HL Deb 01 July 1931 vol 81 cc554-6

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a small but important Bill to deal with the menace of the musk rat, more colloquially known as Fiber zibethicus. The musk rat is quite all right if it is kept confined in metal pens, but unfortunately some of those who are trying to breed musk rats do not so confine them; they keep them on marshy grounds with wire fences, so that they escape.


They have not done so yet I hope.


I think some of them have, but at any rate they are trying to catch them. The musk rat is an animal that is capable of doing very great damage. It does damage to river banks, and so undermines them that they collapse; it does damage to canals and, by boring, lets the water out; it does damage to drainage by making dams; on the whole it is a vegetarian, and it eats crops, but when hard pressed it will eat fish, small chickens and young pigs. Accordingly I hope your Lordships will all agree that the musk rat is a beast whose operations must certainly be controlled. It is therefore proposed in this Bill to enact that musk rats shall be kept only under licence from the Minister. The Minister shall have power to forbid the keeping of musk rats altogether, in which case there is a clause for giving compensation. It is hoped by means of this licensing system to avoid that necessity. There is only one other point, and that concerns Clause 10 of the Bill, which gives power to the Minister to deal with any other animals. He can only do so, however, after an affirmative Resolution of both Houses. There are a number of animals that we fear may be imported into this country, and it is thought best to deal with the matter in this Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl De La Warr.)


My Lords, while giving general and very cordial a support to this Bill, I should like to draw the noble Earl's attention to subsection (3) of Clause 5, which says: The appropriate department so soon as they become aware that musk rats, not being musk rats kept under a licence, are to be found on any land, may, unless they are satisfied that either the owner or the occupier of that land is taking all necessary steps for their destruction, themselves take such steps as they consider necessary for that purpose. That would perhaps be very appropriate in most Acts of Parliament, but in this case it may be less appropriate. Once these rats have escaped, they do not remain on the land where they escape, and I suggest it would be very unwise to put the smallest faith in the best endeavours of the owner or occupier of the land to take the necessary steps for their destruction. The difficulty will be on too large a scale for them. I should have thought it would be very much better to leave out those words, and leave power for immediate action in the hands of the appropriate Department. This would strengthen the Bill and more- over it would probably be a great safeguard to other occupiers in the country who may suffer damage from these rats. I throw out that suggestion. In regard to Clause 10, I would remind the noble Lord that there are other species besides mammals. There are birds, fishes and even insects, and it may possibly be wise to give power to the appropriate Department to control their import. I welcome this Bill, and I think it is likely to react to the advantage of the country.


I will certainly consider the points raised by the noble Earl.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.