HC Deb 21 June 1995 vol 262 cc343-4
14. Mr. Nigel Griffiths

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received alleging failure to control rats by the water and sewerage companies. [28040]

Mr. Atkins

It seems singularly appropriate that rats should be answering a question about rats. My Department has received no such representations.

Mr. Griffiths

Has the Minister seen the report released in June by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health? It shows—if the Minister had chosen to inform himself, he would know this—that the number of rat infestations has increased by more than 40 per cent., that one in seven houses is now infested with rats and that the water companies have slashed the budgets of pest control officers. Is the Minister satisfied with those cuts, which have obviously been used to fund some of the boardroom bonanzas?

Mr. Atkins

According to the survey that was carried out, there has been an increase in the number of infestations from 4.4 per cent. to 4.8 per cent. I suggest that most of those are in Monklands.

Mr. Fabricant

What does my right hon. Friend intend to do about an infestation in Staffordshire that we do not enjoy? They moan about the standard spending assessment, they have more than £70 million held in reserves and they threaten school children with teachers losing their jobs? Should not we do something about the rats in Labour-controlled Staffordshire county council?

Mr. Atkins

My hon. Friend has a point. However, there is a serious issue. Scare stories are being spread by the likes of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) to suggest that rats are on the increase. There has been a small increase in certain areas, but the problem must be viewed in proportion. According to the survey by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, the number of rats has increased by 0.4 per cent. In those circumstances, the stories from Opposition Members are little more than scaremongering and my hon. Friend has a better point than the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South.

Mr. Banks

Since the Minister seems to know precisely the percentage increase, what is the United Kingdom population of rats?

Mr. Atkins

It depends whether they are rattus vulgaris or whether they are black rats. My comment about Monklands would apply to the black rats.