§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER
My Lords although I am the second speaker in the debate on this Bill, I hope that I may be allowed to tender a most respectful message of congratulation to the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack. I should like also to take this opportunity of congratulating in public my noble friend Lord Carrington on the office to which he has been appointed, which I am sure all your Lordships are glad to see him hold.
I am grateful for the Opportunity of supporting my noble friend Lord Elton this afternoon. His Bill, as your Lordships are aware, is designed to prohibit the use of the gin trap. In this country, the gin trap is used principally to destroy rabbits. In regard to rats and other vermin, without taking your Lordships further than you wish to go, I would say that there is some measure of agreement that alternative methods may be employed. Therefore, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to address myself solely to the aspect of the gin traps as it affects the destruction of rabbits. I have heard it said that those who support this Bill are sloppy sentimentalists. If a sloppy sentimentalist is a man who ruthlessly destroys every rabbit that he sees, either with his own hands or by employing someone else, the only thing restraining him in his desire to kill the maximum number of rabbits being that he should inflict the minimum of suffering, then I am a sloppy sentimentalist. And I am a very bad one. I imagine there are a great many other noble Lords in my position. There is, in fact, a real measure of agreement on much that lies behind this Bill.
Every member of your Lordships' House with any knowledge of the subject 562 realises that the damage done to our food production by the rabbit is something that cannot easily be calculated. I do not think that any one of your Lordships would get up and suggest that we should relax in any way, whatever, the war we wage against this unmitigated pest. I think that, having gone as far as that, I can go still further, for I feel sure that there is no noble Lord present who, in waging that war, would want to inflict more pain than he need. I have heard it said as an argument against this Bill that other methods than the gin trap are cruel. Of course this is so. I have no desire to weaken my case by claiming that other methods are humane. Any method of destroying rabbits can cause great suffering at times. Ferreting may involve great suffering. No doubt shooting with a 12 bore shotgun by experts is humane—but rabbits can be wounded. One of the cruel ways of shooting is with a 22 rifle using ammunition which lacks the necessary killing power. An unskilful shot will penetrate the rabbit from one side to the other, and the animal will be able to run away. This is not the case where the American high-speed rifle ammunition is used. Snares are cruel. I am not sure that the humane snare, which is knotted and holds the animal alive, is not more cruel than the other, which either kills the rabbit or holds it so it does not struggle.
In admitting these things, as I must, if I desire to present this matter fairly to your Lordships, I must stress that all these methods are designed to kill the rabbit. When they inflict cruelty it is by accident, not by intention. But the gin trap is not designed to kill: that is the very thing it is not meant to do. In fact, it maims and mutilates every living thing that touches it. It is not necessary for me to elaborate on the suffering that this instrument causes. If anyone spends a night in a country where rabbits are being freely caught by this method, and if his body and spirit are not deaf to the sounds he hears, he will find it an experience that he will not be anxious to repeat. I would add that the cruelty of the gin trap is increased by the fact that all too often it is not visited regularly. A keeper brought to my notice a cat which had been caught by its leg and which had been left in the trap for a week or ten days, perhaps, until it died. 563 Nobody cared and apparently it was nobody's business to care.
That brings me to the question of whether we can do without this trap. Can it be avoided in view of the damage that the rabbit does, and of the urgent need to increase our food production? There are noble Lords present this afternoon who have far wider experience of this problem than I have, but I ask your Lordships to believe that I have earnestly applied myself to this problem. I have not merely read literature about it: I have tried out on my own land, within the limit of my own modest acreage, every known alternative method of killing rabbits, with the exception of the long net; and now I can claim that, although I may not know as much as many noble Lords, I do know something about the problem and the difficulties which it involves. One thing I can say without hesitation, and I am sure your Lordships will not contradict me, is that it is necessary to have cooperation with one's neighbours. There is no method of rabbit destruction, be it what it may, that will keep down this pest if neighbours will not play their part. Unfortunately, I am speaking with some bitterness, because I have a neighbour who does not co-operate and as quickly as I eliminate my rabbits, an inexhaustible stream pours in once more. In regard to trapping, I would say that it tends to kill the bucks and leave the does. The reason is fairly simple. In the breeding season which, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington will agree, is the time when we want to increase the warfare against rabbits, the buck is forever moving. He goes from burrow to burrow in search of fresh mates, but the pregnant doe clawls out of her burrow and sits grazing. Her chance of being caught is much less than that of the buck. Therefore, from practical proof, we can say that the trap is by no means a certain way of completely eliminating rabbits. But if we are driven to the position—I do not say that we are, because I have not enough experience—where we must accept a trap, surely we must also be driven to the position where we accept a trap which is recognised to be humane.
I was privileged to be present in your Lordships' House when this matter was discussed some sixteen years ago, 564 although I did not venture to take part because I had not then the knowledge which would have entitled me to do so. That battle was closely fought, but the day was lost by those who supported the Bill. It was lost for two reasons: first, because many noble Lords agreed with the noble Lord. Lord O'Hagan, that a Committee should be appointed to inquire into this matter and, secondly, because no alternative method of trapping then existed. To-day the position is completely reversed. The Committee appointed to inquire into cruelty to wild animals have unanimously reported against the use of the gin traps. I venture to suggest to noble Lords, whatever their views may be, that this is the Committee which, without hesitation. found in favour of the principle of blood sports, and that noble Lords who may be against this Bill may want to think again before they vote against its findings.
I now come to the alternative trap. I have tried only one on my land—namely, the Sawyer trap. Again, I have no wish to weaken my case by making out that this trap performs more than in fact it can. The Sawyer trap is rather heavier than the gin trap, and is not an easy one to set. I should not care to try to set it myself. But, once the trap has been set, my experience is that it catches and kills rabbits. I have never known a rabbit to be wounded by it. If it is not out of place for me to do so, I should like to make a strong appeal to those of your Lordships who, for good reason—and no one disputes that their reasons are not of the best—feel constrained to use the gin trap. It is that whatever the fate of this Bill may be, they will make sure that the men they employ see that the traps are regularly visited. I also beg them to give one of the approved humane traps a fair trial, to see whether, in fact, it does what is claimed for it. I am hopeful also that my noble friend Lord Carrington will tell us that improvements have been made in these traps.
One other argument has been put to me against this Bill. It is asked: what is the good of stopping trapping here or of cutting it down, or of killing rabbits in such a way that they cannot be eaten, when we import rabbits caught by cruel methods from other countries? That 565 argument surely cannot convince anyone who thinks clearly. For already other countries have forbidden the use of the gin trap. Norway, Austria and Germany have stopped it. I suggest to your Lordships that a good deal may hang on the action which is taken in your Lordships' House to-day. Incalculable cruelty, far beyond anything in this country, is inflicted by the fur trade, and this is a cruelty which is unnecessary because nearly every kind of fur-bearing animal, can be bred on a ranch where the animals are humanely killed. A new fur breeding industry could be created. The example set by your Lordships to-day may go a long way to achieve that end.
There is one other thing that I should like to say. I recognise plainly that there is no member of your Lordships' House who delights in using an instrument such as that which we have been describing. Those who use it do so, as I have said, for good and powerful reasons. It seems to me an unfortunate thing that we should have a Division on this matter, and that noble Lords who are repelled by this trap as much as I am myself, but who feel constrained to use it, should be put in the position of having to vote in favour of it. I do not know whether any compromise can be achieved. I deplore (I am sure my noble friend Lord Carrington will not mind my saying this), as does Lord Elton, that the Government have not sponsored this measure. But if they are unable to sponsor the measure, it may be—and the matter must rest entirely with my noble friend Lord Elton—that they will be able to give some positive assurance that this matter is not merely receiving their attention (that is a phrase which has been heard before) but that some concrete proposals are on foot; that the dawn is in sight, and the end of this intolerable suffering may be achieved without too much delay. I only put that out in a spirit of hope. Not knowing the answer, all I can say is that the gin trap is an abomination: it is a barbaric thing; it has been condemned by the Committee on Cruelty to Animals, and an effective substitute exists. In the absence of any positive assurance, I most seriously urge your Lordships to support this Bill and, in supporting it, to blaze a trail which I hope the other countries of the world will not be slow to follow.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (LORD CARRINGTON)
My Lords, I thought it would be convenient if I intervened at this stage in order to let your Lordships know the attitude which the Government propose to take on the Bill. First of all, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, very much for having advanced the Second Reading of the Bill by one day, and also to apologise to your Lordships for the inconvenience which has been caused thereby. I am afraid that, in the circumstances, it was inevitable. I should also like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, for his kind references to myself, and I only hope that when I have finished the few remarks I have to make this afternoon he will still think quite kindly of me. I feel that every one of your Lordships who has listened to the sincere and persuasive speeches of Lord Elton and Lord Buckmaster must have been impressed by the case which they put forward. All your Lordships, and in particular those who live in the country, will agree with what has been said about the cruelty of the gin trap. As the Report of the Committee on Cruelty to Wild Animals says—and as the noble Lord. Lord Elton, has already quoted—the gin trap is a diabolical instrument which causes an incalculable amount of suffering. I do not think anybody, on whatever side of the House he may sit, will disagree with that. Therefore, when I say that the Government have to advise your Lordships not to give the Bill a Second Reading, you will expect me to put before you considerations which we feel must outweigh those put before you by the noble Lord, Lord Elton.
Before we come to a decision on this Bill, it is necessary to look very carefully at all the difficult questions of pest control. In the first place, I must emphasise that enormous damage is done in this country by the rabbit and the rat. If your Lordships will glance at the Report of the Committee on Cruelty to Wild Animals, paragraph 342, you will see from the figures given there that there must certainly be many more rabbits in this country than there are people. Thirty-six million are caught for food alone every year. Four and a half rabbits eat as much as one sheep, and produce less than 567 one-seventh of the amount of meat. Not only is the population on the increase, but those of your Lordships who are farmers will know of the enormous loss to food and timber caused each year by rabibts. These are the hard facts which we have to bear in mind when considering proposals of this kind. It is absolutely essential to keep down the number of rabbits, and this has to be done partly, at any rate, by trapping.
The Ministry of Agriculture have been tackling this problem with the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association, and have been trying to get general support for area control schemes. The Minister, however, has no powers to compel owners or occupiers to come into area schemes, although there are powers to serve notices on individuals. All area schemes, therefore, have to be on a voluntary basis, and the county agricultural executive committees have to work by persuasion, with the assistance of the local branches of the N.F.U. and the C.L.A. A good deal of valuable work has been done in many counties through this co-operation. Moreover, by way of centralised direction we have regular meetings between the Ministry's Director of Infestation Control and representatives of the N.F.U. and the C.L.A., and also the Transport Commission and the Defence Services. In passing, I may say that the Transport Commission have a big rabbit problem in railway embankments, and the Defence Forces hold a great deal of land in districts which are key areas for rabbit control. I think I can say that voluntary co-operation is now used to the greatest possible extent. The full practical results will not be seen until we know what successes we have had this autumn and this winter. But we are grateful to those who are co-operating voluntarily with us in this essential work.
When we carry out these schemes we rely more on gas than on trapping. For instance, I have had some figures given to me of the increased use of gas: in 1942 we were using 75,000 lb. of gas powder, and in 1949 that total had risen to very nearly 175,000 lb. I think this will show that the Ministry are doing everything in their power to encourage the use of gas. I should explain, how ever, that gassing is not the ideal answer. The gas, which is hydrogen cyanide carried in an absorbent dust, can be used 568 effectively only when both soil conditions and the weather are favourable. If the ground is hard and the weather is dry, there is insufficient moisture for the gas to become effective. If the weather is too wet, the gas (which is soluble in water) dissolves too quickly to be deadly to rabbits; and if the ground is rocky or sandy, the gas escapes through the fissures, so that a lethal dose never reaches the rabbits for which it is intended. Finally, as the noble Lord said in his speech, there are a large number of rabbits in different parts of the country which live on the surface and do not construct burrow systems at all. There are a large number, too, living in cliffs and similar inaccessible places, where, of course, gas is quite useless.
As I have already said, it is common ground that the gin is not a humane trap. Only perhaps 20 per cent. of rabbits caught are found dead on inspection, and it very seldom kills outright. But until such time as we have an equally effective trap—and we do not think at the moment that we have—it will be quite impracticable to ban the gin outright if we are to keep down the rabbit population. We are, however, actively helping the development of a new humane trap. Extensive trials have been caried out, with the co-operation of the inventor, and they show that this new trap is on the right lines. It kills a very high percentage of rabbits outright and it is approximately equal in catching efficiency. There are, however, some difficulties still to be overcome, mostly matters of mechanical adjustment. When these minor defects have been put right, it will be necessary to carry out general tests on all types of land where there are rabbits and, of course, these wider tests may show that there are other practical problems. The inventor himself does not want to have the trap manufactured on a large scale until the present difficulties have been overcome. In short, this new and more humane trap is not yet ready to be made on a large scale. Besides, I must point out to your Lordships that there are at least 3,000,000 gins used in this country, and not only would it take far longer than the two years suggested in the Bill to replace them but it would require about 3,000 tons of steel.
As regards Clause 3 of the Bill, I would point out that the Committee on 569 Cruelty to Wild Animals recommended stronger powers for killing rabbits in those areas where control is most difficult. In the kind of area where this is the case, trapping in the open would normally be necessary for effective control. As I have said, it is neither possible nor desirable to take such powers until an effective humane trap is available: but we must also recognise that such powers will not really be effective unless it is possible to enforce common action in an area by compelling owners and occupiers to destroy their rabbits. In this particular respect I do not think that the provisions in the noble Lord's Bill are sufficiently comprehensive. They would not he adequate for the sort of case we have in mind. All the problems which I have mentioned are closely interrelated, and we consider that any legislation on this subject should be on rather wider lines than the proposals before your Lordships to-day. I can, however, say this to the noble Lord, Lord Elton. When we are satisfied that we have an adequate, efficient and humane alternative to the gin trap, and when the state of the legislative programme permits, then the Government will consider introducing a Bill on the lines I have indicated. I hope that in the circumstances the noble Lord will agree not to press the Motion for Second Reading, but will be content with the manifest sympathy of the House and the Government in the objects of his Bill, and with the statement which I have just made.
§ 3.54 p.m.
My Lords, I rise to say a few words in support of the noble Lord who introduced this Bill. I support this Bill for no mere reasons of sentiment but because I believe it to be a practical measure and possible of attainment. I had imagined that this Bill might be treated as non-controversial and non-Party, but I gather that this is not so. Presumably it is non-Party, but I can see opposition coming from several quarters. In fact, in many instances I can imagine the Bill receiving support more from people who have little or no knowledge of country life rather than from those who have. At first glance one would expect that urban dwellers, merely for reasons of sentiment, would be more in favour of the Bill than those who are country-bred, who are more 570 likely to be opposed to it. Let me make myself quite clear. We want no increase of vermin. Destruction of vermin is more than ever important to-day. Enforcement of this Bill, should it become an Act, will not be so easy. I foresee a good deal of opposition on the part of farmers and keepers. But I notice that there is a very wise provision in the Bill that it shall not come into operation before January 1, 1954. This, of course, will give time for the manufacturers of approved traps to get their wares on the market, and to get the ultimate users into the right frame of mind to co-operate and employ them. It seems to me that the real opposition will come not from this House or from another place, but from farmers and keepers and from those who will have to operate this Act.
The other day I happened to be in the board room of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and I was informed that the Society was founded in 1824. I happened to notice, behind the Chairman's chair, a plaque which stated that in this same room in 1884 was founded the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children—that is to say the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded exactly sixty years earlier than the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. That seems typical of this country, where love of animals is so great, but what exactly we should deduce from this disparity of years I am not sure. Your Lordships have heard to-day of the Sawyer humane rabbit trap, which was put on the market two or three years ago. Fifty years ago a prize of £300 was offered by the R.S.P.C.A. to anyone who could invent a painless rabbit trap, and in spite of this long outstanding offer, a prize was awarded only in 1947. When the Sawyer trap was put on the market I gave one to my keeper, drawing attention to its virtues. But, as I rather expected and feared, on my inquiring a few days later how he was getting on with it, he informed me that it was quite useless. I have no doubt that your Lordships who have country properties will have experimented with this trap and will have had the same experience.
If I may be allowed a personal reminiscence of my boyhood. I remember well that on a grouse moor in North Wales, 571 on every mound and hillock there was a pole trap. It seemed to me very natural at the time that the unfortunate vermin—and not always vermin—when caught in these traps should hang head downwards, with broken legs, for days before the keeper could get round to clear his traps. I do not think that I was a very cruel little boy (I was then fourteen) but at that age and in those days it seemed to me quite normal that wild animals should suffer for days in traps. When the Wild Birds Protection Act was passed in 1904. I well remember my father telling the keeper that from a certain date pole traps would be illegal and were no longer to be erected or used. The keeper looked at my father as though he had softening of the brain. It was with the greatest difficulty that the keeper was persuaded that the use of pole traps was in fact illegal as from then; and even now, I am told, prosecutions are occasionally made by the Society; and no doubt in outlying parts of the Kingdom the use of pole traps still persists. I give this as an instance of only one of the difficulties; which may be encountered, at least in regard to professional vermin trappers, What was considered normal yesterday may be considered far from right to-day. I think I am correct when I say that a forbear of Mr. Gladstone had a share in ships which were engaged in the shipping of slaves between the West Coast of Africa and our Colonies in the West Indies. In its day this was considered quite a respectable and normal trade, and respected and respectable people took shares in such ventures. I give this as an instance to show how time will change public opinion.
In this age of invention and the atomic bomb, surely it is not beyond the wit of man to invent a painless trap for the destruction of vermin. Perhaps in this case private enterprise may come to our aid. I seem to scent a unique opportunity for a little private enterprise. I cannot for the life of me see any objection to a little profit-making for anyone who can make a painless trap that will satisfy practical as well as humanitarian needs. There is money for the inventor and manufacturer who can perfect such a trap. Much prejudice will have to be overcome but, given time and patience, as in the case of Wilberforce and his 572 Emancipation of Slaves Act, it can be done. In 1822 there was passed through Parliament, at the insistence of Richard Martin, Member of Parliament, an Actto prevent the cruel and improper treatment of cattle.That was one of the earliest Acts to prevent cruelty to animals, and it came to be known as the Martin Act. In the same way it may well be that this Bill, if it becomes law, may come to be known as the Elton Act. It is not deliberate sadistic cruelty but thoughtlessness that is so often the enemy of humanity. I fully appreciate the difficulties, but a trap must be made which is easy to operate, which countrymen will take to and which is cheap, efficient, instantaneous and painless.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, I am sure you will wish me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on this his first speech from the Front Bench. I myself have to thank the noble Lord for his friendly, if vigilant, criticism, which helped to keep me up to the mark when I held in the late Government the post which he now holds. I am still in his debt for that. I am sure your Lordships will agree that this is no Party matter. I have not had an opportunity of consulting my noble friends on these Benches and I do not know what their views are. Therefore what I shall express will be purely my personal opinion. I think some of my noble friends will disagree with me—but the noble Lord opposite may find himself in the same predicament.
The reason why sonic of my noble friends have asked me for guidance about their attitude to the Bill is this. I had some experience of the controversial issues with which it deals when I was at the Ministry of Agriculture. I paid official visits to many different parts of the country and made a point, so far as I could, of discussing this question of gin traps and the rabbit problem with farmers and others. I think I heard almost every argument that could be used, both from the humanitarian point of view and from the standpoint of food production. I hope, therefore, that my testimony may add something to that of other noble Lords.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, based his appeal on some of the recommendations 573 of the Committee of Inquiry which was set up to examine the whole question of cruelty to wild animals. Before I go any further, may I respectfully congratulate the Committee on their Report? I hope it will be widely read. I think your Lordships will agree that there is a good deal of misplaced sentimentality about the killing of wild animals. I am sure that the careful presentation of facts and the balanced conclusions in the Report will help people to see this problem in its true perspective and to form a more reasonable judgment. No one will deny that there is good reason for the strength of the humanitarian feeling voiced by the Lord Elton and his supporters against the gin trap. I shall not quote again from the Report of the Committee of Inquiry, for it has been quoted by several speakers already, and I believe we all agree with what has been said about it. I think, too, that what we have to decide in making up our minds about the Bill is whether the suffering caused by the gin trap is necessary and inevitable in the interests of food production, or whether we are causing unnecessary and gratuitous suffering because this type of trap could be banned without any appreciable loss of food.
I believe that the noble Lord will find that he is wrong in this assumption. I cannot agree with the optimistic assumption in the Report that if the gin trap is prohibited an equally effective alternative humane trap will be found in its place. Experiments in the production of humane traps have been going on for a long time but so far none of them has been so effective as the gin. I ought to qualify that statement by referring to one of the remarks made by Lord Carrington. He said that the trap which has been used for some time in an experimental way is one of an improved design, which is equally effective in getting rabbits as compared with the gin trap. That is an immense step forward. The only argument against the Bill was that this trap could not be produced in sufficiently large quantities or put on the market at a reasonable price in time to replace the gin trap if that were banned immediately.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
I did say that there were certain defects in the trap which we have not overcome and that it will take sonic time to overcome them; 574 therefore it is not quite as the noble Earl says.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I quite accept that there is a good deal of preparatory work which has to be done. If that work is successful, will the Government consider introducing a Bill of its own?
§ LORD CARRINGTON
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I am glad the noble Lord made the point about the use of gas. Gas is not an alternative to trapping, but it can be used to supplement it. There are places where gas would not be practicable. But the fact remains that the most common method of catching rabbits at present is by the use of the gin trap Large numbers of land owners, farmers and workers, all use these traps; there are over 3,000,000 traps of this kind in use at present in the farms and cottages of our countryside. To deprive these people of these traps before we can provide them with an effective substitute would undoubtedly lead to an increase in the rabbit population and to a corresponding decrease in food production. At a time when we have to cut imported food it would be folly to discourage home food production. I hope the Government will undertake to introduce a Bill to abolish the gin trap as soon as they are satisfied that an effective alternative has been discovered. I appreciate that Ministers cannot give such an undertaking until they are certain about the conditions under which such an undertaking would have to be discharged; and I am satisfied with the assurance given by Lord Carrington that he and his colleagues will make an honest effort to introduce a Bill as soon as an equally effective trap has been found. I do hope that that assurance will satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and that he will be willing to withdraw the Bill. I thought the noble Viscount, Lord Buck-master, seemed disposed to accept an assurance of that kind in his speech, and as he was, so to speak, seconding Lord Elton's Motion, I am encouraged to hope that the mover of the Bill may be disposed to do the same thing.
My last words are about the long-term policy in relation to rabbits. In the long term, one and the same policy will both stop cruelty and safeguard our food 575 supplies. The policy in which every noble Lord believes, I feel sure, is the policy of eradicating the rabbit. It is quite obvious that, so long as rabbits have to be kept down by trapping, snaring or shooting, there must be a vast amount of suffering. So that, in the long run, the interests of those concerned with the prevention of cruelty and the interests of the food producers are exactly the same. The only way to put an end to the suffering and to the damage to our crops and pasture is to exterminate the rabbit. Unfortunately, this policy of extermination in which we all believe is not that generally or universally practised at the present time. In saying this, I am making a confession of failure which is not a pleasant or easy thing to do, but I must be honest. I admit that I and my colleagues in the late Government failed to get this policy put into practice throughout the country. Wherever we went, we preached the abolition of the rabbit. We tried hard, but we did not succeed. Our main difficulty was that the meat shortage ever since the war has guaranteed a good price for rabbits, and so long as rabbit carcasses fetch high prices, there will be a strong temptation to farmers not to clear their land, and to rabbit catchers to keep enough rabbits on the land for breeding.
This commercial exploitation of the rabbit, to which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, rightly referred, has been a powerful influence in maintaining the rabbit population. Nevertheless, there is plenty of good will in the farming community, and I believe that most farmers and land owners would be only too glad to get rid of these pests. The fact that they have not done so was largely due to our fault in not giving them the right lead. That is my own personal opinion. I hope very much that the present Government will give a lead to a nation-wide campaign for rabbit clearance. This campaign should, of course, be organised and planned locally by the county executives and carried out clearly in each county within a reasonable period of time. Above all, farmers must be quite certain (I was glad the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, made this point so strongly) that their efforts to get rid of their own rabbits will not be spoilt by one or two selfish or inconsiderate neighbours. It is hopeless to clear land, often by spending a lot of 576 money, when the rabbits run in again from the adjoining estate or farm. I am certain that compulsory powers will have to be used more frequently for this purpose and that new powers may be necessary, as recommended in the Henderson Committee's Report. I hope that the Government will examine that recommendation. I urge upon them the need for thinking out a new and much more effective policy on rabbit extermination within a reasonable period of time. If they can do this, and if they can win the support of the farming community—for it will be in vain for them to work out a policy unless the farming, community are willing to implement it—they will do something that is both humane and of extreme value to food production. I support the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on this Bill, and I very much hope that the assurance which he has given, which I think goes a very long way to meeting, the promoters of the Bill, will be accepted.
§ 4.15 p.m.
THE EARL OF HADDINGTON
My Lords, the last thing I wish to do is to delay your Lordships by going over the ground which has already been covered by the, previous speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, who moved this Motion, made such a masterly and wide survey of the whole problem that I feel that there is not much that I, as one who has had a little practical experience with rabbits, can add, except to emphasise some of the points he has made. Let me say at the outset that I wholeheartedly support his Motion and I certainly hope he will press it this afternoon. I live on the land. I am no friend of the rabbit and I think many of us have left behind in the nursery our old "Peter Rabbit" or "Brer Rabbit" sentiment, whichever you may call it. Living on the land, I see the damage that rabbits do to our food supplies, our crops and corn, and in fouling the land.
And what about forestry? Many of your Lordships are interested in forestry, and we have debated that subject frequently in recent months. In this country we cannot even protect the natural regeneration of trees because of the rabbit. The rabbit is a pest. That has been clearly pointed out this afternoon, and I think, as the Scott Henderson Committee point out in their Report, that every 577 effort should be made by whatever Government are in power completely to exterminate the rabbit from this country. It is not even a native animal. There were no rabbits in this country a thousand years ago. They came in at the time of the Norman conquest. Perhaps it is rather by the way, but an eminent writer has told us that Spain was the land of rabbits, and that that country derives its name from the Carthaginian word span which means "rabbit." When the Carthaginians invaded Spain in about the year 380 B.C., they found the country was full of rabbits, so they called it "Span"—the rabbit. Whether or not that is true I do not know.
However, there it is; the rabbit is not a native animal, and I think it ought to be exterminated, if that can be done. Of course, that is only possible over a long period of time. In the meantime, we have to keep on waging war against the rabbit. But surely we should wage it in as humane a manner as possible. I have heard it said that if you abolish the gin trap, the pest will increase. I do not agree with noble Lords who have said that, because, for one thing, there are many other ways, apart from the gin, of killing rabbits. They are not such cruel ways. I do not know whether the humane snare has been mentioned to-day. It is a knotted snare which does not draw the noose tight round the animal's neck and therefore suffocate it. Of course, any kind of instrument which catches the rabbit or any other animal alive and leaves it is cruel in a sense, because it imparts fear to the animal; but it is nothing like so cruel as the gin trap which, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has said, is a diabolical instrument.
There is one thing which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said and which I should like to emphasise. He told us of a stoat that had been left alive for two days. That is no uncommon occurrence; I know it is not. I live in the North where we have deep snow in the winter, and sometimes you cannot get out of your house for two or three days at a time. Do you suppose that a trapper will go round his traps in deep snow? No; he leaves the animals trapped to die a lingering death. It is not one particular occurrence; it happens in hundreds and hundreds of cases all over the 578 country, when deep snow comes to Scotland.
There are other methods: there are snaring and gassing. There is also the purse netting method which is frequently resorted to and is a most effective way of getting rid of rabbits. I do not see why the two years' deferment which the Bill allows should not provide sufficient time in which to produce an efficient humane trap. The main point I want to make this afternoon is that, so long as the gin trap remains a legitimate trap and the most popular trap (which it is to-day) with which to catch rabbits, there will be no inducement for manufacturers to make a substitute. What manufacturer of traps will expend money and time in trying to make a humane trap, if he knows that all the time he has to compete with the gin trap which everybody wants to buy? Abolish the gin trap first and then something will be found to take its place; of that I am sure. My experience of this world is that if man's ingenuity is baulked in one avenue it will quickly explore others. Perhaps this is rather a stupid analogy, but you must pardon it because it is rather to the point: when the Germans failed to reduce this country in the war by aerial bombing it was not long before we had guided missiles, such as "buzz-bombs" and rockets, coming over instead—and not without effect, as your Lord ships may remember. I feel that the same rule will apply to our war on rabbits, and I believe that that is the hope of the noble Lord who has moved the Second Reading of this Bill to-day.
I have little fear that if the gin trap is abolished the number of rabbits in this country will increase. I think the Government should go ahead with determination, and should exert all their influence, giving encouragement to manufacturers to devise an efficient humane trap; then, I believe, one would be found. The Bill appears to make ample provision for dealing with the Problem of killing smaller vermin. That is a very important point. Many weasels and stoats are killed in gin traps, and that is one reason why the gin trap does not effectively keep the number of rabbits down. All the time you are killing the natural predator; you are killing the rabbit and the animal that actually lives on the rabbit. That is an absolute fact. For that reason, I believe that instead of keeping rabbits down the gin trap helps them to increase. I do not 579 wish to take up any more time. On moral grounds alone I think that the gin is indefensible. How can we call ourselves a civilised nation if, year after year, we go on inflicting this great suffering on animals? I remember when the Agriculture Act came to your Lordships' House a few years ago. Them we talked about humane traps, and we had undertakings that something was going to be done, that some new traps would be invented. That is three or four years ago. What has been done? We are in exactly the same position to-day. Nothing has yet been done, and nothing will be done until more pressure is brought to bear. I hope your Lordships will agree to give the Bill a Second Reading this afternoon, and so get it on to the Statute Book as soon as possible.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, before discussing this Bill I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on the excellent speech he made on what he might call his debut on the Government Front Bench. Perhaps some of us who have a great deal to do with the breeding of all kinds of animals have a greater belief in heredity than some noble Lords on the Opposition Benches. If I may say so, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, fortifies those of us who believe in hereditary powers, because I remember that when I was first elected to another place in 1905 the noble Lord's great-uncle was President of what I think was then called the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries—and an excellent President he was, as the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, will remember. To go further back, I believe that in about 1800 another of the noble Lord's forbears held exactly the same position. Therefore, I say that those of us who believe in heredity are especially pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, occupies his present position.
In regard to this Bill I should like first of all to ask one question—namely, whether the Scottish Office were consulted, as I presume they were, by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, before he made his speech. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has left the Chamber, otherwise I should have sought an assurance from him. I shall be glad to have that assurance, because our laws with regard to 580 trapping are not the same as those in England, and in regard to this particular subject we do not come under the Ministry of Agriculture.
Not only your Lordships but I should say practically everybody in this Island has the greatest sympathy with all that Lord Elton has said this afternoon, and from the point of view of cruelty or non-cruelty the use of the gin trap is, of course, indefensible. We live in a cruel world, but unless we have a real reason for it there is no reason why we should use cruel methods. But we have to measure the benefits of the gin trap against its cruelty. Some of the speeches have been said to be not genuine. Of course they were genuine arguments and beliefs. One speaker almost went so far as to say that the use of the gin trap propagated rabbits. The real fact is, of course, as anybody knows who has had a life-long interest in land, in promoting agriculture and in getting either a living or benefit out of it, that the only possible way at the present time of keeping rabbits under control is by the gin trap.
Yesterday I was at a meeting of the executive of the Scottish Land and Property Federation. I was going to say that they were all hard-headed Scots, but that is not quite the right phrase. At any rate, they were all people who know their job and who know what is the best thing for agriculture. Much as they deprecated it, they were unanimous that there was no other solution at the present time than the use of the gin trap. I have also been able to get the views of the Scottish National Farmers Union, and I understand that they are equally unanimous on the subject. One cannot get away from those views, the views of experts. What are we offered as an alternative solution? The solution is a safety trap, which I have seen. We have all tried these safety traps. There is no question but that at the present time they cannot possibly take the place of the gin trap. An important point is that a man can carry four dozen gin traps and set them, but he would be hard put to it to carry six of these safety traps, which I have seen, around with him for more than a short space of time.
Again, we have heard to-day a number of speakers who have commented on the setting of these traps in the open. It is illegal to set these traps in the open except, I think (this is the case in Scotland, 581 I believe, and it may be in England also), in woodlands, and in one or two enclosed spaces. And, moreover, no farmer or land owner would set his traps in the open, because he would catch his own sheep and catch the tongues of his cattle. We have been told that instead of the gill trap the safety trap should be used. But—and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has confirmed this—the safety trap is not yet nearly ripe for distribution in this country. We have also been told that another solution of the problem is gassing. There are two factors against gassing—one is that you cannot get the gas (I do not know who has it: I know we cannot get it) and the other is that when you compare gas with the gin trap, gas is every bit as cruel. People who have seen rabbits escaping half-gassed, will tell you that gassing is every bit as cruel as the use of the gin trap. But I confess it is news to me that you can eat a gassed rabbit. Certainly I have never heard of anyone who wanted to do so.
Now I come to what I think is the solution of the problem. I believe that we must continue to employ the gin trap until we find a perfectly accurate and reliable safety trap, such as Lord Carrington envisages, and until we have the 6,000 or 7,000 tons of steel required to make these traps and the time to distribute them. Until those considerations are fulfilled. I think we must have the gin trap. I am afraid that I do not agree with the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, who said that the thing to do was to abolish the gin trap now, and then the safety trap would come along.
THE EARL OF HADDINGTON
May interrupt the noble Earl to tell him that I said there would be more incentive for manufacturers to produce an efficient humane trap if the gin trap were abolished now? The very fact of the gin trap being legitimate precludes manufacturers from inventing; a humane substitute, because the gin trap is now the most popular instrument with trappers.
§ THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
That may be, but if you abolish the gin trap there is bound to be an hiatus between the time of the abolition and the time of the coming into use of the safety trap, and there is a saying which we all know well—"breeding like rabbits." So I do not think we could possibly do as the noble Earl suggests.
THE EARL OF HADDINGTON
Under this Bill there is a deferment period of two years, during which attention could be given to the problem of inventing an efficient and humane safety trap. The Bill, if it is passed, would not come into force until 1954.
§ THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I think, if I may say so, that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, really showed considerable grasp of the subject. If I understood him aright, and I think I did, I am in full agreement with hint. We should go on with the gin trap and try to secure more co-operation between land owners in different districts, if necessary by legislation, to put down rabbits. Very few people realise how far the rabbit will travel in one night. It is very annoying, when you have killed your own rabbits, to find other rabbits from the neighbourhood invading your land. There is a pamphlet which I would commend to the notice of Government Departments concerned, which, of course, includes the Department responsible for forestry. These Departments, should get into consultation with the land owners and the Farmers' Union and take measures on the lines suggested in Mr. Middleton's pamphlet: The Extermination of the Wild Rabbit. I think the pamphlet is a very good one, and if we could follow out the lines there laid down and make a co-operative effort to exterminate the rabbits in districts as well as carrying on With trapping, by the time we had an efficient safety trap we might be able to get rid of the gin trap.
§ 4.36 p.m.
My Lords, rising as I do to address your Lordships at this time of the day, I do not propose to detain you very long. In fact, the ground has been fully covered already, but I should like to emphasise what I conceive to be lying at the back of the whole of this problem of the destruction of rabbits. We are living in a time when the economic position of the country has never given more cause for serious concern. One of the points that emerge is the paramount importance of our growing in this country the maximum possible amount of food. The population here is growing, and an increasing amount of food is being consumed in other parts of the world as well. We know also of the difficulties which have arisen in many 583 parts of the globe by soil erosion, caused, to a great extent, by the manner in which the land has been misused. Therefore I venture to suggest that we should bear in mind in all our legislation any consideration which may affect the productivity of our own soil and the production of an adequate food supply for the people of this country.
Of course, we are all agreed that the real function of the agricultural industry is to produce the maximum possible quantity of food. At present, as has been recognised, there is an appreciable wastage of food potential owing to the presence of, and the inadequate measures taken for the destruction of, rabbits up and down the country. It is on that account that I welcome—and I think most of us interested in agriculture welcomed it—the sentence in the gracious Speech which read:My Ministers will vigorously encourage the production of food by the basic industries of agriculture, horticulture and fisheries.A great deal of thought and investigation has, of course, been given to this problem of increasing home food production. I should like to call attention to a recent publication, which is now available to your Lordships—the first Report of the Research Committee of the Rural Reconstruction Association. This has been received with great interest and it has been well noticed in the Press. I understand that the Ministry of Agriculture has asked for a considerable number of copies of this first Report; therefore I am encouraged to say a few words about it to your Lordships to-day. It shows that on the basis of food consumption in 1946, livestock production and crops for direct human consumption require some 9,156,000 acres of rough grazing and 49,500,000 acres of average agricultural quality. It shows, further, that on the basis of optimum land use there are available approximately 9,000,000 acres of rough grazing and 35,500,000 acres of average agricultural quality—and in these calculations allowance is made for certain well-defined products such as margarine, and so on.
The conclusion of the Report, which employs throughout the best available figures of the present acreage yields of crops and livestock (and I commend this conclusion to your Lordships) is that to 584 produce the food required the acreage would have to be increased by not more than 40 per cent. Whether that can be obtained or not is another matter and one which will need a great deal of careful research on the same lines. It is interesting, however, that there is even a possibility of our being able to produce anything like the amount of food that is required for our home consumption. I am sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, is not able to be here to-day. He and I have studied this subject for a considerable number of years, and we know the difficulties that lie in the way of an adequate increase in food production at home. During the war production was increased considerably, but there is still a great deal that can and should be done under an agricultural policy promoted by His Majesty's Government in co-operation with land-owners and farmers alike. I mention these considerations to emphasise the need of scrutinising Bills such as this to make as sure as may be that nothing is done to make the production of food at home more difficult. The function of agriculture is to produce the maximum amount of food in these critical times.
I have been asked to voice the opinion of the Country Landowners' Association on this Bill. They are in full support of the abolition of the gin trap. My noble friend Lord Carrington gave us figures of the vast number of gin traps being used at the present time. If it were made illegal to use these traps, and there was not available immediately a sufficient supply of approved traps, it is inevitable that the Bill would constitute almost an attack on the growing of crops in this country. Of course, there is an appreciable wastage of food by the depredations of rabbits. In drafting the Bill I do not think that sufficient attention has been given to the destruction caused by rabbits, which is of real importance. Many points were raised by noble Lords who spoke from their own experience of country life. For instance, the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, spoke of the utmost importance of ensuring that effective work done by one land-owner or occupying owner should not be wasted because the area infested was not treated as a whole and the land-owner did not get co-operation from his neighbours. Is it not, therefore, unwise to abolish the 585 existing means of control until new methods have been adequately proved and provided in sufficient quantity?
I think your Lordships have been impressed by the speech of my noble friend Lord Carrington, and I should like to join with other noble Lords in congratulating him. It is felt that the date when it is proposed that the Bill should come into force—namely, January 1, 1954—does not give sufficient time for a satisfactory changeover to an approved trap. From what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said, it is clear that there is an approved trap on the market, but that in order that it should become acceptable in a far wider way than it is at present, various modifications will have to be made. It is essential that full experimental use should be made of it under the ægis of the Ministry of Agriculture, so that when the time comes, as I hope it will come, for the Government to promote a Bill dealing with this all-important question, we shall be sure that the article recommended by His Majesty's Government is one that is effective in every way on the different soils in the various parts of the country. The Country Landowners' Association are in full support of the abolition of the gin trap and are in sympathy with the objects of this Bill, but they feel strongly that there is a risk that, if the Bill is passed in its present form, our effort to effect humane reform will be weakened. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will see his way to withdraw his Bill at the present time. I venture to say that it is somewhat inopportune. In view of what my noble friend Lord Carrington has said, I hope that the future will not be prejudiced by the noble Lord pressing his Motion to a Division.
§ 4.45 p.m.
THE DUKE OF NORFOLK
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I should like to start by congratulating my noble friend Lord Carrington, who now holds the position which I once had the honour of holding. And may I say how much better he carries out the office than I did? The discussion this afternoon has covered almost everything that can be said on this subject, and it appears to me that it has become a question of whether or not we should do away with the gin trap solely on grounds of its 586 cruelty. Everybody who knows anything about the gin trap, rabbits and the countryside agrees that there is a degree of cruelty attached to it and, as the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, said, there is no one who does not want to see this trap abolished. But that does not necessarily mean that this is the right moment, or that to pass the present Bill is the right manner, to do it. It is obvious to everybody that the importance of the production of food is paramount to-day. Everyone concerned with farming and forestry would welcome the abolition of the rabbit, because it would save so much food and so much money.
My noble friend Lord Carrington discussed at some length the humane trap which would take the place of the gin trap. Ever since I was a boy I have heard of people experimenting to perfect a humane trap; but that trap has not yet been made. I can produce a man from my own estate who invented a trap. It did extremely well, but it got only as far as the trap which the Government have in mind at the moment. When we came to the final trials of his trap, we realised that it had defects which it would not be possible to remedy. So that was another humane trap which failed. I welcome the assurance that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has given this afternoon. I shall be the first to support any Bill that abolishes the gin trap when we are sure of two things: first, that the new Bill recommends a trap which is effective, and secondly, that we are given assurance that ample supplies of the trap will be issued throughout the country immediately and that there will be no time lag between the abolition of the gin trap and the introduction of a new one. To the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who has produced the present Bill, I would say that to-day I can offer him only my sympathy; I feel that I cannot give him my support.
§ 4.50 p.m.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
My Lords, I, too, should like to pay my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on his first appearance on the Front Bench and to say how much we enjoyed his speech. It was a model of lucidity and, what is even better, of brevity. It leads us to hope that he will have many opportunities of answering the questions which from time to time we shall be forced to level at him. I trust—and I believe that the noble 587 Lord, Lord Elton, has already made this point—that those who speak against this Bill will not be written down as inhuman monsters. I surmise, as many other noble Lords have, that all true countrymen would wish to support the motives behind this Bill. I always listen with the utmost respect to the views of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, although I may not always agree with them. On this occasion, I do not agree with him. However my heart dictates—and I find myself in a difficult position, because my heart does dictate that I should support the Bill—my head tells me that this is not the moment for such a Bill as this. With all respect to the noble Lord's views, which he always utters with the utmost sincerity, in this case, I, along with other noble Lords, feel very strongly indeed that we must not allow our hearts to govern our heads. My experience is that the average countryman—and within that term at this particular moment I include the keeper—is one of the most humane of persons. Having said that, and having said that I support the motives behind the noble Lord's Bill, I sincerely hope that the noble Lord will be persuaded to withdraw it; or, if not persuaded, that he will be forced to do so in the Division lobby, because it is not, in my humble opinion, in the best interests of the country at the moment.
I cannot understand how it is that His Majesty's Government have allowed a Private Member's Bill such as this to be brought up before the matter has been properly discussed and ventilated with the various interests concerned—namely, the land owners, agriculture, forestry and those connected with the land generally. I am not aware whether this was done in England, but it was certainly not done in Scotland. Let us see what the passing of this measure would entail. First, if I may say so, it has taken some considerable time to establish in the minds of the authorities and those responsible for governing this country, of whatever Party, that, at any time, the rabbit is the enemy of society. To-day he is what is known as "Enemy No. 1." Why is that so? It is because it has never been more important in the history of this country to produce food and timber to our fullest capabilities than it is at the present time. Both of those things are vital to our survival. Unfortunately, 588 as everybody knows, crops, young trees and rabbits do not go well together: in fact, it is an impossibility to raise trees and crops if you have rabbits, unless you net the ground; and, of course, if you do that you add substantially to the cost of production.
If I may say so, the originators of this Bill have been extremely wily, because they have offered what appear to be two very tempting loopholes. First, they have allowed until 1954 before the Act can take effect. That sounds all right, but in my humble opinion this is a reckless measure which we simply cannot afford, however much we should desire it. The alternatives which have been mentioned are still in the experimental stage. In certain conditions, gas is quite effective, but, as my noble friend, Lord Rosebery, said, it is very hard to get it just when you want it. Noble Lords know how fast rabbits breed—they do not wait; and when you want to get rid of them, and you cannot get the gas, before you know where you are you have a small colony. In these days we cannot afford that. The Department for Agriculture in Scotland say that there are between 4,000,000 and 5,000,000 gin traps used in a year at present. So that if a suitable trap is produced it means scrapping four or five million steel gin traps. Added to that, the replacement per annum would be about 800,000 traps. Are we going to get the steel to produce the new trap? I do not know whether rearmament will continue: but if it does, how can we possibly afford the steel for that? In order to keep down the rabbit we must have a practical article that can deal with the job, produced in sufficient numbers by 1954. The achievement of that is problematical. It is true, as Lord Haddington has said, that if a thing is once made impossible or forbidden, something else is produced in its place. But that is problematical, and this is a problem with which we cannot afford to play.
The second loophole is that the Bill allows the Minister to issue licences to use the old traps on certain conditions. I do not think that makes sense. Your Lordships know what happens when application is made to a Ministry for a licence. We all know how long it takes for a Government Department to move, even when pressed, and we also know, 589 to our cost, how fast rabbits breed: before you could say "Jack Robinson," you would have a flock which would put a stopper on your food production programme and on your timber planning programme. Also, as has already been said, the gin trap deals with other pests, such as rats, which are very prejudicial, and almost as bad as rabbits when it comes to crops. They all do tremendous damage. With all due deference to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, much as I should like in my heart to support him, there seems to be only one method to deal with this matter—namely, to persuade the Government Department (and I am glad to realise that the Government are alive to this) to foster a strong co-operative movement between themselves, the Landowners' Association and the Farmers' Union to organise an intensive campaign of rabbit destruction such as is suggested by the Middleton pamphlet. When that campaign comes within sight of a tolerably successful conclusion, then, in my opinion, is the moment to do away with the gin trap, and not before.
Again, I emphasise that we should all like to see the gin trap go; but it would be madness to abolish it before we have something proper to put in its place. If this Bill is given a Second Reading, may I offer a humble piece of advice? Your Lordships will notice that there are certain penalties. Our experience is that, when you impose penalties in a Bill, they must be "whacking" big ones. When the cost of whatever it is that people intend to poach or do is very high, it is no good fixing a penalty of £5, or even £25. If you provide for a penalty, it must be heavy enough to take away something from the man that he really needs. You cannot take away his wife, but you can take away his motor car. In all these things, like salmon poaching and deer poaching, if you take away his method of production and means of poaching, you then do something which will punish him The other day in the north a poacher received two years' imprisonment. Up to then he had gone to prison regularly every winter, and rather enjoyed it; he kept warm all the winter, was nicely fed and well treated. Then, when the fishing season started, out he would come, and again resume his poaching. This time he went in for two years, and now he cannot poach for two years. I suggest that if you are going to impose 590 penalties they must be large enough to tell—otherwise it is a waste of time. I hope that the general common sense of your Lordships' House will see that, although we all support the motives behind this Bill, it does not receive a Second Reading to-day.
§ 5.0 p.m.
My Lords, in rising to support the noble Lord who introduced this Bill, may I say in passing that I was not previously aware that it was necessary for a private member of this House who wants to introduce a Bill to consult the Scottish land owners before doing so.
§ THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, may I intervene for a moment? Neither my noble friend nor I demurred in the least to the Bill being introduced. All I asked was whether the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, had consulted St. Andrew's House before he had made his speech, and he said that he had. I think we are perfectly in order in asking that, without being criticised.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
Then perhaps I may reply. What I said was that in regard to a Bill such as this it was essential that the interests who were affected should be consulted, and that the matter should be aired and ventilated before it was brought to this House.
With all due respect to both noble Earls, I still say that it should not be necessary for a private member to consult the Scottish land owners or any Department before he introduces a Bill.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
I did not say that it was necessary. With all due deference to the noble Lord, I said that it might be better if he did.
Of course, I accept the noble Earl's correction. A similar Bill was read a first time in July, and surely there has been plenty of time since then for every organisation in the country thoroughly to digest every clause in it. I only wanted to say that, in passing. I have very few words to say on the subject of cruelty, save this. Every member of your Lordships' House and 591 of another place should be ashamed of the present state of affairs in this country. We are apt to criticise foreigners, and to think that we are the one humane country in the world in the treatment of animals. We are apt to scorn what goes on in Oriental countries. We are apt to cast criticisms at bullfights in Spain. But let us not say another word about cruelty in any other country so long as we have this cruelty in our country. I repeat what another noble Lord has said this afternoon: if trapping took place in Parliament Square, this Bill would go through your Lordships' House in one day, with the Standing Orders suspended. Unfortunately, that is not what happens; trapping takes place in the countryside away from the population, and those who hear it try to deafen their ears.
The essential point to consider to-day is: Is this cruelty necessary? As I understand the law, necessary cruelty is lawful and unnecessary cruelty is unlawful. I believe that that, broadly speaking, would be a correct statement of the law. Is rabbit trapping necessary? If not, it should be made illegal. Speaker after speaker this afternoon has risen and said. "I agree entirely about the cruelty of this trapping, but …"—and then he has given various reasons why the traps cannot be abolished. May I just ring the changes a little, and say that I am here this afternoon to say that these traps are not necessary. I am even going to say that humane traps are not necessary, though I shall not object if anybody chooses to use them—provided they are humane. Further, I am here to say that these traps are not only not necessary but are positively harmful. That is where I come into direct collision with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, the noble Duke, the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, and many others.
One of the troubles about this debate is that, to a large extent, both sides are using the same arguments to prove opposite cases. I want to adopt for my case the arguments used by several noble Lords about the food situation. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said, quite rightly, that four and a half rabbits ate as much as one sheep; and for that reason he did not want us to pass this Bill. For the same reason I want your 592 Lordships to pass this Bill, because I see clearly that so long as the present state of affairs goes on, the menace to our food situation is going to increase. It is on the effects of traps on agriculture that I want to dwell this afternoon. I say that commercial trapping—and I am going to use my words carefully—not the mere use of a trap to kill a rabbit, but the system of commercial trapping which is now going on in this country, positively increases the rabbit population. I have no doubt about that whatsoever. Therefore, if that be true, then the arguments about food production must fall to the ground or be presented by my opponents to me for my use.
To those who oppose our case this afternoon, and I know there are many, I would say this: your policy—carried on over the last fifty years, shall we say—of commercial rabbit trapping and the use of millions of traps to catch millions of rabbits, has been a complete failure. It has produced—I do not say no results, but results opposite to what you intended it to produce. It has greatly increased the population of rabbits. That is the effect of commercial trapping, and, therefore, something has to be done to stop commercial trapping. If I should be right, then a great number of arguments used against the Bill this afternoon likewise fall to the ground, because the contention that we must have some trapping and that we cannot have an hiatus between the use of the humane trap and the use of the gin trap goes by the board.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said that we were plumb wrong about this matter. Well, it is a matter of opinion, and I hold the opposite case just as forcibly as the noble Earl holds his. With all respect to the noble Earl, I think that he and those who agree with him are plumb wrong, and some day it will be very interesting to see which of us is not wrong. As to the reasons why commercial trapping increases the rabbit population—about which I have no doubt whatever—I will not dwell in detail, because the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has given them to your Lordships. He has mentioned the preponderance of males which are caught in traps, the complete upheaval of the natural process which these traps involve, and the catching of the stoats and weasels which are meant by nature to catch the rabbits.
593 Perhaps I might dwell for a moment on the other factor which he mentioned, and that is the taking away of the livelihood of the trappers. Of course, a rabbit trapper is not going to exterminate rabbits. Why should he, from his own selfish point of view? No one expects him to. As the noble Lord said, does a sheep farmer exterminate his sheep, or does he leave a certain number of sheep to perpetuate the species for the future? Of course a rabbit trapper is not going to kill all the rabbits. We must judge by results. Is it not fair to judge by the results of what has been going on under the present system? If the present system is not satisfactory, then let us try something else. In support of my contention that rabbit trapping increases the rabbit population, may I quote the Ministry of Agriculture? Their publication No. 22, published in 1918, says at page 34:Contradictory as the idea may appear, traps must be considered the best means of maintaining a plentiful stock on the ground.Those words are as true to-day as when they were written. Perhaps I may be allowed to quote from a former Minister of Agriculture. Speaking in another place, in 1934, the right honourable Member, Mr. Walter Elliot, said that the use of traps was an exceedingly unsatisfactory and undesirable means of catching ground game, and in the Ministry's opinion should not be used. I should like to know whether the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, supports that statement. Perhaps he will tell us at some convenient opportunity.
I wish now to say a word about rabbit farmers. Rabbit farmers and trappers are no doubt perfectly respectable citizens, and personally I have no word to say against them. But their occupation is, in the true sense of the word, parasitic. They are living on the backs of other people. The rabbit farmer does not keep Ids stock on his own land, and he should be made to do so. He makes profits, no doubt, and often pays his rent out of his profits. Does he charge in his profit and loss account the food for those rabbits—which is grown on the land of his neighbour? If the cost of that food were charged in the profit and loss account we should hear a different story. Ought subsidies to be paid out of the taxpayer's pocket to rabbit farmers? That is what 594 is happening to-day. I do not think that that is right. If we are to subsidise farming we should have proper methods of farming; rabbit farming is not a proper method, and it should be stopped.
I always hesitate before mentioning personal matters in your Lordships' House, and I hesitate now to refer to my own property or to the place from which I come. But I feel that to-day I must say a few words about the county in which I live—a county which is regarded as one of the black areas in Britain for rabbits. It is the county of Pembroke. I have had some experience of this county, for I have lived there all my life. I am told that Devon, Cornwall, Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire are the four worst counties in this respect. Since, as I say, I have lived in Pembrokeshire all my life and know the county, I hope that I shall not be thought to be a long-haired crank who has never been in the country. I occupy about 500 acres of land in Pembroke, about half of which is farm land and the other half woodland. I have never allowed traps on my own land, and though I have seen many on other people's land and on land of mine which is let to tenants, I have never seen a trap on land in my own occupation. And I shall never allow a trap on this land, as long as I live. What is the result? On that land of mine, alone in the whole county, trees can be planted without rabbit wire. When I go to outlying parts of my estate that are surrounded by rabbit farms, I find that they have to use rabbit wire. Why is this? I know the reason. Surely there is some significance in it. I may say that I encourage the killing of rabbits by every possible means, short of trapping, because I believe that trapping is an abominable thing and that trapping increases rabbits.
Perhaps I may be permitted now to make one or two constructive suggestions. It does not worry me whether humane traps are invented or not. If trapping has to be done, then, of course, I want to see humane traps, but I believe that to say that gassing is just as cruel as trapping is very wide of the mark. Of course it is not. I suggest that to deal with this situation, this growing menace to our food supplies, the rabbit population, we should first of all nationalise rabbits. We should alter the law which at present governs the situation. We should stop 595 talking about rabbits being game of any kind, and always talk about them as being a pest, and nothing but a pest. We should stop fining people for trespassing in pursuit of coneys and fine them for not trespassing in pursuit of coneys. Further, we should place rabbits in the same position, legally, as mushrooms. I understand that in law it is no offence for someone to come on my land and take away mushrooms or blackberries, provided that they are not cultivated. It is true that if the person snaps a single blade of grass in the process he incurs a penalty, but he may take away my mushrooms with impunity. Why should he not take away my rabbits? That, more than anything else that has been suggested to-day, would help to solve this problem. Of course I know that I may be up against the gamekeepers; but I must face that. I believe that if we did put rabbits in the same position legally as mushrooms this problem would vanish in a very short time.
The Ground Game Act of 1880 is partly to blame for the present situation. One of the things that that Act does is to grant almost total monopoly in the taking of rabbits. It is true that the occupier or owner can take rabbits, but apart from this the right to take rabbits is confined to one man. The tenant can permit one man employed by him to take the rabbits—and that is the fatal error, because that creates a monopoly. If that one man were not sure that no one else was coming to take rabbits, he would not leave a stock for next year. It is because of his monopoly that he leaves a plentiful stock to keep his income and profits for next year. If the law were altered in that respect, and if people were allowed to take rabbits from the land of another, a tremendous improvement in this very serious situation would take place. It may be they would have to be licensed—I do not know.
Now a word about the agricultural organisations which are responsible, the county agricultural executive committees. I am afraid I must say that I do not think they are all doing effective work in this regard. Some of them are no doubt good, but they are not all good. What is more, in some counties they are not receiving the encouragement which they ought to receive from responsible people like land owners and farmers. In all 596 too many cases the land owners are not enthusiastic because, among other reasons, they are afraid of offending their tenants; and all too often the farmers are not enthusiastic because they are afraid of losing membership of the National Farmers' Union. They are afraid of losing the immediate cash profit which the rabbit farmer and the rabbit trapper regard as the key to the matter. In my view, the Ministry, by co-operation with the local county agricultural executive committees, should do more to try to solve this problem, and should somehow secure more encouragement from land owners and farmers.
The truth is, of course, that there are too many vested interests here; too many people would be displaced by the stopping of trapping. Is not labour short on the farms? There is no reason whatever why all these rabbit trappers, most of them strong able men, should not be employed in agriculture on the farms instead of doing what I think is a great deal of harm to the countryside. Why not try the experiment? I would further suggest this to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington will be send someone down from the Ministry to one of these black areas to try an experiment? It should not be impossible to secure a small area where people are willing to try this experiment, where traps were totally abolished for a year or two. Let us try. The Government say that we are wrong; if so, that should prove it. I have no hesitation in saying that it will prove nothing of the kind. But let us see. It will, at any rate, silence some of the critics. It will save your Lordships from reverting to this problem which, believe me, will be brought before this House over and over again until this Bill, or some Bill like it, goes through. If your Lordships do not pass this Bill to-day, it is only a question of time before your Lordships will be asked to pass another Bill on the same lines—it may be introduced by the Government or it may be by a private member, but the result will be the same. If your Lordships passed such a measure you would be doing the right thing, and I am asking your Lordships to do the right thing to-day.
§ 5.23 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Elton on bringing this Bill before your Lordships' House and on the moderate 597 language he has used in depicting the horror created by the use of some 3,000,000 gin traps. All your Lordships who have spoken have stressed the great cruelty that is inflicted on rabbits by the use of the gin trap, and also the immense damage done by rabbits in forestry and agriculture. I feel that a tribute should be paid to the fact that we have been kept aware of these things—and that applies also to the general public—by the splendid work that has been done over the years by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare and the English and the Scots Royal Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
I join with the other noble Lords who have spoken in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on his first speech in his new office. I was interested in all the noble Lord had to say, but I noticed particularly that in talking of developing a humane trap the noble Lord specifically referred to an inventor, and he gave me the impression that he had in mind the encouragement of one particular trap; in other words, I suppose that might possibly he encouragement in the development of the Sawyer trap of which your Lordships know. I should like to ask the noble Lord to remember that there is another trap, the Miller trap, which comes from the district where the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, holds sway—from Edinburgh In my view, that trap shows perhaps even more promise than the Sawyer, excellent though it is. I hope that the noble Lord intends to encourage the development not only of one promising design but of two or such other promising designs that may come forward, traps of the type of the Sawyer and/or the Miller. When the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, comes to reply for His Majesty's Government, he may have something to say in regard to this matter.
Perhaps I may with modesty claim to have a certain vested interest in this matter, since I think I am the only member of your Lordships' House who has spoken this afternoon who has been so fortunate in the past as to introduce a Bill—the Prevention of Damage by Rabbits Bill of 1938. This dealt with one aspect of the nuisance created by this pest. I was minded at that time to propose the abolition of the gin trap, but I was advised against that course, and was dissuaded from so doing for reasons 598 similar to those advanced to-day. Now that His Majesty's Government, as I understand from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, are prepared to give specific assurances to take immediate action which will lead to the rapid development of a humane type of trap or traps, the greater use of gas and, eventually, the extermination of rabbits altogether, except those in a fenced warren, I hope that my noble friend Lord Elton will be moved to accept such assurance, and not to press his Bill to a Division.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate. I have listened to all the speeches and have been greatly impressed by the cogency of the arguments that have been addressed to your Lordships' House, both on the one side and on the other. Having come here with no strong preconceived opinion, I felt myself in great difficulty as to the vote which it would be my duty to cast if the noble Lord, Lord Elton, took his Bill to a Division. He and the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, made out an exceedingly strong case for a Bill of this character. The fact of the cruelty—the gross and widespread cruelty—caused by the gin trap is undoubted and is not denied in any quarter. Incidentally, much cruelty is caused upon other animals that may happen to blunder into these traps. The Committee on Cruelty to Wild Animals, which presented a moderate Report, unanimously condemned the gin trap in unmeasured language, and said categorically that it ought to be abolished. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned that there are other countries in Europe which have abolished it. I wish lie had told us more about that. Apparently this has been done in Germany, and in some Scandinavian countries. Have the disasters that have been foretold happened in those cases? If not, how was it that they did not happen? That is one point on which I think the House would have been glad to hear more, and upon which it is insufficiently informed.
Sixteen years ago Lord Tredegar brought forward a similar Motion. It was rejected by a small majority, and absolutely nothing has been done since. We are now told that if we throw out this Bill something will be done quickly, 599 and that the Government have the matter well in hand. That is not our usual experience in measures of this character. Year after year goes by, and, in spite of promises from the Front Bench in this House and in another place, no matter what Government may be in power, in effect the result is nil. The fact that the noble Lord who now represents the Ministry of Agriculture on the Government Bench and the noble Earl who used to represent it have both opposed this Bill, to my mind only shows that agricultural opinion in general, which is not very quick to move in these matters, is opposed to it, and the Ministry of Agriculture cannot have taken a course which would be strongly disapproved of by the majority, or at least a great number, of farmers, land-owners and others. Consequently, I do not attach very great importance to any of those considerations.
I think great importance should be attached to the fact mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, and several others, that while some noble Lords in this House, and possibly other people elsewhere, believe that the gin trap can be abolished without injury to the cause of the suppression of rabbits, agriculturists do not think so: and that if we were to pass an Act of Parliament suddenly—that is to say, within two years—depriving farmers of all possibility of using the gin trap except under heavy penalty, they would be very angry. If 3,000,000 gin traps are now in use, it would be a strong order to say that they shall not be replaced after two years, supposing that no efficient alternative were forthcoming within that time. It may or it may not be forthcoming. Those are all important considerations. The noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, has made out a strong case that agriculturists are foolish in thinking that the gin trap is a necessity in present circumstances. They do not think they are foolish. You must, if you can, carry agricultural opinion with you in a matter of this sort.
§ LORD SILKIN
May I just ask a question? If the two years which is suggested is too short a period, could not a longer period be considered?
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
The noble Lord has taken the words out of my mouth; he has shown proof of very intelligent 600 anticipation, for my next sentences were intended to say exactly that. It seems to me that we ought to pass this Bill on Second Reading. If we throw it out, the world will say that we are indifferent to the accusations of cruelty to which even those who say the gin trap is necessary plead guilty in the fullest degree. They say they are guilty of shocking cruelty, but that it cannot be helped, and that worse would follow if these traps were abolished. But surely it would be better to free this country from the stain of this grave cruelty, which was condemned by the Special Committee appointed to consider this matter. As the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, said, if we throw this Bill out, there will be no inducement to or pressure on manufacturers and inventors to produce something better, and we shall go on, year after year, as we have done hitherto; we shall discuss the question again and the House will take the same course every time the matter is brought before it. And we shall still have the same assurances that something is about to be done.
Therefore, I would feel disposed, subject to anything further that may be said by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, or by Lord Elton, to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill and to send it to Committee. After all, it is not the last word to be said on the Bill. Let us send it to Committee, and let the Committee consider very carefully the time when the Bill should be brought into operation. As it stands, it gives a period of two years. I should be prepared to agree either to a longer period or to some such provision as this: that the Bill shall be brought into operation by Order in Council at such time as it is found expedient to do so. Leave it as an open date, but put the Bill on the Statute Book, give notice to agriculture, give notice to the manufacturers that Parliament has condemned these traps, that we wish to get rid of them and that we are only waiting for the moment when circumstances will permit the application of the ban without damage to the industry of agriculture and to wider considerations. As soon as that moment arrived the Bill could be put into operation, not by having to go through all these legislative procedures again but perhaps by Order in Council, with the consent of both Houses (it could not then be done without the assent of your Lordships' House), or by any other pro- 601 cedure which the Committee of this House considering the Bill may think to be expedient. I venture to suggest that course to your Lordships.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, before I attempt to deal with the debate in any detail, there are two questions that I should like to answer straight away. First, there is the question that was asked by the noble Earl, Lord Airlie—namely, why did His Majesty's Government allow this Bill to be introduced without proper consultation with the Country Landowners' Association, the National Farmers' Union and other organisations? I am sure that the noble Earl will appreciate, on second thoughts, that we have no power whatsoever over Private Members' Bills which are introduced.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
I am not arguing that point; I quite admit it. I say that it would have been wiser and generally better to do these things.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I think most of us will agree that, whether or not it was necessary, it certainly would have been very much wiser, and I think very much more helpful to our considerations if that had been done. The last thing that we in your Lordships' House want is to have outside bodies quoted at us in such a way as to imply that we must necessarily follow what they say. But at the same time it is very useful to us to know what in fact are the views of those who are actively engaged, by virtue of their daily life and experience, in dealing with these problems. I think one noble Lord (I am not sure whether it was the noble Earl, Lord Airlie, or the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery) asked whether any consultation had taken place with the Scottish Office.
§ THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I was reassured on that point by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
Then I need not pursue the point.
I think we shall all agree that this has been an extraordinarily useful and, in many ways, a most important—indeed, I think I might almost say, a unique—debate. After all, on a number of subjects on which there has been really grave disagreement between the two sides of the House, frequently in the last few years, 602 by our wise method of conducting our business here, we have been able to avoid Divisions. But to-day we are in a most extraordinary position: on a subject upon which, at least in regard to some of the important points of the discussion, there is almost complete agreement, we are solemnly contemplating a Division of the House. I think we all feel very grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, for the suggestion which he made which was obviously designed, to be most helpful to us. On second thoughts, though, I cannot help wondering whether it would be altogether wise for us to accept his suggestion. To begin with, if there were any question of this Bill going on the Statute Book it would have to be revised and amended to such a tremendous extent that in the end it would not be the same Bill as that which we have before us to-day.
My noble friend Lord Carrington, quite rightly, feeling that we were dealing with the broader aspects of the question, did not go into the details, but I would mention just one point. We are all agreed that if this problem is to be dealt with satisfactorily it has to be dealt with on a comprehensive basis. By that, I mean that it cannot be dealt with in terms of separate small areas of land. In any comprehensive Bill, there must be real provision, such as we have not heard envisaged to-day, for securing common action over large areas of the country. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, freely confessed that the last Government had not been able to provide for this, and all I hope is that this Government will be able to tackle the question more successfully. But if we were to pass this Bill and then say: "We will leave the question of the date to be settled later," either we should be leaving a Sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of this industry or the Bill would be completely meaningless.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
Why should it be?
§ EARL DE LA WARR
If no date is inserted in the Bill, no one will know when it is to be brought into operation. Would it not be better for noble Lords who are interested in the Bill to say that they will take His Majesty's Government at their word? After all, Lord Carrington has given a very strong indication, if he has not given a pledge, of 603 the Government's intention. Why should noble Lords who support the Bill not say: "We will give the Government until January, 1954; and if by then they have not implemented their expressed intention, or their expressed hope, by introducing legislation, we will bring the matter up again in your Lordships' House, if necessary, and then ensure that the Bill is passed into law"? That, I suggest, would be perhaps a more satisfactory way of dealing with this situation.
What really is the position arising out of this debate? Has not one thing become absolutely clear? Not a single speech in your Lordships' House to-day has been devoted to the question of whether or not the gin trap shall go. There has been an absolutely unanimous expression by all speakers of the view that the gin trap must and shall go. The only question raised in the discussion has been when it shall go. It is a matter of procedure. Again, it has been agreed between us all that there is need of delay before the gin trap can be done away with. It is not proposed by those supporting the Bill to bring it into operation until January 1, 1954. We, on the other hand, say that we very much hope that the gin trap can be abolished by that date, but we just do not know, because we are as yet unaware how experiments now in progress with regard to the new trap are likely to turn out. We are all agreed that the gin trap is a beastly thing. We are also agreed that the rabbit is an enemy of mankind, and that the control of the rabbit is vital. Very often, speaking colloquially we misuse that word "vital," as meaning "really important" I am using it to-day in its literal sense. Lord Elton said that if the vileness of the gin trap could be demonstrated in Trafalgar Square the crowds would at once call for its destruction.
§ LORD ELTON
That is not exactly what I said, but, as the noble Earl is not going to destroy my argument, I will leave it at that.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
I think that when your Lordships read the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, you will find that I am not very far wrong. I believe that what Lord Elton said is absolutely true. But I do not think that the crowds in Trafalgar Square realise, or that immense numbers 604 of people in this country realise, the immense and terrible gravity of the food situation with which we shall be faced in the next few years.
I need not stress the damage which the rabbit does. We have heard a great deal of how much the rabbit eats, but what has impressed me most is the effect it has on what it does not eat, the effect of the poison which it leaves behind on the ground. There is a well-known saying often used by farmers. It is to the effect that if a farmer going over his land with his gun had only one cartridge left and he saw a rabbit and a rat in front of him he would shoot the rabbit every time. No farmer, I am convinced, would question the rightness of that. But I do not think we should deceive ourselves by thinking that we shall ever abolish the rabbit entirely. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, I believe, used a rather optimistic phrase in that connection. The trouble is that when we get the rabbit down, the buries are made more health; that is conducive to increased breeding, and the rabbits start breeding again. That is why we have to wage continual warfare against this pest. Lord Elton and Lord Merthyr have given us their firm and considered view that trapping rabbits in fact increases their numbers. I think the ordinary man finds it extremely difficult to understand that, with 30,000,000 rabbits being killed by traps every year, there can be more rabbits as a result. It is a piece of logic which it is very difficult for the average countryman to understand.
But let us not get away from the point that we do agree that this gin trap has ultimately to go. We who hold that it would be dangerous to pass the Bill now feel that it is absolutely essential that, before we do away with the gin trap, we should have a substitute. And here the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has given us, I think, a real message of hope. We all of us know—I do not recall the exact time of its introduction, but I think it was between one and two years ago—that a new trap was brought out of which we had, at the time, immense hopes. But it has proved a disappointment. There is now another edition of that trap, I believe, and it seems to offer real hope for dealing successfully with this problem. But we have to recognise that our hopes have been disappointed before. We have to recognise that we may find that the new 605 trap, which is an exceedingly good trap, is successful only in certain conditions. But, so far, we do not know. It has to be tried, not only experimentally but also in the field.
When that trap has been tried, we must go still further and wait to establish confidence in it in the minds of the average countrymen who have to use it. Once that has been done, we come back to the firm statement made by my noble friend Lord Carrington, with which many noble Lords have expressed their satisfaction. He has given it after being only one month in office. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said that it was a conventional undertaking, but he must be fair to my noble friend. We have to be very cautious about what we say. I think noble Lords who have had experience of Ministerial assurances will agree with me that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, went a very long way in assuring the House that the Government do not mean to pigeonhole this question. I appeal to noble Lords who feel deeply in favour of the Bill not to make controversy where, in fact, 90 per cent. agreement exists. I appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, not to force noble Lords who hate the gin trap as much as anyone to go into the Lobby against this Bill, when so many of us are hoping that the time will come, quite soon, when it will be possible for us, with the full agreement of the whole House, to pass a Bill abolishing the gin trap.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ LORD ELTON
My Lords, you will not wish me at this hour to try to meet the arguments to which we have been listening. I certainly feel that most of the noble Lords who spoke against the Bill have not met my arguments. But I expect your Lordships want most to know now whether we are going to divide and, if so, what will be the result of the Division. I was very disappointed with Lord Carrington's speech. He criticised the use of gas. The noble Earl, Lord Airlie, from the Cross Benches, said that he had found gas extremely efficient but that he could not get it. I could not help feeling that if the Government would make gas easier to obtain in Scotland, if difficulty exists, that would be more useful than criticising the use of it.
I could not make more out of the noble Lord's promise, to which a number of later speakers have referred, than that 606 he said, in effect, that if and when the Government had a humane trap ready, and if and when the state of business permitted, the Government would consider introducing a Government measure of some sort. If it is no more than that, that seems to me little more than common form. I have been a member of this House for seventeen years and I have heard that sort of thing said many scores of times. It is what is called, in Ministerial circles, a friendly answer. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, with all his charm, said we must accept this pledge; but I cannot see how the word "pledge" can be attached to that familiar formula, which commits nobody, least of all the speaker, to anything. The noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, quoted a Government statement of 1934 which was ten times more committal than what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has said now, seventeen years later. And we are asked to accept this as a promise that something is really going to happen. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, was once a Red, and I have heard him lash many abuses. But Lord Listowel was once in Lord Carrington's place. I think it was Lord Acton who said that power is poison. If not poison, it is certainly a most debilitating medicine. The noble Earl has dished out scores of these friendly answers himself. I have heard him, too, say that if and when something or other happened his Government would consider whether the business of the day would permit them to consider a Bill of an unspecified nature. Naturally the noble Earl considered that the promise of the present Parliamentary Secretary should be most attractive to those who want this measure.
I may be very unreasonable, but I think that the suggestion of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, might well commend itself to the House. If your Lordships give the Bill a Second Reading, it will at least strike a blow against this abuse, this scandal. Of course if it is true, as the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, said, that we should have to have a quite different Bill, it would be no use passing this one on Second Reading. But if we followed Lord Samuel's suggestion, when we came to the Committee stage we could meet a good deal of the misgivings of noble Lords by the way in which we dealt with the last clause 607 in the Bill—the time clause. I am sure that supporters of the Bill would be ready to prolong the time. They would even be prepared to accept the suggestion made by Lord Samuel with regard to procedure by Order in Council. What we feel is that unless and until there is some fixed date ahead, then, as the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, has said, there is no incentive whatever to anybody to get on with anything. Just as we were promised seventeen years ago that the Government would really look
§ House adjourned during pleasure.
§ House resumed.