HC Deb 10 July 1962 vol 662 cc1283-305

10.12 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. W. M. F. Vane)

I beg to move, That the Coypus (Importation and Keeping) Order, 1962, dated 28th June, 1962, a copy of which was laid before this House on 28th June, be approved. I hope it will be for the convenience of the House if, with this Order, we can consider the following Order relating to mink.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

I think that that will meet the convenience of the House.

Mr. Vane

We are reluctant to add to the number of Orders of this kind, but in a case of coypu and mink there are good reasons for doing so. First, a word about the background. Coypus have escaped from fur farms in this country, in particular during the war, and by 1960 there was general complaint in East Anglia about the damage they were causing to river banks and to crops, particularly sugar beet.

To meet this situation, rabbit clearance societies in the affected areas were allowed to claim a 50 per cent. grant for their expenditure against coypus in the same way as against rabbits. A number of societies have worked very hard, but none the less the coypu is still gaining ground in East Anglia. The Government have therefore decided that special measures should be taken before it is too late and, as a once-for-all measure, we are organising a coordinated drive against the coypu in East Anglia as recommended by the Estimates Committee.

We doubt whether extermination is possible, but we hope in about two years to have driven the coypu back to a few difficult areas in and near the Broads. The idea of this campaign has been welcomed by the national organisations. I hope the House will agree that £20,000 a year for two years is not a very high price if we can break the back of this problem and safeguard the country as a whole. The House will remember that the musk rat was cleared up completely as the result of a somewhat similar campaign before the war.

Now I turn to the question of escaping mink. There are a large number of well-run mink farms, and no doubt a few less well-run. In any event, mink have escaped in recent years and now, unfortunately, have shown that they can breed successfully in the wild in several parts of England and Wales. In a wild state, the mink can do serious damage to poultry and fish and bird life. If mink were allowed to increase, as has happened over large parts of Scandinavia, we should have a serious problem on our hands. I hope the House will see that we have good reasons for seeking approval of these two Orders.

The Destructive Imported Animals Act, 1932, empowers the Minister and the Secretary of State jointly to make Orders applying its provisions to "non-indigenous mammalian species." These two Orders extend the provisions of the Act to deal with mink and coypus. Under these Orders, Ministers will be empowered to prohibit the importation or keeping of coypus or mink absolutely or to permit them under licence. We are proposing a licensing system which will give us both information and a measure of control. We are in consultation with Fur Breeders' Association about the conditions which can reasonably be attached to such licences, which will not be onerous.

Almost the most important part of a campaign like this is to have early information about escaped animals, and occupiers of land will be under an obligation to notify the presence of coypus and mink at large on their land. The Departments will then be able to take steps in one way or another to see that they are destroyed if they are not recaptured. There is ample evidence to show that we shall be the losers if we allow either or both of these species to increase without hindrance, and I do not think that it is over-optimistic to say that co-ordinated measures taken in time ought to enable us to prevent this from happening.

10.16 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

The Opposition agree with the Government, and we are prepared to see these Orders accepted by the House. We recognise that they are an extension of the powers which were given under the Destructive Imported Animals Act, 1932. The amount of money mentioned by the Minister—£20,000 per annum over two years to deal with coypus—will be money well spent.

From time to time, questions have been asked on this subject by hon. Members Who represent East Anglian constituencies. It has been shown that the coypu does serious damage to drain- age facilities in East Anglia, with con- sequent effects on agriculture. This animal, which has became a pest in this area, must be tackled. The Parliamentary Secretary said that the Government cannot possibly think in terms of full extermination, but that they hope to drive back this pest which is causing so much damage to our drainage areas and the river banks. I accept the reasons for the schemes which have been put forward, but I would point out to him that he is wrong on fact. I am in—formed—and I have checked this—that the coypu appeared, having escaped, in Sussex and Devon in 1932, and by 1939 it had escaped in 37 places in 11 English counties. This matter has a long history. I hope the Minister appreciates that even before the war the coypu had become a serious menace in many parts of the country. We endorse what he said this evening and the instructions which have been given to the rabbit clearance societies which have been dealing with this problem in Norfolk. The Opposition support the Government's proposals.

In dealing with wild mink in Britain, we are dealing with a rather different problem. The mink is of a different species. It does not affect drainage areas, but it attacks poultry and causes harm to wild life which we seek to pre- serve. It does not present the same problem to agriculture as does the coypu, but I accept the case put by the Parliamentary Secretary that it must be tackled. I speak as a member of Nature Conservancy, although I am not putting the Conservancy's point of view, and I should like to know whether the Conservancy has been consulted about this Order. One of the Minister's own scientists, Mr. Harry Thompson of the Ministry of Agriculture's Field Research Station, Worplesdon, put forward some proposals in an excellent article in the New Scientist on 18th January, 1962. Have those proposals been accepted? In this excellent scientific article dealing with wild mink in Britain it was shown that the species had escaped from our mink farms and is breeding in the wild in parts of the country and killing poultry. Mr. Thompson suggested how the problem could be tackled effectively by the organisations concerned. Mr. Thompson, who is an employee of the Ministry, suggests that the marking of the species in captivity by the breeders should be considered, in which case there could be a check.

Have there been consultations with such organisations as the Fur Breeders' Association and the National Farmers' Union? Those two bodies held a conference in Winchester in August, 1959—have similar consultations taken place?

We all tend to smile about mink, but it can be a menace——

Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)


Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend may be an expert on mink—I hope that he will take part in this debate. In Scandinavia, mink has become a serious pest, and we should not like to see that situation develop here. I am all for mink—after all, they say that a girl's best friend is, first, diamonds and, second, mink. My hon. Friend may know about both. We are anxious that breeders should be able to continue careful farming of the animals with adequate safeguards. If these animals escape, we could have a replica of the Scandinavian situation here. There must be proper control, and as that is the purpose of the Order, we welcome it.

I only ask the Minister whether these proposals are fully appreciated by the Fur Breeders' Association and has there been consultation with the National Farmers' Union and the Nature Conservancy? Has there been discussion about this suggested marking of mink by breeders so that if any of the animals should escape they can be easily checked. It is easy to dismiss this subject humorously, but we are dealing with a serious problem affecting our agricultural industry and our natural wild life which we seek to protect. Although we may have regard for both species, we want their activities restricted. I therefore support these Orders.

10.23 p.m.

Sir James Duncan (South Angus)

I support the Orders, but I want to ask a couple of questions. I understand that after a certain date anyone who wants to keep mink must get a licence. In order to breed mink, a man needs a good deal of capital. There are those in my constituency who have invested quite a lot of money—Army gratuities, and so on—in mink farms, and it would be unfortunate if they were to be refused a licence to keep mink after a certain date.

My second question arises out of the Explanatory Note. These animals do not readily show themselves to the public. I understand that the coypu lives and breeds in and around and underneath river beds; and that mink are not very common and hunt in various secret ways. I also understand that it would be an offence if a mink or coypu were found on a man's land and he had not disclosed that fact to the authorities. What will happen to an unfortunate man if a Ministry official finds one of these animals on his land and prosecutes him for not obeying the Order and for not disclosing the fact to the Ministry? These are two practical points to which I hope we shall be given a reply.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. John Mackie (Enfield, East)

I would not have intervened in the debate had my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) not missed an important point. I am also surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) did not quickly jump to his feet, because only the other night he expressed concern at public money being spent on agriculture.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

I am thinking of intervening in the debate, because I have a constituency interest in the matter.

Mr. Mackie

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East was quick to rise to his feet on this occasion, but he was not so quick to do so when the hon. Member for Workington was speaking. However, we are discussing a luxury trade —mink—and when reading oneself to sleep through the financial columns of The Times it is easy to discover that a second-hand mink coat costs up to £1,000. What a new one would cost I hesitate to think.

Since it is luxury trade, why should the brutes be allowed to escape so that a great deal of public money must be spent on exterminating the escaped animals? Yesterday, objections were raised to the spending of public money on drainage, but so far in the debate tonight no objection has been raised to the spending of taxpayers' money because those engaged in a luxury trade have allowed the brutes to escape to the detriment of agriculture. I protest most strongly at the fact that spokesmen of neither Front Bench have raised this point. I would tax those engaged in this luxury trade for allowing their animals to escape.

Mr. Peart

When the escapee has been caught it is extremely difficult to decide whose mink it is. That is why I spoke about marking arrangements, so that ownership could be decided.

10.28 p.m.

Mr. Richard Collard (Norfolk, Central)

My personal acquaintance with mink is, alas, all too slight, but I should like to make a brief intervention on the subject of coypus because they have, of recent years, been a grave menace in my constituency and have done a tremendous amount of damage.

The Order comes none to soon. Indeed, there have been strong representations in the past for some such action, and this has been pressed by many people, including my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior). In East Anglia, Norfolk in particular, vigorous and, on the whole, successful efforts have been made by landowners and farmers to exterminate the coypus which have become such a menace.

There are a tremendous number of these pests. They seem to breed rather freely, and it is not all that easy to exterminate them. However, the menace has been kept in hand. Although the importation restrictions and the keeping of them as pets—and it is a strange individual who would keep a coypu as a pot, though I think it is done—are important, the main thing is to exterminate those coypus which are at large at the present time.

It is important that, as a result of the Order, the extermination of coypus should not, so to speak, be put in a straitjacket and that no kind of bureaucratic controls or delays should be introduced as a result of the Order. Rather, the case should be that in those areas, particularly Norfolk, where efforts have been so vigorously made to exterminate the menace, these effective efforts of the local people should be encouraged and nourished in every way.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. A. V. Hilton (Norfolk, South-West)

Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I welcome these Orders. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) referred to mink as a luxury. In Norfolk, at least, the coypu is regarded as anything but a luxury, and as the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Collard) said, in recent years in Norfolk and other parts of East Anglia they have been a costly menace. They have done tremendous damage to many miles of drains and river banks.

I am glad that the Ministry is taking this action, because I am sure that if it is not taken now it will not be long before large sums of money will be needed to repair river banks and drains which are being damaged by these pests.

A few years ago, rabbits were a greater menace in the countryside than they are now, and rabbit clearance societies were formed to destroy them, but very often the good work that was being done was held up because one farmer, or his wife, liked rabbits and refused to participate in the scheme and often refused to allow people on to the land to exterminate the rabbits. If it is known that these coypus are in a certain farmer's drains and he does not report the fact to the Ministry, will the Ministry take powers of entry to exterminate these pests?

If in a certain area the majority of farmers are prepared to help to get rid of this menace but there is the odd farmer who holds up the operation, we know what will happen. The land will soon be smothered with coypus and the Order will not have the effect which everybody wants. Does the Ministry intend to take powers of entry to deal with these pests if the farmer on whose land they are known to be does not report the matter?

10.33 p.m.

Mr. 1, M. L. Prior (Lowestoft)

I do not want to be unduly rude to my hon. Friend, but we had an Adjournment debate on this subject as long ago as December, 1961, at which time coypus were a serious menace in East Anglia. On that occasion, I beseeched my hon. Friend to treat the coypu as a pest, but the Ministry thought otherwise and decided that it could fight the battle against these horrible creatures by other means, such as encouraging rabbit clearance societies to get on with the job of destroying them.

Rabbit clearance societies and individuals have been extremely successful in dealing with these animals, and now that we have got well on top of this menace in East Anglia the Ministry decides to treat this animal as a pest. This strikes me as extraordinary. Nearly two years after it was well known that these animals were a serious menace in East Anglia, the Ministry decides to ask the House to treat these animals as pests. This really does annoy me, to say the least, because people on the spot in East Anglia have been saying this for a very long while.

The fact that we have got the Order tonight will help to get on with the job a bit, but 1 am wondering what this £20,000 is to be spent on. I should like to have more details about that. Why is it that we require £20,000 of Government money to be spent on this now when we have managed in the last two years to get on top of the nuisance without having any Government money except that provided through rabbit clearance societies?

It strikes me that, though this Order may help a bit, it has come far too late. I hope that my hon. Friend will make it quite clear to his inspectors or whoever is responsible in the Ministry for this that on the whole they are far too late, that they ought to know their job, and that if they do not know their job it is time they found out. This does really make me extremely annoyed. I hope we shall not be asked on another occasion to pass an Order like this two years after the menace has been dealt with that it is intended to deal with, and I hope the Ministry will get on with the job rather more quickly next time than it has this.

10.36 p.m.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

When the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) has been in the House a little longer he will realise that most of the things this Government do are extraordinary and that a mere matter of two years' delay is nothing really unusual on the part of the Government.

I would ask the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to give us an indication of what damage has been done in Scotland by these animals. It appears from the debate so far that the damage which has been done has been done in East Anglia. Nothing much has been said about Scotland at all in this connection. I am wondering why the Orders should necessarily apply to Scotland. I am quite prepared to say, if damage has been done, that something ought to be done about it, but so far the application to Scotland of these Orders has not been justified, and I think that when Ministers want to apply any Order to any area they ought to justify it.

The second point which interests me is the £20,000. I was not quite sure what the Minister said about it, whether he said it would be something like £20,000 spent in two years or whether it would be £20,000 per year for two years. I thought it was the latter. It seemed to me rather strange that the Minister made no mention of anything beyond that. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) suggested that I ought to be opposing this expenditure. I was not quite sure whether he was in favour of it or against it, I feel bound to say after listening to his speech. He suggested that the coypus ought to be dealt with and that as the mink trade was a luxury trade that ought to be dealt with, but I was not quite sure whether he wanted the mink parlour to deal with it or the Government. That by the way. Perhaps the Minister would say a little more about the £20,000 for the first two years of the Order, because, as I read it, it extends for five years; it is to cease to have effect on 31st December, 1967. I could not quite link the expenditure with the length of time the Order is to last.

The next point I wanted to mention is this. The hon. Gentleman, in moving the Order, said he would consult the breeding societies about issuing of licences. Surely that ought to have been done beforehand? The hon. Gentleman does not seem to have consulted anybody before introducing the Orders. There should have been consultation with the N.F.U., for instance, and also, in respect of licences, the Fur Breeders' Association—and I would hope that that would include the Scottish Fur Breeders' Association—before the Orders were Introduced. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will say something about that.

10.40 p.m.

Mr. Peter Smithers (Winchester)

When the Orders were announced on the B.B.C., Hampshire was the only county mentioned in which mink were said to be at large, and, as the Minister has said, the conference relative to this matter took place in Winchester.

I want to ask two questions. The first relates to the extermination of wild mink. The authority which I have consulted—it is an American one—says that no fur breeding animal is so unsuspicious of traps and so easily caught as the mink. It may well be that some of my constituents would like to catch mink. Will my hon. Friend be circulating some information on this subject?

Secondly, does "mink" in the Order mean both the European mink and the North American mink, which are two distinct animals?

10.42 p.m.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

I, too, have a constituency interest in regard to mink. I make no apology far intervening on this very important Order, because there are some very serious questions to ask.

I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) raised the question of the expenditure of public money to deal with something which was originally a matter of profit to individuals and for the purpose of commercial gain. He will equally remember that in Scotland we are spending at least £15,000 a year to keep down yet another pest—red deer —once a matter of profitable and leisurely pursuit by certain classes over their lands until such time as they could not afford to keep it under control, and once again it became a matter for the public purse and the ordinary individual to deal with.

Two Departments of State are involved in these Orders. I must take my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) to task in this respect. He says that he is not responsible for Scotland. But the two Orders are being taken together, and all we have had have been statistics about expenditure in England, the troubles in East Anglia, the troubles in Norfolk particularly, and the rest, and there has not been a single reference to Scotland. But we have a Scottish Under-Secretary present, and I do not doubt that among the battery of civil servants concerned with this problem there may be some who have been brought down from Scotland to deal with the Orders.

What we are concerned about is that many of the coypus in East Anglia may have escaped and made their way up to Scotland. If we had not been aware that this was something to do with animals, what we heard from the Government Front Bench would have sounded something like a war bulletin about a great new invasion from space —these mysterious coypus invading England, all the damage that was being done, the concern of the Government, all stations being alerted, and so on. It was almost like the peroration of the Secretary of State for Scotland about Scottish education—nothing was going to be left undone, the Government were going to press on, and so on.

Can the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland tell us exactly how Scotland is concerned in this? Is this something about which we have not been duly warned, something about which we have been unconcerned, while all the time we have been faced with this great danger? [Interruption.] An hon. Member says something about the absence of Scottish Members. There are more hon. Members on the Government benches at the moment discussing coypus than there have been all day during the discussion of Scottish education. There are probably more Scottish Tory Members present——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

Order. The hon. Member should perhaps recollect that we are discussing two small Orders relating to coypus and mink and nothing else.

Mr. Ross

I apologise. I was making a passing reference, but I was led astray by my hon. Friend. I would be glad if the Under-Secretary would tell us how we in Scotland are concerned about this matter and what is being done about it.

Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)

Would it not be a good idea to rebuild Hadrian's Wall to keep the mink out and the Scots in?

Mr. Ross

At one time I was concerned whether we were dealing with the menace of the coypu or the K.O.Y.L.I.

As for the menace of the coypu in Scotland, I do not want the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to be too hasty in rising, as he appears to be about to do, because I am not nearly finished yet. I want to know exactly whether any danger from mink has been evidenced in Ayrshire. The hon. Gentleman will know that there are a few mink farms in Scotland. There is an important one in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis). There are farms on the East Coast. One thinks of Perthshire, and there is an important one in my constituency. I believe, from an indication by one of the triumvirate of Under-Secretaries of State, that he has one in his constituency.

Are these escaping animals? Where are they escaping from, what damage have they done and how much has it cost us up to now? I know that action for the control of pests in Scotland is usually taken by the Department of the Ministry of Agriculture responsible for England and Wales which has more or less overall control in consultation with the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. This is why we have one Order instead of the usual two; but we are entitled to some information about Scotland.

I also want some information about the Order. I am a very simple and ordinary Member, but I like to be sure what we pass in the House. Both the coypu and mink Orders state that— The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Scotland, being satisfied with respect to the animals the subject of this Order that by reason of their destructive habits it is desirable to control the importation and keeping of them and to destroy any … and so on. Evidently the Government have suddenly discovered that these are animals of destructive habits. How long have they been thinking about this matter? I gather from remarks made by speakers opposite that they have been thinking this matter over since 1932. Why at this point of time have the Government come to the conclusion that they should take action?

As for the kind of action taken, under the heading "Citation, Commencement and Duration", both Statutory Instruments state: This Order… shall come into operation on the 1st September 1962 and shall cease to have effect on the 31st December 1967. Why should it cease to have effect then?

Mr. Willis

To get ready for Hogmanay.

Mr. Ross

There may be some reason under the original Act, but there is something more mysterious later in the Order. Paragraph 2 (2) provides that The Interpretation Act, 1889 shall apply to the interpretation of this Order as it applies to the interpretation of an Act of Parliament. That is a formality with which we are all familiar in relation to Statutory Instruments. Then by sub-paragraph (3) it is provided: When this Order ceases to have effect as aforesaid section 38 (2) of the Interpretation Act, 1889 shall apply as if this Order were an enactment repealed by an Act of Parliament". If there is one Section of the 1889 Act with which I am not familiar, it is Section 38 (2). It is right that I should declare my ignorance and ask for clarification of what it is that I am asked to approve in this Order. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State—I shall not be fobbed off with any English Minister— will explain exactly the meaning of paragraph 2 (3), why it is there and how it follows.

There is also the point which has been raised by the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) as to what happens in regard to a person who, knowing that coypus have been seen on his land, fails to give notice of the fact to the Secretary of State.

I hope that I have given the Under-Secretary of State sufficient to go on. I am sure that he will be delighted to inform me about all these important matters and give us a break-up of this expenditure of £20,000. How much will be spent in Scotland, or will any be spent? Will it be eleven-eightieths? Is there any problem in Scotland, or have we in Scotland decided to take these steps now as a prudent measure, having realised that the imprudence of English Ministers has meant that they are too late in their action and are faced with grave danger from escaping coypus and mink?

10.53 p.m.

Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), who is expert in the ways of this House and the practice in debate on Measures which affect Scotland as well as England, did not do himself justice. I think that he underestimates his ability when he says that he is a simple and ordinary Member of Parliament. Perhaps, on future occasions like this, after the House has had a debate on Scottish education or some other subject affecting Scotland, he will come better prepared to consider Orders of this kind than he is tonight.

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in a short and very clear speech, explained the need, but I think that he may, on reflection, feel that he did not pay tribute to what has already been done without Government help. The point was very well put by my hon. Friend the Member far Norfolk, Central (Mr. Collard). From Suffolk, I emphasise that our farmers have been taking action. One can hardly open one's local paper each week nowadays without seeing reports of the steps which have been taken.

I hope that when this money is being spent—it is not a very large sum—it will not be devoted to a new scheme but will be used to back up the work which has been done already. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will bear this in mind and pay a tribute to what has been done in the past.

10.55 p.m.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)

I intervene because I am not yet satisfied that the Government are entitled to stop the coypu, which has valuable fur, from corning into the country. It makes a useful contribution to the economy of the country, even though some of the coypus may be in Scotland.

Mr. Ross

We do not know. We have not been told.

Mr. Wainwright

I wonder whether the Government are introducing the Order against the coypu because the balance of nature has been overweighted in so far as the water rat is in abundance.

It may be that the Government should bring in weasels and stoats to kill the coypu and the water rat, and the mink as well, for that matter. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) suggests that we should get the mink to kill the coypu, when they would balance each other out. That would be a good idea if only the message could be passed on to the mink to do so, or vice versa to the coypu to kill the mink, and it would then die from overweight.

I am rather surprised that no Member on the Government side has mentioned why we have an abundance of the coypu and of the water rat running wild. Is it not true that since the war we have done a good deal to preserve game for the landlord and his friends, and that by so doing we have increased the number of coypus and mink and other animals of that kind?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Member, but he is going beyond the two Orders which we are discussing.

Mr. Wainwright

We are talking about a species of rat which is allowed to come into the country for commercial purposes and which, obviously, must at some time be allowed to run wild.

Because these animals have been allowed to run wild, they are damaging our crops. Therefore, the Government want to stop this kind of animal from coming in. They want to stop it coming in, not because of its valuable fur, but because the owner of the animal has not been able to keep it under control within his farm which he has kept for the coypu. That being so, and because the animal runs wild, it has a detrimental effect on the crops of farmers.

If other species which would keep this kind of animal under control were not being destroyed by the landlords so that they can preserve their game for shooting purposes, the species that would destroy the coypu when it runs wild would be able to keep it down. People cannot destroy kestrels, stoats, and so on, and then not expect the water rat to grow in number. Much of the blame rests upon people who are destroying the other animals and birds that would keep this kind of animal under control. Even though I do not object to the Order, the Government should look at the matter again.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. F. M. Bennett (Torquay)

Before listening to this debate, I thought that I had heard everything. But I must admit that the idea of a kestrel or a stoat consuming an animal which at its adult size is no less than two feet long and lives almost permanently under water is a fantasy of natural history that I had not expected to hear about. I should like to know what animal it was that the landlords have destroyed which would attack the mink.

However, it was not that aspect of the matter, nor the entrancing thought of a coypu swimming all the way along some unknown waterway from the North, which prompts me to make this short contribution to the debate. I merely wish to ask the Minister to say a word about how it is proposed to deal with the licensing aspect of the matter. I have in mind not only the question of keeping these animals for their fur, but the keeping of them in zoos, both public and private. Presumably the Minister has in mind some system whereby under recognised zoological conditions, when there would be no question of the animals escaping, licences would be issued.

Remarks have been made against the coypu, and no one would deny that they have proved a menace in many districts. But they serve one useful purpose, as I know from practical experience There is no cheaper or more expeditious method of clearing a lake or waterway of reed and weeds than by the use of coypus, if one is able to ensure that one has a pair of males, or females, so that they will not breed.

11.2 p.m.

Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

My constituency is what it is largely because of the water courses which run in embanked channels, and so I do not think there is another constituency in the country which could be more adversely affected if coypus got out of hand. I am conscious of the fact that many of my constituents are becoming increasingly perturbed at the enormous number of coypus coming to the Isle of Ely from the north. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) was worried about whether he understood the Bill. I am anxious about whether my constituents will understand the Order. I do not know how many hon. Members have read the Act under which this Order is introduced. Section 10 of the Destructive Imported Animals Act, 1932, allows any other animal that is non-indigenous and is of a mammalian species which, by reason of its destructive habits, it is desirable to prohibit, to be treated as if it were a musk rat—that is what it boils down to. This Act was introduced originally in order to deal with the musk rat or, as it is better known to the ladies, musquash.

The offences which may be committed against the provisions of the Act are rather important, and it is surprising that the Order should be so short when there is considered to be an emergency with which it is necessary to deal. No reference is made in the Order to the penalties which may be imposed as a result of the Order, or what are the offences, beyond a short footnote to the Order. Section 10 of the Act gives powers to the Minister or the Secretary of State over coypus or mink running wild which enable the Minister to invoke Section 6, to which no reference is made in the Order. That Section 6 will mean under this Order that any person who (a) at a time when the importation of coypus is prohibited absolutely, imports, or attempts to import, any coypu into Great Britain, or at a tame when such importation is pro- hibited except under a licence, imports or attempts to import, any coypu into Great Britain without having in force a licence authorising to do so; or (b) at a time when the keeping of coypus is prohibited absolutely, keeps any coypu in Great Britain, or at a time when the keeping of coypus is prohibited except under a licence, keeps any coypu in Great Britain without having in force a licence authorising him so to do; or (c) being the holder of a licence granted to him under this Act, acts in contravention of or fails to comply with any regulation made under this Act, or any term of his licence; or (d) turns loose any coypu, or wilfully allows any coypu to escape; or (e) obstructs any officer of, or person authorised by or on behalf of, the appropriate department, in the execution of his duty under this Act; or (f) fails to give a notice which he is required by subsection (2) of the last preceding section to give.

That is Section 5, which contains the provision: The occupier of any land who knows that musk rats,… In this case coypus— kept by him under a licence, are to be found thereon shall forthwith give notice to the appropriate department. Any person who does not comply shall be guilty of an offence under this Act, and shall on summary conviction be liable—in the case of an offence under paragraph (a), paragraph (b) and paragraph (d) of this subsection—to a penalty of twenty pounds, or if the offence was committed in respect of more than four animals, to a penalty of five pounds in respect of each animal; in the case of an offence under paragraph (c), to a penalty of ten pounds, and to a further penalty of forty shillings for every day on which the offence continues after conviction therefor; in the case of an offence under paragraph (e) to a penalty of twenty pounds; and in the case of an offence under paragraph (f) to a penalty of five pounds; and the court before which any person is convicted of an offence under paragraph (a), paragraph (b) or paragraph (c) of this subsection may order any coypus in respect of which the offence was committed to be forfeited and destroyed. That is not the limit of these penalties.

It seems extraordinary that this Order, which has such an excellent purpose, should be drafted in such imprecise terms that anyone reading it could not be at once aware of all these things. If we have no other duty in this House, we have the duty to our constituents to see that when we are running the risk of making them subject to penalties and the payment of quite substantial fines we should make it absolutely clear and let everyone know what is happening. I hope that if I have done nothing else this evening I have made it a great deal clearer than it was.

11.8 p.m.

Mr. Vane

It is flattering to the animal kingdom that there should have been such a large attendance and so many speakers in this debate at this hour.

It is gratifying that no one from any part of the House has asked us to take back this Order, although I thought my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) came near to doing so. I think the best thing I can do is to try to answer the questions which have been put to me.

Mr. Ross

The Scottish ones?

Mr. Vane

I shall attempt to answer them also.

The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) asked about consultation. I can assure him that we had consultations with the Nature Conservancy, the National Farmers' Union, with fur breeders and so on, and everyone agreed that the general basis of this Order is fair. There may be further details about certain things as we gain experience. Mr. Thompson is an official of the Department and one of our scientific officers. It ought not to be necessary to mark mink if they are properly housed and fenced. There is some difficulty in doing it. Some experiments have been conducted. But I can assure him that this has not been overlooked.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) wondered whether it is the intention to issue licences on a strict basis. This is not so. The purpose of the licensing system is to enable us to know where these animals are being kept and to ensure that those who are keeping either species follow the recognised codes and ensure by proper fencing that the chances of escape are reduced to a minimum. This is not an indirect attempt to prevent any legitimate fur farmer or zoo from keeping either of these species.

My hon. Friend also asked what would happen if someone failed to disclose that he has seen these animals at large on his land. I said that an obligation would rest on all occupiers of land to disclose it. There is a possible penalty of £5, but I have great faith in our magistrates' courts, and it is not our intention to prosecute people who do not act immediately—even though this is important. We hope to deal with it by advice and education, but if we are to spend public money in dealing with such a problem we must be able to ensure that we are not frustrated by one person who refuses to co-operate.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), it is not customary to repeat in an Order all the details and all the penalties in the parent Act. I had hoped that on this occasion I might have been complimented because the Order was brief and clear; rarely have I seen Orders which are shorter and clearer. The parent Act, too, is remarkably clear. It was devised to deal with one type of wild pest, and at the end there was a useful proviso that Ministers could apply the provisions to other animals should they seem likely, like the musk rat, to become a serious pest. My hon. Friend read with considerable emphasis the various offences which can be committed under the Act, but if he compares the Act with our normal Statute he will see that there is nothing which is out of step.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

I accept that the Parliamentary Secretary is right in saying that it is common practice in the House, but I am anxious to ensure that people who will be affected by the Order will understand it. If we are not to have an Order setting out these facts, may we have an assurance that those who will have to obey it will be fully informed of the consequences of not doing so?

Mr. Vane

It has been the practice of our pest department to print leaflets dealing with these pests; some of them have been not only very clear but very good. They have dealt with pigeons, grey squirrels and rabbits, for example. We will follow exactly the same practice here.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Collard) asked when this campaign against coypus was likely to start. I do not think that all hon. Members appreciated that this special campaign, which I estimate will cost about £20,000 a year for two years—then we can look at it again—is not being set in motion under the Order. We have provided for it in the Estimates. It is an extra effort which will be made by our pest division to deal with the coypu because the existing measures against it, great though the efforts of many people have been, with and without any form of Government assistance, have shown that the coypu is not being contained in the difficult areas in Norfolk but is gaining ground. The campaign will be in the charge of a senior pest officer of the Ministry who, hon. Members will be interested to know, was a commando during his war service. He is already planning this operation, and there is no question of delay in setting it in motion.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hilton) asked about the power of entry if someone is unco-operative. The power of entry exists in the Act, and the Order gives the Minister and his servants the power of entry written into the Act.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft said that he was annoyed. He appears to be very easily annoyed, considering the steps we are now taking. He did not seem to appreciate that the coypu has been recognised as a pest for quite a long time. As I said in opening, I think that it was in 1960 that, in certain areas, expenditure by rabbit clearance societies on coypu destruction ranked for grant in the same way as work against the rabbit. I therefore do not think that my hon. Friend's contribution was very accurate, nor did it add very much to this debate or to the solution of the problem.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) asked why I had not referred to the difficulties of dealing with these pests in Scotland. He will be glad to learn that at present there are no such difficulties, but the parent Act deals with Great Britain and Orders made under it cover both countries. The presence of these animals is possible, since they could both be kept in Scotland. However, to the best of my knowledge none is at large there, although two dead ones were found at one time in the waters of Leith. There have been several reports of damage by escaped mink in Scotland, but there is as yet no conclusive evidence of mink successfully breeding in the wild country north of the Border. For the present, at any rate, there is no such serious problem there as there is in the South.

The hon. Member also asked about the expenditure of £20,000. As I have explained, we estimate that the cost of the campaign—extra staff, extra transport, and so on—will be about that sum, and we hope that after two years to see very substantial progress. I can also assure him that we have already carried out consultation on a wide scale.

My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers) asked for information so that his constituents who thought that they would like a cheap mink would not be deprived of the opportunity. I can assure him that we shall put out a lot of literature which, we hope, will help him and them, and will apply to both species——

Mr. Smithers

Would my hon. Friend be quite clear about the species? The Order distinctly refers to the species designated as Mustela vison, but the other species of European mink is designated as lutreola, and I do not see how it is excluded from the Order.

Mr. Vane

I can assure my hon. Friend that both species are covered. If, by chance, it should later be discovered that his constituency is being ravaged by some species not provided for this evening, I hope that he will help the passage of another Order on another evening. To the best of my belief, both species are now covered.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) asked why we had not brought forward this Order sooner or later. The question of timing is always a matter of timing. We do not always want to inflict on the House and the country a whole lot of Orders when the menace does not seem to justify it. There are other Orders current under the Act, and we had hoped that our efforts against the coypu would have been more successful than they have, fact, proved. It is only recently that there has been evidence that the escaped mink is capable of breeding successfully.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the references to the Interpretation Act, 1889. The answer is that the present form of words has the effect of preserving on the termination of the Order any rights acquired or liabilities incurred under the Order. If, for example, a case were going through the courts, at the time when the Order ceased to have effect, in respect of an alleged offence against the Order it would be possible to take that case to a conclusion, notwithstanding the termination of the Order in the meantime.

On the question of the termination of the Order in 1967, the wording of the Act provides that an Order would run on indefinitely unless a terminal date is inserted. It seemed to us, in all the circumstances, that 1967 was an appropriate date.

While I have covered the question of fur breeders and zoos, my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) mentioned that on the credit side we should say that coypus could be useful in clearing reeds out of certain waterways—provided one had two young male coypus to do the work. One must be careful about fencing, for instance, because young male coypus have been known to chase all over the countryside, and there is no guarantee that they will remain in the place where some well meaning person has put them in the hope that they will clear their reeds. The use of coypus for such a task has been found not to be as successful as one might think.

I think I have answered every question put to me. I hope therefore, that the House will approve the two Orders.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Coypus (Importation and Keeping) Order, 1962, dated 28th June, 1962, a copy of which was laid before this House on 28th June, be approved.—[Mr. Vane.]

Mink (Importation and Keeping) Order, 1962, dated 28th June, 1962, [copy laid before the House, 28th June], approved.—[Mr. Vane.]