HC Deb 15 November 1954 vol 533 cc159-62

The Minister may declare any area to be a special area and it shall be an offence to use a gin trap in any area so declared.—[Mr. Dugdale.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

9.43 p.m.

Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)

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

I would be right in saying that this Clause has two merits to commend it to the Government. One is that it is a very simple new Clause, and the other merit is that it does not compel them to do anything at all—it simply gives them power to act under certain circumstances.

As we all know, the date on which the gin trap is to be abolished is four years from now. There is, therefore, an interval of four years and, during that interval, it will be possible for anyone still to use that trap. The purposes of this new Clause are to enable the Minister to schedule certain areas, if he so wishes, in which it would be illegal to use the gin trap. It does not compel him to schedule those areas. He may say that it is very difficult to find such areas. It may be said that to pick out an area and say that it is a suitable area is something which may be beyond the capabilities of anyone in the Ministry of Agriculture or anyone in the country. On the other hand, it may be possible.

If it is impossible, this Clause will do no harm at all, because the Minister will not have to schedule such an area. Should it be found possible at any time to pick out an area suitable for scheduling and to schedule it, If the Minister has not got these powers he would be in difficulty. During all those four years while the possibility of scheduling an area existed, he would not be able to do so simply because the powers had not been given. For that reason, I have introduced this Clause.

It may be said that the wording of the Clause is wrong. I suppose that no Clause introduced by a private Member is satisfactory to the Parliamentary draftsmen. If the Minister would agree that, at any rate, there is no harm in the Clause and that it can do some good, and if he does not like the wording, I should be only too ready to withdraw the Clause and hope that he might be able to substitute a manuscript Amendment in more suitable terms.

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

Despite the accommodating manner in which the right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) moved his new Clause and his willingness to accept any verbal amendment we might think necessary, I must advise the House that it would add nothing useful to this Bill.

My right hon. Friend would be willing to accept such an Amendment could we reasonably anticipate such a possibility arising, but the fact is that my right hon. Friend cannot expect to ban the use of the gin trap in any area unless there is developed a reasonably practicable humane alternative. We have debated the possibility of that at length and, following our discussions in Committee last week, I hope the House is persuaded that the likelihood of it occurring before 1958 is small; although there is some likelihood that it may occur by 1957. To accept this new Clause would imply the expectation that such a development might take place before then. As that is not within the bounds of possibility, we have no alternative but to advise the House to reject the Clause.

There is no substantial difference between one area and another. The purpose of the first part of the Bill is to enable us to proceed more vigorously with the extermination of rabbits. Whatever progress we may make with other means—whatever may be done by myxomatosis and so on—we take the view that there will always be a need for trapping in some places. Until such time as we have developed a humane alternative, farmers in some places will need the gin trap.

It may be some consolation to the right hon. Gentleman to know that the present demand for the gin trap is small. For one reason or another it has fallen off. The probability is that over the next three-and-a-half years there will be a gradual decrease in the use of this trap, as farmers prepare themselves to use the humane alternative which we hope will be developed by then.

Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)

The argument of the Parliamentary Secretary seems to revolve on the fact that nothing can be done until the discovery of some workable alternative to the gin trap. I hope that I have not misunderstood him. But supposing no workable alternative is found. We have been trying to find one for 50 years. As I have explained more than once to the House, I have tried all the available alternatives brought to my notice and have failed to discover a suitable one. Does this mean that it is quite impossible to do anything until such an alternative is found?

I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that there are methods of destroying rabbits, and of keeping them destroyed, quite apart from this gin trap. I maintain that an area in which such methods and their success can be demonstrated and the result on the crops can be demonstrated to the farmer will carry very great weight and will be of very great advantage not only as regards this Clause, but in assisting the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary in getting rid of rabbits in this country and so increasing our food production which, I know, is a task that they have very much at heart.

I suggest that even without the gin trap, or any similar spring trap alternative, there still exist methods of completely ridding an area of rabbits. Those methods are, as is well known, netting, gassing, ferreting, shooting, coursing with dogs, and so on. It is utterly absurd to suggest that nothing can be done until we have found an alternative to the gin trap. I consider that this new Clause would be very helpful to the Minister in what I know he has very much at heart, the creation of rabbit-free areas in this country, by allowing him to demonstrate to farmers that it is possible to do that without this abomination, the gin trap, and that there are other quite equally efficient methods.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)

I had intended to second my right hon. Friend's proposed new Clause until I learned that, because he is a Privy Councillor, it did not require seconding. However, I want to ask the Minister to take a little further note of what was said by my right hon. Friend. He is not seeking by this Clause to compel the Minister between now and July, 1958, to ban the gin trap from any area. He is not even asking the Minister to accept his view that we may discover a substitute for it before July, 1958, but only that, if that should happen, there should be something in the Bill which would enable the Minister to make the experiment which he believes will not at present take place.

Question put, and negatived.