HC Deb 10 May 1948 vol 450 cc1734-7
52. Mr. Symonds

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether, in view of the inconclusive results of the inquiry carried out by the Agricultural Research Council, he will instruct agricultural executive committees to refrain from ordering any further mass destruction of rooks until further investigation has been made.

53. Mr. M. Philips Price

asked the Minister of Agriculture what instructions or advice he has sent to the county agricultural committees about the destruction of rooks this year.

60. Mr. Donner

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is aware that his recent directive to county executives for the destruction of rooks is causing anxiety on scientific as well as on humanitarian, grounds; and if he will modify this, directive, at any rate, pending further inquiries as to the probable consequences of the large-scale destruction of these birds.

61. Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is now in a position to make a statement on the advantages and disadvantages which have resulted from the wholesale destruction of rooks by agricultural executive committees.

Mr. T. Williams

With permission, I will make a statement at the end of Questions.


Mr. Williams

I am glad to have this opportunity of correcting certain misunderstandings regarding the efforts of my Department to prevent undue damage to crops by rooks. The investigation carried out in 1944–1946 by the British Trust for Ornithology disclosed that there had been a marked rise in the rook population in several areas. This may 'have been associated with a decline in rook shooting owing to the scarcity and high cost of cartridges. It has also coincided with the increase in corn acreage in the past ten years. I accept the findings of the investigation that on balance the rook may do as much good as harm to agriculture, but that where numbers are excessive' the harm can outweigh the good. Nor is there any doubt that farmers in the neighbourhood of large rookeries find it profitless to sow grain crops and are discouraged from maintaining the tillage area.

In the circumstances, the county agricultural executive committees, which already possess powers under the Rooks Order, 1940, were asked as in previous years to take action, preferably by the voluntary collaboration of landowners and farmers, to reduce rook populations where dense concentrations exist—with the emphasis on "dense"—and they were asked to ensure that the action taken was effective. It was suggested to committees that, in those few cases where directions had to be served, they should prescribe a definite number of rooks to be destroyed, and that numbers should be about 80 per cent. of the rookery population. The destruction of young rooks to the extent of 80 per cent. of the normal population of the rookery will still leave sufficient young rooks to maintain the rookery but at a smaller instead of an increasing size. There was and is no intention of reducing the national rook population by heavy and indiscriminate slaughter all over the country and the memorandum issued to committees will not have that result.

Effective action can only be taken during a short period of the year, and I am confident that committees will use their powers with moderation and discrimination.

Mr. Symonds

As it is agreed that rooks do good as well as harm, is it wise to carry out their destruction on such a vast scale? Who is to decide when destruction has been carried far enough, and how?

Mr. Williams

I do not agree that destruction is taking place on such a vast scale. Only in areas where the number of rooks is excessive will action be taken.

Mr. Philips Price

Is it not an exaggeration to say that 80 per cent. of the rook population should be destroyed? Does not my hon. Friend mean that 80 per cent. of the young birds should be destroyed and that the number of older birds tare thus not affected at this rate.

Mr. Williams

Action is taken against the rook population in any area where it is recognised as excessive.

Mr. Chamberlain

The Minister has said nothing about the humane destruction of these birds. Will he give appropriate instructions, because there has been a good deal of evidence of inhumane treatment?

Mr. Williams

If the hon. Member will bring to my notice any cases of inhumane destruction, I will look into them.

Mr. Skeffington-Lodge

Is the Minister aware that it is inhumane to destroy birds while they are nesting? Referring to Question 60, what are the "humanitarian grounds" as applied to the destruction of rooks?

Mr. Williams

I have not gone into the scientific methods of humane destruction of rooks. If the hon. Gentleman presses for details of such methods, I shall need to make further inquiries.

Mr. Assheton

How did the Minister decide upon the figure of So per cent.? In many cases a smaller figure may be required, although in some cases 80 per cent. may be correct.

Mr. Williams

This figure was arrived at after consultation with, and advice and guidance from, county executive committees and farmers in areas where rooks are known to be excessive.

Mr. Assheton

Has every county committee agreed that 80 per cent. is the correct figure?

Mr. Williams

There is not an excess in every county.

Mrs. Leah Manning

Will the Minister give a pledge against the shooting of rooks when they are nesting? That aspect is disturbing to most hon. Members. How will it be known when 80 per cent. of the birds have been destroyed?

Mr. Williams

I cannot give any such assurance because, if all the young fledglings are permitted to mature, they will be infinitely more difficult to destroy.

Mr. Vane

Has this drive against rooks been undertaken under pressure from the Kitchen Committee?

Mr. Williams

I can assure my hon. Friend there is no collusion between me and the Kitchen Committee.

Mr. Chamberlain

Some hon. Members appear to laugh at the idea of humane treatment of these birds. Will the Minister undertake to consider this matter and then give instructions to the county committees accordingly? This is most important.

Mr. Williams

I can assure my hon. Friend that this is not a matter for humour. It was very carefully considered before we made the statement today. Expert scientists and practical farmers were consulted before we took a decision. If there is to be a reduction in the rook population in specified areas where there is known to be an excess, now is the time to do the job.