population within reasonable limits at present if the gin trap was prohibited. These Amendments seem to be the right kind of compromise, having regard to the humanitarian considerations which have been advanced from time to time.

If they are accepted, the Clause will provide for the Secretary of State by administrative action, to limit the employment of the gin trap. When the regulation is made—and when that will be I do not know—providing for the complete prohibition of the gin trap, or any other trap which is not approved by my right hon. Friend, the House will have an opportunity of considering the matter. There is no doubt that if the gin trap were prohibited now the rabbit menace would increase, and there would be a considerable loss of valuable food in Scotland.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I hope there will be a little further elucidation of this Amendment, because although legal brains have been at work trying to interpret the expressions of opinion in Standing Committee, and in another place, I believe it leaves a lot to be desired from the point of view of clarity. I represent an agricultural constituency, but there is also a section of the population in Scotland which will look upon this Amendment as an attempt to interfere with private enterprise. I refer to miners, who are also interested in rabbits. The penalties which can be inflicted upon poachers can be regarded as being rather harsh; £20 for the first offence and £50 for the second offence will alarm those who engage in this kind of enterprise. I think the national union of rabbits has every reason to compliment itself upon its great victory in this Bill, and upon the humanitarian views which have been expressed in relation to the war on rabbits. I only wish that the same humanitarian feelings had been expressed about war against human beings.

In Committee, we spent the better part of two hours, and in another place they had a very long Debate, talking about the humane way of exterminating rabbits. By this Amendment the instruments which are to be used, the new kinds of traps, have to be approved by the Secretary of State. By considering it a great crime to shoot a rabbit during the first hour after sunset, we have set our way towards humanitarian considerations in the extermination of these animals. I only hope that the House, which has spent so much time in considering the humanitarian aspect of killing rabbits, will apply the same point of view when it comes to discuss the slaughter of human beings.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Stubbs (Cambridgeshire:)

I want to join with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) in his criticism of this Amendment. The Bill prohibits the use of steel traps in a hole and the English Act prohibits the use of them on the ground. In Committee, we were nearly unanimous about the use of these new traps, and I am astonished at this Amendment, because it was made clear then that it was cruel and inhuman to use these steel traps. The traps must be approved by the Secretary of State. What is the trap, and how will it be used? I doubt very much whether my right hon. Friend has seen a trap that is supposed not to be cruel. In my opinion, all steel traps are cruel. I should have thought that he would have brought a trap here, and showed us how it works. Suppose a rabbit catches one of its paws in a trap, and has to stay in it all night. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary would not say that that was not cruel. Why leave this matter to the Secretary of State? Why should not the law decide to prohibit this cruel instrument of torture to rabbits? According to the regulations made during the war, and still in force, rabbits are vermin, and must be destroyed. Why not use humane means of destroying them? Why use a cruel instrument to destroy them? Why not poison them? Rabbits destroy far more food than they themselves provide, and we must take care that they do not destroy crops.

I come from a purely agricultural constituency. Only last week I was on a farm where rabbits had destroyed a ten-acre field of Brussels sprouts. The field belonged to a landlord, but the tenants had to go to the expense of wiring the field to keep the rabbits off. If in the interest of food production we have to get rid of rabbits, let us do it in a humane and not a cruel way. It is not English, nor is it Scottish, to use an inhuman instrument such as it is proposed to sanction here. We have had no description whatever, of this trap, but to my mind steel traps, no matter what the construction, are cruel and inhuman. I will not vote for this Amendment, and the fact that we convinced ourselves in Committee that these horrible things should go makes me oppose this Amendment still further. I say that in these enlightened days it is not necessary to use these cruel instruments to get rid of rabbits. The only proper and humane thing to do is to abolish the use of steel traps once and for all.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

I support the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Stubbs). I was disappointed to hear the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) miss the opportunity to quote from a poem by Robert Burns on the wounded hare, which tells of the agonies which these poor creatures suffer when in traps

Mr. Emrys Hughes

The hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) misunderstood what I was saying. I was not advocating inhumanity to hares or rabbits; I was claiming that the same consideration should be given to human beings as is given to hares and rabbits.

Sir W. Darling

I observed that, and the irrelevancy was also apparent to other hon. Members. Instead of human beings, the hon. Member for South Ayrshire could have discussed the poem on a wounded hare which was written with such force and vigour by Burns when he was a resident of the hon. Member's constituency. This is an unsatisfactory Amendment. We hear today a great deal about scientific research. It is now within the compass of the Secretary of State for Scotland, if rabbits are vermin and have to be destroyed, to approve this cruel means of destruction. I think it is a little foolish that the use of these traps can only be permitted under the special permission of the Secretary of State. Surely this was an opportunity for him to ask that within the next 12 months he should receive designs and patterns for the painless extermination of rabbits, if they are vermin. Not only would that be an opportunity of stirring up the Scottish inventive genius, but it would be an opportunity of setting up a new Scottish industry.

Instead of that, the Secretary of State has accepted this Amendment from the Lords as a compromise, and the use of these traps can be continued under his special licence. That is a very inadequate way of approaching the problem. If this is an evil, it is a cruel way to stamp it out, and I am sure there is a more forthright way of carrying it out than is proposed in the Amendment. The farming industry should be allowed to use its own resources. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire indicated that in his constituency there were a large number of voters—and I take it they were his supporters, too—who used another method of exterminating rabbits. I personally would rather see an irregular approach to the extermination of rabbits persisted in, instead of the use of steel traps.

Nothing has been said about the value of the rabbit for food. I am informed that the ordinary rabbit contains more protein than a chicken, and far from discouraging rabbits, the Secretary of State might well encourage them for food, because food is a very important matter at the present time. Instead of that, the Secretary of State says of this great and previous evil, "I will perpetuate it, though I will no longer perpetuate it generally, but under special licence given under my own hand." I think that is unworthy of him.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Western)

I should be very sorry if the unusual and entertaining combination between Cambridgeshire, South Ayrshire and South Edinburgh were to weaken in any way the intention of the Government to accept this Amendment. I never could understand why on the Report stage the Government inserted an Amendment in the Bill that the use of spring traps should be prohibited for killing hares and rabbits, nor could I understand at whose instigation that Amendment was inserted. It was not at the instigation or request of any agricultural body in Scotland, because, as the Joint Under-Secretary has told us, he has ascertained that informed, experienced agricultural opinion in Scotland views with the greatest alarm the spread of the rabbit menace and feels that it would be quite impossible to keep that menace within reasonable bounds unless it can continue to have the use of traps.

Much as I agree in my heart that the use of steel traps is undesirable, I feel that the way in which this Amendment has been worded is the right way. The Secretary of State is allowed by regulation to continue the use of spring traps until such time as a proper trap can be produced in sufficient numbers to keep the rabbit population down. As I say, I hope the Secretary of State will not weaken in his support of the whole of agricultural opinion in Scotland, that it is the right thing that this Amendment which the Lords have inserted should be supported by this House.