HC Deb 10 November 1954 vol 532 cc1305-7

(1) The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries may with the approval of the Treasury make contributions towards the expenses incurred or to be incurred by any person in killing, taking or destroying animals or birds to which section ninety-eight of the Agriculture Act, 1947, applies or the eggs of such birds, in destroying or reducing breeding places or cover for rabbits or in excluding rabbits therefrom, or in preventing the rabbits living in any place from spreading to or doing damage in any other place.

(2) This section shall apply to Scotland with the substitution for the references to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and to section ninety-eight of the Agriculture Act, 1947, of references to the Secretary of State and to section thirty-nine of the Agriculture (Scotland) Act, 1948.—[Mr. Amory.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Amory

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

The purpose of the Clause is really almost a counterpart of that of Clause 2, which dealt with services. The new Clause will enable the Minister to make grants towards the cost of doing the work in the clearance areas and, particularly, towards the cost of clearing and fencing.

Mr. Champion

When we were discussing this subject on Second Reading, we referred to what will now be Clause 3. Following some points raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu), we asked if, under that Clause, it would be possible to make contributions towards the expenses incurred by individuals in the destruction of rabbits. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary then replied: We do not normally intend to contribute to the actual destruction."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1954; Vol. 531, c. 1554.] I wonder if it is not the intention here to use Section 98 of the 1947 Act, to which we are here making some additions, in order to assist the individual farmer actually to destroy rabbits, as well as to make contributions to clearance, wiring and so on. I have returned to this point despite the fact that the Parliamentary Secretary made some reply on the previous occasion. I should like to have his final word as to whether it is intended to make contributions to individuals.

The other point which arises is what machinery under this Clause will be used to decide how these amounts will be paid? Will the Minister merely consult the Treasury and issue instructions to his local officers, county agricultural executive committees and so on?

Mr. Nugent

I confirm that what I told the hon. Gentleman previously continues to be our policy. The whole philosophy of the Bill is that it is the occupier's responsibility to destroy the rabbits. What we are doing is to help him in every way that we can. Therefore, it is not our intention normally to make grants towards the cost of rabbit destruction.

Our grants will be intended normally to assist with scrub clearance, bulldozing of big warrens, wiring where this proves necessary, and extensive operations of that kind inside these clearance areas. As the Committee will have seen in the Explanatory Memorandum, we expect that in a full year they will amount to about £200,000, so that our assistance in this respect will be really substantial.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point, these grants will be paid by the county agricultural committees on behalf of my right hon. Friend. Normally the grants will be made at the rate of 50 per cent. of expenditure that has been approved by the pest officers in the counties, who will have consulted with the individual occupiers to approve the different scrub clearance, wiring and other schemes which may be necessary under this Mea sure.

Mr. Champion

It is the Explanatory Memorandum which causes me to return to this point. It says that it enables the Ministers to make contribution towards the cost of destroying pests… and it goes on to say: whether done by individuals or by bodies of persons. I thought that the Parliamentary Secretary had missed that point, which is, at any rate, in the Explanatory Memorandum, even if it is not actually in the Bill.

Mr. Nugent

The Bill certainly gives my right hon. Friend that power, but we do not normally intend to use it. There may be exceptional cases where it will be desirable, but normally if we do actual rabbit destruction work we shall expect to recover the cost of that work from the occupier.

Mr. Gooch

The Minister will be aware that in a number of counties plans have been prepared on a county basis. I should like to know whether there will be joint action of this kind, or whether it is to be the responsibility of the county agricultural committees to deal with the occupiers concerned. In Norfolk there has been prepared a scheme which will cover the whole county. I should not like that scheme to fail through funds not being available for certain purposes. May I have an assurance on that point?

Mr. Nugent

I can give the hon. Member the assurance that funds will be readily available, in the terms that I have indicated, for the establishment of these clearance areas and for doing the clearance work and, if necessary, wiring inside those areas, but normally we shall expect the occupiers to bear the cost of the rabbit destruction.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.