HC Deb 15 July 1949 vol 467 cc896-914
Mr. Turton

I beg to move, in page 12, line 1, after "authorised," to insert "for that purpose."

We are here dealing with the question of powers of entry which are being given to officers of the local authority. The safeguard which the Minister is proposing in the Bill is merely that an officer must have an authority, that is to say that he is authorised by the local authority. We do not consider that to be sufficient. We ask that he shall be duly authorised to enter the premises for this specific purpose. There have been numerous complaints in recent months about inspectors of Ministries having abused their power to enter premises. It is important to the housewives of this country that there should be proper safeguards against any such abuse of power. I believe that we should put into the Bill the words of this Amendment so that any such person shall be "duly authorised for that purpose." I agree that local authority officials have not been so guilty of the indiscriminate use of powers of entry as have been the officials of certain Ministries. None the less, I believe that Parliament should take care to see that the interests of those who occupy these premises are amply safeguarded.

Mr. Baldwin

I beg to second the Amendment.

In these days of inspectors we must see that they are more fully armed with some authority in writing to show that they are authorised to enter these premises. We find that the homes of the people in this country are being increasingly invaded by people demanding to see something or other. We know of cases in which inspectors come along in pairs—always in pairs—in a motorcar and demand to know whether the occupier of some property has a wireless set or not. The citizens of this country are entitled to be protected against these deluges of officials who come to see what they are doing. In this case any inspector, whether he be a Ministry inspector or a rural district council inspector, should be fully armed with powers which he can present to the housewife or whoever may be concerned, to show that he has the authority to enter and inspect.

Mr. G. Brown

Here again we are concerned with quite a small point to which an amply satisfactory answer can be given. Clause 22 says: Any person duly"— let me emphasise that word— authorised in writing by a local authority for the purposes of Part I of this Act, … The person who has the right to enter is the person duly authorised in writing by the local authority; he has authority and can show it when requested. The point is whether we could narrow this provision by saying that he must not only have proper authorisation in writing but that it must be for this particular purpose, means, for example, that a sanitary inspector who would be duly authorised to enter for unrelated functions would require to have an ad hoc authorisation for this particular visit. We think that that is unnecessary. He carries authorisation from his local authority duly authorising him to enter premises for quite a range of duties which are within his province, of which this is only one.

In reference to one of the comments of the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin), I would point out that before this Government ever came into office there were sanitary inspectors with rights to enter homes, and it has been held to be sufficient for them to have the authorisation which they are already given. We think that should be so and it is not because of any lack of sympathy with the point that has been raised but because we are certain that so long as the officer has authorisation in writing in relation to duties for which he is responsible that we take the view that there is sufficient safeguard.

Mr. C. Williams

It is a matter of opinion whether the acceptance of this Amendment would strengthen the position or otherwise. I agree that "duly" is a safeguard and I agree that it is conceivable that the words "for this purpose" might rule out the sanitary inspector, but there is no reason why he should not have the two authorisations with him—his ordinary authorisation for ordinary matters and a special authorisation for this purpose. That could be added to his ordinary authorisation, so that there is no difficulty in that respect. At the present time in many districts we are overwhelmed with visitors of this kind; we just do not know who is coming. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that there were sanitary inspectors before this Government came into power. Of course there were. The whole great sanitary system of this country was built up long before this Government. That is not the point, however.

The point is that whenever we on this side of the House try, as we are trying by this Amendment, to make it more difficult for more inspectors to go into more homes without the people in those homes knowing precisely why they have come, we almost invariably meet with flat disapproval on the part of the Government. They say that they sympathise but never under any circumstances, or at least very rarely, do they give way in the least on these matters, unless we can put strong enough pressure upon them. The point with which we are now concerned is a matter of opinion and is not one for the consideration of which very deep legal knowledge is required. I think that the Bill would have been better rather than worse by the addition of this Amendment. The ordinary people of this country would have less reason to fear the position which is being created by the Bill. I know the Parliamentary Secretary does not wish to burden people, but he is not the real authority. There are people above him who drive him into wicked ways.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. George Jeger (Winchester)

I beg to move, in page 12, leave out lines 15 to 20.

These lines specify that when officials enter on a railway undertaking they are to comply with any reasonable requirements of the British Transport Commission.

Mr. Turton

On a point of Order. Would it be for the convenience of the House if we could discuss, with this Amendment, the next three Amendments to lines 16, 19 and 20 in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir T. Dugdale)? They all seem to cover a similar point and they follow the introduction of these words.

Mr. Speaker

I am quite prepared to do that. If not, I should have to put the question to leave out line 15 and then 16. If the House would like to discuss them all together I shall be happy to allow that to be done.

Sir T. Dugdale

That would be for the convenience of the House.

Mr. T. Williams

Since the next three or four Amendments would fall if the present Amendment were accepted, perhaps they might all be debated at the same time.

Mr. Jeger

I hope my right hon. Friend will accept my Amendment and that will do away with the necessity of a long discussion on the following Amendments. The inclusion of any specific undertaking in this way always narrows the field of operation and, therefore, restricts it. As the following Amendments show, other hon. Members have been seized of this point. I think it would be unreasonable to suggest that when local government officers enter upon any property they will behave in an unreasonable fashion in the exercise of their duty under Part I of the Bill. We could, therefore, leave it to their discretion and generally reasonable behaviour on property, including railway property. I hope, therefore, the Minister will accept my contention that these lines are unnecessary and will accept my Amendment.

Mr. Beswick (Uxbridge)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I hope the Government will accept it, especially in view of the readiness of one or two hon. Members opposite to enjoy themselves on subsequent Amendments.

Mr. Turton

I, too, hope the Government will accept this Amendment. We were not very happy when the Parliamentary Secretary put in this proviso on the Committee stage excepting one of the nationalised industries. Our argument has always been that if we are to except one of the nationalised industries then we must except all. Moreover, we fear that if this Government continued much longer there would be very few rats which would not be able to claim immunity on the grounds that they were nationalised rats. I do not think the Government meant to exclude nationalised rats. I feel that the Parliamentary Secretary was rushed into putting this Amendment down in Committee and that, on more mature reflection, he will realise that he has placed himself in a tactical difficulty and that the whole House is against him in his desire to have these words in the Bill.

If the Minister intends to be adamant in this matter, to use disciplinary measures against his Parliamentary friends and to keep in this proviso, then on grounds of common sense it must not be limited to the nationalised railways. After all, the electricity department is just as important from this point of view; there is as much danger in awkward inspections of generating stations as there may be in awkward inspections of the railway lines. I am told—although I do not know so much about coal and the Parliamentary Secretary does—that, equally on the grounds of security and safety, the National Coal Board could argue that they should be included. I warn hon. Members that if the Government are successful—and I hope they will not be—in getting the Iron and Steel Bill through, we shall have to introduce Private Members' legislation to obtain immunity from this Clause for iron and steel works. I hope that, in view of all that has been said and in view of the fact that Winchester and Yorkshire are together, and that Uxbridge is lending support, the Parliamentary Secretary will now give way.

Mr. G. Brown

One of the remarkable things about the British Parliamentary system is that we can move an Amendment into a Bill at one stage and accept an Amendment taking it out at another stage; and that I do. As the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. G. Jeger) has said, there were considerable discussions on this in Committee. Since then I have followed up those discussions and heard also the strong views of other people who were not able to be on the Committee. We are, therefore, glad to bow to the wishes of all sides of the House and to take out this proviso. I am sure that will leave the position quite safe and very much less cumbersome. Further, I am sure the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) need not worry; there are quite a number of rats still about in private enterprise.

Sir T. Dugdale

These are very curious tactics, putting in an Amendment in one stage and taking it out at another. On the other hand, on the whole we support the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. G. Jeger) and we are pleased that he saw fit to move this Amendment. Our motto was, "Either all in or all out." It seemed to us to be quite a fantastic position to have one nationalised undertaking included in the proviso and everyone else outside it. The Government have seen fit to bow to the representations of the House and my hon. Friends and I are grateful they have done so.

Amendment agreed to.

2.47 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)

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

I do not think the House would wish that I should detain them for any length of time this afternoon and I will, therefore, say only a few words. This very short, but nevertheless not unimportant Bill has been very thoroughly debated in the course of its passage, and it is proper that that should be so. It may be that some hon. Members will feel that, even with all the discussions we have had, the Bill contains some weaknesses, but I think I should be in order in claiming that the general objectives of the Bill are welcomed and approved in all parts of the House. Rats and mice and food insects are responsible for enormous, and we believe avoidable, losses in our food supplies.

The Debates on the Bill have been carried on in a constructive and helpful spirit. Although the Minister has not been able to accept many of the Amendments proposed by hon. Members opposite, he nevertheless appreciates that all the criticisms they have made were made in the right spirit and were calculated to improve the Bill. I need only say that the real purpose, as far as we can achieve it—and I feel sure that will be the aim of the local authorities responsible under Part I of the Bill—will be not only that the campaign against rats and mice and food infestation shall be prosecuted with vigour, but that it shall also be conducted in such a way as to interfere as little as possible with the course of trade and domestic life in this country.

2.49 p.m.

Mr. Turton

I am delighted that at last the Joint Under-Secretary has come into this question of rats and mice. We have missed him a lot and we have missed Scotland. I always felt that Scotland had a great deal to teach England in this question of rats and mice and pests and I have missed the hon. Member's co-operation for some time. The only other Minister we might have had present is the Minister of Health; at one time he started seeing blue rats. I wonder why he has not come today. I believe there was a time, when the iron and steel industry was not being nationalised, that he began to see pink rats, but I understand that now, after Blackpool, when he got an ovation from his party, and now that the iron and steel industry is to be nationalised, he sees only blue rats again.

Is this Bill the best that can be devised? That is the question we must consider. There is no party division on this Measure, but there is a real division of opinion whether this is the most efficient and economic weapon that we can use against the rats. I should like hon. Mem- bers seriously to examine this Bill on those grounds. First, let us take the question of economies. It is important that we should not waste public money unnecessarily on any branch of public expenditure. I noticed that earlier today the Parliamentary Secretary said that the question of economy did not enter into this matter. Indeed, the question of economy is of vital importance. The expenditure of money for this purpose may be a grievous burden to the taxpayer and may affect the cost of production of every article we manufacture. In England we are spending very large sums on the destruction of rats, mice and other pests.

I have here the Civil Estimates for the current year. Under Subhead A, which refers to salaries, there will be spent under this Bill a sum of £200,000 on 459 officials. Under Vote P—grants to local authorities—under this Bill the Minister proposes to spend £385,000 this year. Under Vote 9—agricultural production—the Minister proposes to spend £112,000 on 260 pest officers in the County Agricultural Executive Committees. Again, for the control of pests by County Agricultural Executive Committees, he proposes to expend another £425,000, and he will employ, 1,350 people. Judging from this document, which is all the information we have at the moment, it would appear that this year the costs under this Bill will be over £1,100,000 and the number of persons I have mentioned will total 2,069. That is only a small part of the cost. There will have to be a full staff of rat catchers for every local authority involved. That will mean that in 1,000 local authorities, if the Bill is to operate properly, there will have to be an increase in staff.

In recent years many local authorities have allowed these functions to be carried out by the sanitary inspector of the council. But that will not be good enough if the men are to be given the responsibilities mentioned in Clause 2. I think the Minister recognises this, because this year he has raised the grants to local authorities by a sum of £50,000. That means that he envisages at the moment an additional expenditure of £100,000. This is a considerable sum. We shall be spending on rats, mice and weevils, a sum of well over £1 million in taxation alone. In addition, we shall be spending a large unascertainable sum through the local authorities.

I am glad that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is present. I wish he had given rather fuller reasons why he approved this Measure, because, from the Estimates, the matter is dealt with in Scotland in an entirely different way. In Scotland the expenditure is £6,000 a year for the pests committees and £52,000 in grants to local authorities. They do not spend a great sum, such as £200,000 on the salaries of officials dealing with infestation control, as is spent by the Ministry of Agriculture. They do not have this great expenditure of £537,000 for the county agricultural executive committees. Expenditure on pests control in Scotland is limited to the amount of £6,000. Before we pass this Bill I should like to know whether Scotland is very rat-ridden and weevil worsted as a result of this smaller expenditure. That is the main question: why should there be this great disparity in expenditure between Scotland and England? I had hoped to get enlightenment when I saw the Joint Under-Secretary get up to move the Third Reading, but he did not touch on that matter.

In Scotland they have been wise enough not to change their administrative set-up for dealing with rats, mice and weevils. They use the same methods and their expenses do not appear to have increased in the last year. But the Ministry of Agriculture adopt a different attitude. In order to provide for this Bill they have enlisted in this Department the help of an extra 30 officers in the last year for infestation control, and they anticipate that grants to local authorities will be increased by £50,000. Yet, when this Bill was first introduced, the Explanatory Memorandum said that there would be no significant increase in administrative expenditure. That hardly seems to be borne out by the Estimates published after this Bill was introduced, because there was this vast increase both in salaries at Headquarters and in grants to local authorities. I believe that we are spending too much money on pest destruction. A smaller amount of money, taking the example of Scotland, could achieve as efficient results, with a consequent gain to the taxpayer.

I turn to the other limb of the argument—the ground of efficiency. Is this set-up under the Bill the most efficient way of dealing with the problems caused by rats, mice and weevils? I refer first to the weevil. I am not yet happy that under the measures proposed in this Bill the Ministry will be able to deal with he weevil. The local authorities are given no control over the weevil, especially when it is in a Government store. The only authority for dealing with the weevil is the Minister of Agriculture and his Department, under Part II of the Bill. I have spent much time at Question Time drawing the attention of Government Departments to cases of weevil infestation of grain. When I drew their attention to it, they said that they had found that the grain was infested, but that they immediately had the matter put right. That has been going on for the last six months. Only on 3rd July, I tried to draw the attention of the Minister of Agriculture to a case, but the matter was directed to the Ministry of Food, and the Minister replied that 280 tons of barley at Borough-bridge had been infested by weevil, and that he had given orders that it had to be removed at once. This is a very great waste of the people's food, and we ought to be quite satisfied that the powers of the Minister of Agriculture under Part II of this Bill are sufficient to deal with the weevil.

However, let me address myself chiefly to the main point, which is the question of the destruction of rats and mice. Under this Bill, we are going to have a clear dualism in the administration of the destruction of these pests. Unlike Scotland, where I believe the local authorities carry out the destruction of rats and mice by their own rodent officers, it is the intention of this Government by the terms of Part I of this Bill to have the district councils to administer it by their staff, and, at the same time, to retain the pests officers of each county agricultural executive committee. We have tried today to secure some delegation of functions from the one to the other, so that the local authorities may delegate their functions to the county agricultural executive committees. That was one solution, but there is another, equally good, and that is to hand over the whole of the powers of the pests control committees and of the county committees to the local authorities, as is done in Scotland. I believe either alternative—

Mr. T. Fraser

The county agricultural executive committees do not do this service in Scotland; it is done by the Department. I have been listening very carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has been saying, and inasmuch as he was asking my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to follow the example of Scotland, he was asking for more centralised control.

Mr. Turton

I gather that what the Joint Under-Secretary has been saying is that in Scotland they do not exercise any powers of pest control in the county agricultural executive committees. The hon. Gentleman says all that is done by the Department. I think he will agree with me that no expenditure by the Department is incurred except by way of grants, to local authorities, who carry out their functions under the Act.

Mr. Fraser

No. The Department of Agriculture has a pests service and pests officers, and they do operate in the local authority areas in consultation and conjunction with the local authorities, who also have their pests officers, and the setup is not so very different from the English set-up, as the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. Turton

I am grateful to the Joint Under-Secretary. Scotland does it very much cheaper and does not have these unwieldy pests control committees under the county agricultural executive committees. Therefore, they have less of the dualism than we have in England.

I believe that this Bill does not face up to the problem which we put to the Government initially, which was that we found in our constituencies that the cottage, the farm and the factory were being dealt with by different officers. If there was a rat in a cottage, we got the sanitary inspector coming along from the local authority, and it was his job to kill the rat. If it was a rat on a farm, we had the pests officer from the county agricultural executive committee. I am saying that that dualism has not yet been resolved, and I believe that that is the measure of the failure of the Government at the present time.

Quite apart from that, we have the problem that, in many parts of the country, there is no way in which this Bill could operate. I refer to all the mili- tary encampments and Ministry of Works hutments, where rats are bound to congregate, in regard to which the Ministry have refused to allow any part of this Bill to operate. Certainly, there are other areas which have been turned into battle training grounds—

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter which we can discuss on Third Reading. What is not in the Bill cannot be discussed on Third Reading.

Mr. Turton

I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker, if I have broken the rules of Order, but I was trying to criticise the powers in the Bill by saying that they were limited. I thought that so long as I merely said that without going into undue detail, I was not breaking any rule of Order. Am I not allowed, Mr. Speaker, to draw attention to the limit of the powers?

Mr. Speaker

One may mention that they are limited, but one may not go into the details of how they are limited.

Mr. Turton

I bow to your Ruling, Sir. From what has happened today, it is clear that the powers in the Bill are very limited in that respect. This is a Measure with which we all have a certain amount of sympathy. We all want this war against the rats, but we want it to be economical and efficient.

I hope that after the criticisms that have been made, both at this stage and on previous stages, the Minister of Agriculture and the Parliamentary Secretary will go into the whole question of how they are going to administer their powers under the Bill in order to secure full efficiency and greater economy. That is something which they have wide powers to do. There is no reason why we should spend E1 million of the taxpayers' money on this service if it can be carried out as efficiently at less cost. I hope that when he replies the Parliamentary Secretary will give us the assurance that he as the assistant chief of the Department will look into the whole of this question to see if some of these problems cannot be remedied by administrative measures under the Bill. For those reasons, while I shall not vote against the Bill if it goes to a Division, I cannot vote in favour of it, because it has not been im- proved as I hoped it would be when it was first introduced. When the Parliamentary Secretary takes out his administrative pruning hook, I trust that he will cut out all unnecessary expenditure.

3.8 p.m.

Mr. Baldwin

I wish to reinforce the argument put forward by my hon. Friend with regard to expenditure. During the last few years we have been passing through a series of recurring economic crises, and this Bill which we are placing on the Statute Book this afternoon only adds to our troubles. We cannot pull ourselves out of the mess in which we are today if we keep on taking the responsibility from the individual and placing it on the shoulder of the State.

Mr. Speaker

What the hon. Gentleman is now saying arose under the new Clause which the House rejected, and, therefore, he cannot discuss that.

Mr. Baldwin

I wanted to make my protest against the cost of this Bill and to say why I thought it was too expensive. I wanted to say that in running these controls, the Minister should take care that the scheme is self-supporting with regard to cost. It should not be possible for cases such as that which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) quoted to arise He cited the case where a single rat was seen in a garden and where the good lady of the house told the gardener to communicate with the local authority in order to have it killed. Two strong men with spades, ferrets and a terrier came down to the house in a motor car and killed the rat. Although the operation was successful, I believe that had the good lady known that she was going to be charged with the expense of it, she would have got the gardener to kill the rat. Unless we tackle the series of Measures which are taking away the responsibility of the individual citizen and placing it on the State, we shall go on getting our country into a bigger mess than it is at the present time.

3.11 p.m.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

I should like to explain my own feelings on this Bill. I am very disappointed that nobody on either side of the House has been allowed to improve this Bill as many of us would have liked to see it improved. I entirely agree that the danger of running an expensive service without 100 per cent. efficiency is a danger which we must examine very closely. The figures which have been quoted on this side of the House appear to show a certain measure either of inefficiency or extravagance. Therefore, if the Bill is loose enough to allow extravagance or inefficiency, it is not as good a Bill as it could have been. Against that—I am trying to be absolutely fair—we must consider the value of the loss of foodstuffs in this country as a result of the effects of rats, mice, weevil and so forth.

I do not think that we have been given enough information to tie up the sort of expensive steps which this country is being asked to make under a centralised system, with all sorts of international steps which are being taken through an international organisation. During the whole course of the Debates there has been no mention of that aspect of the matter. Neither has there been mention of something which is dealt with in the Bill—the question of the damage that is done not only to stored crops but to growing crops. There are certain things we can do, but it seems to me that the powers have been so limited by the action of the Government that the Bill loses a great deal of its value.

From the point of view of principle, I cannot see how any Government which has respect for local authorities can have allowed certain Clauses to remain in this Bill. We have tried persistently at all stages to reinforce the powers of local authorities and to show that this House recognises their efficiency and keenness to get on with the job. We have tried to reinforce and encourage the activities of the individual, but we did not expect that the Minister would have insisted on retaining in the Bill Clauses which definitely whittle down the responsibility of local authorities. Nobody who studies Clause 12 can read into it anything other than a limiting effect on the local authority.

The Minister insisted in the Committee stage that he had to have the right to dictate the details of the measures which would be taken by the local authorities to deal with rats and mice. That is the most preposterous suggestion in this Bill. How can it be said in one breath, first, that we trust the local authorities to get on with this job and that, therefore, under this Bill we should give them powers; secondly, that we are going to direct the local authorities meticulously as to how they should carry out those powers; and, thirdly, that if they do not carry out the job at all we shall nominate somebody else to do the job in their area? If we link all those three factors together they do not make sense at all.

If the local authorities fail to perform properly their functions which are carefully set out in Clause 2, the Minister has power to set up an inquiry and appoint somebody else. For heaven's sake, if he does not trust the local authorities and finds they are not doing their job, they are the last people in the world to be given detailed instructions on how to carry it out; if they have failed to do their job in the first place, they are more than likely to fail again, and the Minister should nominate someone from outside. It is most regrettable that this slur in regard to the capabilities of local authorities should be allowed to remain in the Bill, where responsibility is pretended to be thrown upon them. It can only mean that the Minister does not believe for one moment that the local authorities are going to do the job, and that in future months he wants the whole thing directed to his own Ministry. It does not make sense.

We have removed the encouragement to the individual to do the job himself and have put the power in the hands of the local authorities, but we have then said that we do not trust them, which means that the only person left in the picture is the Minister. I should have thought that the Minister was going to have plenty on his hands in the coming months without having to pay detailed attention to this problem of rats and mice.

I should have liked to be able to give this Bill my full support, because in this country and throughout the world the loss of foodstuffs in store and in transit is so vast that any step which can be taken to reduce it is a valuable one. Frankly, I do not think these steps are of the value they should have been, and if closer consideration had been given to the matter, with joint consideration in the international field, we should have had a much better Measure.

3.17 p.m.

Mr. C. Williams

One of the difficulties of a Bill going to Standing Committee is that we cannot go into all the points we would wish to raise. I would draw attention to Clause 25. Under that Clause, certain regulations can be made by the Minister dealing with those who can claim pensions either for loss or diminution of employment, particularly in reference to those who have been engaged in the Services. As we are leaving it to the Minister to make these regulations, it would not be inappropriate to ask him to assure the House that adequate pensions are to be paid, both in this country and in the North. In Clause 22, we have this proviso: Provided that where a person is authorised as aforesaid to enter upon any land belonging to a railway undertaking he shall, in exercising his powers under this subsection, comply with any reasonable requirements of the British Transport Commission or other persons carrying on the undertaking for preventing interference with railway traffic. I am not at all sure precisely what that means.

Mr. Speaker

That Clause was deleted on Report.

Mr. C. Williams

That is all to the good. That leaves me with another matter on which we should have some further explanation, and that is the question of Scotland. On the Report stage I referred to my doubts about the application of this Bill to Scotland, and I hoped that we might have an assurance from the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland that there is a plan for dealing with the problem in Scotland. I consider it very necessary that this Bill should give adequate powers there.

My first objection to this Bill is that Clause 21 adds to the number of Statutory Orders with which this Houes has to deal. That is a matter about which there has been much complaint in the past, yet this Bill now adds to the burdens of the House of Commons in that respect. It also adds considerably to the burdens of local authorities. Both those matters are the subject of much complaint throughout the country. I deprecate the imposition of these additional burdens, and I here wish to take the opportunity of emphasising my disagreement with the continual piling on of Statutory Orders, and the additional work imposed on local authorities. True, a grant is given, but at the same time their work is being added to, and they will have to find additional money themselves.

Those are the respects in which I consider the Bill defective. There is no doubt about our agreement on the main principles of the Bill. We agree on the necessity for the destruction of rats and mice, which Part I endeavours to deal with, on the stopping of the infestation of food, which is dealt with in Part II, and on the sort of combined operation set out in Part III. My only doubt is whether, it is necessary to have so long and complicated a Measure. Could we not have cut out many of the Causes, and had in their stead something much simpler, which would relieve the country of the obligation of so often sending two officials in a motor car to deal with one rat? While people recognise the necessity of destroying rats, mice, and other pests, they are apt to think that there is another and larger pest that they would like to see in the Bill, and that is the Government official. I will not enlarge on that.

The very fact that this Bill has come forward at this stage of the Session, and that both sides of the House are working together to try to make it a good Measure which will help to wipe out those pests which are responsible for so much of the present destruction of food, shows that we are prepared to deal with this matter amicably if possible. Nevertheless, there are in the Bill certain provisions which might well have been omitted, and certain Amendments might have made it a better Bill. Personally, I deeply regret that today the Government have not been more accommodating towards our attempt to remove some of the bad points in this Bill. Something might have been done to make it easier for the local authorities who have so much to do under the Bill, and, in certain circumstances, to arrange that work in a more efficient way. The Government have added to their burden in a way which is rather mean.

Having said those things about the Bill, and having made one or two protests against parts of the Bill earlier, I have only one thing to add. It is something which I said on Second Reading, that no matter how many pest officers and regulations we have, whatever we do on paper and in theory, nothing will kill off rats and mice with such efficiency as the ordinary house cat. Beyond that, nothing will stop pests and weevils and the other things which interfere with our food distribution while we have the incompetent administration of the Government as a whole.

3.26 p.m.

Mr. G. Williams

In view of the enormous damage done in the past by rats, I welcome the Bill, even though it is not quite in the form in which we would like it. It must be an economic proposition to save £1 worth of food by spending 10s. It would even be worth doing if it cost £1 to save £1 worth of food, because we should at the same time be getting rid of the menace and nuisance of rats and the diseases they carry. I want to remind the House that two years ago I pointed out on the Adjournment, the menace of the rat and that it was an hon. Gentleman opposite who had the House counted out. Now the Government are at last listening to the words I used then.

I want to refer to two points. One is the responsibility of the occupier, which we thought ought to be in the Bill. I hope that the publicity which this Debate will have brought to it will have the effect we desire. The other point is that the Minister told us that he will take great care that Government Departments comply with the Bill, but he did not tell us what he will do if they do not comply and that matter is still in an unsatisfactory state. I hope that private people will make a great effort to see that the Bill works, that Government Departments will play their part, and that all parties will carry out the provisions to the best of their ability.

3.28 p.m.

Sir T. Dugdale

Throughout we have treated this Measure as a machinery Bill, and we wanted to be satisfied that the machinery is as good as can be devised. We have made certain amendments, and while we are not satisfied that the machinery is as efficient as can be devised, we believe that it is better than what was proposed when the Bill came to us on Second Reading.

When the Bill gets into full operation, a large number of people will be em- ployed and a great deal of public money will be spent. I commend to the Government the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) when they are considering the operation of the Bill. It is difficult to make any assessment of cost, but during the Committee stage as a rough guide we said £1 a rat. That may be an exaggeration, but at all events it will be very costly. The damage done by rats is very serious, but the House will agree that in a machinery Bill of this nature, designed to destroy rats and mice and to eliminate weevils, whoever administers it must watch the financial end and be certain that, in the national interests, they are getting value for money.

With those provisos, my right hon. and hon. Friends do not propose to divide against the Measure, but merely urge the Government to be very vigilant in their administration of the Bill when it becomes an Act.

Read the Third time, and passed with Amendments.