HC Deb 12 April 1973 vol 854 cc1630-49

9.32 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Peggy Fenner)

I beg to move, That the Grey Squirrels (Warfarin) Order 1973, a draft of which was laid before this House on 21st March, be approved. This order has the effect of permitting the controlled use of the poison Warfarin against grey squirrels in England and Wales.

Grey squirrels were first brought to Britain towards the end of the last century, no doubt without any proper consideration of the risk that a new pest species was being introduced. Since the 1920s they have greatly increased in number and have spread into most parts of the country. They are responsible for a great deal of damage of economic significance in our hardwood plantations, often stunting the growth of young trees, particularly beech and sycamore, and sometimes killing them outright. Orchards and farm crops adjoining woodlands may also suffer seriously from their depredations and they can be a great nuisance in suburban gardens, as many hon. Members will doubtless know from first-hand experience. These creatures have also replaced our native red squirrel from most of our counties.

To protect their trees, woodland owners and others are obliged to take action to control this pest and for many years they have been doing so by trapping and shooting. These methods can be fully effective in giving local protection if pursued vigorously in the right places and at the right time of the year, but they are costly in labour. Anticipating a demand for a more cost-effective method of control, Government scientists have for some years been trying to develop a safe and -more efficient method, using the rat poison Warfarin. They have now found a way of presenting the poison bait in a special hopper device which is described in detail in the order. Field trials carried out in woodlands in many parts of the country with this type of hopper have shown that the risks to other wildlife and to domestic animals are minimal.

At present it is an offence in England and Wales, under the Protection of Animals Act 1911, to lay poison or poisoned bait on land or in a building, but the Act provides a defence if it can be shown that this was done to destroy small ground vermin such as rats and mice in the interests of public health or agriculture. As grey squirrels live in trees, it is generally held that this defence would not apply if poison were used to control them. Hon. Members will remember, however, that a provision was included in the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1972 enabling the Agriculture Ministers to make orders permitting a specified poison to be used in a specified manner against grey squirrels.

The draft order we are now considering would permit the use of the anticoagulant rat poison, Warfarin, at a specified concentration in a bait consisting of whole-grain wheat. It stipulates that this bait may be put down only in the type of hopper authorised for this purpose, except when it is used inside buildings where other wildlife would not be at risk.

The order applies to the whole of England and Wales but there are 16 counties in which the use of Warfarin will not be permitted out of doors because of the existence of viable populations of red squirrels which could be put at risk.

Isolated populations of red squirrels are to be found in the Thetford Chase area of West Suffolk but grey squirrels are doing serious damage in other parts of that county. To meet this difficulty the Forestry Commission has given an assurance that poison will not be used against grey squirrels in the commission's woodlands at Thetford Chase. With this assurance, we have considered it reasonable to extend the provisions of the draft order of the county of West Suffolk.

In Scotland the grey squirrel is a much less serious problem than it is in England and Wales. This may be because it is essentially a pest of broad-leaved trees and only rarely attacks conifers, which predominate in Scotland. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has therefore come to the conclusion that there is no need for the provisions of this draft order to extend to Scotland at the present time.

The Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act also stipulates that before mak- ing an order Ministers must consult interested organisations. This we have done by seeking the views of a number of national bodies representing interests including forestry, wildlife conservation and animal protection. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I have carefully considered the comments of those organisations and we have adopted a number of their helpful suggestions. With the exception of the RSPCA, which is opposed in principle to any increase in the use of poison in the countryside, these organisations were generally favourably disposed to the measures proposed in the draft order, which have also been endorsed by the Advisory Committee on Pesticides and Other Toxic Chemicals.

We recognise that, in spite of the precautions we are prescribing to minimise the risks to other wildlife, there will still be many who will remain apprehensive about the use of any poison in the countryside. To allay their fears, we want to assure them that the Ministry and Nature Conservancy officials will be alert to any reports of undesirable effects.

In conclusion I remind hon. Members that 1973 has been designated Tree Planting Year to encourage the improvement of our environment. The depredations of the grey squirrels have left their mark on many of cur trees and I urge woodland owners to do all they can to protect their trees from further damage, not only in their own interests but for the benefit of future generations. The measures we are proposing in the draft order will supplement existing methods of control in many areas and should go some way to help them in their efforts.

9.40 p.m.

Mr. David Clark (Colne Valley)

As one who started his working life as a forester, I am obviously more conscious than most people of the dangers and difficulties caused by the grey squirrel. Having said that, however, I have certain reservations, and perhaps all of us have, about the order. We see the obvious advantages in that it could protect woodlands and could help towards re-establishing the red squirrel in certain parts of the country. Nevertheless we have certain serious doubts about it and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us reassurance on some points which I should like to raise.

First, I wonder whether in presenting the order the hon. Lady is convinced that there is no danger to humans through the use of Warfarin. Obviously, when it is used to control rats certain precautions are taken. I am certain that precautions will be taken in this case and I have no doubt that the Forestry Commission will do everything that is humanly possible to make the use of this poison safe. I am worried, however, that there might be some individuals who are a little careless. I wonder whether the Minister has any thoughts about that. Can the hon. Lady say anything about the functions intended by her Department or the Nature Conservancy in checking of the use of this poison? We hear that there is to be a limited number of checks but can she give us any idea of how limited they will be and whether she will be prepared to increase the checks if she hears rumours and worries in certain regions?

Secondly, I understand that agreement has been reached with certain of the naturalists' trusts that where Warfarin is to be used in the vicinity of nature reserves and similar places, those trusts will be consulted. Can the Minister confirm this? If this is not so, can she say whether it is possible to invoke this provision?

Thirdly, I understand from a report of the field trials carried out by the Department and the Forestry Commission that the risks to red squirrels arising from the field trials are very slight. I wonder whether the Minister is seriously considering publishing that report as soon as possible. In reply to a Question of mine she kindly said that it would appear in a learned journal as soon as possible, but it is a little more urgent than that. Would the Minister be prepared to arrange for the report to be published in some way, perhaps as a departmental leaflet, so that if there are any doubts or dangers we can all be made aware of them?

The last of my specific worries about the order relates to its blanket county exclusion. The Minister has explained clearly that the poison will not be allowed to be used in certain of the counties listed except inside a building, but on examination I find that there are certain idiosyncrasies. I find that the poison may be used only inside a building in almost all the northern counties—Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmorland, Durham and Lancashire; but I find no mention at all of Yorkshire, either West or North.

This is a point of particular concern because, if the Parliamentary Secretary remembers her geography, she will recollect that there are parts of the West Riding of Yorkshire which cut right into Lancashire. I am thinking particularly of the area round the Forest of Bowland and Sedburgh, parts of Yorkshire, on the Lancashire side of the Pennines which cut right into Lancashire. It seems a little inconsistent that in areas perhaps on one side of the river in Lancashire it will not be permissible to use the poison whereas on the other side it can be used in these specific areas. Will the Minister look at this aspect again to see whether it is possible to rezone parts of various counties? It is a bit too much to say that all of Yorkshire—the frontier country in the north in this respect— should be allowed to use poison.

In addition to those worries there are certain other points that the Minister must answer. First, we all recognise the dangers to forestry, especially to broad-leaved deciduous forestry. There is a great clamour for deciduous planting; the public are always on to the Forestry Commission about its conifers. Yet I sometimes feel that the public do not understand the commission's problems. There may be a clamour from the general public that it is wicked to do anything that will get rid of what looks like a rather attractive animal, the grey squirrel. It is rather ironic that those same forest plantations could be the places where we might find the red squirrel re-establishing itself, which would be welcome.

The Minister's main argument is that we need the order because of the spreading danger of grey squirrels. But there has been a number of developments in the past two or three months on which we should like further information before passing the order. The first is a report that appeared in only the past day or so about what has been called an outbreak of a myxomatosis-type virus among grey squirrels. I understand from Press reports that over the weekend a case was discoverd in Berkshire of a grey squirrel suffering from a disease that appeared to be very similar to myxomatosis. If that is so and there is a myxomatosis-type outbreak against the grey squirrel, is it necessary to introduce the order?

Secondly, many of us were amused and interested by recent Press reports that the Pill would be the ultimate weapon against the grey squirrel. That seems rather bizarre to many of us. Can the Minster explain how the contraceptive pill will be used on the grey squirrel? We understand that a new research project is being conducted in the zoology department of Reading University, with a grant from the Forestry Commission of £1,050. How far advanced is that research? Does the Minister think that that type of biological warfare will work?

It has been found that where attempts have been made to poke out dreys or to control the numbers by shooting, the grey squirrels seem to react in a way that makes up their numbers. If a large number are shot in one season there seems to be a large number of young surviving, whereas if they are left the same number seem to appear.

Certain types of rats have developed immunity to Warfarin. Is the Minister convinced that the task is not hopeless and that the grey squirrels will not quickly become immune to Warfarin? I hope that she and the Forestry Commission are not simply sitting back and taking the attitude that because they have the order everything is under control. I hope that they are exploring as many avenues as possible, including the Pill.

9.50 p.m.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend on the way in which she presented this order and on the very full detailed and expert explanation she gave in support of it. Having said that, I have exhausted all the applause and admiration I can give for this piece of work. I regard it as neither necessary nor desirable and can think of many other more useful pieces of legislation the House might be discussing at this hour on a Thursday night.

There are two or three things about it which I find particularly unnecessary. For instance, paragraph 3, which refers to the "manner of use" and says that these Warfarin poisons may be used inside a building for the purpose of destroying grey squirrels anywhere in the country, is quite unnecessary because Warfarin is used in and around buildings all over the country in red squirrel or grey squirrel areas for the purpose of destroying rats and mice. If there is a grey squirrel plague in a building they will have been fed on Warfarin for many years by those who have charge of the building. What happens there?

What I particularly do not like about this order is that it seems to be almost a tradition of the Ministry of Agriculture now to introduce various attempts to control by different poisons what are regarded as pests at one time or another in the country. I well remember a few years ago in the time of my hon. Friend's predecessor when, at great expense to the public, a narcotic bait scheme was introduced. This was a disastrous failure which eventually worked out at about 30s. for each wood pigeon which was killed as a result of the experiment, and I am glad to say that in 1970 my right hon. Friend abandoned this scheme. But there is somebody at the back of my right hon. Friend and his predecessor in the Department, I am sure, who is pushing these new methods of pest control, including this which we have now and which I regard as quite unnecessary and highly undesirable.

I should like to say first why I regard it as undesirable. My hon. Friend will have seen that all the statistics in this order are in millimetres. Unfortunately there is not a conversion table at the bottom of the order, but I have managed with some difficulty to work these out in inches. It works out roughly that the access channel to this bait will be about eight inches long, four inches high and four inches wide, and it will be legal to fill the hopper at the end of this channel with Warfarin in all parts of the country except the listed counties.

This is objectionable and undesirable because a mouth of that size to the channel will allow access to a myriad of small mammals in our countryside. Grey squirrels will not go into it just because this attractive bait is laid down for them. In hard weather, and probably in soft weather too, there will be voles, mice and hedgehogs. Even a hare can get in, and shrews, and many little mammals can and will have ready access to this channel and to the bait. If the grey squirrel and the red squirrel go in and scratch a bit, there will be a lot of poison spread around the outside which, in hard weather particularly, will be an attraction to birds, and indeed to the larger mammals who will no doubt come along in hard weather and sniff around outside and pick up what they can.

I find it objectionable, because we are laying a poison in the countryside which in my view will become far too readily available to lots of small creatures which are a distinct asset to the countryside and do not do the damage that the grey squirrel undoubtedly does.

The other reason why I dislike the order is that I find it unnecessary. I have described why I find it objectionable. I find it unnecessary because I believe that adequate methods of control of the grey squirrel already exist without our having to resort to the official dispensation of another poison around the countryside. There are plenty of methods of adequate control which have been tried by the Ministry and in many parts of the country have been used successfully— such as shooting, trapping and the poking out of dreys. If the Ministry thinks it necessary to control the grey squirrel and to bring it under more strict supervision, surely there are other ways of doing it, such as offering bonuses on grey squirrel tails—which met with some success a few years ago—or by providing a limited number of cartridges to people who would shoot them.

I hope that my hon. Friend understands why I am unhappy about the order. I admire the way in which she placed it before us, but I feel that she is engaged in an exercise which many country people will learn to regret.

9.57 p.m.

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)

I wish I could agree with the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) that there were adequate means of controlling the grey squirrel at present. I live in a house which, 15 or 20 years ago, had a marvellous colony of red squirrels. When the windows were open in summer, they used to come into the house. But since then we have been inundated by grey squirrels. Many of them are shot every year and I myself have subsidised people with cart- ridges to shoot them. Many others have been trapped. But the squirrels are still there.

Yet Montgomery is one of the counties excluded from the provision of Warfarin. I am happy to learn that there are still colonies of red squirrels in Montgomeryshire. If Warfarin is necessary— and I presume that there have been adequate field trials—I want to emphasise the point made by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. David Clark) in asking whether there has been adequate investigation of the analogy of the Warfarin resistant rat.

Soon after I came to this House, I was the first hon. Member to raise the question of the Warfarin-resistant rats, because there happened to be a colony of them in my constituency. My questions used to provoke a good deal of amusement in the House when I spoke of the dangers of these rats. No one laughs now. These rats have been gradually spreading over the whole country and are a great problem. I would not like to think that we were going to breed a species of Warfarin-resistant grey squirrel. This matter needs very careful attention.

Secondly, presuming that there have been adequate field trials, I suggest that the blanket coverage of counties is a wrong approach. I represent a very large county, most of it inundated with grey squirrels. I am astounded at the suggestion that they do not like conifer districts. I agree that they are attracted initially by broad-leafed trees but they are attracted to conifers, too.

We have near my house a lovely example of California redwood trees. I have seen two of them stripped of their bark by grey squirrels, many of which have been shot in the trees while doing it. We have put barbed wire around the trees to a height of four or five feet in order to prevent the grey squirrels from climbing them. We have been gradually recovering the bark as it grows again. It is only a matter of time before the grey squirrel invades Scotland, and I am surprised that Scotland is excluded from the order. But I should have thought it important not to have this blanket coverage.

In different districts where the red squirrel exists, it should be protected, if necessary by special provisions for those areas. They are coming back to some districts. These provisions could be changed from year to year and proclaimed. While I am in general agreement with the order and assume that the tests have been adequate, I wish that the Minister would re-think the question of coverage to see whether it is not possible to do it more adequately.

10.1 p.m.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)

Many of my points have already been made, but I should like to start by saying that, although it may well have cost about £2 or £3 per grey squirrel when various bounty schemes were operated, the cost of administering a contraceptive pill to every female, if the practice were adopted widely, is likely to be much more expensive.

I agree that the grey squirrel is very destructive, not only of trees but of other forms of wild life. It does considerable damage to the small bird population in many areas. So I would not disagree in principle with the use of Warfarin where it can be proved the effective answer to the problem. As the Minister said, it need not be the only answer in Britain.

In areas of small woodland and copses what the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) said is quite valid. We should be able to deal with the problem without scattering poison about. There is already enough poison scattered about the farms and gardens of Britain.

I am anxious about the way in which the order has been prepared. Despite the fact that the Minister's explanation was acceptable and responsible, I have serious anxieties. My principle anxiety reflects that held by the Yorkshire Naturalist Trust. My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. David Clark) has already explained the geographical reasons why the position of Yorkshire should be reconsidered. I should like to present the same argument from another point of view.

The Ministry issued a map recently showing the distribution of red squirrels in this country, certainly in Yorkshire, in 1959 and 1971. I have looked at that map with great care, as have many people interested in natural history in the Yorkshire area. Strangely, the number of grid squares which are supposed to contain red squirrels seems inaccurate to Yorkshire naturalists.

On the map, the grey squirrel population was said to exist in eight of those grid squares in the West Riding in 1971, in four or five of them in the North Riding and in two in the East Riding. But the naturalists of Yorkshire maintain that the red squirrel population can be found in 20 grid squares in the West Riding and 10 or 11 in the North Riding, and they agree with the Ministry about the East Riding.

The information seems to be inaccurate. I am told by the Ministry's map that there are no red squirrels in my area of South Yorkshire, when I have seen them for myself. At the weekend, I took an hour off from busy and, I hope, successful electioneering to look at a red squirrel drey on the edge of my constituency in an area where there are supposed to be no red squirrels. In many parts of my constituency, again in an area where there are supposed to be none, I learned that there are not only some red ones but some black ones as well.

Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)

Coal dust.

Mr. Hardy

It is not the coal dust, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) suggests because we are vigorously pursuing policies to promote a decent environment.

A form of mutation of the red squirrel is now likely to be imperilled because the Minister would be prepared to allow the placing of Warfarin on the assumption there are no red squirrels there.

I should like the Minister not to dismiss the view of the Yorkshire Naturalists' Trust, which relies on information from the Yorkshire Naturalists' Union, that the Minister's assessment of the red squirrel population in Yorkshire is rather inaccurate but that, on the contrary, there is a viable, stable and probably growing population in many areas of Yorkshire, namely, in the Thirsk and Pickering areas of North Riding, in the south-west, the south, the far west and the northwest of the West Riding.

That being so, I ask the Minister to look again at the situation. It may well be that the red squirrel species, the population of which for many centuries appears to have pursued a very sharp cyclical pattern, is at the beginning of a period of recovery.

In addition to the argument that there is justifiable anxiety about Yorkshire, I share the anxiety expressed by the hon. Member for Harborough when he referred us to the third paragraph of the order regarding domestic animals and wild birds. If we are not very careful, we shall be destroying the birds and small mammals.

This could have a very serious effect, particularly during a hard winter, on many species of wild birds which are only just recovering from exposure to organo-chlorides and other chemicals used in agriculture in recent years. The kestrel and several species of owl are doing a good deal better now than they were 10 years ago. It seems a great pity to put them in a position in which they will be seriously affected by a reduction in the supply of small mammals on which they rely for food. It therefore seems desirable for the Ministry to take into account the interests not only of wild birds but also of wild mammals.

One way in which the interests of the smaller wild mammals could be taken into account was recounted to me a day or two ago by an hon. Member opposite. He agreed with me that these appliances should not be placed flat upon the ground. If this is done, then the bank vole, the woodmouse and several other small creatures will be killed, as was the case in the trials. The hon. Member suggested that in his estates he will be placing the appliances upon one or two bricks so that the smaller mammals will not easily be able to get into them. Since the appliance is intended to destroy or lead to the destruction of the grey squirrel only, surely the Ministry could consider that point of view sympathetically.

In conclusion, I have two other comments. First, the Yorkshire Naturalists' Trust very much looks forward to the publication of an explanatory leaflet which I understand will be issued. We are debating an order, that order will come into force and subsequently the ex-plantory leaflet will be issued to the interesting bodies, which seems a remarkably tactless and untimely procedure to pursue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley mentioned my second point. The Minister has assured both us and various interested bodies that they will be informed should Warfarin be used close to nature reserves. We are grateful for that information. But if they are being informed merely out of courtesy with no ability to change the decision, the passing on of the information will be expensive and unnecessary.

I therefore ask the Minister whether she will make arrangements to pay heed to any representations made by the naturalists' trusts and other bodies. They are not irresponsible bodies but are aware of the serious problems presented by the grey squirrel and therefore their views should be taken into account.

I realise that I have been critical of the Ministry in this matter. Perhaps I should say that I appreciate the problem which the Minister faces. She is under pressure from many forestry and agricultural interests which face a serious problem in many parts of the country as a result of the size of the grey squirrel population. I hope that she will agree with me that more and more people in this country are coming to the conclusion that the use of poison is frequently the easy way out. It is the easy way out for many gardeners, but it is less and less the case that farmers are prepared to use irresponsibly the poisons that are available to them.

I should like to tell the Minister a story which I heard in my constituency at the weekend. One of my constituents visited a farm to take into a field his dog, which he was training for field trial purposes. He asked the farmer, whom he knew, which field the farmer would prefer him to use. The farmer replied, "Do not go into that field with your bitch because I lost my dog there last week. I had just sprayed the field."

The attitude that spraying is something which will not affect wild life even though it can be harmful to domestic animals is very shortsighted. We are likely to be making a further contribution to it if we allow Warfarin to be spread about to an excessive extent. I accept that it is a preferable poison in humane terms to those which contain phosphorus, strychnine or zinc oxides, and to other poisons which are frequently found in the forester's armoury. However we should be a little more careful and a little more restrictive than the order suggests.

I suggest that we need some guarantee that the appliance will be secure and not flimsily built. A grey squirrel is a powerful animal for its size and we do not want an appliance which it could knock to pieces in about ten minutes. The appliance needs to be raised slightly above the ground. I hope that it never will be placed in Yorkshire and that it will cease to be placed anywhere as soon as we can find an effective alternative, even if it is a pill from Reading University.

10.12 p.m.

Mrs. Fenner

This has been a fascinating debate. Hon. Members obviously share the concern of many people in the country not only for the damage that is done by the grey squirrel but for the preservation of the red squirrel population. Of course, in presenting the order the Ministry has been mindful of both of those views. It is aware of the great damage that the grey squirrel does and the need to be as careful as possible in setting down Warfarin.

I should like to try to answer the many points that have been raised. The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. David Clark) raised an important point when he asked about the danger to humans. I must point out to him and to the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) that Warfarin has been laid for a number a years for rats. In 22 years we have not had any comment about any danger to humans. The concentration is 0.02 per cent., which is a very light concentration.

The hon. Member for Colne Valley also made the point about publication of the research. He will know from the answer I gave him that a summary of this will be sent to any organisations which have an interest. They have been given a note of the research conclusions and I have this morning arranged to deposit in the Library—it is now so deposited—a summary of the field trial. The full report will be published by the Forestry Commission within the next few months.

Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Colne Valley and the hon. Member for Rother Valley, have commented particularly about Yorkshire and about blanket coverage. The choice of counties in which the use of Warfarin will be permitted out of doors under the order was based on information drawn from a most comprehensive survey of the distribution of red and grey squirrels which was carried out by the Ministry in 1971. It was conducted on a scientific basis by field staff who enlisted, wherever possible, the aid of interested local bodies and knowledgeable individuals such as naturalists and gamekeepers.

In Yorkshire the survey showed that red squirrels were now found in only eight small isolated areas. When compared with previous surveys it was found that the red squirrel population was declining. On the other hand grey squirrels are now found in nearly all parts of Yorkshire and they are causing much damage to timber.

Mr. Hardy

I do not wish to contradict the hon. Lady but I must make it clear that I do know the difference between a red squirrel and a grey squirrel. I have seen red squirrels and signs of red squirrels in areas which the Ministry says do not contain them. That view can be stated by numerous people who are interested in natural life in Yorkshire about many other areas which the Ministry says do not contain red squirrels. I ask the hon. Lady to take that factor into account.

Mrs. Fenner

I do not argue with the hon. Gentleman that anyone can be sure of sighting every red squirrel in every area in which they may be found. However, our scientific advisers believe that the results which they obtained fairly reflected the general abundance of grey and red squirrels in parts of Yorkshire.

Mr. David Clark

I realise that the hon. Lady is in a difficult position. My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) and myself represent Yorkshire constituencies. We are, therefore, familiar with the problem. Yorkshire is the largest county in Britain. It stretches from the East Coast almost to the West—in fact, within five miles of Lancaster. A letter which I received from the Yorkshire Naturalists' Trust says: … the red squirrel population in the north-west, far mid-west, south-west and south of Yorkshire are certainly stable, viable populations and may be on the increase. That is the point I am making. Parts of the west of the county are on the western side of the Pennines, and those portions of the West Riding must be excluded. Will the hon. Lady give an undertaking that she will discuss the matter with the Forestry Commission and consider again the area to which I refer?

Mrs. Fenner

I know that in the East and West Ridings there are small areas where both red and grey squirrels are present. Our local officers are sure, being in close liaison with the interested organisations, that they will be able to ensure that the maximum care is taken in the selective use of Warfarin. Preferably, it will not be used in these marginal areas. Both the Nature Conservancy and the Ministry will be alert to any reports of undesirable effects.

I remind hon. Members that the order can be amended by a subsequent order if that proves necessary. I hope that this answers the concern expressed by hon. Members who represent Yorkshire constituencies.

Several hon. Members have asked about the advisory leaflet. It will be published within the next few weeks. It will ask users near nature reserves to consult local naturalists and interested organisations before using Warfarin.

The hon. Member for Colne Valley referred to the birth control pill for the grey squirrel. I am afraid that the research is not yet nearly far advanced enough for it to be put into general use. The hon. Gentleman pointed out that squirrels made good their numbers. That is so, but a campaign over an area of woodland and its surroundings can be locally useful and effective.

A number of hon. Members have raised the point about Warfarin resistance. We know that some rats have become resistant to it. Those rats are no more dangerous than ordinary rats. Warfarin resistance may develop in grey squirrels. Until it does we shall have had a useful means of control. Warfarin-resistant grey squirrels, if they should develop, would be no more damaging than the grey squirrel of today. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) was rather critical of the order. I understand the concern expressed about the use of any more poison. The hopper which is being used is the only permissible one for use in the control of grey squirrels and has been subjected to extensive trials.

As the hon. Member for Rother Valley said, wood mice and bank voles in the immediate vicinity of the bait sites succumbed to the poison but the density of sites required for squirrel control does not involve a large proportion of the total population. Other species observed near the poison sites included rabbits, hares, foxes, roe, fallow and red deer and very small birds, mostly greenfinches and chaffinches. There was no evidence throughout the trials that any of those species had been killed by feeding at the bait containers or on the few grains spilled outside the containers by the feeding squirrels.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) spoke of his concern about blanket coverage of counties. We believe that this is the way to act. I note that he has observed grey squirrels in Montgomery. We also know that there is a viable population of red squirrels in Montgomery. It was our concern, while recognising that the blanket coverage of counties presented difficulties, not to endanger the red squirrel.

The hon. Member for Rother Valley also mentioned bounty schemes. Despite the fact that such schemes dealing with the grey squirrel and other pests might have been partially successful, there is still much damage done by the squirrels. The schemes have obviously not been as effective as we had hoped. The hon. Member also referred to the spraying of poison. What we are seeking in the order is permission for the use of a specified type of hopper with every sort of condition laid upon it. There is no resemblance to spraying.

The hon. Member for Colne Valley mentioned a recently notified virus type infection. I have seen the recent Press reports about it. It is similar to myxomatosis and it is now affecting grey squirrels. I am advised that the viro-logical work has only just begun and it is much too early to forecast a possible effect, if any, on the grey squirrel population. In any event I do not believe that a tumour virus of this kind—which is not a very humane way for an animal to die—should be used as an agent in the war on the grey squirrel. I commend the order to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Grey Squirrels (Warfarin) Order 1973, a draft of which was laid before this House on 21st March, be approved.

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