HC Deb 07 December 1953 vol 521 cc1616-8
49. Major Anstruther-Gray

asked the Minister of Agriculture to what extent myxomatosis has spread during the last month; and how many rabbits are estimated to have died of this disease since it was first reported.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

In the past four weeks five fresh outbreaks of myxomatosis in wild rabbits have been confirmed. There are now three centres of infection in Kent, two in East Sussex, two in Essex and one in East Suffolk. The most recent outbreaks are in Essex, East Suffolk and Kent. There has been no appreciable local spread of the disease at the existing centres of infection. About 800 rabbits are known to have died of the disease since it was first reported. More infected rabbits may have died in their burrows either from the disease or gassing.

Major Anstruther-Gray

Does my hon. Friend know whether any rabbits have survived in the infected areas or whether they have all been killed in those areas?

Mr. Nugent

In some of the infected areas we have been able to enclose them by wiring, but in others that has not been possible. In the first case, we have exterminated them. In the second case we have not.

Mr. Woodburn

What is the Government's policy towards rabbits? In past debates it has been said that they were pests and must be destroyed; now we are discussing how they can be preserved. What is the Government's policy?

Mr. Nugent

Our policy is to control this disease until we have been able to take a balanced view as to whether it is desirable to allow it to exterminate rabbits in this country by a process which is particularly unpleasant and painful for the rabbit.

Mr. Nicholson

I was not quite clear about the meaning of my hon. Friend's last reply. Will he confirm that it is the inflexible policy of his Department to stamp out this disease, both for economic reasons and because it is of such a peculiarly revolting nature?

Mr. Nugent

No. I thought I was quite clear in my reply. At present, we are trying to contain the outbreaks of this disease until we have had time to make an expert examination to decide whether or no it should be allowed to run free in the country.

Sir J. Lucas

Does the disease also affect hares?

Mr. Nugent

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Hastings

Would the hon. Gentleman say what are the latest ideas as to how this disease is conveyed? Is it by birds or by human beings, or only by direct contagion?

Mr. Nugent

I think it is probably conveyed by direct contact between the rabbits and by insects—probably to some extent by birds as well, but mainly by insects in the spring and summer.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

As, in France, it has been found to be spread by fleas and similar insects, is it not completely useless to wire round the areas where infected rabbits are found?

Mr. Nugent

I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that in the winter the activity of the fleas and other insects is relatively dormant and, therefore, this method is effective.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Can the Parliamentary Secretary say what is the effect which a rabbit suffering from this disease has on a fox which eats it, because it may have an adverse effect on the future of fox hunting if the foxes also die from this disease?

Mr. Nugent

My reply is, none that I know of.

Sir T. Moore

In view of the reports of the horrifying nature of the death of the rabbits from this disease, will the Government take every step to stamp it out or control it at the earliest possible moment?

Mr. Nugent

That is what we are now doing.

Mr. I. O. Thomas

Can the Minister say what steps have been taken, or are to be taken, in connection with the control of the sale of these infected rabbits for human consumption?

Mr. Nugent

None of the infected rabbits which we are able to catch and destroy is, in any circumstances, being offered for human consumption.