HC Deb 23 February 1949 vol 461 cc1903-50

Order for Second Reading read.

5.22 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. George Brown)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This Bill is concerned with a matter of considerable importance to us, and indeed to most of the world: the drain on our food supplies caused by the depredations of certain pests. It replaces and makes a number of improvements to and modifications in the Rats and Mice (Destruction) Act, 1919, and the Infestation Order of 1943. The immediate purpose of this Bill is twofold: to make good deficiencies in existing legislation for the control of rats and mice; and to make permanent provision for preventing loss of food from infestation by insects and mites. The Bill applies to Scotland, and as my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture have had considerable discussions with various groups and interests I do not think we need expect any objections in principle; indeed, I hope that will be so, although we shall of course be glad to hear individual points which will no doubt be raised.

To begin with, let me say something about the world problem, which is in fact the general background of the problem with which this Bill seeks to deal. We as an importing nation, and at the same time one of the world's primary producing nations, are vitally interested in this problem of infestation and the depredations into our food supplies by pests, both in its international aspect and in its particular application here at home. Our dependence on food supplies from outside means that we must play our part very fully and vigorously indeed in the activities now going on in the Food and Agriculture Organisation and other organisations, to secure vigorous action against pests in other countries so that the exportable food surpluses of the world may be increased and the demands upon them decreased. Also, we have to take care to secure, so far as we can, reductions in the importation of pests in the food supplies that come here, not only in order to reduce the wastage of those food supplies as they are coming here, but to guard our own home produced and home stored food supplies against depredations from foreign seaborne pests coming in in our imported supplies.

I was interested to see if one could state at all dramatically the size of this world problem. At the F.A.O. conference in London in 1947 the experts of the 26 member States tried their hand at estimating the size of the problem. Their view was that in cereals alone the volume of loss from pest infestation was not less than 10 per cent. of the total world production. They further tried their hand at turning that into some other figure, and their calculation was that, in 1947 the loss of bread grains and rice totalled no less than 33 million tons. Thirty-three million tons of food would represent the major part of the rations of something like 160 million people for a year, or, put in another way, of perhaps the whole of the population of Latin America from North Mexico to Cape Horn; or of far more than the population of the African Continent; or it might even represent the rations of the people of this country for four whole years. And cereals and rice are not the only things attacked. Oil seeds, cocoa and dried fruits are all very strongly attacked by pests of this kind.

Therefore, as a world problem it is a very serious one indeed at a time when human pressures upon the world supplies of food are bound to increase at a rather more rapid rate than the supplies of food will increase to meet that growing pressure. In this country the loss is well below 10 per cent. of our total stocks, partly due to our own particular conditions, and partly due to the fact that we have tackled this problem with rather more energy in recent years than some other people. Nevertheless, a 10 per cent. loss in our total stocks is obviously for us, now and for some time to come, a matter of very serious concern, particularly since it is largely a preventable drain upon our resources.

That is the background of the Bill which I have the honour to introduce on its Second Reading. The Bill is itself divided into three parts, and I thought it might be useful to the House if I said a word or two about each part in turn. Part I deals specifically with the problem of making provisions for the better control of rats and mice. We lose in this country something of the order of two million tons of food a year in this way; it might be rather more, but as far as we can tell it is about two million tons a year. How many rats and mice do it we cannot tell. All we do know is that there are far too many of them. I am told that a rat eats probably some 50 lb. of food a year, but fouling and spillage plus its eating will be responsible for wastage at the rate of not less than 1½ cwt. per year, so that it is clearly a sizeable problem.

Few people are fond of rats, and most will agree about their extermination. But many—of whom I confess I am not one—feel less repugnance towards mice, the wee sleekit, cow'rin', tim'rous beastie, about which Burns wrote. But that "wee tim'rous beastie" is, nevertheless, the creature which enters anywhere and multiplies rapidly wherever it can find food and living room. A little while ago an interesting case came my way when officers of our Department found it necessary to fumigate a small building containing a small quantity of barley which had been there for a short time. After fumigation no fewer than 600 dead mice were picked up in the building; and no doubt when the sacks are removed considerably more will be found. In one case recently, after fumigating treatment 30 infant mice were found in one nest. I am told that the total progeny of a single female, which comes to maturity very early, may exceed 100 in the course of a year. So the problem of the mice population is a very difficult and important one indeed.

The provisions of Part I have been worked out in consultation with the various national associations of local authorities, with the result that we have on this Bill, as on so many of our Measures, been able to get agreement on the broad design. The relevant Act in this field is the Rats and Mice (Destruction) Act, 1919, under which the primary duty to destroy rats and mice was placed on the individual occupiers of premises, but only to the extent that action by the occupier could be held to be "reasonably practicable." The sole duty upon the local authority was to enforce that rather limited requirement against the individual occupier, where it was "reasonably practicable" for the occupier to take action. The local authority had no power to do what was required because of that weakness. The Act largely fell into disuse.

Mr. Alpass (Thornbury)

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary has referred to consultations with the representatives of local authorities. Can he tell the House whether the County Councils' Association, which is deeply interested in this question, was also consulted?

Mr. Brown

The consultation included all the appropriate national associations of the local authorities, of which the association mentioned by my hon. Friend is one. Under this Bill we are trying to remedy the obvious defects of the 1919 Act, and the primary duty and authority is placed on the local authority to secure satisfactory conditions throughout its district under the general supervision of the Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend. Owners as well as occupiers are made responsible for complying with requirements where it is appropriate that that responsibility should be laid on them.

Clause 1 defines the local authorities for the purposes of Part I as being those responsible for the local public and port health services. It seemed to us that the right thing to do was to tie up this question with the public health services. Under the 1919 Act, powers were vested in the county councils with the right of delegation to borough, urban and rural district councils. Under this Bill the duties are not placed on the county councils but on the borough, urban and rural district councils, in addition to the Common Council of the City of London, the Metropolitan borough councils and the county borough councils. In Scotland, the responsible local authorities will remain as in the 1919 Act; the county councils and the councils of large burghs, with the addition of the only port local authority in Scotland, Glasgow.

Clause 2 charges the local authorities with the clear duty of maintaining proper conditions throughout their districts. Clause 3 provides that occupiers are required to give notice to the local authority if a substantial number of rats and mice are on their premises. This requirement to give notice does not preclude the occupier himself from taking action, and we hope that he will do so. The purpose is to limit the amount of inspection of private property and the number of officials engaged on such work. Agricultural land is treated rather differently, in that it is exempt from notification since it must be presumed that agricultural land can never be entirely free from the presence of rats and mice in substantial numbers. Other premises may be exempted administratively if it is felt that similar conditions of rat attraction may normally be expected.

Clause 4 authorises local authorities to serve notices upon owners or occupiers requiring necessary steps to be taken, subject always to a right of appeal to the court where structural work is ordered. Should a person fail to comply with these requirements when he has received a direction notice from the local authority, the local authority may then carry out the work and debit the cost to the defaulting owner or occupier. There is provision under Clause 5 for penalties for failure to comply with a notice properly and duly delivered. One of the problems is how to ensure that we get at the root of the trouble. For instance, an occupier of a house or factory may well be killing off pests on his premises which are breeding on some other premises.

Clause 6 provides therefore that where there is a block of property comprising separate occupancies it shall be treated as one unit for the destruction of rats and mice in a comprehensive operation, and power is given to a local authority to enter after seven days' notice to carry out the necessary treatment and to apportion the cost over the several occupiers. The power of this Clause does not extend to the execution of structural work. For that purpose we still have to proceed under the powers of Clause 4. Clause 7 makes a useful provision for recovery of expenses incurred by a local authority under Clauses 5 and 6.

Clause 8 empowers the Minister to make regulations requiring steps to be taken to prevent the escape of rats or mice from ricks at the time of threshing or dismantling. This makes no change to the existing situation, but gives permanent effect to the powers we already operate as a result of orders under the Defence Regulations. As a result of putting duties under this Part of the Bill upon owners and occupiers, it will be necessary for the local authorities to be able to get information about the nature of the interest in the land of the persons concerned, and Clause 9 will enable this to be done.

Since we are placing so many duties upon the local authorities, it seems to us to be necessary to provide some financial relief against the additional expenditure they will incur as a result of vigorously carrying out these duties. Therefore, Clause 11 gives power, subject to compliance with such conditions as, with the consent of the Treasury, the Minister may prescribe, for grants to be made equal to one half of the net expenditure incurred by local authorities.

Clause 12 is of the utmost importance. It is of the utmost importance that there should be systematic action so that the good work in one district shall not be prejudiced by indifference in other districts nearby. It is necessary, therefore, that the functions of the local authorities should be exercised in such a manner as to conform to the general requirements. Accordingly, this Clause enables the Minister to give directions to the local authorities with power for him to take action in default of compliance. Local authorities are given the right to be heard before default orders are made.

This Bill has particular application to those concerned with manufacturing, storing, transporting and selling food, and it contains provisions for the prevention of loss of food by infestation. It would be as well if I attempted to define the word "infestation." It means the presence of rats, mice, insects or mites in a number or under conditions which involve an immediate or potential risk of substantial loss of or damage to food.

Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

Does that include cheese?

Mr. Brown

I am not sure whether the hon. Member normally eats blue cheese, but I think we will leave that little bit of infestation for his enjoyment.

We are dealing here with the special problem in relation to insects and mites resulting from free conveyance of many destructive species in the primary food supplies we import. As ships move about the oceans they are liable, unless proper action is taken, to build up in their cargo spaces populations of numerous kinds of destructive insects which attack new cargoes taken on board. The development of insect life proceeds on the voyage, it being particularly rapid in cargoes moving through the tropics. The result is that infestation of varying intensity is present in almost all raw food commodities when they reach our ports. Before the war this had been going on for many years, and destructive species had, in fact, spread and established themselves in many of our warehouses, mills and stores. They have a high rate of reproduction and they proceed to consume or spoil our food. The infestation of cereals, particularly of grain and cereal offals, has been a cause of great concern to commercial interests.

The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in 1938–40 conducted a survey of this problem which clearly demonstrated that imported insects were carried through trading channels and on to our farms, where in turn they infested home-grown grain destined for mills and for maltings. The position during the war has to a large extent not made the problem any less. In order to deal with this we are working at the moment under temporary powers derived from the Defence Regulations. It seems vitally important that permanent powers should be made available to provide for the continuance and intensification of the work, and that we are now doing. Accordingly, the provisions of Part II of the Bill are based very largely on the provisions of the Infestation Order, 1943, although there are certain important modifications. One of these is that whereas the order relates to everybody, Part II of the Bill restricts the obligations to food undertakers, and the functions of Part II will be exercised by the Minister as against the functions under Part I being exercised by the local authorities.

Clause 13, which is the beginning of this Part of the Bill, provides that food traders, subject to certain exceptions, shall give notification to the Minister where infestation is present in stocks of food in food premises, in transport or other equipment used in connection with food. In that sense it follows the example of Clause 3 in respect of rats and mice, except that notification is given direct to the Minister and not to the local authority. With a view to the prevention of the spread of infestation, the Minister is empowered to make regulations, after consultation with the appropriate trading interests, for controlling the movement of notifiable commodities. One of the necessities in this respect is to prevent the spread of the pests and at the same time not to interfere with, or hold up, the necessary transport of traffic at the ports. In the exercise of this power, full regard will be paid to the necessity for avoiding the interruption of essential food supplies, or interference with the working of the ports, or the prompt turn-round of ships.

Clause 14 states that the Minister will continue to have the authority he now possesses under temporary powers to issue directions for the control of the use of infested premises, or, the use of premises for storing infested commodities, and for the application of appropriate measures for remedying and preventing infestation. There is also provision under Clause 14 enabling the Minister to direct the destruction of food or food containers if they are so infested as to be beyond remedy by any form of treatment.

Clause 15 gives the right of appeal to the courts against directions which may be issued under Clause 14, which require either the carrying out of structural works or the destruction of food or food containers. Clause 16 provides that where there is a failure to comply with a direction the Minister may authorise entry and execution of the work at the expense of the person in default, corresponding to the similar powers under Part I of the Bill. Clause 17 lays down the penalties to be enforced in respect of offences under the Bill. Clause 18 will interest the House. It enables the Minister under this Part of the Bill to delegate the functions which he has to carry out to willing and competent local authorities. He may then reimburse them so far as expenses incurred by those local authorities are not otherwise recoverable. The question of how and when to delegate powers, will be one to be considered in each case, and I can assure the House that my right hon. Friend will delegate only where he is satisfied that the local authority is able and willing to carry out the duty properly.

Part III of the Bill, which is from Clause 19 onwards, is devoted to general provisions for the carrying out of the functions and duties of the first two Parts of the Bill. In Clause 19 power is given to the Minister to ensure that methods employed by businesses furnishing pest control services shall conform to approved standards. This is quite obviously consistent with the policy of insuring that the utilisation of modern scientific knowledge and efficiency, which shall be rendered to the public, shall be, in fact, in accordance with the generally accepted standards. I do not think there will be any objection to the provisions of that Clause. Indeed, in some way it is less onerous on the undertakers than is the Infestation Order, 1943, which it replaces.

Clause 20 is interesting. There is a definite duty placed upon local authorities under Clause 2 to ensure that their districts are kept free from rats and mice. This duty must apply to agricultural as well as to urban land. Clause 20, indeed, provides that where notices requiring destruction of rats and mice may be served under Clause 4 of the Bill, they shall not be served under Section 98 of the Agricultural Act, 1947. The effect of this is to have one authority responsible in its area for the destruction of rats and mice, and to remove from the county agricultural executive committees the responsibility for enforcing statutory requirements in respect of rats and mice under that Section. We ought to make it clear that the county agricultural executive committee's power with regard to other pests is left unaltered, and they will still be able to provide pest destruction services to farmers on repayment terms under the provisions of Section 101 of the Agriculture Act, 1947.

Of the remaining Clauses only one calls for comment, and that is Clause 23. In view of the special conditions which obtain in the cases of vessels and aircraft, this Clause expressly provides that the application of the provisions of this Bill, subject to such exceptions and modifications as circumstances may necessitate, shall be by Order in Council. The provisions of Part I shall not be applied in the case of vessels trading or going between places in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man. I hope that this rather brief examination of the Bill will show that provisions are essential to mitigate the enormous and very serious loss of food through the ravages of these pests.

Mr. Austin (Stretford)

Is it the intention of my hon. Friend to refer to Clause 21, which states that the Bill is not to become effective until 31st March, 1950. If the matter is so urgent, why have we to wait another year before we put it into operation?

Mr. Brown

The work is now going on under regulations and there will have to be considerable discussion to bring the Bill properly into operation. Those consultations will have to take place with all sorts of people who are closely affected, and we feel that there will have to be that amount of time before we can get the Act, when it becomes such, into force.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

My hon. Friend used the phrase, "destruction of rats and mice and everything else." Does that include foxes?

Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend will be aware that under the Agriculture Act, 1947, my right hon. Friend has all the powers he needs to deal with foxes and there is no need to reinforce those powers. I have made the point clear about Clause 20. We are progressing as vigorously as we can, but until we get the Bill we cannot draft and make the regulations. The date is put in with that reason in mind.

It is clearly impracticable to eliminate the whole of the loss but by vigorous work here and elsewhere in the world we can sensibly diminish the loss, to the benefit not only of ourselves but of every country in the world. We have played a very worthy part in this as in all other aspects of the work of the Food and Agriculture Organisation in urging vigorous work on the international plane. It is very important and proper that in our own land we should intensify our own attention to the problem in order that our lead elsewhere may be built up and become a much stronger moral lead. It is in this context that I have great pleasure in commending the Bill to the House, and I hope that it will be accorded a unanimous Second Reading.

5.51 p.m.

Major Sir Thomas Dugdale (Richmond)

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I want to congratulate the Joint Parliamentary Secretary upon the manner in which he has introduced the Bill. We have become accustomed to hearing him winding up Debates on behalf of his Ministry during recent months, but this is the first occasion on which he has introduced a Bill, and we offer him our sincere congratulations on the manner in which he presented it.

The Parliamentary Secretary explained that the object of the Bill is to replace and amend the provisions of the Rats and Mice (Destruction) Act, 1919, and to give further statutory authority to certain Defence Regulations which have been continued during the last year or so under the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act. I say at once on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends that we support the principle of the Bill, as we are very conscious of the loss of food of all kinds caused by the species of pests coming within the ambit of the Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary gave some very interesting F.A.O. figures about the loss in world production. It is astonishing that possibly 10 per cent. of the world production of cereals is lost to human beings by the action of pests. The Parliamentary Secretary said that, as far as figures for this country could be assessed, probably upwards of two million tons annually were lost by this country through these animals.

The Bill has already received a very thorough and close examination in another place, and I. believe that its examination there and the Amendments that have been made since its introduction by the Government have considerably improved it. However, I have several comments to make upon it in regard to both principle and detail. Part I deals exclusively with rats and mice, and we are all agreed that it is an improvement on the 1919 Act because it removes the direct onus for the destruction of rats and mice from the individual and places it upon the local authority. This is clearly stated in Clause 2 (1), but much discussion took place in another place concerning the interpretation of the word "infestation." That word is now omitted from Part I, but Clause 3 (1) states that: The occupier of any premises shall give to the local authority forthwith notice in writing if it comes to his knowledge that rats or mice are living on or resorting to the premises in substantial numbers. I ask the House to note those words "substantial numbers." There is no doubt that the wording is an improvement on the original drafting, but we can and must do very much better than this before the Bill becomes an Act. A few words have been added to Clause 4, dealing with the power of local authorities, which make it more difficult to comprehend. The Clause speaks of: Rats or mice resorting to any land … or are likely to resort thereto in substantial numbers. Surely it is beyond the wit of man to assess whether rats or mice are likely to resort to any particular premises?

Mr. Sargood (Bermondsey, West)

Is it not the case that certain forms of commerce will attract rats and mice.

Sir T. Dugdale

There may be certain very specific instances, but the Bill refers to the whole population and the ordinary citizen in his own home. Ordinary citizens will hold very different views about the word "substantial." Ordinary citizens hold very varied opinions about rats. Some citizens are horrrified at the sight of one rat and there are other people, I am told, who see many rats which do not exist at all. The wording here gives rise to a problem. The House will also agree that there may be very varied opinions as to whether there are on any particular premises a substantial number of mice. Again we go back to the word "substantial." If one mouse which comes out of the wall finds a carpet which it likes, it may result in havoc which the following morning might easily lead one to suppose that a substantial number of mice had been destroying the carpet, whereas in fact there was only one. It is very difficult for either an ordinary citizen or a local authority to decide if rats and mice are in substantial numbers. This phrase is very ambiguous and at a later stage we must examine the phraseology very carefully and improve it.

I want to ask a question about Clause 4 (3) which refers to agricultural land. In the last passage of his speech, the Parliamentary Secretary referred to Clause 20. It is not clear how this subsection links up with Clause 20, which amends the Agriculture Act, 1947. I gather that the provisions of the Agriculture Act, 1947, relating to rats and mice do not apply to Part I of this Bill. Is that correct or not? Perhaps the Minister will answer that question when he replies. When subsection (3) is read in conjunction with Clause 20, it is not easy to see what the position is. All hon. Members will welcome Clause 8. It makes permanent the provisions of two Defence Regulations dealing with the threshing and dismantling of ricks, which commends itself to the House. This provision was not in the old 1919 Act and the Defence Regulations on this question have been helpful in saving a lot of grain.

May I refer to a wider aspect, the financial provisions of the Bill, because I am sure the House will agree that it is our duty to examine carefully all expenditure of public money, however, desirable the object may be. There seems at the moment to be a feeling in some quarters that if one questions the amount of money spent on any subject, it means that one is against the objects of the Measure. My hon. Friends and I favour the objects of this Bill, but we think that what it will cost should be examined on the Floor of the House.

It would appear from the Ministry of Agriculture Vote for 1948–49 that infestation control cost £183,472 for salaries and a further £480,000 for services, making a total of £663,472. That is only one section of the cost. To that, under a different part of the Vote, we must add the cost of pest control. That cost £121,000 for salaries and £530,000 for wages and materials, a total of £651,000. From what I have said, hon. Members will appreciate that the total cost, according to the Civil Estimates for 1948–49, amounted to the large sum of just over £1,300,000.

Mr. Alpass

May I ask a question on that point? In my county we make a large number of contracts with farmers and others for destruction, and in some years we actually make a profit. Are those net or gross figures of expenditure?

Sir T. Dugdale

The hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) and I always seem to think on the same lines because that is the information I want to elicit from the Minister. My first question is whether the Minister of Agriculture is satisfied that the country is getting value for money, as this would appear to be a large sum to spend upon rats and mice, insects and mites, unless he is wholly satisfied on this matter. Then I come on to the point of the hon. Member for Thornbury, and I ask the Minister to tell us how much of this sum is recoverable from farmers and other members of the community for works done by the pest officer in their own area. Is he satisfied that the amounts recovered from these large figures are approximately satisfactory county by county, or is the position in, say, the part of the world represented by the hon. Member for Thornbury good, and 80 per cent. of the money spent is recovered, and in other parts bad, and they get only 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. back? The House should be informed of the position.

In reply to the question whether the figures I have quoted are gross or net, I have gone into the details of these figures because, on looking at the Ministry of Agriculture Vote for 1938–39, I found that money voted for insects and pests during those years amounted to £420 in 1938 and £610 in 1939. There has thus been an enormous increase. These latter figures do not include salaries, I believe, but were for actual services rendered. However, they are infinitesimal compared with the enormous sums we are now spending.

I have one further point of principle to make on this part of the Bill. It was touched upon by the Parliamentary Secretary but I am not certain, and my hon. Friends are anxious about it. I refer to the overlap between the pest control officers working under the county agricultural executive committees and those working under local authorities. For example, let the House consider the case of an ordinary rural district anywhere in Great Britain. The pest officer under the agricultural committee is doing good work—certainly in the cases of which I have experience—in killing rats in the hedgerows and on the farms. However, he has no authority to deal with rats in the villages. Although it may be perfectly clear to him that he can clear up all the rats in one area, he has no authority to follow the remnants and clean up the villages because they are the responsibility of the officer who is under the local authority.

The officer working for the local authority probably does not attend the same area as the pest officer of the agricultural committee at the same time. There is much overlapping in their work, and this must be the time when that difficulty should be cleared up. Therefore I ask the Minister to deal with this point, and I hope he will be able to assure the House that the opportunity is being taken to co-ordinate these two bodies in order that they may go forward, not getting in each other's way, but being helpful to each other and under a common head. Looking to the future, probably the right head is the local authority.

Now I turn to Part II, which deals specifically with the infestation of food. In this part of the Bill the word "infestation" is used. The Parliamentary Secretary read out the definition which is now embodied in Clause 27. That was put into the Bill as a result of the discussions in another place, and my hon. Friends take the view that the new definition is a great improvement on the original. Clause 14 (4) empowers the Minister to give orders for the destruction of infested cereals. These are wide and important powers, and my hon. Friends and I feel strongly that before any such order is given the matter should be referred to a panel of arbitrators to advise the Minister whether destruction is justified, or whether the infestation could be stopped through treatment such as fumigation. There appears to be no provision in this Clause, or elsewhere in the Bill, for such arbitration, and I hope the Minister will deal with this point when he replies. It is true that under Clause 15 provision is made for appeals to magistrates' courts against such directions, but the activities of weevils are hardly likely to wait for such deliberations. The whole House will agree that infestation is something which should be dealt with on the spot immediately.

Mr. G. Brown

That has been answered by the Clause.

Sir T. Dugdale

I do not think so because the procedure would take too long. Arbitration bodies should be set up which could deal quickly with cases and take decisions, in order to obviate any delay such as the magistrates' courts procedure would entail. This question of weevils is the only aspect of the Bill about which there may be any controversy. I should like to know whether the Minister, under Part II of the Bill, will be able to deal with the existing deplorable situation regarding stored barley. As long ago as 13th December last my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) asked the Minister of Food: What quantity of imported barley has been in store since 1st May, 1948; and how much of this is now infested with weevil. The Minister of Food replied: About 72,000 tons of imported barley have been in store since 1st May. 1948. We have had trouble with weevil in about 35,000 tons Of it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December, 1948; Vol. 459, c. 816.] It will be agreed on all sides of the House that this is a very serious state of affairs. Will the Minister, who is responsible for the operation of the Measure, be able to deal with a position of that kind? In other words, under Clause 14 can he treat another Government Department as an occupier or ordinary individual when he finds, in the occupation of a building by another Ministry, abundant proof of infestation by weevil? If he cannot remedy the complaint by releasing the barley to help the feedingstuffs ration, can he order its destruction to prevent its infesting other barley, if no other form of treatment is possible? I hope we may be assured that, in this aspect at least, there will be co-ordination between the Ministers of Food and Agriculture.

Part III contains supplemental Clauses. I have already referred briefly to Clause 20 and asked for information about the amendments to the Agriculture Act, 1947. I would refer also, as did the Parliamentary Secretary, to Clause 23. We on this side are glad to note that as a result of Debates in another place this Clause has been introduced which lays down that the provisions of the Bill shall be applied to shipping only by Order in Council. This will ensure that in giving such directions as he may consider necessary the Minister of Agriculture must consult with the Ministry of Transport. We are wholeheartedly behind the Government in their endeavours to stop the destruction of food by mice and kindred animals and shall devote ourselves particularly to the detailed provisions to ensure that the proposals contained in the Bill are carried out in the most economical and efficient manner.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Alpass (Thornbury)

There can be no doubt whatever that any steps which can be taken to reduce the numbers of rats and mice will be to the great advantage of the country. I have had some little experience in this connection because for some years during the war I was Chairman of my county urban pests committee. We set up a very efficient rats and pests department, with a very competent county pests officer and his assistants. We were successful in entering into agreements with local authorities throughout the county who allowed us to undertake the important work of rats and mice destruction on their behalf.

I am wondering whether the new machinery envisaged in the Bill will work as effectively as that system has proved to be, certainly in my county. All local authorities are not equally energetic in carrying out their duties. Without reflecting upon any of them, I found that some local authorities took a much greater interest in this problem than did others. I am hoping for more information when the Minister replies, but, as I see it, it will be necessary for all local authorities to establish their own pests departments, necessitating the appointment of pests officers and other individuals.

I do not attach too much importance to the cost of these steps because the advantage to be gained in saving food will outweigh any reasonable cost which is entailed. I am, however, wondering whether these new offices when set up will be efficient and economical in attaining the objects we all desire. I am not very much in favour of local authorities, especially the smaller authorities, having to appoint their own officers to carry out certain important duties, because not all of them have the necessary financial resources. It is for that reason, perhaps, that they do not always carry out their obligations as one would wish.

The adequate and efficient inspection of premises is absolutely necessary if the objects of the Bill are to be achieved. In my own county this inspection is carried out very thoroughly. We do not wait to be informed by people that premises are infested, for very often infestation is discovered by our inspectors in the course of their duties. I should like the Minister to say whether he thinks the new set-up—placing the duty upon local authorities rather than allowing county councils to operate in conjunction with them—is the best method of dealing with this evil.

I hope the efficient operation of the Bill will result in a great diminution of the tremendous losses now being suffered in the destruction of food and that we shall be able to look forward to a much more satisfactory state of affairs in both the elimination of pests and the conservation of food.

6.20 p.m.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)

I agree that this is a very important Measure, and that, in general principle, we are in support of the Government. I also agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) that the wording is a little strange in places. I do not want to expatiate about the word "substantial" as applied to rats and mice. I admit that I love the picture of rats and mice "living on or resorting to premises in substantial numbers." My schoolboy days and memories of the Pied Piper come welling up I see the picture of rats and mice "resorting" to one's farm, and it is a wonderful picture. I am reminded of the man who was sitting at the Zoo when another man rushed up to him and said "There's a moose loose." He merely turned round and asked "Are you talking Scots or English?" I think that gives the House some idea of the danger of using the word "substantial" in relation to rats and mice. There are heavy penalties involved in Clause 5, and that makes the question of what is or is not "substantial" one of considerable importance. It may be a very difficult thing to get the right word to describe what we mean, and the question whether "substantial" is the right word or not is one which we may discuss in some detail at a later stage.

In Clause 12, and throughout the Bill, there is a tendency to take away rather unduly from the powers of the local authorities. I am wondering whether we should not pass a Bill like this, tell the local authorities to get on with it and leave them to do the job, because, after all, local authorities are very conscientious people and I think their powers are being more and more filched from them by the central Government. I should like the Government to give consideration to the idea of leaving them to do the job, when I think they will find, particularly in rural areas, that the local authorities are fully competent to deal with this Bill when it is passed into law.

I think perhaps it was a little typical of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that he, being a good Socialist, made no mention of Clause 22 which deals with the power of entry. The Clause was passed by without mention at all, but I hope we shall be given every safeguard in the matter of power of entry, because we wish to make certain that this power is properly used; it is becoming already too frequent in the country today. In Clause 25 and elsewhere, I should like it to be clearly stated in the Bill itself that these penalties and restrictions on all matters which affect the private owner will equally affect any Government Department or Ministry which is in the position of an owner either of property or of foodstuffs. Government Departments must not be allowed to get away with it when the private individual is penalised.

In Clause 27, we have some more interesting linguistic trouble, for we are told that "land includes land covered with water." The picture of the Minister and his disinfestation officers claiming a right of entry on to land covered with water suggests possibilities that might be well worth seeing. I see the Minister, water wings in his hands, going to land covered with water, and with his disinfestation officers, his rodent officers and even the humble rat-catcher following him up. It is a wonderful picture Is it sensible to talk about "land covered with water," because it leads one to think of a very big problem? There is the question of infestation by water-rats, which is a very important matter to those concerned with river banks and so on. I ask whether this provision is intended to deal with that sort of thing or is merely to cover cases of flooded land. I really would like to have some explanation of what is meant by "land covered by water." After all, any loch or lake is land covered with water, and there are no limits. I think we should have some limits as to what kind of land covered by water is intended in the Bill. Then there is the question of the right of entry on any land, which is dealt with in another Clause, and we are told that land includes any buildings or part of a building. It seems to me that we are getting on to more dangerous ground here because there is an important principle involved in the limits of buildings to which there is a right of entry.

In general, I still bitterly regret, as I did on a previous occasion, that the question of infestation by pests of all kinds is not taken up completely, but only in a piecemeal fashion. The fact of the matter is that every pest should be attacked at its source and should be prevented from appearing—not merely destroyed when it does appear and that is an unfortunate limitation about this Bill. I should like to have seen, in addition to rats and mice, the mole included as a pest, because the effect of the activities of moles is simply tremendous. Certainly in my part of the world the mole problem is a very serious one. Next comes the question of weeds. The last time such a Bill came before the House, I was in despair because it dealt with rats and mice and weeds, but not insects. This time, it deals with rats and mice and insects, but not weeds.

It does not seem to me that we shall ever get a real grip of the problem unless we realise that there are pests of many kinds affecting food production, the health of our people and the fertility of the land, and we must take them all as a serious problem and prevent them from appearing. In all our legislation on this subject, we are only tackling the problem at half volley, and I hope that something will be done to include the whole of these pests. On another occasion, I once went into the question of what might constitute other pests, and I did mention that I thought that the man who went about squirting poison of all kinds on the land was the worst pest of the lot, and I still think so.

I welcome this Bill, and I think it will be welcomed in Scotland. I see that Scotland gets a mention in it, and that is always nice. I notice that in Scotland the interpretation of a "rick" shall be that of a "stack," but I ask the Minister whether it also includes a "soo."

6.28 p.m.

Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South-Western)

I would like to say how much I appreciated the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary in introducing this Bill and explaining some of its purposes, which at first had seemed somewhat obscure to me. I speak as one who is interested in this Bill and who has killed thousands of rats. I hate the sight of them on a farm or in any place of human habitation, and one of my regrets is that in recent months, through my attendance at this House, I have not been able to exterminate the rats on my own farm.

Mr. G. Brown


Mr. Dye

It is a shame, I quite agree, and I am glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say so, because I had a contract with his Department under which they were to destroy them all. In spite of that, the rats have increased. When I found all these rats about, I was worried and I wondered why his officers did not come along and kill them. I found out that they had called one day when I was out and that they had left a little piece of paper. I also discovered that, until I signed three or four papers three or four times, his officers are not able to come along to kill those rats.

This has to be done each year. If we are to have a service for the destruction of rats, surely it must be continuous, and if a farmer wishes to engage the services of Ministry of Agriculture officers for the destruction of pests, he ought to be able to enter into a continuing contract so that they can give continuous service. Quite recently my daughter told me that in cycling to school one morning she counted along about one and a half miles of road no fewer than 12 dead rats which had been killed during the night. It is an indication of the number of rats in the neighbourhood, if motor cars, in the hours of darkness, run over and kill a dozen rats in that distance. It shows that there is this problem in Norfolk, and we desire to find a solution for it.

In studying this Bill it seems to me that it puts on the local authority the onus for destroying the rats and mice in its neighbourhood. Our trouble is that the district and urban councils in the county are rather small and are unable to employ a sufficient number of skilled staff to do the job. All those available in the country of Norfolk have been employed by the Ministry of Agriculture. If, therefore, the councils have wanted a job done they have had to enter into a contract with the Ministry for the latter to send their men along to do it. As has been pointed out by an hon. and gallant Member opposite, a difficulty arises because officers of the Ministry of Agriculture are limited to agricultural land whereas the rat is not. In a village the rat can be on the farm or among the cottages. When an effort is being made to exterminate the rats in a neighbourhood, those undertaking the task need to be able to cover the whole area, village and farms together, without any distinction. Otherwise, people who are endeavouring to exterminate the rat, using different methods, will prevent the other people from being successful in their task. It is, therefore, most essential that it should be possible to cover a whole neighbourhood.

The question of a large enough staff to undertake the task arises. It is not merely a question of one man. In the case of there being a large number of rats on farms and in the villages, it might be necessary to bring in a number of people to make a thorough job of it.

Mr. Turton

Or a dog or two.

Mr. Dye

A dog or two can clean up a rat or two, but if there are hundreds of rats they can breed faster than a dog or two can deal with them. A good cat is most valuable in dealing with rats, but as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary pointed out, one doe will produce a litter of a dozen every six weeks and rear them. In the course of being reared they will destroy many chickens and much grain. The hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) drew attention to the words "in substantial numbers" It is said that where rats are believed to be or are found in substantial numbers, action should be taken. That is too late. We should not begin attempting to exterminate rats when they are in substantial numbers at any given place, because they do not congregate in any one spot. If there is a large number of rats on any one farm there are bound to be some in the neighbourhood. From the national point of view it would be much better to have six men chasing two rats than to have two men trying to deal with thousands of rats.

Extermination as soon as possible should be the aim. With the means of modern science it ought now to be possible to exterminate rats and mice in this country—to take areas and work from them and completely exterminate both pests in the course of a few years. To deal continually with congregations of rats in different places is not sufficient to deal with the problem. In dealing with farm buildings, certain granaries and other buildings where grain is stored, we must pay more attention to the construction of rat-proof buildings if we are to deal successfully with this problem.

One of the difficulties we have had as a district council in dealing with the problem of rat destruction in our locality has been to collect the charges from a large number of occupiers or owners of property where an effort has been made to kill the rats. We have often found that difficulty. Having gone into innumerable cottage properties to destroy rats, the cost of collection of the charges has become exorbitantly high. That is quite unnecessary, and it is of the utmost importance that the rats should be killed. If the local authority undertakes the task for all the people in its neighbourhood it should be a local charge and not an individual charge. I should like to see that made possible under this Bill.

Not only have I killed a great number of rats, but I served on the Pests Committee of the war agricultural executive committee for Norfolk for the greater part of the war. From that experience, and also as a result of a conference last year of all local authorities in Norfolk, together with the officers of the agricultural executive committee to consider this problem, the conclusion has been reached that rather than that the separate district councils should try to cope with the problem in their own localities it would be far better to have one authority for an area like Norfolk with the duty of destroying the rats throughout the neighbourhood. Therefore, when I see that in this Bill the onus is being put upon the district councils, and when I know that some of those councils have populations of about 3,000 or less, it seems to me that such an area is too small for the engagement of efficient staff. It would be better if it were done by the county as a whole and if one authority were to be able to employ the staff to do the task. I hope that when we consider this Bill in Committee we may be able to consider whether district councils might not ask the county council to undertake the task for the whole neighbourhood.

Brigadier Peto (Barnstaple)

Is the hon. Member aware that in the case of some district councils that is already being done?

Mr. Dye

I am aware of that, and it is because of the recommendations from the conference of authorities in Norfolk of which I was chairman, asking for that to be the future method, that I have raised the matter here.

6.40 p.m.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

The hon. Member for South-Western Norfolk (Mr. Dye) has raised one of the fundamental points of this Bill and I am in agreement with much of what he has said. On looking at some of the small local authorities, it would seem that the area which they control is too small to have a really efficient killing over a wide enough space. That is one of the points which may be gone into in a fair criticism of and inquiry into this Bill. The hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) also appealed for unity in dealing with all pests. He referred to the mole as a pest and to the fact that it is not included in this Bill. The destruction which moles do is colossal, and I do not think that it is sufficiently realised. It would be far better that they should be destroyed now when moleskins may be valuable.

The hon. and gallant Member for Perth asked a question regarding land covered with water. If there is any land covered with water which is liable to produce, to hold and to spread rats, it is in tidal areas such as on the Dart, that most beautiful of rivers, or the Tay, the Clyde, the Thames or the Severn. Where there are tidal waters the production of rats is encouraged. It is made easier for them to travel, and dealing with them becomes more difficult.

Frankly, I do not think that this Bill goes far enough. It deals with two of the minor agricultural pests, rats and mice, and the second part of the Bill deals also with other pests. The trouble with both rats and mice is that they increase too quickly. But there is another sort of appalling pest which we have in agriculture in my part of the country, and indeed all over the country, and that is Government officials. It is my belief that they stop far more food production than anything in the way of rats and mice, and I should like to see included in the Bill the power to kill a very large number of Government officials, or to deal with them in some adequate way. If anything is done to hinder agriculture and to stop production it should be dealt with, and they, as well as rats and mice, do tend to lower the amount of food which we can produce in this country. If we could get the number of these pests back to the pre-war level and even lower, the farmers and those engaged on the land would have far more time to deal with rats and mice, and they would be able to grow much more corn.

I do not maintain that I am as great an expert as the hon. Member for South-Western Norfolk in dealing with rats, but may I give one fairly simple illustration? I have no doubt whatever that pest officers and professional killers of rats and mice can be of great value in a great many cases, but they can also be of less value. We should not only enlist the cooperation of people in the locality to use their time whenever they can to kill the odd rat and mouse which may be left behind, but we should also use what is obviously the best means of all for destroying rats before they increase into vast numbers, and that is the ordinary common cat. On my own farm we had a great deal of trouble with rats. A number were killed by the pest officers, but they always left some and others kept coming. We therefore thought the best way would be to have a good surplus of cats, and now we rarely see any rats at all. That is the best means of killing such lesser vermin. I cannot now discuss the only means of killing larger vermin. We should do a great deal more to encourage the owners of land to keep really good cats which would kill rats.

I was particularly interested when the Parliamentary Secretary read out Clause 4 (3), of the Bill, which says that the local authority can serve a notice and then they: shall forthwith inform the county agricultural executive committee for the county in which the land is situated. The mere sending of notices does not seem to be very valuable. It may, of course, relate to a farm over which there needs to be special supervision, but surely because a few rats have been reported on a farm it is not necessary to inform the agricultural executive committee and apparently expect them to take notice of it. It is no use doing it unless they do take notice.

With regard to Clause 3, I agree with what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale). When we use the words "substantial numbers" we are putting something into the Bill which needs a greats deal more explanation than has yet been given. In the same way we want to know the number of officials who will come in under the Bill. At the end of the Financial Memorandum—which I will not discuss now—it says there will be e4 no significant increase" in expenses. What is a "significant increase"? To one right hon. Gentleman who is a Member of this House the £ means nothing. It might cover 10 or 15 or even 20 million. To the present Exchequer it might mean several million. It might mean anything in these days when the Exchequer has such a very loose and careless hand on our national economy. At the proper stage we should endeavour to bring out some figure, and I have no doubt that the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) will be able to do that.

There is also a point which has not been sufficiently noticed. Under Clause 8 there is power to deal with ricks. The whole point of this Bill is that certain war-time regulations, which have been in existence for a great many years, are now becoming part of our permanent Constitution. Although that may be good in the case of this Bill, I would point out that there is an ever-growing tendency on the part of this House to accept quite naturally as part of our permanent Constitution things which were introduced for specific war-time purposes. I am not at all sure that a vast amount of the work proposed to be done under this Bill, apart from the inspection of food, about which I will say something later, could not he much more efficiently done by ordinary individuals if they were encouraged to do it instead of being overburdened by rules and regulations which prevent them from carrying out their proper duties in connection with their farms.

There is a point in Clause 14 about which I should like to have some information. Clause 14 does not go nearly far enough. It goes far enough as regards the ordinary trader or the ordinary people of the country, and it gives the Minister certain power to deal with places where food is liable to be wasted. I believe that at the present time the places where food is most likely to be wasted are not under the control of the Co-operative Societies, or the big or little stores, but under the control of the Ministries and other Services. Under this Clause very much greater power should be given to the appropriate Minister to deal with wastage of food. That is a point which has already been touched upon by more than one hon. Member.

It is a well-known fact that at the present time we have vast reserves of sweets in this country. These reserves have been piled up over a period of many months, and are obviously subject to destruction by mites, weevils or mice. Where stocks are deliberately held up like that by an incompetent Minister, there should surely be some means under a Measure of this sort of inflicting a penalty on the Minister concerned and of forcing him to release the natural food of the people instead of keeping it for release at the time of a by-election. I would draw the Patronage Secretary's attention to that point.

As hon. Members repeatedly point out in this House, there are quite needlessly great hold-ups of food by Ministries when it would obviously be better to release it. I am the last person to say that in time of war and danger we should not have adequate reserves of food, but where there is an over-stocking of food it is a great encouragement to vermin of all descriptions. I have said a few words in support of the Bill and a few more about the ways in which I think it might be improved; but, frankly, it is just one more Bill to lay burdens and instructions on this poor, wretched country of ours which at the moment is being governed by this really appalling Government.

6.54 p.m.

Mr. Burden (Sheffield, Park)

I am sure the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) will pardon me if I do not attempt to follow his somewhat imaginative discourse, or rather his flights of fancy, because one would be taken too far afield if one attempted to deal with them.

I should like to add my congratulations to those already extended to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on the very able manner in which he submitted the Bill to the House, and I am sure that the Minister must be gratified at the reception which the Bill has received from hon. Members generally. It would be a mistake, however, to regard this Bill purely from the rural aspect which has been emphasised in the Debate so far. Great play has been made of the word "substantial" which appears in Clause 3. I know a family living in a house in a Metropolitan borough in which the rats are so numerous and so substantial in size that a small child of just under five years of age has had to be persuaded they are really kittens, in an attempt to assuage her anxiety. I am afraid there will be no difficulty in such circumstances in determining whether the number is a substantial one or not.

This Bill is one of those very useful departmental Measures in regard to which there must have been a considerable amount of negotiation behind the scenes in order to get agreement. I am glad to hear that the Minister has had consultations with representatives of the various local authorities. I expect that will enable him to discount some of the pleading which has been submitted on behalf of the county councils. But I venture to submit to the Minister that this Bill does transfer the responsibilities from one set of authorities to another. In those circumstances, and in accordance with a well-established precedent, the Bill should contain provisions protecting the local government officer from any loss, etc., arising out of the transfer.

I also notice that there is a further power in Clause 12 (2) which enables the Minister to empower any person named in the order to exercise the functions of a local authority. I am sure the Minister would agree that it would be quite wrong, if a local authority is negligent in carrying out its duties and the Minister has to instruct someone else to carry them out, that the local government officer—who may have been anxious to get on with the job, but was prevented by a negligent local authority from doing so—should suffer. I suggest that in those circumstances the Minister might consider, when making an order, the protection of such an officer. I hope that the Minister will be able to give satisfactory assurances on those two points.

I wish to make one further point with regard to Clause 2, which deals with infestation. I remember when in the railway service how very carefully we watched cargoes of imported grain for any indication of weevil. Constant watch was also kept over grain stored in warehouses. I remember, too, how some of us had sleepless nights if weevil did appear. Very stringent measures were taken by the department to deal with infestation. Will the Minister exercise powers over the Transport Commission in regard to grain passing through docks or warehouses, or in transit, in order to watch for any trouble arising from weevils?

This is a very useful Bill, despite what has been said by one or two hon. Members. I believe it will help us in dealing with the very real problem arising from the destruction of foodstuffs. I wish the Minister well and hope that he will be able to assure me on the points I have raised.

7.1 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Corbett (Ludlow)

I thought the Joint Parliamentary Secretary rather pessimistic in some of the figures he gave. If rats were to eat food at the rate he estimated, I do not think there would be any stocks of corn on my farm, judging by the numbers of rats I have seen about it. I should like the Minister to clarify the actual responsibility for the destruction of rats. I know that it is all laid down in the Bill, but I have been trying to picture what would happen if a corn merchant's store in a small country town or village were subject to destruction by rats. The Bill places responsibility on local authorities to ensure that destruction of the rats is carried out, but it goes on to say that it is the obligation of occupiers of land to notify the local authorities of the presence of substantial numbers of vermin. We then find that the local authority can give instructions either to owners or occupiers of premises to take steps to get their rats destroyed or, if necessary, to carry out structural repairs to their buildings.

It may be that the owner or occupier—whoever is actually responsible—does not feel capable of destroying the rats, or of taking necessary steps to get them destroyed, and if he does nothing about it the local authority can carry out the work and charge him the cost. I want the Minister to explain how he visualises the destruction being carried out in the normal course of events. The ordinary householder or occupier of premises is not equipped to destroy rats, and no doubt he would sooner call in an expert, if experts were available. I want to know whether that is to be the general practice and whether each local authority is to make itself responsible for having expert rat catchers and the necessary equipment available for anyone who finds there is a lot of vermin on his premises.

I hope the Minister will enlarge on the powers he expects local authorities to take to enforce structural repairs, because the only sensible thing to do with a lot of old premises is to pull the buildings down and rebuild. The only real security against these vermin is to make buildings of brick or concrete in such a way that rats and mice cannot get into them. I hope the Minister will say a few words about the powers of local authorities to enforce structural repairs, and what sort of costs it is thought fair to impose on owners or occupiers of premises.

7.5 p.m.

Mr. Sargood (Bermondsey, West)

I wish to deal only with one point in the Bill. It is in connection with Clause 22, which deals with powers of entry. At least one hon. Member opposite has referred to those powers and urged that we should be sparing in their use. I do not share that view and I hope the Minister does not. Owing to the rapidity with which rats and mice multiply, one person who is careless about responsibility in this matter can easily neutralise all the efforts made in regard to adjoining premises. I urge the Minister to make it known that he shares the view that these powers should be used as widely as possible.

7.6 p.m.

Mr. Austin (Stretford)

I welcome the Bill and I hope the Government will go forward in making it a very effective instrument in further safeguarding our food supplies. The only note of discord was struck by the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) and the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) who both seemed to object to the central Government having powers of administration over local authorities. They appeared to forget that obviously consultations must have been going on with local authorities and also that Clause 11 contains provision for a very substantial grant to local authorities.

I certainly would not leave this important matter of pest prevention to private enterprise, or to a combination of private enterprise and local authorities, as has been the case in the past. In 1940 I was concerned in running a factory and there we were troubled by rats. I engaged a rat catcher, who agreed that I should pay him sixpence for every tail he showed me. At the end of the day he showed me about 30 tails and I paid him the money. The following evening at the "local" I met the manager of a neighbouring factory and discussed the question of rats with him and told him that I had paid a rat catcher sixpence per tail. He said, "I paid the same man for the heads." That is an illustration of private enterprise getting it both ways.

If, as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary informed us, the estimated annual loss in foodstuffs due to vermin is something upwards of 2 million tons it is a very serious and vital problem. I wonder how much of the rations of the people is concerned, how much cheese, bread, grain and other foodstuffs, which could go towards the feeding of the people of this country. Because of that loss, the problem is most urgent and vital. That was why, when the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was reviewing the provisions of the Bill, I interrupted him to ask him to say a word about Clause 29, which states that the Measure is not to become an effective Act until 31st March, 1950. His reply was most unsatisfactory. He said that the delay was caused by the fact that when the Bill became an Act regulations would have to be made and, also, not until it became an Act could the Government enter consultations with those concerned. That was a most weak and feeble answer and certainly not worthy of the Minister. I cannot see why consultations cannot be undertaken immediately and why regulations cannot be drawn up to hasten the Bill, so that it may become an effective Act, not in March, 1950, but in March, April, or May this year, thus saving a year's valuable foodstuffs which will otherwise be wasted by the depredation of these pests. I do not think an Amendment on the Committee stage is necessary. I believe the process is quite simple and that the Minister can delete that item relating to the Bill becoming an effective Act on 31st March, 1950, and allow it to take its course and become law as soon as it has passed through both Houses and received the Royal Assent. I hope that the Minister will seriously consider this matter. Every grain of food which can be saved from these pests is something in the nature of a service to the country.

Clause 3 transfers major responsibility from the shoulders of the householder, the factory occupier or the occupant of other premises, to the local authority by virtue of the owner or occupier having to notify the authority and leaving it to them to get rid of the pests. I am certain that the local authorities will co-operate. But one matter must be examined. It was made clear by the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for South-Western Norfolk (Mr. Dye) that we shall need a great many more pest officers, rat catchers, or rodent officers, as they are called, than we have at present. It will be necessary to train great numbers of men or women to be responsible for this form of destruction. It may be that the salaries of these officers are not sufficiently attractive to bring in the necessary recruits, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that point.

In conclusion, if the Minister accepts my suggestion and enables this Bill to become law as soon as possible instead of waiting until 1950, then he ought now to undertake a campaign with local authorities all over the country to rid their areas of these pests. I am sure that the local authorities will follow his lead if he makes the proposals and provides an overall plan. There is no need to wait another year before coming to grips with the problem. The Minister's duty is clear. I repeat, he should tackle the matter now by making this Bill an Act of Parliament as soon as possible.

7.12 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I believe that only one speaker has stressed the fact that this Bill deals with urban as well as with agricultural areas. That needs to be stressed, because in Scotland in the cities and towns the problems caused by rats are most serious. I remember that during the first year when I sat as a member of a local authority I had to visit houses which were rat-infested. I have a vivid memory of a man telling me that he had to keep awake at night in order to keep the rats away from his children. It is well known that the whole of Glasgow is rat-infested. Much greater activity is needed on the part of local authorities to deal with the problem. We must face the fact that in the county areas sufficient energy has not been shown in the past. In Scotland the problem of rat-infestation is delegated to the county council. When I was on the town council we had to engage the rat officer employed by the county council. In the county of Ayrshire at that time there were roughly a quarter of a million people. The area covered the big towns of Ayr and Kilmarnock and about half a dozen smaller towns, yet the only person employed to deal with rats in the whole of that area was an ex-policeman who worked on a part-time basis at a salary of, I believe, £100 a year. It was impossible for him to take the necessary steps. As soon as he dealt with the trouble in one place and turned his activities in another direction the pests were reported to be back at the first place.

Under this Bill we shall have a coordinated effort both in the country and in the towns in order to rid ourselves of the rat and mouse menace. The Minister has asked for a co-ordinated effort, and I wish to make one constructive suggestion. We shall be short of labour for this activity, and I think we all agree that we should employ private enterprise. Hunting is supposed to be a part-time activity. Judging from my correspondence, I understand that there is some doubt in the minds of many people about whether there will be an attempt to limit hunting. I ask the Minister whether he could make a concerted effort to transfer some of the energy now devoted to fox hunting to rat and mouse hunting. According to the figures given by the hon. Member for South-Western Norfolk (Mr. Dye) the mouse and the rat are more dangerous and more of a nuisance than the fox.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman must not anticipate a Bill which is coming before us, I think, the day after tomorrow.

Mr. Hughes

I did not intend to anticipate that Bill at all. I intended to suggest, following what was said by the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin), that the 6d. per tail which he gave for rats could be extended, and that a similar offer could be made to the local hunt so that all this energy now devoted to fox hunting could be devoted to mouse and rat hunting. I think that the ladies of the hunt would look after the mice and the gentlemen could deal with the rats.

The hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) said that we needed a big, comprehensive Bill. I regret that in this Bill we seem to be attacking the very small fry. Great indignation has been expressed about rats and mice. The hon. and gallant Member for Perth turned upon moles. Of course, moles are a pest in the country. I am prepared to support a comprehensive attack upon moles as well as upon mice and rats. But where are we to stop? There is a phrase in the Bill requiring the destruction of animals. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that this was a campaign against rats and mice and everything else. Without anticipating any discussion on a Bill which will come before the House in two days' time, I suggest that an opportunity might be given during the Committee stage to the Minister to explain in detail what exactly is covered by the word "animals." He might not be prepared to consider foxes, but he might be able to consider not only moles but, what in Scotland is a serious menace, deer. Because deer are so much bigger than mice and rats, it does not follow that they are not also a menace——

Mr. Speaker

This is skating on very thin ice. The hon. Gentleman is really referring to another Bill in anticipation of Friday's Debate. He must not do that.

Mr. Hughes

I am sorry if I have taken too much licence. I was led away by the hon. and gallant Member for Perth. All I suggest is that the Minister should in the Committee stage make this a really comprehensive Bill so that we can take a co-ordinated effort against pests of every kind.

7.21 p.m.

Sir John Barlow (Eddisbury)

It is not very often that I agree as much as I have agreed tonight with the hon. Member for South-Western Norfolk (Mr. Dye). It was somewhat amusing to hear him talk with such relish and enthusiasm about killing thousands of rats; and it almost savoured of a blood sport. I do not think I may go further along that line tonight, however.

I want to emphasise the great damage which moles are doing in this country at the present time, and I want to ask the Minister either to extend the scope of this Bill to include moles or, alternatively, to use more extensively the powers which I think he already possesses. I believe that very few people realise the amount of damage done by moles in this country.

The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)

If the hon. Member will forgive me, I would remind him that we have all the powers we need in Section 98 (4) of the Agriculture Act, 1947, which includes moles, among other things.

Sir J. Barlow

I think I have said that the Minister already possesses extensive powers but that he is not using them. Apparently the Minister has certain powers to deal with rats and mice under the same Act, but he is not using them adequately, for he is transferring them to this Bill. I hope he will use his powers to deal with rats and mice under this Bill more effectively than he has used his powers in the past. It is because he has not used his powers efficiently in the past that I suggest that the problem of moles might be transferred to this Bill. If, however, the Minister says he has sufficient powers already, I urge him to use them more effectively than he is using them at present.

Not many people realise the amount of damage that is done by moles, especially on the new leys which the Minister is advocating should be used for greater production. It is not only a question of the amount of grass covered by the little mole hills but the very large number of mowing machine blades which are blunted. Machines frequently have to stop because of it; blades are often broken, and this means long delays, frequently in fine weather. Moreover, the mole does an immense amount of damage to root crops. I believe the damage done by moles is very much greater than most people suppose. It is useless for individual farmers to catch moles, because if they are not also caught on adjacent farms they simply come in daily and do an increasing amount of damage. I ask the Minister to treat the mole, although it is so seldom seen, as seriously as it deserves to be treated.

7.25 p.m.

Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin) made a great plea to the House that this Bill should be brought into operation earlier than is proposed. Will it make very much difference if it is brought into operation earlier? After this Debate I am not at all sure that it will. Although many well-deserved congratulations have been bestowed on the Parliamentary Secretary, he has also received considerable criticism from all sides of the House of this little Measure. I think if this Bill were not passed, the effect on rats and mice would be the same as if it were passed.

The most startling figure which was given during the course of this Debate was that given by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) who said that before the war, on his calculations, we were paying some £400 for exterminating rats, mice and weevil, whereas now we are spending £1,300,000. It strikes me that what is happening in this Measure is that which is happening in many other branches of legislation: we are taking away from the citizen the responsibility for looking after his own property and keeping down his rats and mice and we are paying highly-salaried officials to do the job. According to my calculations, before the introduction of this Bill the Minister of Agriculture had 724 officers looking after the problems of infestation control and rat destruction. May I, on the Minister's behalf, answer a query of the hon. Member for Stretford, who I gather has ambitions in this direction, probably after the next Election. The remuneration is undoubtedly good. If the hon. Member qualifies he will become a temporary assistant technical adviser on rat destruction and he will work up to a salary of £650 a year. If he gets better he will get the plum job of technical adviser on rat destruction and then he will get £865 a year. Of course, he might become the Director and get £1,700 a year.

Mr. Austin

Judging by the extensive knowledge of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) he is much more fitted for a position of that character than I.

Mr. Turton

That is quite true, but if the hon. Member is not so qualified he may become a photographer at £432. I want to ask the Minister whether there is any real need for a photographer of rat destruction. I should have thought that it would be far better if we returned to the old-fashioned system whereby the individual kept down his own rats and, if they were too many for him, employed an independent contractor to do it. I have no sympathy with the hon. Member for Stretford who was caught by the old trick of merely going by the tails when somebody else had the heads. In my part of the country we used to employ these old catchers and they used to lay down for our inspection what rats they had caught in the night. Their results were quite amazing. I remember an old man called Rattie Joe, well known in the North of England, where anyone who travels considerably might have met him. He used to come on the farm, but one was not allowed to watch him at work. He went into the corn-rick and at the end of the operation he would show what he had caught. He has caught at night some 50 or 60 rats, not by poisoning them, but by attracting them. The secret of his art was that it was always done by manual work. He killed everything in a humane manner, with his hands, and employed nothing but that innate skill. That type of craft is dying out and I think it is a mistake that it should be allowed to disappear.

I believe the Bill is right in transferring the powers of rat destruction from the county councils to the district councils, because the district councils or the borough councils are the health authorities for the area and they should properly have this power. It is not right for hon. Members to argue, as the hon. Member for South-Western Norfolk (Mr. Dye) argued, that they have not the money to be efficient rodent destructors, because I have been trying to point out to the House that those who have the rats and mice on their premises should make a proper contribution to the cost of destruction.

I know the Minister will answer the query put by my hon. and gallant Friend as to how much of this £1,300,000 in his Vote for rat destruction comes back to him from the farmers and from those merchants on whose premises his pest officers have to go.

Mr. T. Williams

Perhaps it will answer the hon. Member if I tell him that I cannot give an answer about the figure he has mentioned since the £1,300,000 is not in relation to rats and mice but to crop pests.

Mr. Turton

It is quite true. No doubt, when the right hon. Gentleman replies, he will tell us the actual amount that he is disbursing. In talking about salaries I have confined myself to those of the people engaged in rat destruction. I agree that there is some other minor expenditure that comes under other headings. However, we want to be satisfied that there is no undue overlapping in the whole of this service. The point made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond has not been answered today, and I think the Minister must reply to it—about this dual system, with the district councils and their rodent officers on the one hand, and, on the other, the Ministry and its pest officers, who will be dealing with the problem on the fields and in the farm houses and other farm buildings. I should have thought it better if the Minister had handed the work of all his pest officers, in so far as it concerns the destruction of rats and mice, to the district councils, so that we had one service for the farm lands and buildings and for the non-agricultural hereditaments in the country, and the urban properties as well. I think myself that it is wasteful to have these two services. I make no reflection on the Minister's present pest officers, but the time has come to tighten up that service and hand it over to the local authorities.

Now I should like to turn to the other side of the problem, and that is the question of infestation. As I see it—I hope the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—under the Bill local authorities have no power to deal with infestation of food by weevil. They have power to deal with infestation by other insects. I should have thought that in this Measure we would give them power to deal with infestation by weevil as well. The Minister has been asked how far he and the local authorities have power to inspect the infestation taking place on premises occupied by other Government Departments. I hope he will answer that question. This is a very real problem. I think that even the Minister's colleague must admit it. My hon. and gallant Friend referred to the grain that had been in store seven months, half of which was declared to be infested with weevil. The Minister of Food told us about that, and he went on to say: We realise that there are problems of storage of coarse grains, and that is precisely one of the reasons why we made the loan of maize to Eire."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December, 1948; Vol. 459, c. 816.] That was the reason given in the House. If that was the real reason, and if the Minister was not capable of looking after his grain, so that he gave a loan to Southern Ireland, then it would have been far better, if the grain was burdensome to him, if he had given it to the Minister of Agriculture for feedingstuffs.

This is a large problem. There are 54 aerodromes in this country holding 190,000 tons of grain. I should like the Minister to tell us what proportion of that grain that the Minister of Food holds is weevil infested. This is not only a matter for farmers; it is causing great concern to all the merchants also, and will give anxiety also to the Railway Executive who will have to handle this weevil infested grain later, because there will be a danger of contamination of sacks, railway wagons and store houses. This is a problem, I am afraid, that is arising because of the war damage done by the German air raids. Many of the places where grain used to be stored—the grain silos at the ports—have been destroyed, and the Government are having to use these aerodromes. I am not making any complaint about that, but I do ask that when the grain is taken to an aerodrome the Minister of Agriculture and the local authority should be satisfied that weevil infestation does not occur. I am told—and I should like it corrected if it is wrong—that this foreign grain is "topped," as they say in the trade; that is, one sack is placed on top of another sack; and those who are experts in the trade say that that causes very rapid spread of infestation.

I understand that the inspectors of the Ministry of Agriculture even now inspect that grain. Could the Minister tell us what the results of this inspection are, and how far any spread of infestation has been due to delay, or to lack of co-operation between the Ministers concerned? Would he also tell us whether he is satisfied that the local authorities have full power themselves to inspect, and that there is no hindrance put in their way by the Minister of Food or by other Government Departments? I think that, perhaps, other Departments may be concerned. I have spoken about grain and the Minister of Food, but it may be that there are other articles of food and other Government Departments concerned, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams). There are points, quite clearly, that will have to be considered in Committee. I hope that the Minister will consider very carefully the suggestions which have been made with the design of improving this Bill. We do not grudge him the money for the Bill because, I understand, he does not think it will cost more than he is spending at present. Some of us would like to see the large expenditure on pest destruction cut down, and I hope we shall be able to ensure that in Committee.

7.38 p.m.

The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)

I should like to express thanks to hon. Members in all parts of the House for the welcome they have given to this small Bill. I do not think there has been any opposition in principle to any one of the 29 Clauses. The various points raised are really Committee points, and very small ones at that. The hon. and gallant Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale) referred to Clause 3 (1) and the words "substantial numbers," wondering what they meant. The phrase "substantial numbers," according to my very modest education, means substantial numbers. To obtain a more detailed idea of what it means, one refers to Clause 27 and the interpretation of "infestation." That, I think, is the real answer to the hon. and gallant Gentleman.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman also referred to Clause 4 (1) and had a good deal of fun about the words "resort thereto." It must be obvious to every hon. Member and to some right hon. Members that rats do not necessarily eat where they live. They migrate, perhaps, from a whole series of buildings to a food store, do themselves well, and then migrate back again for their night's sleep. This subsection is, perhaps, worth looking at again, and I undertake to look at it between now and the Report stage. Then the hon. and gallant Gentleman asked how Clause 4 (3) linked up with Clause 20. I thought the Parliamentary Secretary was quite clear when he said that Clause 20 simply lifted the words "rats and mice" out of the 1947 Act and transferred them here, so that for enforcement purposes the local authorities have power. That, therefore, seems to me to be very clear.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman then asked about the finance of the Bill. On page iii of the Bill he will see: It is not possible to estimate the additional cost of the expenditure likely to be incurred under these provisions, but grants which are at present being paid to local authorities in connection with the Rats and Mice (Destruction) Act, 1919 (which is repealed by this Bill) are estimated to amount in respect of the year 1947–48 to £255,000"— while there is an additional expenditure of £20,000 for research and that kind of thing. I am afraid it would be just a guess—and anybody's guess would be as good as anybody else's—to estimate what additional cost will be involved once this Measure becomes operative after March, 1950. The figure of £1,300,000 referred to by the hon. and gallant Baronet relates to crop pests and not to rats and mice. That is the simple answer.

Sir T. Dugdale

What is the figure for rats and mice?

Mr. Williams

I am afraid I cannot give the figure out of the document from which the hon. and gallant Baronet quoted. All I know is that the figure of £1,300,000 referred to in the Estimates is for crop pests, and perhaps the figure I have given is just about as near as we can get to that part of our expenditure incurred exclusively on rats and mice.

The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) referred to some 700 or 800 pest officers. Actually, of the headquarters staff, the scientific and executive staff number about 140, regional scientific inspectors 65, and assistant rodent officers and inspectors 100.

Mr. Turton

Will the Minister correct his Vote, for that makes it quite clear that the infestation control division has 424 officers and the pest control division has 300 officers, apart from those to whom he pays wages.

Mr. Williams

I have just given the hon. Member the figures, which amount to 305 for rats and mice. I said also that the other figures referred to crop pests and not to rats and mice. I cannot be clearer than that. The hon. and gallant Baronet also asked whether we were getting value for money. I hope so. County executive committees have their trained pest officers. If farmers cannot undertake the destruction of pests themselves, they invite the services of the county executive committee who, under contract, do the job for the farmers. If they can go into a series of farms so that there can be a real drive from one to another, and perhaps meet another drive coming in the opposite direction, that is the sort of activity which the county executive committee prefer, but they cannot always do it. Some farmers are willing to enter into contracts not only for doing the job for one or two days, and then forgetting it for the next 12 months, but for several visits throughout the year. The trouble is that while some farmers are willing to have the job done effectively, others hold out and make it impossible to have a clean sweep such as we would all like. I hope that the increased powers given under the terms of this Bill will enable that to be done.

Sir T. Dugdale

What sort of percentage do we get back? Does it come out roughly the same, county by county, or are some areas better than others?

Mr. Williams

It varies, obviously, because of the nature of the counties. For instance, Cumberland and Norfolk are totally different. However, the average recovery is about 61 per cent. of the total cost involved in these contracts for farmers. The hon. and gallant Baronet said that in 1938–39 the cost to the Government for pest destruction was only £400 odd. It may well have been, and I do not want to start blaming Governments of 1938 or 1939, but it may be that they were not quite as interested in food questions as we are in 1949. The sooner we can start to reduce the loss of 2 million tons of food annually destroyed by rats, mice and other pests, the better.

The hon. and gallant Baronet's suggestion relating to the activities of county executive committee pest officers and local authority officers operating together, is exactly what this Bill provides for, so that the county executive committee pest officers dealing with the agricultural land can co-operate with the local authority officers, and they can make a complete drive on the lines that he himself indicated. That also answers the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for South-Western Norfolk (Mr. Dye).

Mr. Alpass

Does that mean that the county executive committees can carry out this work by agreement with the local authorities?

Mr. Williams

The county executive committees by arrangement with the local authority—that is, the rural district council. They can make joint schemes if they feel so disposed.

Clause 14 (4) was referred to by the hon. and gallant Baronet in relation to the possible destruction of infected food. He said that the magistrates' court, where an appeal could lie, would be too dilatory, and that arbitrators ought to be appointed to perform the task instead of the magistrates' court. I should have thought that the magistrates' court would be much quicker than arbitrators, and that was why, after consulting all the authorities, we provided for an appeal to the magistrates' court. In any case, they meet weekly and sometimes more than once a week, and I should have thought that would have been sufficiently expeditious.

The hon. and gallant Baronet also referred to weevil-infected barley which has been in store since May last, and asked what can be done with food belonging to the Ministry of Food, stored up and down the country. The Minister of Food has not got any food stored up and down the country; at least, he is not responsible for dealing with infestation. The Transfer of Functions (Infestation Control) Order, 1947, transferred the technical staff and the responsibility to the Ministry of Agriculture. Therefore, there are not two Government Departments dealing with this matter. It is now dealt with wholly and exclusively by officers of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Sir T. Dugdale

Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with the 75,000 tons of food to which I have referred?

Mr. Williams

We are dealing as effectively as we can with this matter, with the expert staff we have at our disposal, but I hope that the hon. and gallant Baronet and the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton will bear in mind that if we give to the farmers a guarantee of rations up to a certain period, say 12 months ahead, we have to make our purchases abroad and we have to receive them as fast as they can be shipped; we therefore have to store them for long periods to ensure that the rationing period of six months or 12 months, whatever it may be, is completely covered. It would be suicidal to invite farmers to keep pigs or poultry by the million if they found out at the end of the time that there were no feedingstuffs available. Sometimes storage accommodation is not so good. The length of time for which these rations have to be stored is perhaps longer than we like, but in the circumstances I am afraid there is little or nothing that we can do to avoid it.

Sir T. Dugdale

I agree with all that the Minister has said, but out of 75,000 tons, 35,000 tons is weevil stricken. Surely, it is the height of folly not to use it while it is of some use in feeding animals to help our food production?

Mr. Williams

I can assure the hon. and gallant Baronet that I do not want to see any food lost that is capable of being used without adversely affecting the animals.

The hon. Member for Thornbury asked whether the new regime would be as economic as the old regime. I think it is bound to be more economic in the end when the county executive committees and the local authorities are operating together, both more or less under the same powers. I cannot think that it can be any less economic than the present system. The hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) referred to Clause 27, and wanted to know what was meant by land under water. He was good enough to tell the House that a lake is covered by water. I had noticed that before, but, may I say, so is the Atlantic. If we do not have in the Bill that interpretation, how shall we be able to catch the Loch Ness monster? The hon. and gallant Member referred to the pests other than rats and mice and insects—to weeds, moles, and so forth. I can assure him that we have the power to deal with all the things he referred to in Section 98 of the Agriculture Act, 1947, and the corresponding Act for Scotland.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

I expressly pointed out to the Lord Advocate and the Secretary of State for Scotland, when that particular Scottish Bill was before the House, that we were still not dealing with prevention at the source of pests, and they said that there were all kinds of Acts which would do that, but none of them has actually done it. That is the real point.

Mr. Williams

I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary are as anxious as anybody in this House to get rid of these various pests.

The hon. Member for South-Western Norfolk complained bitterly that, despite the number of rats he had killed, he had more rats on his farm than ever before. I hope with him that the sort of drive to which I have already referred can be made between the local authorities and the pest officers of the county executive committees. If that kind of thing is done on a wide scale, I imagine that the service will be worth paying for—not 61 per cent. but the whole 100 per cent. I have already said that the committee contracts have been based on a limited number of treatments per annum and this is all that has been possible in certain counties without a considerable increase in staff. The main trouble is that some farmers are willing to pay for the service and some will not, and we cannot, therefore, get a continuous drive.

The hon. Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden) asked two questions, and in both cases the answer is in the affirmative. It is my intention to deal with a compensation Clause for displaced persons, if he will accept that term, in Committee, and it is also true that we have power over the Transport Commission where food transport is concerned.

The hon. and gallant Member for Ludlow (Lieut.-Colonel Corbett) wanted to know just how things were going to work out, and he felt that the power was hardly there to do the big thing, but I am hoping that under the direction that the Minister will be able to give under the terms of this Bill there will be a measure of uniformity in action, and since now the owner as well as the occupier is brought into the scheme, all these schemes of clearance will not be held up as they were before the war.

The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Austin) wanted to know why we were deferring the coming into operation of this Act until March, 1950. The Parliamentary Secretary gave the correct answer when he said that all local authorities who are going to be charged with this responsibility will have a good deal to do in preparing for the new powers that are to be conferred upon them. Before any regulations are made, we shall have to consult all the various associations and trade interests, which will be a long and difficult job. The hon. Member nearly answered his own question when he said that he knew that we were hopelessly short of effective and efficient pest officers, and that they will have to be trained before they can do the job without wasting a lot of money. I agree with him, and so far as Government resources are available we are training for national service as well as for the local authorities as rapidly as we can, so that each authority in turn will have its own pest officers to do the job in their own particular districts.

Mr. Austin

I fully appreciate the reasons which my right hon. Friend has given, but does it not follow that in imposing the limitation of March, 1950, he precludes the country from having the advantage of the Act, if he is ready for it in December of this year for instance?

Mr. Williams

I do not think that we should do anything of value by operating the Act before we were actually ready for it. The safeguard, of course, is that the Defence of the Realm Regulation continues to operate until March, 1950, and therefore the work will not cease but will be continuous throughout, and at the same time I hope that we shall have trained more officers to do the job.

Mr. Turton

Is the right hon. Gentleman intending to increase the present number of pest officers? At the moment they are rather decreasing.

Mr. Williams

It depends whether the hon. Gentleman is referring to pest officers employed by the State or by the local authorities.

Mr. Turton

I am referring to pest officers employed by the county committees.

Mr. Williams

That all depends on the amount of work which the county committees will be called upon to do. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton asked lots of questions about the grain store, and I think that I have already answered them.

The Bill is a small Bill, but I think that it will be a useful and very effective Bill in that it will bring these activities under one umbrella, where the approach will be more or less uniform, and I am convinced that after 30 years' experience we shall be able to cash in on that experience and aim a deadly blow at those animals and microbes that destroy some 2 million tons of food each year in this country. I think that is well worth doing and I hope that hon. Members who have referred to the cost of pest officers will not be finicky about a few hundred pounds to destroy millions of rats and mice, when they are ready and willing to provide millions of pounds for other services which may not be quite so important. I should like to express my thanks to the House for the welcome it has given to the Bill.

Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)

I think that the right hon. Gentleman overlooked a question asked from this side towards the end of the Debate as to whether overlapping might not be avoided if all the powers for destroying rats and mice were centred in the local authorities and not partly under the local authorities and partly under the county agricultural executive committees.

Mr. Williams

I think that the hon. and gallant Member must be confused because the whole of the power will be under one authority, namely, the local authority. It is only for convenience that where the local authority gives an order to a farmer, we invite the local authority to warn the county executive committee so that they can at once contact the farmer and undertake the work if they desire to do so.