26. Mr. Philips Price
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he proposes to take, now that the rabbit population is the lowest in living memory, to prevent an increase again in its numbers and to prevent the introduction of rabbits from abroad.
It is most important that the present favourable position should be fully exploited, and I feel sure that all concerned will co-operate to this end. County agricultural executive committees are actively engaged in organising concerted action against surviving rabbits, and extensive rabbit clearance areas are being designated under the Pests Act. The importation of non-indigenous rabbits is prohibited by the Non-Indigenous Rabbits (Prohibition of Importation and Keeping) Order, 1954.
I have no information that indigenous rabbits have been imported, which I think is what the hon. Gentleman has in mind.
§ Mr. Nicholson
Can my right hon. Friend say how many clearance areas have already been designated, and whether the importation of non-indigenous rabbits should not be the business of the Secretary of State for "Non-Indigenous" Affairs?
I will, if I may, confine my answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question. So far, twenty-four Orders have been made designating rabbit clearance areas in eighteen counties covering over 1 million acres. A further number of Orders now under consideration also cover a very substantial area.
§ 27. Mr. G. Williams
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is aware of the increasing number of young wild rabbits that are appearing in the countryside; and what estimate he has formed of the present numbers and distribution.
Small numbers of young wild rabbits are appearing here and there in the south of England and in Wales. There are more in the north, where myxomatosis has not yet run its full course.
§ Mr. Williams
Will the Minister say whether, if he judges from what has happened in other countries, he expects the whole rabbit population to return in due course? Will he also tell us whether, should the rabbits return, he thinks they will be immune from myxomatosis or not?
I think it is too soon for us to make any forecasts about immunity, but I should like to repeat what I said earlier, that we really must make every possible use of the present opportunity, take no chances, and do everything we possibly can to keep down the number of rabbits.
Mr. Philips Price
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what has happened in France since the outbreak began? Have the rabbits returned there?
I think that the lesson from the Continent is that we must be very vigilant, prosecute our efforts with very great intensity, and take no chances.
§ Sir L. Ropner
Can my right hon. Friend say whether it is an offence to import into a locality already freed from rabbits a strain of rabbits which is claimed to be immune to myxomatosis? Should it not be made, on both agricultural and humane grounds, a criminal offence to reinfest the countryside with this pest?
I have certain powers which I intend to exercise against anyone who introduces rabbits into an area which has been cleared.