HL Deb 16 December 1953 vol 185 cc130-2

2.44 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question on the subject of wild rabbits which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what developments there have been in regard to myxomatosis in wild rabbits since this matter was discussed in the course of the debate on food and agriculture on November 11 last.]


My Lords, I must apologise for the length of this answer but I do not think it will prove contentious. Since the debate in your Lordships' House on November 11, five further outbreaks of myxomatosis have been confirmed, making eight in all. The disease has now spread from Kent and Sussex to East Anglia. The Myxomatosis Advisory Committee considered the new situation created by these further outbreaks at its third meeting on December 10. After a full discussion, it agreed that attempts to stamp out the disease in existing centres of infection by the trapping and gassing of rabbits or other measures could no longer effectively influence the course of the disease. These efforts are accordingly being stopped. This does not necessarily mean that the disease will survive the winter and that we must expect a rapid spread of it next spring and summer. Experience in other countries gives no clear indication of what may happen in Great Britain. It may be that the disease will die out from natural causes before next spring, particularly if there is a hard winter.

Should the disease fail to survive the winter, the Advisory Committee will need to consider whether or not it should be reintroduced and, if not, what practical steps might be taken to try to prevent its reintroduction. If, however, the disease is still present in the spring, or is reintroduced, the Committee will need to consider whether it should be allowed to take its course, or whether positive measures should be taken to stimulate its spread as a means of exterminating wild rabbits, coupled with other measures such as trapping and gassing. Full regard must, of course, be paid to the humanitarian aspect: and also to the need for protecting domestic rabbits from infection so far as practicable.

I would emphasise that the wild rabbit is a pest whose damage to food production far outweighs its value as food and fur. All desirable and practicable measures should be taken to destroy rabbits, and this is, of course, the object of the Pests Bill which was published on Monday. These powers to intensify measures for the destruction of rabbits will, in the Government's view, be necessary in any case and will be still more necessary if myxomatosis should spread next year. The Advisory Committee have stressed that it is essential that outbreaks of the disease should be followed by mopping-up operations so as to kill off any rabbits that may escape infection.


My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord for the full answer he has given, I should like to ask two supplementary questions arising out of it. In the first place, I should like to know whether the noble Lord has any information about the percentage of mortality of rabbits suffering from or infected by this disease in infected areas; and secondly, whether due publicity will be given to the continuation of measures for the suppression and extermination of rabbits in areas to which the disease has not yet spread, so as to ensure that there is no relaxation in exterminating this nuisance to the food production of this country.


As regards the noble Lord's first question, I may say that the only countries in which there is experience of the disease are France and Australia, and there about 90 per cent. of the rabbits were killed off by the disease. I am afraid I cannot say what has happened in this country. These are early days, and the areas infected are very small. As regards the second question, I can give the assurance, and, as I say, one of the objects of the Pests Bill which was before your Lordships on Monday last is to intensify the campaign against rabbits in this country.


Can the noble Lord tell us whether only wild rabbits are susceptible to this disease, or are other pests, such as wild hares also susceptible?


Of course, tame rabbits get it, and in France three hares have been known to be infected with the disease—but only three: no other animals.