§ 21. Sir T. Moore
asked the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to what extent myxomatosis in the rabbit population has substantially increased the production of food.
I would refer my hon. Friend to the replies given to the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) on 27th October, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) on 24th November.
§ Sir T. Moore
Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the saving in food satisfactorily outweighs the loss in domestic 14 poultry caused by foxes, who are now deprived of their natural food?
§ Mr. Hamilton
Can the Minister say to what extent the saving to farmers as a consequence of this scheme has been passed on to the consumer in the form of lower prices?
As I have said before, any gain to the farmer—whatever it may turn out to be—is one of the items forming part of the net income of the industry and will, therefore, be one of the factors taken into consideration at the time of the Annual Review.
§ 30. Mr. Sorensen
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what areas are now held to be largely denuded of rabbits through the effect of myxomatosis; in what areas has the rabbit population not been seriously affected; what reports he has received of the disease not affecting rabbits in Epping Forest; how far evidence shows the existence of rabbits apparently now immune to the disease; and how far benefits accruing from the diminished ravages of rabbits have been counterbalanced by the increased depredation of foxes.
Apart from small areas in the Midlands and the North, the whole of England and Wales has been largely denuded of wild rabbits as a result of myxomatosis. Although the disease spread slowly through Epping Forest, only a small number of healthy rabbits remain. The examination of surviving rabbits suggests that the number that has acquired immunity to the disease is less than one per cent. of the former rabbit population. Increased depredation by foxes has been insignificant compared with the benefit derived from the absence of rabbits.
§ Mr. Sorensen
While thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask him whether we can take it that, in the very near future, we shall be able to say this country is entirely denuded of rabbits? May I further ask him whether any attention has been paid to possible depredations by foxes, and by buzzards and other birds?
I wish I knew myself the answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. As to the second part, I have had allegations of a good deal of additional damage by buzzards and stoats and weazels, but that does not affect the answer I gave, that the advantage from the disappearance of rabbits is overwhelming.
§ Sir J. Lucas
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the total disappearance of the rabbit from the countryside will ruin nearly every rough shoot and spoil everybody's pleasure, and that as the ordinary rabbit has been the agricultural labourer's Sunday dinner, it means that he now has to pay for it?
I am sure that it has been wholly as a result of this that we have had the pleasure of my hon. Friend's attendance with us on a Monday.
§ Mr. E. Fletcher
Is the right hon. Gentleman taking any special steps to deal with rabbits in Epping Forest?
Exactly the same course is being followed as in other areas. The county committee in Essex is watching the position very carefully and helping in every possible way.