§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF STRADBROKE)
My Lords, in moving that this Bill be now read a second time, I would say at once in order to disarm criticism that the Bill is not at all the same as that which was introduced into your Lordships' House last year. It is an adaptation of the Bill of last Session, framed very carefully to meet as far as possible the criticisms and objections made in respect of that Bill, and set forth by the Select Committee of your Lordships' House which discussed the matter. As your Lordships probably know, the main object of the Bill is to enable an occupier of agricultural land who feels that he is suffering damage or is likely to suffer damage to his crops, by rabbits coming from the property of a neighbour, to appeal to the county council, and to obtain assistance from them in the last resort, if persuasion or other means have not brought about the abatement of the nuisance in the meantime.
There are a number of differences between this Bill and the Bill of last year. The chief criticisms of the Bill of last year were, I think, directed against the inclusion of rooks. Upon going into the matter, and bearing in mind the discussion that arose and the differences of opinion as to whether the good done by rooks was greater or less than the harm that was done by them, and finding also that it was practically impossible owing to their migratory habits to deal 879 with rooks, they have been eliminated altogether from this Bill. With rabbits it is another question. The Select Committee of your Lordships' House had the following paragraph in their Report—No witness was willing to ascribe to these destructive animals any compensating virtues. Whatever value their carcases may have after death, during their lives rabbits are, unmitigated nuisances to the good farmer and forester.The Committee then went on to say that instances were given in evidence before them of cases where the tenants could not defend themselves from damage done by rabbits coming from other properties. I think that makes out a case for the introduction of this Bill.
Another of the changes is that there is in this Bill a right of appeal if it is thought that there is any grievance against the action of the county council. An appeal may be made, firstly, if it is thought that service of notice is not authorised by the Act; secondly, that no damage sufficiently substantial to justify notice is caused or likely to be caused by failure to restrict rabbits; thirdly, that adequate steps have been taken to abate or prevent the damage; and, fourthly, that the time allowed for abating the nuisance is inadequate. Again, the county council can only act on a complaint being made by the occupier of land who fears that damage will be done to, or can show that damage has already been committed on, his farm. That does away with the fear that some people had that a county council would employ someone to go round the country to see where damage was being done by rabbits and to report to the county council, who would forthwith take action. That would not be possible under this Bill. Nor can the county council take action unless they are assured that substantial damage has been or is likely to be caused by rabbits, and if they have any fear in their minds that the case is a frivolous one they can demand a deposit of £2 from the person making the complaint. With regard to the abatement of the nuisance, the time has been increased from the fourteen days proposed in the Bill last year to twenty-one days in the present Bill, which should give ample time for the matter to be settled amicably.
The real difference, of course, between the Government and the Report of the 880 Select Committee is as to the way of dealing with damage done by rabbits coming from neighbouring properties. The Select Committee admitted that there was an evil that ought to be corrected; but they thought that the damage should be met by the payment of compensation to the person suffering damage. The Government, on the other hand, hold the view that it is better to deal with the matter by abating the nuisance, by trying, by persuasive means, to get the nuisance abated, and we think that this object may be attained through the county council. If it were decided to demand compensation for damage done we think it would cause a great deal of friction and ill-feeling between people living in close proximity to one another and, naturally, constantly meeting. One can imagine the case of two farmers living on adjoining land, one cultivating his land and growing wheat and corn crops, and the other having grass land perhaps of a rather poor character, the two properties being separated by a bank and a ditch. The farmer of the grass land may not trouble very much about rabbits and may let them increase in large numbers. Directly the farmer who is cultivating his land puts in his crop the rabbits, of course, will come from the poor grass land and do considerable damage to the corn crop. A case of that kind ought to be checked, but we think that by using the county council as, so to speak, a buffer, persuasion may come in, the grass land farmer may be brought to take a reasonable view and to keep down his rabbits and not to cause unreasonable harm to his neighbour. If the damage were allowed to go on and compensation had to be paid, I am sure it would lead to a great deal of ill-feeling; and we all know how difficult it is at any time to assess the amount of damage done in that way.
Then, again, if the farmer is seeking compensation he will have all the expense of going to law, and of laying his case, and in that way there would be no chance of persuasion coming in. It would simply be a matter of a decision at law cut and dried. I would point out strongly that it is only in the very last resort that the county council would send any one on to private property to abate a nuisance that had been reported. The person against whom the charge was made and who was 881 ordered to abate the nuisance would have every opportunity of abating it before the county council took action. I think that is what we should desire, as it is far preferable, surely, to abate the trouble of having crops destroyed by rabbits than to let them destroy crops and to have to pay compensation. The whole country is the loser by the small crops produced when rabbits cause damage, and the compensation to the farmer would not bring about the same result as if there was a good crop and rabbits were not allowed to damage it. There is another reason why this Bill should be brought in. As your Lordships know, many estates are sold now and are often bought by speculative buyers, who sell off such pieces of the land as they are able to sell. They generally retain the woodlands, cutting down all the timber. Those woodlands are then let. Strips of land, and frequently fields and in some cases even farms, are left derelict because they cannot find purchasers. These places naturally become the home of rabbits and all sorts of vermin, and farmers on adjoining land do need, I think your Lordships would agree, protection against damage from rabbits coming from those lands.
I would mention to your Lordships that this Bill was very fully discussed for a few days in the House of Commons and passed the Second and Third Readings without a Division. It has received strong support from powerful agricultural associations. The National Council of Agriculture for England have supported it by a resolution, and the County Councils Association, who gave evidence before the Select Committee last year, have, since the publication of the Report of that Committee, passed a resolution recognising that while it is impracticable to deal with rooks they hope the Government will introduce and carry through a Bill such as is now before your Lordships' House. The National Farmers Union and several county agricultural associations have also sent up resolutions supporting the Bill. In view of the general support of the agricultural community to the Bill, I hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading, bearing in mind that the Bill only authorises men to be sent on to private property as the very last resort and after every opportunity has been given for the nuisance to be abated. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Stradbroke.)
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS had given Notice to move as an Amendment, That the Bill be read 2athis day six months. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord behind me (Lord Banbury of Southam) for allowing my Motion to take precedence of his. His courtesy is remarkable considering that he must be quite alive to the fact that I am a complete novice in that form of Parliamentary negation of which he is so distinguished a past master. In the presence of agricultural depression no one can like moving the rejection of, or even criticising, a Bill which is introduced by the Government to alleviate agricultural distress, and although I think this Bill is a bad Bill and even a ridiculous Bill, I should not move its rejection unless I firmly believed and had been convinced by evidence that better results could be obtained by other means and without any of the friction that obviously this Bill will bring about.
§ Before I refer to the Bill itself I wish to touch upon another subject. I am amazed at hearing the noble Earl (The Earl of Stradbroke) say that he had disarmed criticism. On the contrary he has increased it. The noble Earl has said that the Bill is a different Bill from that of last year but it is the same Bill. I consider that the introduction of this Bill into your Lordships' House by the Government is a slight upon your Lordships' House and a reflection upon your Lordships' capacity. This Bill, as the noble Earl, Lord Stradbroke, has told you, is the successor to the Rooks and Rabbits Bill, but the unnatural alliance between the rooks and rabbits has been terminated and the rooks have obtained their divorce. To that extent the Bill is different. Beyond that I cannot think that it is in any way different. The Bill was referred to a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. I had the honour of being Chairman of that Committee. It was a representative Committee. The Front Opposition Bench was represented by Lord Olivier, who, I regret to see, is not in his place. Lord Strachie ably represented the Liberal Party. We sat for nine days and examined eighteen witnesses, and we would have examined as many more had they presented themselves, but very 883 little interest was shown in the matter. We presented our Report. What happened to that Report? The ink on it was hardly dry before the Government had introduced a Bill embodying in it all we had condemned and leaving out of it all that we had recommended.
§ In my humble judgment this is a serious matter. Many of us refrain from intruding into the debates in your Lordships' House because we feel that under the Parliament Act debates here are really as futile as ploughing the sand, but we still believe there are opportunities in this House and that, although we cannot pass legislation and although even Lord Banbury cannot prevent legislation, we can be of use by serving on Select Committees, on Joint Committees and on Private Bill Committees in forming and shaping legislation; but if Committees of your Lordships' House are going to be treated as this Committee has been treated then there is no use in these Committees. They are merely a sham, a waste of public money and of your Lordships' time, and it is as well that that should be known. I am sorry this Government should have set an example that is likely to be followed. I believe that if the inner history of this Bill were known we should see some reason for the Government's action. I think we should find that, although Mr. Guinness and Sir John Gilmour appear as fathers of the Bill, they are really only its foster-parents, and that, if the truth were known, they are not very much enamoured of their nursling. I believe this is a Bill not so much to extinguish the rabbit as to placate the Farmers Union. As far as I can make out this is what happened. The Government were returned by an enormous majority and were expected to do something, and, if I may presume to say so, much has been done, but the agricultural interest expected a great deal. The Government were debarred from doing agriculture any good, and, therefore, they did what they could, which, frankly speaking, was not much. The Farmers Union were very much annoyed. They were almost rude to the foster-father of this Bill, Mr. Guinness, and the Government now introduce this Bill.
§ I should like to say a few words on the characteristics of the Bill. While the noble Earl, Lord Stradbroke, has given 884 us the authorised version, I should like to give a short commentary on it. Under this Bill, where the county council thinks substantial damage is being done, it may send any person on to an occupier's land—any person! He need not be competent, he need not be an expert, he must be a person. He may be a chiropodist, he may be a poacher or a grocer, he may be a green person, he may know nothing about game preserves, or he may be quite likely to know too much. He is armed with the authority of the county council. If you interrupt him in his proceedings he shows you his authority, and if you object you are fined £5. So far that is very simple. And now, what are the restrictions? How is the scope of action of these men limited? You can only judge of that by the restrictions that are put on them and the one restriction is that they may not use steel traps underground or overground. I am told that that is a very doubtfully wise provision, but beyond that, apparently, there are no limits of any sort or kind to what one of these men may do. He may go by day or night. He may use all the engines of destruction he likes and no one can say him nay, though he may be an extremely bad shot. If he leaves gates open and cattle stray the occupier has to find the cattle. If he breaks down fences the occupier has to mend them. If, his work done, he lies down and smokes a pipe and sets fire to the gorse, no provision is made in the Bill for any compensation. That is what he may do, and I do not think that a county council should be empowered to give him such power.
§ When the man has done his work the bill goes to the occupier. He has to pay and there is no limitation as to the cost. Imagine a wretched farmer, an occupier hardly able to meet the rent. He has been invaded by these people. He sees these men employed by day, he hears shooting by night, and at every shot he hears he groans and says: "Bang goes twopence'" There is one other provision, that the occupier is to have the value of the rabbits. These rabbits are to be sold or otherwise disposed of. "Otherwise disposed of"—what does that mean? Does that mean that they are to be disposed of by the families of the rabbit killers, or does it mean that the rabbits are to be sent to stimulate the activities of those members of the 885 county council who might be sluggish in administering the Act? Of course I shall be told that these are extreme cases, that county councils are composed of moderate men, wise men who will not do these things. I absolutely agree, and I go further, because I say that one of the weaknesses of this Bill is that very often it will be a dead letter and county councils will not do anything. But it may be abused, and Parliament has to see that Acts of this kind are not able to be abused. So far as I can see, the Government have taken no precautions at all in this direction.
My criticism, such as it is, has been entirely destructive, and I would like to say a few words on why your Committee rejected the first Bill and why, the members of it, as far as I know, are still firm in their objection. If we had been merely destructively critical I do not think we should have had a case. In the first place, I do not think anybody can accuse us of being pro-rabbit. The noble Earl, Lord Stradbroke, read out a passage in which we said:—
Whatever value their carcases may have after death, during their lives rabbits are unmitigated nuisances to the good farmer and forester.
I do not think we could have said more than that. We also admitted that harm was done, as undoubtedly it is done. We went on to say:—
The Committee are of opinion that in such cases some means of protection or compensation should be given. The Committee, however, having carefully considered the proposals contained in this Bill, have reluctantly come to the conclusion that even if these proposals were approved in principle they would be found unworkable in practice. The most ardent opponent of the rabbit was unable to find a solution of the many problems involved in the working of the Bill or to answer the obvious objections and criticisms that were raised. … They are, however, strongly of opinion that any owner or occupier suffering from damage to his crops by rabbits which come from places outside the land he occupies should be entitled to compensation and should be empowered to claim it in the county courts.
That is our contention, that it should be claimed in the county courts.
§ It was argued by the noble Earl just now that claims for compensation would cause friction. But surely more friction will be caused by a man under county council orders invading our land and possibly ill-using it than by any number of 886 claims for compensation, which may be made quite naturally in the ordinary course of events, and which could not under any conceivable circumstances that I can see cause any friction. The advantages of claims for compensation are many. They will prevent the numerous complications that this Bill will otherwise involve. There would be no counter-claims for damage done by the rabbit killers, or disputes about the limitation of their powers. There would be no differences as regards the value of the rabbits killed nor any disagreement as to the amount of the rabbit-killer's expenses. All these and other possible complications, including appeals against county council orders, would make the Bill, however amended, extremely difficult to work.
§ I have a still stronger argument in favour of the matter being dealt with by claims for damages. Where the county council acts, and acts properly, the Bill may work all right, but what happens to the occupier who is damaged if the county council takes no action? He has no remedy at all. He must suffer the incursions of the rabbits, and past experience has shown us that sometimes county councils are extremely difficult to move. If, however, claims for compensation are allowed, his claim is at once heard, and he is certain of getting the compensation which he deserves and which everybody in this House and out of it wishes to see him get. I have given you the grounds on which this Committee based their Report. Nothing that I have heard since has made me in any way modify my opinion. It is because I think we should act by these means, and not by the means proposed in the Bill, which however much you argue must cause an infinitude of friction, and because I believe that all this can be avoided by the course which I have proposed and which the Committee recommended, that I beg to move the rejection of the Bill.
Leave out ("now") and at the end of the Motion insert ("this day six months")—(The Earl of Wemyss.)
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, after the very able speech of the noble Earl below me, for which I thank him very much, because it has relieved me of the necessity of saying anything, which is always a pleasure to me for I 887 like to listen better than to speak, I do not think it is necessary for me to say a single word. I cannot conceive that any member of your Lordships' House, after the speech of the noble Earl below me, will vote for the Bill. In fact, I am almost inclined to think that the noble Earl, Lord Stradbroke, and my noble friend the Marquess of Salisbury, having been convinced by the speech of the noble Earl below me, will withdraw the Bill.
§ LORD DARLING
My Lords, I should like to say a word or two on this Bill. I am neither a devoted adherent of it nor a declared enemy of this Bill and of all other Bills, like the noble Lord beside me.
§ LORD DARLING
It occurs to me that this Bill does not take the most obvious and proper way of reducing the number of the rabbits that infest this country. It is perfectly well known that in countries which suffer ravages from the mosquito, for example, the most efficient method of destruction is not to send people about with nets trying to catch mosquitoes but to encourage the propagation of their natural enemies, such as goldfish. That is so whatever kind of animals ferœ naturœ you may desire to exterminate, and I wonder that it has not occurred to the Government that the proper way to get rid of this pest of rabbits is to bring in a Bill for the preservation of foxes. It is notorious that where hounds are few foxes are far between, and we should do something to redress the balance of nature and to see that there is a proper supply of foxes to eat the rabbits. Lest the fox should become the pest that the rabbit is now, there should be a proper supply of hounds to keep down the foxes.
This Bill, as I have said, makes some appeal to me. With a few Amendments I think that it should pass, and accordingly I shall vote for it. Looking at subsections (6) and (7) of Clause 1, it occurs to me that some amendment would make the Bill a very good one. Subsection (7) says:—No person authorised to act under this section on behalf of a county council shall 888 use any spring trap either in a rabbit hole or elsewhere for the purpose of killing rabbits.This limits the activity of the person employed by the county council very gravely. Here is the opportunity for doing something in aid of the fox. Any one who knows the methods of foxes will agree that the fox is more humane than the spring trap, which detains the creature alive until the morning suffering agony all night. That is why subsection (7) is there. I would further appeal to subsection (6), in which power is given to the county council to provide for the expenses of those who are engaged in the killing of rabbits. They incur expenses very indirectly. Subsection (6) says:—Any expenses incurred by a county council under this Act shall be defrayed, in the case of the council of a county borough—this will hardly arise, because one does not keep hounds in county boroughs very frequently—out of the borough fund or borough rate, and in the case of any other county council as part of their general expenses.If my suggestion were adopted the country would greatly benefit. The county council would be able to subscribe to the packs of hounds in the county, the Masters of Hounds would see to it that there was a proper supply of foxes, foxes would never be wanting in the county—or otherwise there would be no hunting—and accordingly there would be enough foxes to destroy the rabbits. As those who hunt are the farmer's best friends and buy nearly all his hay, it will be seen that without interfering, with the help of traps and poachers, with the balance of nature the natural enemies of the rabbit would be stimulated to activity and this Bill might pass and yet do no harm. Accordingly, believing that it might be improved and made to please a large number of farmers and others in this country, I shall vote for the Second Reading.
§ LORD CLINTON
My Lords, I have listened very carefully to the speeches delivered by the mover and seconder of this Amendment and I have not discovered in them anything at all which goes against the principle of this Bill. I can scarcely imagine that any owner of land who has suffered as all have from the damage that rabbits do, can really 889 be opposed to the principle of the Bill. It is true, as the noble Earl pointed out, that there are a great many points of detail which could with real advantage be altered. That, I trust, may be done by Amendments at a future stage. But I have so far heard nothing at all which should persuade any one of your Lordships to vote against the Second Reading. Everybody knows that the damage done by rabbits is enormous, and it is damage which is very difficult to assess. For that reason I am fairly confident that the Minister of Agriculture is right in not adopting the suggestion of the Select Committee of your Lordships' House, over which the noble Earl below me presided, regarding the method of paying compensation for damage. Apart from the difficulty of assessment, it is quite clear that in order to arrive at a valuation you would have to have arbitration, which would take a considerable time, would cause a great deal of ill-feeling and be very costly to both sides. Your Lordships probably know quite well that in a country valuation, if you suffer from rabbits through a farmer outside, there is very little prospect of your getting any compensation at all. While I would not say that the county council is the best possible authority, I am unable to suggest any authority more competent for this purpose.
In these days, when the margin of profit on estates and farms is so narrow, we cannot afford to keep on the land an entirely unprofitable stock. I know that there are many people who are apparently obsessed with the idea that the few pounds that they get for the rabbits that they sell in the winter represent profit. As a matter of fact they do nothing of the kind. No rabbit ever yet paid for its keep, and I am equally confident that every rabbit dies in debt. There is no reason whatever, on economical or other grounds, why rabbits should be encouraged. It is not only to farm crops and grass that we see damage done. The damage to plantations is so great that the cost of keeping rabbits out is one of the greatest deterrents to planting in this country. I have to do with the Forestry Commission, and during the time that our planting operations have been going on we have spent £40,000 in wire netting alone. If you add 890 to that the cost of erection of posts, staples and so on, you will probably account for nearly another £40,000. We have to spend that money simply because other people keep up rabbits which would otherwise be destroyed. That in itself is a reason, I think, why people who are interested in forestry should really endeavour to get a measure of this kind passed. In the case of the ordinary private owner who plants six to ten acres at a time in clover, the cost to him is more than £4 per acre, and that adds 50 per cent, or more to the cost of the crop, and it is not surprising that we see the practice of planting disappearing so much in this country.
There is an idea that it is an invasion of private property for the county council to authorise any one else to enter upon your land, but surely my noble friend below me who says "Hear, hear," would not argue, and certainly would not practice, any exercise of his own private rights so as to injure his neighbours, and it is only in such cases that this measure can be applied. Noble Lords object to any unauthorised person coming on their land. I object still more strongly to an unauthorised rabbit coming upon my land, and the only way to get rid of both is to kill the rabbit. It is easy to talk of killing rabbits, but most of your Lordships know how extraordinarily difficult it is in practice. The Hares and Rabbits Bill, which was passed some forty years ago, had for its object the extermination of hares and rabbits, but they have increased ever since that Act was passed. It was passed on the representation of tenant farmers that their crops were being destroyed by the landlords' rabbits, but to-day we find that it is the tenant farmer himself who is keeping up the rabbits. I do not know whether it is so everywhere, but it is the case in the West of England, that the tenant farmer regards his concurrent rights to rabbits as an absolute right, and objects to the owner coming in and taking strong measures to keep the rabbits down. The disturbance which this causes may be exceedingly serious, and it should be avoided in every way.
In cases where owners have been firm enough to keep the rabbits down on the estate, I think you will find that the tenant farmer will acknowledge that he is very much better off owing to the 891 destruction of the rabbits. The destruction of rabbits is difficult, because it requires to be continuous and persistent. It is of no use sending a man and clearing off a farm, unless the work is carried on continuously, because rabbits always go to fresh ground, and they will be there again next year. It requires a skilled man to keep them down, and it can only be done by using every possible method of destruction. Shooting merely will not keep them down, and strongly as I object to the spring trap, which is an instrument of fiendish cruelty, I believe at the same time you will never keep down the rabbits without its use, of course under most careful supervision. I believe that this Bill would be almost waste paper if the spring trap were prohibited, and the only way to get rid of spring traps is also to get rid of the rabbits. In saying this I am very strongly in favour of the principle of the measure. I hope Amendments will be introduced at a later stage, but I can see nothing in this Bill which ought to prevent any owner of an estate voting in its favour.
My Lords, my chief knowledge of this measure, or the arguments with regard to it, is derived from the Report of the Committee of this House which sat upon a previous measure, the Rooks and Rabbits Bill. I am in agreement with what I believe is the universal opinion—namely, that the rabbit is a curse and should be put down by every possible method—but I am not altogether in agreement with the noble Lord who spoke last when he minimises the effect, of a stranger entering by force or authority upon your land, and then taking what measures he thinks necessary short of steel traps. I do not think that the noble Earl who moved the rejection of the Bill exaggerated at all the kind of irritation which is likely to be caused thereby. I cannot help feeling that there may be friction, and almost breaches of the peace, in connection with that sort of thing, and certainly it is very material what sort of person is going to be sent upon your land. If it is a poacher out of employment he will, no doubt, occupy his time in making favourable observations for use on another occasion when he is not in official employ. If it be a person more of the character of an inspector, he may not be able to shoot straight, 892 and may not know how to catch rabbits. The operation of ferreting or destroying rabbits involves several people, and a good deal of interference with private ownership, and I cannot help thinking that the friction will be enormous.
I do hope that if your Lordships think right to give a Second Reading to this Bill—I see that it has come up from another place, and I regret that I have not made myself familiar with the discussions there—you will again send it to a Select Committee, in order that it may be discussed with a view to seeing whether it can be made a useful and workable measure. My own view at present is that it is impossible, and I am disposed to support the mover of the rejection of the Bill. I am also disposed to agree with the view of the Committee that you might, at any rate in the first instance, try this simple remedy of county court action. Personally I should welcome a competent person to come upon my land to destroy the rabbits, but let that person come by invitation. The method in the Bill is one which I am a little surprised to find His Majesty's Government supporting, and I doubt whether it will have very many friends. I hope that at any rate, if your Lordships give a Second Reading to this Bill, you will insist that before it leaves this House it shall be made a measure which will work, in the ordinary relations of the countryside, without friction.
THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH
My Lords, perhaps I may say a word or two on this Bill because I was one of the members of the Committee of which the noble Earl, Lord Wemyss, was Chairman. That Committee was not unanimous. There was a minority of myself and my noble friend Lord Ashton, and, as of course your Lordships know, it is not usual in this House to make a Minority Report. I think the Committee were quite unanimous on one point—namely, that the Bill was so extraordinarily badly drafted by the Ministry of Agriculture that it was impossible to make a good Bill of it. The majority were against the Government Bill by, I think, five to two.
THE DUKE OF BUCCLEUCH
I did vote on a Motion by Lord Strachie, but I did not vote on this matter because I had His Majesty's command to be in attendance in Edinburgh on that day. Otherwise I would have voted. Some years ago I had to preside over a Committee on the question of game damage in Scotland, and that Committee was not quite unanimous—there was one against—but otherwise it reported unanimously somewhat on the same lines as the Government Bill. Again, this question came up before the Agricultural Conference in Edinburgh a few years ago and, as your Lordships will recollect, that Conference was unanimous in supporting the recommendations of the Committee over which I had the honour to preside a few years previously. As regards the difference between that Committee's Report and the present Bill, I might mention that the Committee recommended for Scotland that the Board of Agriculture on the request of the county agricultural committees should be the authority. There are now no county agricultural committees in Scotland, and it is still the general desire there—I think amongst county councils, certainly among the Farmers Union and many other people—that the Board of Agriculture in Scotland should be the executive authority, and not the county councils. There is a very good reason for that, because at the present time the Board of Agriculture in Scotland is most notoriously over-staffed, and if they are given something to do it will be something to justify the very large number of people whom they employ there.
In supporting this Bill—and I agree largely with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Clinton—I would like to suggest that when he has to use this very large amount of rabbit netting (because the Forestry Commission in some places have very large areas) I am afraid that his people must be somewhat remiss, and I should like to know why they do not kill the rabbits on their land. There are any number of rabbits there, and any number of other vermin which do damage to trees. I have been tolerably successful in keeping rabbits down. I have not now for twenty-five or thirty years had to use any rabbit netting for protecting plantations, except in one or two cases on my boundary. I think that has saved me a very large amount of money. It certainly means that the trees have grown, instead 894 of being bitten off, and it has saved much expense in that way. But besides, I am quite convinced that it has largely added to the production of the land on my estates. With regard to its being popular with farmers, when I first started to kill rabbits very few farmers, I agree, were in favour of it. Some of them, I think, now are, but I was able to show that the presence or absence of rabbits on grass land simply meant the difference between farming at a dead loss and perhaps at a considerable profit. Therefore, although I admit all the objections that there are to this Bill, the objections on the other side are so great that I believe the Bill, though it may not be very effective, if it is properly amended by your Lordships, will be of some use. But if the present prohibition against spring traps is kept in the Bill by the Government it will mean that the Bill is a sham and eyewash.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
My Lords, this subject is one which interests your Lordships, I know, and it interests us in two capacities. We are most of us landowners and farmers, and we are also most of us sportsmen; and although the rabbit has very few friends—as I think I shall show, hardly any—yet I think there is a sort of lingering affection for him—not in the case of the noble Earl (Lord Russell) perhaps—for the amount of pleasure he has given us in our youth. I must say that I was a little surprised at the line taken by my noble friend the Chairman of the Select Committee, Lord Wemyss. He seemed to think that the production of the Bill showed a want of respect to your Lordships' House. I would ask your Lordships to consider that seriously. The Bill of last year was a very different Bill from this. First of all, it dealt with rooks as well as rabbits, and the greater part of the debate last year really turned upon the rook question, and not the rabbit question. In addition to that, my noble friend, who, I thought, so clearly explained the Bill on behalf of the Government just now, showed that there is a procedure for appeal in this Bill in order to prevent any possibility of injustice. And may I point out to my noble friend that by the introduction of exactly that element of an appeal to a legal tribunal, which was 895 the burden of my noble friend's advocacy, we have provided the proper remedy which ought to be adopted.
The Bill is therefore an entirely different Bill in most respects from the Bill of last year, and I would suggest that, so far from there being any disrespect to your Lordships, the Government have paid a very great regard to the House; they have accepted the greater part, or at any rate a very large part, of the recommendations of the Select Committee, and have produced a very different Bill. May I also say—though it is not in qualification at all of these last observations of mine—that it is interesting to learn from the speech of the noble Duke, the Duke of Buccleuch, that the proceedings of the Committee were not unanimous. Listening to my noble friend Lord Wemyss, one would have thought that there was a unanimous opinion in the Select Committee of your Lordships' House, to which the Government were indifferent. But that was not at all the case. The noble Duke, and I think Lord Ashton, both very important members of your Lordships' House, took a different view.
Then the question is, what is the view of the farmers?—the farmers who really are primarily involved, because, although landowners are naturally sensitive about their own property, I am quite certain that the first thing we shall all think of is how the business of agriculture can best be carried on. Therefore the first consideration with us is the farmer. My noble friend Lord Wemyss was not quite consistent in a part of his speech, because he declared that this Bill really emanated from the Farmers Union, and yet when he went on to describe in extremely eloquent terms the difficulties which the Bill presents, it was always the farmers who were held up as being the probable victims of this Bill and of the depredations which would be taking place on the land which they occupy. I think we must assume that, as the Farmers Union have advocated this Bill, representing as they do the farming community of this country, the farmers are anxious for it. That is not conclusive—of course it is not—but when we are considering all that is to be said for the Bill, we must begin by saying that the farmers are in favour of it—not every 896 farmer, of course, but the farmers as a whole. Well that is an important consideration.
I have said that rabbits stand, as the Report says, in a wholly different position from rooks. Let us consider how strong the observations of my noble friend and his Committee were:—No witness was willing to ascribe to these destructive animals any compensating virtues. Whatever value their carcases may have after death, during their lives rabbits are an unmitigated nuisance to the good farmer and forester.That is a strong observation. Responding to that opinion, which I venture to say the two members of the minority entirely shared and, as I believe, every member of your Lordships' House shared, the Government go to their advisers and produce the best Bill they can. It is open to your Lordships to reject it, but it would be a very strong measure if your Lordships did so. Your Select Committee say in effect: Here is a grave public mischief; here are animals which breed in this country and which are nothing but an unmitigated nuisance. And when the Government produce the best Bill they can to deal with that nuisance, you say: "Out with it on the Second Reading. We will not even consider it in Committee." Your Select Committee reported that this was a real evil and difficulty, and if you will not even consider the Bill after Second Reading but say: "No, let it be rejected on Second Reading," that, I say, is a very strong measure.
Let me say a little more in particular about the method which is pursued in the Bill. It is held that it is very wrong to approach the county council in the first instance. Will your Lordships be kind enough to remember the phrase used by the Select Committee, that these animals are a nuisance? What in this country is the procedure in the case of the abatement of nuisances? You go, of course, to an administrative authority. Everybody knows that you do not, in the first instance, go to a court of justice to abate a nuisance. You go to the proper local authorities, who act in the first instance. Once it is well fixed in your mind that the rabbit is a nuisance, not merely in the colloquial sense but technically a nuisance, then you will see that the procedure of going to an 897 administrative authority follows every precedent almost which our legislation has set.
I will not take precisely a nuisance, but a question which is very analogous—the procedure in the case of a house which is unfit for human habitation. That is private property. The noble Earl [Earl Russell] says that you must not invade private property. Speaking from the depth of his Socialistic convictions, he is quite sure that you must not touch private property.
The noble Marquess, I am sure, would not wish to misrepresent me. I did not say that. I said that I thought the provisions of this Bill would cause friction in the country through the invasion of private property.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Earl is always dexterous, but I think all your Lordships must have been surprised at the care with which he thought we ought to treat private property, and I was very much gratified to observe it. In the case of houses unfit for human habitation you go to the local authority and say: "Here is what amounts to a nuisance; here are houses unfit for human habitation." And the local authority goes to the owner and says: "You must put this right." That is the procedure of this Bill. It is not the same local authority, of course, but that is the procedure. Supposing in the case of a house unfit for human habitation the owner does not put it right, I ask your Lordships to reflect upon the next step. The local authority goes and puts it right of its own motion and by its own authority. That is the universal custom. That is what happens in the case of a house unfit for human habitation where the owner will not accept the direction of the local authority, and that is the procedure here. The relevant local authority says: "You must abate this nuisance of rabbits. If you do not, we shall abate it for you." That is precisely in line, as I suggest to your Lordships, with the treatment of analogous cases in town property which amount to a nuisance.
The real difference between the two views which have been submitted to your Lordships is whether you really look upon 898 rabbits as a nuisance or not. Once you look upon them as a nuisance, it must follow that you should obey the ordinary precedents—that you should go first to the local authority, that the local authority should then give its direction to the owner, and if the owner is unwise enough not to accept that direction then the local authority does it for itself. In all these cases that I have quoted there are, of course, legal proceedings which come in, and that is what makes the Bill of this year different from the Bill of last year—that there is a provision for legal proceedings. I do not want to press my analogy too far. I admit that the legal proceedings in the present Bill are in the nature of an appeal; but they are there. There is no invasion of the rights of property without the possibility of an appeal by the owner of the private property to the appropriate legal tribunal. That appears in the Bill, and that is a change of which the noble Earl has taken no notice at all. I have tried to show to your Lordships that the procedure provided in the Bill is not really so very contrary to precedent. No doubt there are differences, but in large measure the sort of methods that are applied in the case of town property are now applied in the case of a nuisance in the countryside.
And let me repeat, finally, what I think was said by my noble friend who represents the Ministry of Agriculture in your Lordships' House, that when you are considering this question, compensation, which is the proposal of my noble friend Lord Wemyss, is not quite the same thing as prevention. Compensation may be effective in the case of the occupier who complains of the depredations of rabbits, as a preventative and in protecting him from loss caused thereby. That is not everything. What we want to do in this country, especially at this moment, is to preserve the production of the soil to the utmost. To me it would not be satisfactory if we provided compensation in every case where there was destruction of food. What we want to do is to preserve the food for the sake of the people and for the sake of the community. However much rich men may be willing to pay compensation for it we do not want to have the food destroyed. It is not sufficient to say: "We will compensate for the damage which the rabbits do." We want 899 to prevent the rabbits doing the damage. The principle of the Bill is this. What we do is to make a provision under which the rabbits shall be put an end to. We do not rely upon compensation as the proper remedy. Compensation is all very well as between individuals, as between the victim and the man who has caused the trouble. But when you are thinking of the interests of the country as a whole, you want to prevent an evil and not merely to pay compensation for it.
Those are the reasons for which the Government submit this Bill. This, of course, is only the Second Reading stage. My noble friend Lord Clinton, who is a very great authority in these matters, supports the Second Reading, but suggests that there ought to be Amendments made in Committee. Very likely that ought to be the case. My noble friend the Duke of Bucclench also supports the Bill, but he thinks that there ought to be certain changes made in Committee. By all means let my noble
§ friends propose those changes and the Government will give them every consideration. I should be the last one—I am sure your Lordships would know it from what little experience you have had of myself in the House—to resist any reasonable Amendment. By all means let any reasonable Amendment be made, but that would be impossible unless your Lordships allowed the Second Reading to-night. I would ask you, therefore, to follow the advice of my noble friend Lord Clinton and of my noble friend the Duke of Buccleuch and give this Bill a Second Reading, and not let it be said that when the House of Lords, which knows more about land than any other body in the world, has an opportunity of putting a stop to the depredations of rabbits, which they hate, they used their authority to intervene and stop even the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ On Question, Whether the word "now" shall stand part of the Motion?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 55; Not-Contents, 63.901
|Hailsham, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Onslow, E.||Cochrane of Cults, L.|
|Plymouth, E. [Teller.]||Cushendun, L.|
|Salisbury, M. (L. Privy Seal.)||Stanhope, E.||Darling, L.|
|Stradbroke, E.||Dawnay, L. (V. Downe.)|
|Strafford, E.||de Mauley, L.|
|Sutherland, D.||Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Elphinstone, L.|
|Camden, M.||Cecil of Chelwood, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.)|
|Falmouth, V.||Glenarthur, L.|
|Shaftesbury, E. (L. Steward.)||Hood, V.||Hardinge of Penshurst, L.|
|Airlie, E.||Peel, V.||Hayter, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Hemphill, L.|
|Clarendon, E.||Worcester, L. Bp.||Hunsdon of Hunsdon, L.|
|Dartmouth, E.||Knaresborough, L.|
|Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)||Ashton of Hyde, L.||Kylsant, L.|
|Balfour of Burleigh, L.||Merthyr, L.|
|Graham, E. (D. Montrose.)||Boston, L.||Monteagle, L. (M. Sligo.)|
|Iddesleigh, E.||Castlemaine, L.||Muir Mackenzie, L.|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Charnwood, L.||Oriel, L. (V. Massereene.)|
|Lytton, E.||Clinton, L.||Rayleigh, L.|
|Mount Edgcumbe, E.||Clwyd, L.||St. Levan, L.|
|Argyll, D.||Northbrook, E.||Annaly, L.|
|Bedford, D.||Spencer, E.||Askwith, L.|
|Zetland, M.||Allendale, V.||Banbury of Southam, L. [Teller.]|
|Bertie of Thame, V.|
|Ancaster, E.||Churchill, V.||Barnard, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Elibank, V.||Biddulph, L.|
|Harewood, E.||FitzAlan of Derwent, V.||Carson, L.|
|Lindsay, E.||Leverhulme, V.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)|
|Macclesfield, E.||Sumner, V.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Younger of Leckie, V.||Clements, L. (E. Leitrim.)|
|Midleton, E.||de Clifford, L.|
|Morton, E.||Aberconway, L.||Digby, L.|
|Dynevor, L.||Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)||Redesdale, L.|
|Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Lambourne, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Fairlie, L. (E. Glasgow.)||Lamington, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Faringdon, L.||Lawrence, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Forester, L.||Leigh, L.||Strachie, L. [Teller.]|
|Gainford, L.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)||Sudley, L. (E. Arran.)|
|Greenway, L.||Montagu of Beaulieu, L.||Sydenham of Combe, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Newton, L.||Templemore, L.|
|Hare, L. (E. Listowel.)||Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)||Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)|
|Hindlip, L.||Wyfold, L.|
|Howard of Glossop, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative and Motion disagreed to accordingly.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to: Bill to be read 2athis day six months accordingly.