HC Deb 10 November 1954 vol 532 cc1265-317

Amendment made: In page 7, line 20, leave out from "after," to "either," in line 23, and insert "the appointed day." —[Mr. Amory.]

Mr. Amory

I beg to move, in page 8, line 10, at the end, to insert: (6) The appointed day for the purposes of subsection (1) of this section shall be the thirty-first day of July, nineteen hundred and fifty-eight: Provided that the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries—

  1. (a) may by order appoint a day earlier than the said thirty-first day of July (but not earlier than two years after the date of the order); or
  2. (b) if no order has been made under the foregoing paragraph, may from time to time by order postpone the appointed day for a period (or further period) of one year;
but no order shall be made under paragraph (b) of this proviso, unless a draft of it has been laid before Parliament two years or more before the day for the time being appointed and has been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament. We have gone to great trouble to find a sensible answer to the problem of how and when we can ban the gin trap. I believe that the Amendment provides the best way of doing what we all want to do, to get rid of the gin trap at the earliest practicable date. I know the strong aversion that almost every Member of the Committee has to the use of the gin trap. I have shared it myself for many years. Cruelty is involved in the use of the gin trap, and I do not think there is any difference between us in our wish to get rid of it as soon as we can.

We are all agreed that the rabbit is a very serious pest, and that we have to take every practicable step to eliminate it. We want to do that in the most humane possible way. The question we have to consider first is whether trapping is necessary at all. Some hon. Members feel that it is not, but all the advice and information I have been able to get on the matter fits in with my own experience that in some places and at some times trapping is necessary. This is the background against which we have to consider the problem. In the present circumstances it would be a real loss if we had to proceed without trapping of any kind.

I think we agree that myxomatosis will not provide a complete answer because it will not kill all the rabbits. It will leave some. That fact should make us more determined to encourage the most active follow-up operation to get as near as possible to complete extermination. In the process of mopping up the remainder of the rabbits, we have to face the fact that trapping will have some part to play.

The Amendment fixes a date for abolishing the sale and use of all except approved traps. The date we have thought right to put into the Bill is 31st July, 1958. That date can only be postponed by order subject to affirmative Resolution, and if the order is introduced it can postpone the date only by one year at a time. Such a draft order must be laid before Parliament two years before the date on which the ban would otherwise become effective. That is to say, it will have to be laid before July, 1956. If no order is laid by that date, then 31st July, 1958, becomes an absolutely fixed date and cannot be changed at all.

An order can be laid by the Minister to fix a date earlier than July, 1958, if the development of humane traps takes place sooner than we at present think is likely, but it must be introduced at least two years before the earlier date which it proposes shall apply. That means that an order fixing an earlier date would have to be introduced before 31st July, 1955, and that the date would then become 31st July, 1957, instead of 1958. If such an order were approved, the date would become irrevocable.

6.45 p.m.

My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary gave the reasons on Second Reading why we thought that July, 1958, was the earliest possible date. We feel that at least two seasons are likely to be required for the experiments to develop an alternative trap or traps, and that a further two seasons are likely to be required for trial in the field, manufacture and distribution of the traps.

As hon. Gentlemen know, I have the advice of a Humane Traps Advisory Committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. Roland Dudley. I am pleased to see the energetic way in which that committee is tackling its very difficult problem, but we shall be lucky indeed if it is successful in finding a trap within the time I have mentioned. There is only a remote chance of developing one more quickly than that.

The committee has already a number of traps under examination. While some offer a prospect, some are, I am afraid, so humane that they do not catch rabbits at all. Some of them could not be more humane. That is one of the problems. Some of the proposed traps are of rather impracticable design and some are too high in cost to be economic in the circumstances. Even the date we suggest means accepting quite a considerable risk that when it comes there may not be available an effective alternative trap.

I shall not say any more than that at this stage. We have done our very best to reconcile the general wish to lose no time whatever in banning the gin trap, with the practical means and requirements of the situation. I hope that the Committee, after we have discussed the Amendments, will regard our proposal as a sincere attempt to meet the general wish of the House of Commons and as a practical solution to a difficult problem.

Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, to leave out "fifty-eight," and to insert "fifty-six."

The Minister has gone some way to meet us in the Amendment he has moved, but we cannot accept the date proposed in it. The point of this manuscript Amendment is to enable us to discuss the vital point of the date on which the banning of anything other than an improved trap will come into operation. The Minister has mentioned again today that there is general agreement in the House upon the principle of the abolition of the gin trap and its replacement by some more humane form of trap.

There is, therefore, no disagreement anywhere in the House on this point of abolishing the gin trap once and for all. The only point of difference that remains between most hon. Members on this side of the Committee and the Minister is the question of the date. My hon. Friends and myself feel that a target date for the abolition of the gin trap should be set not in 1958 but at 31st July, 1956.

As I understand it, the case of the Government for 1958 was stated by the Minister during the Second Reading debate, when he said: The Humane Traps Advisory Committee is hard at work on this problem, but I am afraid it is unrealistic to expect early results. In the Government's view we shall require at least two trapping seasons to develop and produce new traps and new designs, and then a further period will be required for manufacture and for trying them out in practice to enable farmers and trappers to have confidence in them and to become proficient. That is why we are satisfied that it is not practicable to make the date earlier than 31st July, 1958." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1954; Vol. 531, c. 1510.] In appointing that further committee, I believe that the Minister has done something which enables him to postpone the banning of this trap for a longer period. What he has done is to set a task for the committee which is quite impossible. He is asking it to find the perfect trap, and the perfect trap is impossible of attainment.

I do not find the Minister's statement today or his statement on Second Reading a convincing argument in favour of 1958. Also, I think that in this matter we are up against vested interests. The Scott Henderson Committee, which considered the question of cruelty to wild animals, also considered this aspect of the matter, and in paragraph 66 of its report, said: Moreover, experts are apt to be so imbued with the idea of the efficiency of the gin that their criticism of any possible substitute is frequently more destructive than constructive. After very careful consideration we think that a completely new approach to the problem is necessary. We recommend that the sale for use in this country and the use of the gin should be banned by law within a short period of time; that it should be illegal for any spring trap to be used, the design of which is not approved by the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Scotland; and that the Ministers should approve only spring traps which will catch and kill a high proportion of the animals without causing them unnecessary suffering. We have no doubt that if such a law is passed the trap manufacturers will soon find an effective substitute for the gin. Even if it is not possible to invent a trap which is quite as effective as the gin in catching animals, the reduction of the cruelty at present involved in the use of the gin will more than compensate for a slight loss of efficiency. I apologise for having read such a long extract, but it is an important paragraph, which puts succinctly and well the arguments I am trying to put.

Again I must call attention to that first sentence: Moreover, experts are apt to be so imbued with the idea of the efficiency of the gin that their criticism of any possible substitute is frequently more destructive than constructive. As I understand it, that sentence was deliberately chosen by a body of eminent people who had given much time, much thought and much study to this problem. They deliberately chose that sentence after having carefully studied this problem over a period of two years.

We should recognise that in regard to this matter there is a certain amount of vested interest—experts as they are called—which should be defeated by a decision of this House of Commons. We should pay attention to, and give legislative effect to, what the Scott Henderson Committee said, particularly in the final sentence which I quoted: Even if it is not possible to invent a trap which is quite as effective as the gin in catching animals, the reduction of the cruelty at present involved in the use of the gin will more than compensate for a slight loss of efficiency. So we must pay special attention to the fact of the possible gain in humanity far outweighing the slight loss of efficiency which might be involved in the abolition of the gin trap.

In its report the committee asked this House that the gin should be banned by law within a short period The committee reported in June, 1951; the date proposed by the Minister is seven years after the date of the issue of that report That is much too long a period to elapse between that recommendation and action by the Minister for the cessation of the use of the diabolical instrument which the gin trap happens to be.

If we set this target much earlier the people concerned will adapt themselves to the earlier date. I do not think it is beyond the wit and capacity of manufacturers, farmers, trappers and others in more than 18 months from now to find a trap, to make sufficient and to learn how to use it, and so wipe out those few animals which will be left by myxomatosis.

Again I revert to the Scott Henderson Committee, because it considered this problem extraordinarily well. The committee asked the Minister to make a special study and conduct a test of the Imbra trap. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary made some reference to it, but the Ministry, after having made a test, issued a Press notice on 20th November 1952, in which it said: The Minister has already announced in Parliament that initial tests establish the usefulness of the new trap for catching rabbits and appear to indicate that it is a satisfactory substitute for the gin. In these tests, details of which have now been released by the Ministry, the new trap was equal to the gin trap in catching efficiency and greatly superior to it in avoidance of suffering. In the course of four major trials, in which 935 rabbits were taken under varying conditions, adjustments in design and better handling with practice gave progressive improvement in results, e.g., rabbits dead on trap inspection rose from 91 per cent, to 99 per cent. and catches by head, neck and shoulder—chiefly neck—from 78.2 per cent to 100 per cent. In the first test comparative observations were made, and it was noted that only 4.3 per cent. in the new traps were by leg catches against 99 per cent. leg catches in the gins. 7.0 p.m.

These are not my words but those of the Ministry's officers, who are all very capable men, knowledgeable in the ways of rabbits and the task of catching them. They have studied the problem for a long time, and I am sure that careful civil servants would not have permitted such a notice to be issued were they not sure of the facts.

I would ask the Committee particularly to note these figures: …only 4.3 per cent. in the new traps were by leg catches against 99 per cent. leg catches in the gins. We all have to recognise that leg catches are the diabolical feature of the gin trap. The exquisite pain, the lingering death, stamps the gin trap as a hellish instrument of torture.

What has become of the tests? Two years ago the Minister's experts reported as I have just read from that Press notice. I believe that their approval of this new trap is such that even if, in some cases, its catching efficiency is not as high as that of the gin trap, we should take a decision now to end the use of the latter in July, 1956. That leaves us almost two years to complete the work of tests, to manufacture the trap, and to enable those who require it to practise in its use.

The Minister should make this development something of a major operation by setting the date which we suggest in this Amendment. The mass of the people would respond.

Mr. A. C. M. Spearman (Scarborough and Whitby)

I fully share the detestation which the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) has of the gin trap. When I drew a place in the Private Members' list, I had proposed to introduce a Bill to abolish the gin trap, but I was persuaded not to do so because of the Bill then being prepared. At first I was disappointed that the date fixed was to be not until after 1958. So critical was I of that Bill in that form that I was not able to promise my support for it in the Division Lobby.

Since then the position has been very drastically altered, and the hon. Member's statement that the Minister had gone some way towards meeting us was a very considerable understatement. The hon. Gentleman has not pretended that the abolition of the gin trap can take place immediately. He said it can take place in perhaps two years. The Minister has now changed the time from an indefinite date to 1958. I should have thought that that was going a great deal further in some ways, and meeting us nine-tenths of the way. It would be quite unreasonable now not to support the Government in respect of the present form of the Bill.

Dr. King

The hon. Gentleman said that the Minister has fixed the definite date of July, 1958, but the Minister himself explained that it is quite possible to postpone that date year by year by an order from the Government.

Mr. Spearman

That can only be done with the permission of the House. From our point of view that is the complete security. Certainly, I do not pledge myself to support the Government if they try to delay the date, but I must make up my mind when the time comes. I think that it is quite fair, and the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East, by seeking to fix the date in 1956, has himself admitted that these things take time.

It is very difficult for the outsider to judge that it will take just two years. To prohibit these gin traps at a prematurely early date, and before the experiments can be carried out with success, would be most unwise, if for no other reason than that, if there is no other practical alternative to the gin trap ready in 1956 and rabbits are swarming everywhere, I have no doubt that, whatever the law may say, the farmers will use it. There is nothing more foolish than for legislators to bring in laws that cannot be enforced, and that, I am sure, is what would happen.

I wholeheartedly support the Government's amended version of the Bill, but I wish to stress one fact. There is not much hope of finding a trap as effective and as cheap as the gin trap. Consequently, unless there is a definite date beyond which the gin trap cannot be manufactured, there is no immediate prospect of a practical alternative. Had such a ban operated in the conditions of a year ago, I believe an adequate trap would have been invented, but I wonder very much whether, with the discouragement to trapping now caused by myxomatosis, there will be enough inducement to inventors to make a trap.

I believe that, under existing circumstances, it is necessary for the Government not only to say that the gin trap shall not be used after a certain date, but to induce inventors to come forward by means of, perhaps, a guarantee that a number of traps will be bought. I know that that will cost money, and I am certainly not one of those who are always encouraging the Government to spend more. In the present circumstances, however, the feeling in the country about the gin trap fully justifies some expenditure and the enormous cost to the farmer justifies it from another angle. I therefore ask the Minister to give some assurance that he will be able to squeeze from the Treasury the funds necessary to implement some such scheme.

I should like to add that, from the many talks that I had with the Minister when he was most closely associated with agriculture, I know of few people in this House who are keener to get rid of the gin trap than is the Minister himself.

Mr. Dugdale

I should like to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion). I hope that we shall not regard this as a party matter. This is something about which many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee feel very deeply, and I trust that we shall not think of it as a question of whether the Government will win, or be defeated, by so many votes. Let us, as Members of the House of Commons responsible for whether or not this diabolical trap should be used after a certain period, have a perfectly straightforward discussion. We have a responsibility, and it is for us to decide whether it is observed or not. People will judge us by that.

I hope that we shall treat this matter as my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) suggested in another context, as a war operation. We should say that a new trap has got to be found to replace the gin trap, just as we would say that a new aeroplane or a new tank or a new bomb must be found. If we said that in time of war, the necessary tank, aeroplane or bomb would be found within a short time. If we give as much attention to this matter as we should to the production of a weapon of war, we can be certain of finding the answer.

One thing we shall not find is the answer to the trappers' prayer. Let us not put the interests of the trapper before the interests of humanity. Let us not bother about producing a trap which pleases the trapper. What matters is that the rabbit should be exterminated humanely, whether or not it is left in a condition which suits the trapper.

We must take care, too, that the trader's interests are not allowed to subordinate our efforts in abolishing the gin trap. One hon. Member said how important it was that the fur industry, in which his constituency is interested, should be encouraged. Do not let us worry about encouraging the fur industry if it is to be at the expense of humanity. Let us remember the inhumanity involved in this diabolical weapon, rather than pay regard to the interests of fur producers and people who use fur, no matter what hardship it may cause them.

Of course, there are difficulties. It is said that any new trap may be too expensive. I suggest that the Government should consider the possibility, if necessary, of subsidising the production of a new trap, and even subsidising it to the extent that it may be within the means of those farmers who otherwise could not afford it. It is better to have a more expensive trap subsidised by the Government, if it is humane, than to have an inhumane trap which is not subsidised by the Government.

There is great urgency about the extermination of the rabbit, but let us remember, whether we like it or not—and I do not propose to deal with the point now because there are later Amendments dealing with it—that myxomatosis has done more to destroy rabbits than could ever have been expected before the disease became widespread. The problem of rabbit destruction therefore, is not so great as it was, though I admit that it is still great. Aided by this disease, we should be able to complete the destruction of rabbits with a new and better trap, even if we have to dispense with the gin trap.

There is very great feeling throughout the country on this matter. Not long ago a meeting was convened by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, and resolutions were passed in favour of abolishing the gin trap. It may be said that, as there are no rabbits running about Birmingham, the people of Birmingham do not know anything about the subject. But I believe that this feeling against the gin trap is shared by people not only in the towns but in the country as well, who very often feel more deeply about the matter because they themselves have experienced what is involved in setting these traps and have seen the condition of the rabbits when they are taken from the traps.

For those reasons, I hope that the Government will consider this matter, even at this late stage, in a sympathetic manner and will see whether, as a House of Commons, we can do something to abolish this evil thing.

7.15 p.m.

Sir T. Moore

I imagine that this Clause has aroused more feeling and has caused more emotion than any other part of the Bill. I was glad when the right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) said that this is not a party issue but is one in which both sides of the Committee are interested, and that the purpose of the Bill is supported in all constituencies, whether Labour or Conservative.

We must start on that basis, and we must also start on the basis that we all loathe this trap, including the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary. Therefore, when the Minister says that it is impracticable to shorten the time before an alternative humane trap can be put on the market, I am assuming that he is genuinely seeking to do the best he can to get rid of this horrible instrument. I would go further and say that the farmers who use the gin trap loathe using it as much as anyone else. Indeed, they will probably be more glad than anyone—even more so than those who are emotionally aroused—to see an end of it.

As the Minister truly said, trapping must go on. Whether we like it or not, it will go on. Farmers are very conservative in more ways than one, and, with them, trapping has been in existence for centuries. We cannot rely on this horrible myxomatosis, but we can use gas, the long net and other methods, to keep the number of rabbits down, and we hope that they will all play their part. But we must also find this humane trap. I believe that all Ministers concerned, including the Secretary of State for Scotland, have their hearts in this matter. I believe that they are determined to bring an end to this wretched business as soon as they can.

I believe that the committee which has been set up is both energetic and determined. Indeed, I had the privilege of discussing the matter with the chairman of that committee, and I was impressed not only by his knowledge but his determination to find a suitable trap. Indeed, he gave me the assurance that nothing was impossible. I think those were the words he used.

The Minister said that two seasons were essential for testing out any new type of trap which might be invented. We should remember that new traps are being designed every week or month. Therefore, it is not possible to try them all out at once, because we have not got them all at once. I admit that there is an argument for not waiting for the best trap but making one as good as possible. I understand that the interval is likely to be prolonged, and it might be advantageous to test a number of these traps in Australia and New Zealand, where there are plenty of rabbits. In that way we could double the seasons, since the seasons in those countries do not coincide with ours.

It seems to me that we might telescope the time factor very usefully if that procedure were adopted. If, by utilising the two testing seasons, we found a trap which was adequate and suitable for our needs, perhaps the Minister would not ask for a longer period but would reduce the period by, say, a year, which would be a matter of great comfort to us all.

I now come to the question raised by the right hon. Member for West Bromwich of making it worth while for inventors to invent a new trap, and the question of compensating the farmer for the increased cost of a humane trap. As far as I can ascertain, the cost of the Imbra is about double that of the gin trap.

Mr. Hayman

Could the hon. Gentleman tell us whether the gin trap costs about 2s. 6d., in which case double that price would be around 5s.?

Sir T. Moore

No, the gin trap costs about 4s. 6d. or 5s., and the Imbra costs about 10s.

Mr. Hayman

But surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that farmers need subsidising to buy traps which cost 9s. or 10s.?

Sir T. Moore

I most certainly do. If one has 30 or 40 or 300 traps, it comes to an amount which many small farmers could possibly not afford.

However, let me develop my suggestion. There are the two problems, and the Minister has met the first one because he has said he will give ex gratia payments to suitable inventors of acceptable humane traps. The incentive is there provided for every ingenious engineering mind which would like to work in that direction.

The other problem is what to do about the farmer who cannot afford the number of humane traps necessary for his farm until a market has been found on a sufficiently large scale for the new trap there will be no producer ready to make it. So although my hon. Friends and I are strongly averse to subsidies, I do think, for one year at any rate, until a market has been developed and found for a humane trap, a subsidy would be approved by this House and welcomed by people at large.

I think that the Minister has made a great gesture to meet our complaints and our objections as expressed in the Second Reading debate, and I am confident he will continue his efforts with the same determination to make sure that we get rid of this hated thing as soon as possible.

Mr. Mallalieu

The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) has expressed his confidence in the genuineness of the desire of the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary to get rid of this trap as soon as possible. I do not think there is anybody in this House who does not subscribe to that. The trouble is that the Minister is circumscribed by the limits of his own theories on this subject.

He appears to have the rather pessimistic theory—at any rate, it was expressed by the Parliamentary Secretary recently—that not many of us would live to see the day when the rabbit was exterminated. None of us can be exact in our prophecies as to that, but I submit that it is no way in which to enter this drive when I think the House is unanimous in saying should he undertaken now while we have this chance given to us by myxomatosis.

In spite of my belief in the genuine intention of the Minister, I wish to support the manuscript Amendment which my hon. Friend has moved. I do this although I fully acknowledge the Minister has met us very considerably and has gone further than anybody else has gone towards making the abolition of the gin trap a really near thing. But in spite of that, I believe we can quite safely press on by putting 1956 in this Bill as the date at which this trap should be abolished, rather than 1958.

Surely the object of putting any date at all into this Bill is to give notice to those who have vested interests in the gin trap and in the getting rid of rabbits by this method. That surely is the only object. If I differ from my hon. Friends and my right hon. Friends who have spoken from this side of the Committee in any degree at all, it is only in this: some seem to think that it is possible to exterminate the rabbit by trapping. I submit it is not. I do not think even the Minister thinks so.

Every method known must be brought into play now, while we have this wonderful chance—this terrible chance if hon. Members like it better—to exterminate the rabbit. No matter how long we wait, I submit we can never in the nature of things obtain a trap which could exterminate the rabbit. I have no doubt we could obtain a humane trap, which coupled with all the other things tending towards abolition of the rabbit, may have success, but not by itself.

I therefore submit that if the Government are in any sense holding back this little extra time between 1956 and 1958, it is because they still retain the belief that the trap, in one form or another, is necessary to the abolition of the rabbit. If they have that belief, it is not a bit surprising that there should be this slight pessimism in the mind of the Parliamentary Secretary as to the eventual abolition of this pest.

I urge the Committee that it is worth while putting in this date of 1956, in spite of the generous approach by the Minister, which I readily acknowledge. It is worth while, if only to show people that we are fully alive to this chance, which may not occur again, and which myxomatosis will not leave us for very long—because the rabbits, as we are all agreed, will become immune. It is worth while, if only to show people the necessity of undertaking this drive now on the maximum possible scale and with every possible means at our disposal. I think we should accept the Amendment to the Amendment.

Lieut.-Colonel J. C. Lockwood (Romford)

I hope that the Government will seriously consider this Amendment to the Amendment. It seems that if the Government Amendment were adopted the position would be that there could be in existence a humane trap but, nevertheless, it would still be possible to use the gin trap, which, we are all agreed, is horrible and beastly. Being anxious, like everybody else, to get rid of this vicious gin trap, I should be most unhappy if, once a humane trap had been discovered, it were possible to use the gin trap. As I understand it, that would be the effect of the Government Amendment.

I was very glad to hear someone say this matter should not be treated as a party one. Obviously it should not be. Everybody in this Committee is humane, and no one person is more anxious than another to get rid of this abominable gin trap. But I am not prepared to support an Amendment the effect of which might be, and I think will be, that the chance might occur where a humane trap was discovered and yet in spite of that, it was still possible to use this horrible and abominable trap about which we are speaking.

I appeal to the Minister very seriously to consider the Amendment to the Amendment. If he finds that at present he cannot accept it, I wonder whether he would reconsider it and, at a later date, see whether he could not possibly meet the point contained in the Amendment to the Amendment.

Mr. Philips Price

We are faced with an issue of humanity and the getting rid of rabbits to grow more food. There is room for much honest doubt. The speeches we have heard so far cut right across party lines. I confess I am not as confident as my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) about the need for his Amendment to the Amendment. I think on the whole the Minister is wise to leave the Clause as it stands, and that 1958, on the whole, is, in the circumstances, the best year to stipulate.

There must be elasticity in this matter. If a satisfactory trap is discovered before 1958, the date can be advanced; if it is not, it can be postponed. I fully appreciate the difficulties arising in connection with the invention of a humane trap which will also be efficient.

7.30 p.m.

I have consulted pest officers in some counties about the Imbra trap. Although my hon. Friend quoted a report which gave some very satisfactory figures, I wonder if those figures were not based upon the use of this trap only in the most suitable places. The efficiency of the trap depends upon the kind of place where it is used.

There may be some areas where those figures will apply, but there will be others where the effects will be nothing like as good. First, they will not provide as high a catching percentage and, second, in some cases—as pest officers have told me—animals which are caught will still be alive when the trap is next inspected. In other words, it is not always completely humane.

All traps are cruel in one way or another, although I agree that the gin trap is more cruel than any other, and I have banned it on my property for a long time. Under the circumstances which prevail there I am fairly well able to keep down rabbits, because there are no places where a gin trap would be the only possible means to use. But the places I have in mind are sandy warrens, rocky ground and chalk quarries.

One cannot effectively gas rabbits in a sandy warren because the gas goes through the loose earth and only a small percentage of rabbits are killed. Chalk quarries can often be a source of infestation of a whole area. If a sandy warren or an old quarry is ignored, one's land will be infested in spite of all the snares, nets and so on which one may use.

The difficulty about the Imbra trap is that it needs a certain amount of space. It cannot be set in a very small space. If a rabbit went into a quite small rocky hole the Imbra trap could not be set in it. That is why I say that, in view of the dangerous infestation areas, unless we can produce something smaller than the Imbra trap, and something which will also be humane and effective in catching a high percentage of rabbits, it would be unwise to advance the date provided in the Bill.

It is said that vested interests are concerned in this matter. I cannot believe that they have such influence that the Ministry of Agriculture is prevented from employing experts and engineers to find the right trap. We all know the kind of people who catch rabbits by means of the gin trap and who are interested not in exterminating them but in skimming off the surface every year, leaving behind the breeding stock. We need have no consideration for such people, and I believe that the Bill makes it possible to deal with them at last, so that rabbits can be cleared out of the areas where those persons have been operating and making a living.

Many people who are sentimental upon this subject—and also some societies—often make the mistake of talking as if the whole thing were due to vested interests. Only part of the difficulty is due to them; the technical difficulties are immense. I am very glad to know that the Ministry is striving hard to deal with this matter. It is not an easy problem, because, at the same time, one must try to be both humane and efficient.

In practice, every possible method must be used to deal with rabbits. They are a dangerous pest. Although we all hate the gin trap, I believe that we must use it for the time being in order to keep down rabbits in those areas where it is the only effective weapon. On the whole, I think that the Minister's decision upon this Clause is the wisest one, and that it will succeed in the long run.

Mr. Kenyon

I cannot agree with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price), because the trade and all those concerned with this problem have already had some years in which to deal with it. The Scott Henderson Report gave the death knell to the gin trap by its condemnation of that weapon. That was four or five years ago. From that moment, everyone concerned with the trapping of rabbits knew that a new trap or new method would have to be found. If they have not taken any action and are given another four years before they have to do anything we shall just be playing with the question. Action has been taken by many farmers since the report was issued. I do not believe that there are as many gin traps in use as we are led to believe. Many farmers use entirely different methods, such as ferrets, purse nets and long nets, which enable them to get rid of rabbits far more quickly than by trapping them.

It is, nevertheless, a most difficult task to find a trap which will be as effective as the gin trap, because one will have to be produced which will work in a different way. The gin trap is easy to set and to slip inside rabbit burrows. It catches rabbits by their legs; that is its cruelty. The leg is very often torn and broken, and the rabbit suffers for a long time, until it is released. Any trap which does not kill at once will be as cruel as the gin trap. The Committee is envisaging the development of a trap which kills when it strikes, and that will be very difficult if the trap is to be small enough to be slipped into a burrow. A trap which kills has a spring, which has a fly over the rabbit, and in the process it strikes the side of the burrow and so gives the rabbit an opportunity of getting away. Very often the trap cannot be set in the burrow.

The difficulty those who are trying to get a new type of trap have to overcome is the difficulty of devising a trap that will strike a rabbit on the head or break its back inside the burrow. That is an almost impossible task. That is why I cannot place any faith in trapping. Other methods are far more effective. I suggest to the Minister that he should offer a prize to the inventor who can produce a trap which will kill the rabbit. It should be a substantial prize. It would be worth it.

I differ from my hon. Friends on the subject of myxomatosis. Myxomatosis is not destroying the rabbits as much as we are hoping, because trapping is beginning to cease completely in some parts of the country, because people will not eat rabbits, as they are afraid of getting myxomatosis. The result is that farmers and trappers are not catching rabbits, and trappers have been left with rabbits on their hands. In certain areas, because of myxomatosis, rabbits are increasing faster than ever.

The Minister is in a dilemma. However, difficult situations often produce solutions not for themselves only, but solutions that can be applied in the future. Thus we advance. So I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he offer a substantial prize to the inventor who will produce the necessary and effective trap.

Why do not the newspapers take a hand in this? They spread the news of myxomatosis; they frighten people out of eating rabbits. Why cannot some of the newspapers explain the difficulties about the trap to the public? Then some of our wonderful inventors will be moved to submit their inventions to the Government. If the newspapers were to spread the news of the need for such a trap as effectively as they have spread the fear of myxomatosis, something might be done.

I disagree with the Minister in extending the time to four years. The effectiveness of the gin trap is not so great. Many people use gin traps, but many people do not. The most effective way of getting rid of rabbits is not the trap. There are other more effective means.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Hurd (Newbury)

I support my right hon. Friend's Amendment, because I think it goes fully as far as he dare go with the responsibilities that he has for safeguarding the country's food supply and forestry against rabbits. If Mr. Roland Dudley's Committee is successful in finding an effective alternative to the gin trap—although it may not be so fully effective, let us call it an effective and humane alternative—earlier than 1956 the Minister can, if this Amendment is made, fix an earlier date for the abolition of the gin trap. I think that this committee has rather overlooked that point.

The Minister is taking to himself the power to come to us and say, "I am delighted that Mr. Roland Dudley's Committee has been more successful than I dared to hope, and I can fix an earlier date." If, on the other hand, Mr. Roland Dudley's Committee is not as successful as we hope it will be my right hon. Friend may have to ask the House to agree to postpone the date for abolishing the gin trap.

My concern is that Mr. Roland Dudley's Committee should be able to get on with the job. I know that there have been civil servants tinkering about with this problem for four years—is it not? It was at the instigation of some of us that the last Minister of Agriculture, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks. (Sir T. Dugdale) set up the Roland Dudley Committee. It is, I think, a very good committee, with a practical farmer and engineer as chairman and consisting also of others with first-hand knowledge of the problem in the field and with engineering ingenuity and experience. I am most anxious that this committee should have all the money and facilities it wants. I believe that it is not getting them today.

I should like to see that committee set free from the trammels of the Ministry in its work. I am talking of the financial side. To hasten the day when we can abolish the gin trap, I suggest to my right hon. Friend that he makes a good investment by giving that committee a block grant of £10,000 to spend at its discretion in getting on with its job.

I hear silly stories—I do not know whether they are true—that the head trapper employed by that committee has to travel by train from place to place because he is not allowed a car allowance as he does not come from the right Civil Service grade to qualify for one. That is nonsense. If we want the committee to do its job, let him have the 6d. a mile car allowance, or whatever it is that civil servants get. That kind of fiddling nonsense does not help forward the work that we want to see done. So I say, give full scope to the committee. I believe that we have got as good a set of men to help us speedily to a solution of this problem as we are likely to get.

I have for years employed two men to catch rabbits, using gin traps, wire snares, ferrets, and gas. We had to use the gin trap. We are not using it at the moment because we have myxomatosis on the farm. It is my view that the spread of myxomatosis from one infected centre to another, so linking the infected areas up, in the next 12 months, will so reduce the rabbit population in this country that, if the Roland Dudley Committee finds and perfects the mechanism of a sound trap, we shall not need two years to get the new trap into adequate commercial production so that we can abolish the gin trap. I do not think the problem will be all that big. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale). I believe that myxomatosis may be our ally and not our enemy, and here I disagree with the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon), in getting rid of the gin trap.

Although I have had to use the gin trap because in some places it is the only effective weapon we know, I am all in favour of getting rid of it as soon as possible. We must have a practical, humane, alternative, and I am sure that if the Roland Dudley Committee is given all the facilities and finance it wants it will, at the earliest possible date, meet the wishes of us all in this Chamber and of the public outside.

Dr. King

I hope that the Minister and the Press have noted the positive suggestions which have been made in the debate about offering rewards for the invention of humane traps. A newspaper might secure for a long time the kind of publicity which every newspaper wants, and at the same time, render a service to the community, if it undertook this work.

I want to turn the minds of hon. Members to one narrow point in this issue and to plead with the Minister to write a fixed date into the Bill—even if he will not accept our Amendment to the Amendment—and to make it a fixed date without qualification. Hon. Members have rejoiced at what the Minister has apparently conceded to us as a result of our representations. We commented that under the original drafting it would have been wrong to abolish the gin trap earlier than July, 1958, and that the original words left it possible for it to be abolished in July, 1958, or at any later date. The only certain thing in this vague wording was that it could not be abolished before July, 1958.

What is the position today? The Minister has suggested that under his Amendment it would be possible to abolish the gin trap earlier than 1958. I suggest that that is almost a trap dangled in front of us, because if we wished to propose the abolition of the gin trap in July, 1956, by the order described in this Clause, it would have been necessary to give two years' notice, so that the order would have had to go through the House in July, 1954. The only possible earlier date would, in fact, be July, 1957, and to abolish the gin trap by July, 1957, it would be necessary for the House to pass an order by July, 1955.

Mr. Amory

I am sure that the hon. Member does not mean to suggest that a trap was set. In my opening remarks I made the very point which he is now making. The earliest date at which it could be introduced would be 31st July, 1957.

Dr. King

I can assure the Minister that I used the word "trap" jokingly and with no suggestion of a motive.

The only way in which we could secure the abolition of the gin trap earlier than 1958 would be to get an order through the House by July next year. If that is so, then surely the obvious and simplest way is to write the date July, 1957, into the Bill. If we found subsequently that we could not do it by July, 1957, we could use the apparatus of the Clause to postpone it.

Our case is that as long as there are loopholes, as long as the date is not a fixed date, the position is not satisfactory. Under the Bill the date can recede from July, 1958, to July, 1959, and July, 1960, provided that the Minister comes to the House and pleads successfully for a postponement and provided that he can rely on the support of the Government majority. It is, therefore, possible that those who are using the gin trap, and who are considering whether the abolition of the trap is to come, have in mind an escape Clause by which the use of the trap could trail on into the dim and distant future.

I believe that nothing stimulates invention more than necessity and I urge the Minister that, whatever date we decide, he should write a date into the Bill and make it a date without an exception.

Sir Victor Raikes (Liverpool, Garston)

I want to support the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. King) in asking that a fixed date should be written into the Bill. If we lay it down that the gin trap shall not be used after a certain date, we shall not only make it plain to those who are looking at the problem from a commercial angle that they will not be able to use the trap after that date but we shall also give stimulus to those who are trying to provide an alternative.

It is not so easy to give full enthusiasm to invention if the inventor can say, "The present gin trap is well known as reasonably effective, even if it is cruel, and if we develop a new trap, can we be sure that it will be bought?" He can be sure that it will be bought and used if he knows that the gin trap cannot be used after a certain date, whatever that date may be.

The myxomatosis question, to some extent, confuses us all when we are thinking of future dates. I do not want to speak about myxomatosis now because I hope to say something about it later, but I do not think we shall have a great deal of use for any sort of trap or any sort of prize during the next year or so. Although, at the moment, certain areas are, as has been said, very full of rabbits because they have not yet been affected by myxomatosis, it is my belief and my regret—for I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) that I do not like myxomatosis as an ally, even in the abolition of the gin trap; in my opinion it is the most filthy method of all of killing rabbits—that during this winter in England, at any rate—Scotland may be different—myxomatosis will affect practically every area and the rabbit population of next year will be considerably smaller.

It may well be that, if certain things are done in later stages of the Bill, rabbits will be protected in certain cases; and I hope that that will be so. Nevertheless, the rabbit population next year will be a smaller population. I do not think many People will eat rabbit before 1956, because the present feeling against it will last for a long time.

I am asking the Minister to write a final date into the Bill so that whatever scheme is put forward is assured of a fair chance.

8.0 p.m.

Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)

It is clear that if there is a division of opinion on this subject it is not on party lines. I think every hon. Member wants to see the earliest possible abolition of this inhumane gin trap.

For a number of reasons, I want to support the Amendment to the Amendment. We are asking that the date should be July, 1956, and not July, 1958. In Scotland, the Secretary of State has had powers to do something about the gin trap since 1948. Consequently, if the Minister sticks to the date of 1958, then 10 years will have elapsed since it was felt that the gin trap ought to be abolished and since powers were given to that end.

For a civilised people to take 10 years about it—and according to the Minister's Amendment, possibly even longer than 10 years—is very wrong. Some of my hon. Friends have dealt with all the difficulties which exist, but I cannot help thinking that if this were a defence debate and we were discussing a weapon of war, no hon. Member would have accepted a statement that we must wait until 1958 and perhaps even longer for something for which we had been hunting since 1948.

I want to make the plea that has been made by some of my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee, and by the hon. Member for Garston (Sir V. Raikes) on the other side, that the date should be 1956 or 1957. I should not want it to be any later than 1957, but whether it is 1956 or 1957 let there be no loophole whereby this House can say that the date should be extended to 1958 or 1959, or, as I fear, perhaps even a longer time ahead than that.

Points have been made about what has happened owing to this disease, myxomatosis. The use of the gin trap has been sanctioned because of the depredation by rabbits, and it is said that there is less of that depredation now because of this horrible disease. That seems to be another reason why the Minister should be quite bold and say, either that he will accept our Amendment to the Amendment, or that he will put a firm date of 1957 into the Bill before it is considered on Report stage.

I say that he has nothing to fear from any point of view if he accepts 1956 as the date. Even if the Minister accepted 1955 as the date, he leaves himself the loophole, in his own Amendment, of making it any year beyond 1955 that he may choose. Even if he agreed to 1956 and the rest of his Amendment is accepted by the Committee, he still has that choice. I stress that I should be much happier if there were a definite date put in the Bill without any loophole at all for any future Minister, whether the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Minister of Agriculture, to allow the gin trap to be used after that date.

Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)

I hope that the Minister will heed the words which have been uttered from both sides of the Committee showing that there is a desire that a fixed date should be written into the Bill. Personally, I do not like the Minister's Amendment, for two reasons. First, I think that the date of 1958 is too far away, and, secondly, that the power of one year's extension is unreasonable in all the circumstances.

Let us be realists about this matter. We are not embarking upon any great scientific undertaking. This is a simple practical job of work to which people interested in this industry ought to be able to address their minds with some idea of finding a solution within a matter of months. My mind goes back to the days of the war when this country was losing ships every day by magnetic mines. The scientists of this country were given dates by which to find a solution to the menace of the magnetic mine, and they succeeded. There were many other problems of even greater moment which were forced upon the country during those dreadful years, and the scientists found the solution very quickly.

Here is something which, on the surface, would appear to be very simple. I am sure that if we simply talk about this matter tonight and give the impression in the country that four years is all right, with possibly another year, making five, the attitude of the people concerned with this problem will be just as slothful as five years permits them to be.

I am sure that if we were to write into the Bill a specific date—and I hope that the Minister will find it possible to accept 1956 as that date—a remedy would be found in that time which would be acceptable to all concerned.

Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)

I think that we must all be grateful to the Minister for the time and trouble he has taken in the preparation of his Amendment, which goes some way towards meeting our wishes. As I see it, everything depends on the invention of some efficient substitute for the gin trap. If no substitute is discovered, the Minister has power to put off the abolition of this trap from year to year by the vote of this House. I feel that a definite date ought to be put into the Bill.

I am not as sanguine as the Minister and some other hon. Members seem to be about the discovery of an efficient substitute for the gin trap. I can speak with some experience of the use of the Sawyer and the Imbra trap. I was not very successful with the Imbra trap. I worked on sandy soil, and unless I netted the burrow from each end the trap would not work at all. I never succeeded in catching a rabbit with it. I feel that the Minister is wrong in making the abolition of the gin trap dependent upon the discovery of a workable substitute.

There are many other ways of catching rabbits and of completely getting rid of them, quite apart from traps of this nature. There is the wire netting method, the gassing method—although I know that cannot be used in sandy soil and under other conditions—and there is also our old friend the ferret—a very useful fellow indeed.

I do not think that we have of necessity to depend on the discovery of another spring trap. I agree with many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who feel that the Minister ought to put a definite date in the Bill and that, whether a substitute is found or not, the use of the gin trap should be made illegal after that date.

Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)

I should not have risen but for the remarks made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper). With regard to the question of finding a substitute, I feel that only if he is prepared for the allocation of unlimited powers to be inserted in the Amendment can he complete his analogy of war-time conditions. Then it might be that we should find some substitute in the space of time which he envisaged.

We have a duty to the farming community as well as the one based on humanitarian grounds. We are all agreed on the necessity of abolishing the gin trap. We all accept that in principle, but we have a duty to see that when we pass legislation such as this we provide some satisfactory alternative.

That responsibility is laid on us fairly and squarely. At the moment we have not so provided, and I urge the Minister to stand by the Amendment which he has moved, and which, I think, goes as far as he can safely go to ensure that some provision is made before this legislation comes into force. Otherwise we are putting the agricultural community at a tremendous disadvantage and one to which it is not fair to put it.

Whilst we commend the Dudley Committee for its valuable work—and I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) paid tribute to it for what it is doing—and accept the suggestion made by hon. Members opposite that a large sum of money should be offered as a prize to anyone who can produce a satisfactory alternative, we must at the same time safeguard the position of the farmer if we really mean what we say about food production in this country. It would be a mockery to do anything else, and I would urge my right hon. Friend to stick to the Amendment that he has moved.

Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)

I want to take a different view from that of the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) and impress upon the Minister the necessity to accept the Amendment to the Amendment that has been moved, because I believe that the problem is an urgent and pressing one and that it is very necessary to use every incentive to try to find out what is a more effective and humane way of getting rid of rabbits. It is about time that we in this Committee recognised the fact that Miss Beatrix Potter has done more harm by her deification of this wretched, verminous, horrible scourge on our land which interferes to such a degree with our food production.

What is absolutely clear is that everybody is against the gin trap and in this context there is constant war between the countryman and the townsman. The townsman has taken his side in the belief that the gin trap is awful and myxomatosis is something that should not be allowed to spread. Arising out of that is the fact that we are faced with the implacable determination of the townsman to do everything he can to get rid of the gin trap. He has been aided, as some of my hon. Friends have been aided, by the view that myxomatosis will greatly reduce the rabbit population over the next few years to such a degree that the time has come to get rid of this trap.

But has it? There is already evidence that the result of myxomatosis is such that the rabbits which survive are now breeding bigger litters and that the litters are coming earlier to maturity. This follows on the fact that the competition for feeding is not so great nor is the competition for room in the burrows, and it may be that we are at the beginning of a time of breeding a healthier and more vigorous type of rabbit than we have had in this country for some time. If that is true—and it may well be true—when we overcome the first wave of this disease it will be found that the survivors are stronger, bigger, and better rabbits than their predecessors.

Thus we are faced with the problem of how we are to get rid of them. We shall be faced with the implacable opposition of the townsman to the gin trap, and if we are to have something in its place I believe we have to insert in the Bill an earlier date which will be an incentive to inventors to find something that is more effective, more humane, and a better substitute for the gin trap.

We are giving to farmers every year an untold sum of money—it amounts to thousands of pounds—in subsidy for cartridges for shooting pigeons and rooks. Almost any farmer can get 50 per cent. of the cost of his cartridges. I am not complaining about that, but an equivalent sum of money spent now in a drive against the rabbit to try to encourage inventors to find some other way would be equally well spent. If, by the acceptance of this Amendment to the Amendment, it is made clear that time is the absolute essence of this problem we should be going a long way to ridding our land of this great enemy of production.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Nugent

This interesting debate has ranged over two aspects of the subject, humanitarian and practical, which are in the minds of all of us. I can assure the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) that we are all susceptible to the very delightful stories of Beatrix Potter, and that whatever difficulties she may have created for us we feel they are more than outweighed by the charm of her stories.

Our dilemma, as a Government, is not a new one. The gin trap has been with us for generations and every Government has been concerned with a similar problem: the problem of finding the right balance between the interests of agriculture, food and forestry and the humanitarian feeling which all of us share about the rabbit. My right hon. Friend explained in his opening speech why we struck the balance we did and why he has put down his Amendment on the Notice Paper.

A number of hon. Members have made the point that it is desirable to have a definite date in the Bill. But the date of 1958 is definite. We have heard tonight an expression of view from both sides of the Committee, and it is perfectly clear that all of us want to see the end of the gin trap. We realise it is a cruel thing and we are most anxious to bring it to an end. We on this side feel that 1958 is certainly the latest date to which we should go, but we have put in the Bill provision for an affirmative Resolution by which a future Minister can come to the House to seek an extension if he feels that he has grounds for it.

I believe that the House of Commons will require a Minister to have an exceptionally strong case if it is to be persuaded to agree to an affirmative Resolution of that sort and in putting in that safeguard we are putting in what we consider is the very barest safeguard which we think any Minister ought to have in view of his heavy responsibility for food production and forestry. I think it is evident that the circumstances would have to be very exceptional indeed for any Minister to get such an affirmative Resolution approved, and to all intents and purposes, unless something quite exceptional turns up, we are committing ourselves to 1958. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who feel doubts on that score will accept the cogency of what I have just said.

I have no doubt at all that that is the way outside interests will look at it. In fact, hardly any gin traps are being sold in this country today. That is partially due to myxomatosis; but also to the fact that everyone sees that the use of gin traps is coming to an end, and that 1958 is probably the latest date when there will be any permission for them to be used. I believe we have given definition to that position.

I can certainly assure the Committee that vested interests are not standing in our way, either from the point of manufacture or of trapping, because, as some hon. Members have observed about trapping, it is now almost impossible to sell a rabbit carcase. I hope that those who have doubts on that score will be reassured by the provision we have put in the proposed Government Amendment which would enable my right hon. Friend supposing the progress in the development of a trap or traps is exceptional and better than we can possibly expect at present, to make it earlier than 1958. He could make it July, 1957, if such exceptional circumstances arose, but we think that that is unlikely.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) spoke about the Imbra trap. The report from which he quoted with such cogency was, of course, the interim report. It would be fair to remind the Committee of what the final report said, because the interim report dealt with only a pilot scheme on a relatively small scale. It was in the following year that we embarked on a really large-scale test with thousands of traps in nearly every county. The result of that work was published in a report which was put in the Library, and I am sure that many Members read it.

That final report showed that the pilot scheme had given results that were, unfortunately, all too optimistic. The catching efficiency in the major scheme was that three out of the 48 county committees which used it considered, after over 2,000 settings, that the Imbra trap was more efficient than the gin trap; 23 committees, after over 21,000 settings, considered that it was as efficient as the gin trap; 22 committees, after over 27,000 settings, considered that it was less efficient than the gin trap, and four counties considered that in certain locations it would, generally speaking, not be usable.

It was as the result of that very large-scale work that we were bound to reach the conclusion that although the Imbra trap had much to commend it, and certainly is more humanitarian, because it usually kills the rabbit, it was still not as good as we would like it to be to supply the continuing practical need for some kind of spring trap for the use of farmers and gamekeepers generally.

Mr. Hayman

Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us the percentage of kills of these tests with the Imbra trap?

Mr. Nugent

Yes, I could, but I do not think that the Committee would want me to go into great detail now. The report was in the Library for some time, and I should be glad to supply the hen. Member with full details. I think, however, that I have said enough to show that although the Imbra trap had certain advantages, it still was far from being even a reasonably satisfactory alternative.

It was in the light of that report that the Bill was drafted with its original caution that it would be unwise for my right hon. Friend to commit himself to banning the gin trap before 1958. Therefore, it was not until it was clear that public feeling was so strong on the matter that my right hon. Friend finally felt that he should commit himself to this Amendment that the trap would be banned by 1958 and thereby take quite a substantial risk that we might not have something that is really adequate.

We are not striving here for perfection, and we realise that we have no prospect of it. All that we are trying to do is to get one or more reasonably efficient traps which will be satisfactorily humanitarian in that they will kill the rabbits. My right hon. Friend is anxious for the Committee to understand that we are not striving for perfection but that we believe we have a reasonable chance of having such a trap developed and distributed and available by 1958.

Mr. E. L. Mallalieu

The Parliamentary Secretary has expressed doubt whether it would be possible to have this suitable trap, as he calls it, by 1957. There is only one year's difference between that year and 1958, which is specified in the Bill. Does the hon. Gentleman really think that one year will make all the difference and will see the production of a suitable trap?

Mr. Nugent

I will, if I may, deal with the time-table in detail, because I realise the Committee's interest in every aspect. The Opposition Amendment proposes that July, 1956, should be the date. When I deal with the time-table in detail, hon. Members will see that there is no prospect whatever of our having even a reasonably efficient trap developed and produced—because after we have developed it, it must then be produced and distributed—by 1956.

The Humane Traps Advisory Committee has had under review all the traps that have been designed over the past years for this purpose and has selected those which seem to have the best chance of being developed so that they can make a good job. The advisory committee has selected those with the best chance and has had them produced in sufficient numbers so as to try them out during this winter on a number of different sites with different soils, conditions, and so on. That will afford the first practical trial of whether these traps really can catch a rabbit, and catch it humanely.

As my right hon. Friend said in opening the discussion, one of the most promising traps, which appeared extremely good when we looked at it, does everything except catch a rabbit. That is one of the disappointments that we encounter. It is extremely difficult to design a trap which will not only catch the rabbit, but will kill the rabbit as it comes out of the hole or goes into the hole. It is infinitely more difficult than designing a trap which will catch one of its four legs.

The problem confronting the Roland Dudley Committee is a difficult one. However, that committee has gone to work with great energy and my right hon. Friend has authorised me to say that it will certainly not be handicapped in any way through lack of funds in its development work, and that when the time comes that a trap has been found which is reasonably satisfactory, the committee will not be handicapped for its commercial development.

We fully recognise that the commercial development of such a trap will be quite a problem. People will be doubtful whether it is good enough to use in practice and, secondly, myxomatosis might still be hanging over the market and preventing people from buying the carcases. We recognise that there may have to be financial help from the Government to get commercial development brought about, but it will be available when the time comes.

In the meantime, the Roland Dudley Committee has funds available for making ex-gratia payments to those designers who bring forward traps which eventually are good enough to go into commercial production. There may be more than one—we hope there will be several—but it would obviously be impracticable to give a substantial prize to anybody who comes forward with a trap which he claims will kill, because, unfortunately, experience shows that very few traps will do so. Therefore, the test will be that the trap is good enough eventually to be developed, by the work that the Roland Dudley Committee is now doing, to the point of commercial use.

8.30 p.m.

We have considered the point about making use of the summer period in the southern hemisphere, but it will probably be too difficult to arrange. The difficulty is that each time the traps are set they have to be very carefully watched to see what the rabbit does, how the trap operates and how it catches the rabbit, and the same people must watch it all the time. Alterations are then made. These may relate to the strength of the spring, the position of the spring or the adjustment of the catches, and so on.

It is a very exact and complicated matter; it is a combination of the engineer's skill and of the countryman's art with the trap. It would be extremely difficult for us to direct that sort of thing over such a distance, but we will certainly put the suggestion to the committee, and if the committee can make use of it, we will make the best means available for the use of the summer period.

The programme this winter will begin as I have described. We hope that by the end of the winter two or three promising traps will have been found. There will then be further trials next winter. I wish to impress upon the Committee that the trials are inevitably lengthy. During a period of frost the traps are put out of action, and each time the trap fails to operate satisfactorily, one has to make adjustments and try again, and the months very soon go by. Therefore, if, on that basis, we get one or more satisfactory traps by the end of the second season we shall really have made good progress.

The chairman of the committee has authorised me to say that if his task was to have the trap perfected, produced and distributed by 1956 he and his committee would say that it was absolutely impossible and would throw in their hands. It simply could not be done. Therefore, the committee will proceed on the timetable which I have described, and I hope that it will have achieved something by the spring of 1956.

We think that an interval of about two years will then be needed in which to find a manufacturer and for him to get tooled up to manufacture the fairly large number of traps needed—it is difficult to predict how many, but it will not be as many as the 2 million or 3 million now in use; it will probably be some hundreds of thousands—and to get them distributed to ironmongers throughout the country, giving the farmers, gamekeepers and others a chance to buy them and find out how to use them.

Mr. Dugdale

As soon as it is known that there is a good trap and its manufacture begins, will instructions be given that the manufacture of the old trap is to cease? Some of us fear that a large number of the old traps will be manufactured and that there will then be pressure to allow them to remain in use.

Mr. Nugent

I do not think that that is likely to arise. Unless my right hon. Friend comes to the House before July, 1956, with an affirmative Resolution to extend the date, July, 1958, is when the gin trap will be banned, and everybody will know that.

I should like the Committee to think for a minute of the position of the farmer when the trap is banned. The two million or three million traps which we estimate to be in existence at present are to be found on nearly every farm in the country, certainly on hundreds of thousands of farms, in the hands of farmers, farm workers, gamekeepers and trappers. When the gin trap is banned, it will become a crime for the farmer or farm worker to use it, a crime for which on the first offence he may be fined £20 and on the second offence £50. That is a serious matter. I feel that we must be as certain as we can be that when that time comes there is available at all the ironmongers in the country a reasonably efficient humane alternative which the farmer can use.

Otherwise, this situation may arise. There may be a farmer on a 50 or 60-acre farm with 10 acres of autumn wheat over which a dozen or so rabbits are running, trimming it and ruining the crop, and the farmer may have nothing with which to catch them. Yet he may have his old gin traps in the barn. It would be a very strong temptation to him to use the gin traps again. If he did so, he would commit a very serious crime. If he were hauled before the bench, I feel that the bench, with its sense of English justice, would find it extremely difficult to say that the man had committed a very serious offence.

I feel that, despite the sense of urgency and the anxiety that we all feel, because we all want to end the cruelty of the gin trap, we must bear in mind the practical position of the farmer. I am not talking about the man who traps for a living or for a hobby; I am referring to the farmer who farms for his living and to produce our food. It is his job to control the rabbits and keep them down. We must not put him in a position where he cannot do that because we have not evolved any reasonable alternative but have deprived him of the instrument which has been used for generations.

This is not a party matter. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite had the problem before them for six years just as much as we have had it. The Scott Henderson Report did not create a new situation. We have all known for many years what a cruel thing a gin trap is, but for six years, when the Opposition were on this side of the House, they had this same problem before them, and I could turn up occasions on which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) pressed the then Minister of Agriculture and got from him answers similar to what we give today.

I would, therefore, urge hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to see this matter in its right perspective. We cannot just look at it from the rabbit's point of view, however strongly we feel about the humanitarian aspect; we must look at it from the farmer's point of view, too. I hope that the Committee will agree that the Amendment put down by my right hon. Friend is fair and reasonable, that it goes to the limit to which we can go with the heavy responsibilities that we have, and will, therefore, accept it as a reasonable Amendment to meet a very difficult position.

Mr. Champion

I should like to say straight away that, had I realised that the report I was quoting was an interim report, I would not have quoted it. I apologise to the Committee for having quoted an interim report on the Imbra trap, but I certainly did not realise that it was an interim report. Had I seen the final report, I should have considered it and quoted from it if I found that it helped my point of view at all.

As we have had it from the Parliamentary Secretary, it seems to me that, despite the fact that it is not as good as the interim report makes it out to be, the Imbra is, nevertheless, an excellent trap, and, if not as brutally efficient as the gin trap, certainly worthy of every consideration by anyone who wants to see the diabolical gin trap abolished as soon as possible.

The Parliamentary Secretary has answered this debate in his usual very persuasive manner. He has done extraordinarily well, but he would not wish us to forget the fact that we really believe that we should be driving people to take an important decision if we inserted 1956 instead of 1958 in the Bill. I rather hoped that he and his Minister would have acceded to the extremely powerful appeals that came from his own side. The hon. and gallant Members for Ilford, South (Squadron-Leader Cooper) and Romford (Lieut.-Colonel Lockwood), and the hon. Member for Garston (Sir V. Raikes) all made very strong appeals to him to accept this date, always realising that the date which we hoped to insert was a target date and not a final date, if on agricultural grounds the Minister felt that he could come back to the House and justify a postponement for a further period.

Sir V. Raikes

It is only fair that I should say that in the speech I made I said that I was not suggesting an absolute date, and did not of necessity support the date mentioned in the Opposition Amendment.

Mr. Champion

I did not seek to quote the hon. Gentleman. I realise that he made a very powerful appeal to his Minister to do something about the date already in the Bill.

I believe that this is the sort of thing upon which this House could demonstrate its desire to have a very much earlier date than that which the Minister proposes in his Amendment, which I agree is an improvement on the Bill itself. We still feel, however, that 1956 should be mentioned in the Bill, and I hope that all those who agree with me in that direction will demonstrate it in the Division Lobby.

Question put, "That 'fifty-eight' stand part of the proposed Amendment."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 214; Noes, 192.

Division No. 230.] AYES [8.39 p.m.
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Beach, Maj. Hicks Buchan-Hepburn. Rt. Hon. P. G. T.
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Bullard, D. G.
Amory, Rt. Hon. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Burden, F. F. A.
Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J. Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Campbell, Sir David
Arbuthnot, John Bennett, William (Woodside) Carr, Robert
Ashton, H. (Chelmsford) Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Cary, Sir Robert
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.) Bishop, F. P. Channon, H.
Astor, Hon. J. J. Black, C. W. Churchill, Rt. Hon Sir Winston
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Bossom, Sir A. C. Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)
Baldwin, A. E. Boyle, Sir Edward Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.)
Banks, Col. C. Braine, B. R. Cole, Norman
Barber, Anthony Brooke, Henry (Hampstead) Conant, Maj. Sir Roger
Barlow, Sir John Browne, Jack (Govan) Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert
Cooper-Key, E. M. Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Raikes, Sir Victor
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Kaberry, D. Ramsden, J. E.
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C Kerby, Capt. H. B. Rayner, Brig. R.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Kerr, H. W. Redmayne, M.
Crouch, R. F. Lambert, Hon. G. Rees-Davies, W. R
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Lancaster, Col. C. G. Renton, D. L. M.
Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood) Langford-Holt, J. A. Ridsdale, J. E
Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.) Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Roberts, Peter (Heeley)
Davidson, Viscountess Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Robertson, Sir David
Deedes, W. F. Lindsay, Martin Robson-Brown, W.
Digby, S. Wingfield Linstead, Sir H. N. Roper, Sir Harold
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton) Russell, R. S.
Donner, Sir P. W. Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas
Drewe, Sir C. Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.
Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. Lucas, P. B. (Brentford) Scott, R. Donald
Duthie, W. S. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Scott-Miller, Comdr. R.
Errington, Sir Eric McCallum, Major D. Sharples, Maj. R. C.
Erroll, F. J. McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S. Shepherd, William
Fell, A. Macdonald, Sir Peter Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Finlay, Graeme McKibbin, A. J. Snadden, W. McN.
Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F. Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Soames, Capt. C.
Fletcher-Cooke, C. Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Spearman, A. C. M
Ford, Mrs. Patricia Macleod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, W.) Speir, R. M.
Fort, R. MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty) Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok) Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley) Stevens, Geoffrey
Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead) Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)
Garner-Evans, E. H. Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir Reginald Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)
Glover, D. Markham, Major Sir Frank Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Godber, J. B. Marples, A. E. Storey, S.
Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin) Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)
Gough, C. F. H. Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C. Summers, G. S.
Gower, H. R. Medlicott, Brig. F. Sutcliffe, Sir Harold
Graham, Sir Fergus Mellor, Sir John Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)
Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Molson, A. H. E. Thomas Leslie (Canterbury)
Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Moore, Sir Thomas Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Hall, John (Wycombe) Morrison, John (Salisbury) Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.) Nabarro, G. D. N. Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N.
Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Neave, Airey Touche, Sir Gordon
Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield) Nicholls, Harmar Turner, H. F. L.
Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.) Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham) Turton, R. H.
Harvie-Watt, Sir George Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.) Vane, W. M. F.
Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel
Heath, Edward Noble, Comdr. A. H. P. Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
Henderson, John (Cathcart) Nugent, G. R. H.. Vosper, D. F.
Higgs, J. M. C Oakshott, H. D Walker-Smith, D. C.
Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Odey, G. W. Wall, Major Patrick
Holland-Martin, C. J. O'Neill, Hon. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.) Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Osborne, C. Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Horobin, I. M. Page, R. G. Watkinson, H. A.
Horsbrugh, Rt, Hon. Florence Partridge, E. Wellwood, W.
Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives) Peake, Rt. Hon. O. Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)
Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.) Perkins, Sir Robert Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.) Peto, Brig. C. H. M. Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Pilkington, Capt. R. A. Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Hard, A. R. Pitman, I. J. Wills, G.
Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'rgh, W.) Pitt, Miss E. M. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M. Powell, J Enoch Wood, Hon. R.
Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H. Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Iremonger, T. L. Price-Palmer, Brig. O. L. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Profumo, J. D Mr. Studholme and
Mr. Edward Wakefield.
Acland, Sir Richard Burke, W. A. Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)
Albu, A. H. Burton, Miss F E. Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.) Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)
Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven) Carmichael, J. Fernyhough, E.
Awbery, S. S. Champion, A. J Fienburgh, W.
Bacon, Miss Alice Chapman, W D. Follick, M.
Balfour, A. Chetwynd, G. R. Foot, M. M.
Bartley, P. Clunie, J. Forman, J. C.
Bence, C. R. Coldrick, W. Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)
Benn, Hon. Wedgwood Collick, P. H. Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.
Benson, G. Corbel, Mrs. Freda Gibson, C. W.
Gooch, E. G.
Bing G. H. C. Cullen, Mrs. A. Greenwood, Anthony
Blackburn, F. Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Grey, C. F.
Boardman, H. Davies, Harold (Leek) Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Davies Stephen (Merthyr) Hale, Leslie
Bowden, H. W. Deer, G. Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)
Bowen, E. R Dodds, N. N. Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.)
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwish) Hamilton, W. W.
Brockway, A. F. Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Hannan, W.
Brook, Dryden (Halifax) Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse) Hardy, E. A.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Hargreaves, A.
Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.) Mikardo, Ian Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Hastings, S. Mitchison, G. R. Skeffington, A. M.
Hayman, F. H. Monslow, W. Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke-on-Trent)
Healey, Denis (Leeds, S.E.) Moody, A. S. Slater, J. (Durham, Sedgefield)
Herbison, Miss M. Morgan, Dr. H. B. W. Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)
Hobson, C. R. Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Sorensen, R. W.
Holman, P. Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.) Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Holt, A. F. Moyle, A. Sparks, J. A.
Hudson, James (Ealing, N.) Mulley, F. W. Steele, T.
Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Murray, J. D. Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)
Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Nally, W. Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)
Hynd, H. (Accrington) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. Stross, Dr. Barnett
Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Oldfield, W. H. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Irving, W. J. (Wood Green) Oswald, T. Sylvester, G. O.
Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Padley, W. E. Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley) Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford) Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury) Viant, S. P.
Johnson, James (Rugby) Palmer, A. M. F. Wade, D. W.
Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech Pannell, Charles Warbey, W. N.
Jones, David (Hartlepool) Pargiter, G. A. Watkins, T. E.
Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Parker, J. Weitzman, D.
Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Paton, J. Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Keenan, W. Pearson, A. West, D. G.
Kenyon, C. Plummer, Sir Leslie Wheeldon, W. E.
Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Popplewell, E. White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
King, Dr. H. M. Porter, G. White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Lawson, G. M. Price, J. T. (Westhoughton) Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Lee, Frederick (Newton) Wigg, George
Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Probert, A. R. Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.
MacColl, J. E. Proctor, W. T. Wilkins, W. A.
McGhee, H. G. Pryde, D. J. Willey, F. T.
MoGovern, J. Rankin, John Williams, David (Neath)
MoInnes, J. Reeves, J. Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)
McKay, John (Wallsend) Reid, William (Camlachie) Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Rhodes, H. Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)
Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Richards, R. Willis, E. G.
Mann, Mrs. Jean Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)
Manuel, A. C. Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon) Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.) Wyatt, W. L.
Mason, Roy Rogers, George (Kensington, N.) Yates, V. F.
Mayhew, C. P. Ross, William
Mellish, R. J. Shackleton, E. A. A. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Messer, Sir F. Silverman, Julius (Erdington) Mr. Holmes and Mr. Wallace.

Question put, and agreed to.

Proposed words there inserted.

Further Amendment made: In page 8, line 11, after "section," insert: (other than an order made under the last foregoing subsection)."—[Mr. Amory.]

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

  2. cc1305-7
  4. c1307
  5. New Clause.—(EXPENSES AND RECEIPTS OF MINISTERS.) 151 words
  6. cc1308-17
  7. New Clause.—(SPREADING OF MYXOMATOSIS.) 3,658 words
  8. c1317
  9. Schedule.—(ENACTMENTS REPEALED.) 75 words