HL Deb 21 February 1956 vol 195 cc1147-51

3.50 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.


My Lords, instead of moving that the House do resolve itself into Committee on this Bill, I propose to ask your Lordships' permission to withdraw the Bill, and shortly to give my reasons for doing so. They are that I have been advised that the wording of the Bill is, for the achievement of the objects at which it is aimed, defective, and that it would be preferable, rather than moving a large number of Amendments to the Bill, to withdraw it and to replace it by another Bill which would be differently drafted—though, achieving, I hope, the same objects. I think that that would be a course more convenient, and even possibly one saving time, and therefore it would be the right one to adopt if your Lordships would agree to it. If your Lordships give me permission I propose to withdraw this Bill and to introduce another in the very near future.

I am glad to say that I am authorised by the noble Earl who represents the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in your Lordships' House to say that the new Bill will have the support of Her Majesty's Government. That, I need hardly say, for obvious reasons, I value. Therefore I should like to apologise for the time which has been taken up in dealing with the present Bill and for any trouble which has been caused to the House. For the reasons which I have stated, I beg leave, with your Lordships' permission, to withdraw the Bill.


My Lords, before this Bill is withdrawn, I should like to say that an Amendment was put down upon which it was my intention to speak. When the Bill was introduced noble Lords spoke upon it. I must say that on reading the OFFICIAL REPORT I was surprised to note how well I spoke; I could not help thinking how much better it seemed than the speech as I remembered it. I consider that the Amendment to which I have referred was quite impossible, and the Bill is quite impossible from a Liberal point of view. In my view it is useless to impose on a man responsibility for something for which he cannot really be held responsible. I quoted in my speech some facts about what had happened in my district in the Isle of Wight. Support for these facts was forthcoming from the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, who also lives on an island.

It is quite possible, I suppose, for one to establish a place where rabbits could not be reintroduced. Well, we had myxomatosis and, as I said, the rabbits were destroyed completely. When I took part in two shoots in November and early December, I saw one rabbit. I have now received figures from my keeper showing what has happened since then. At Duns-bury Farm alone sixty-three rabbits have been killed; at Mrs. Hears farm thirty-three have been killed, and in the estate woods twenty-seven have been killed. As I remarked in the course of the last debate, you cannot prevent rabbits breeding. If you impose heavy penalties—and the Amendment which I was going to attack so fiercely raised a penalty from £20 to £100—you are creating a really terrible offence in respect of something which cannot be put down.

In the Western part of the Isle of Wight I am the owner of some 4,000 or 5.000 acres, and I believe that I am the only landowner who employs a keeper. It is not possible to employ keepers on the downs and other open spaces. As I have pointed out, in the Isle of Wight we have places such as Parkhurst Forest, which is nearly twice the size of Hyde Park: Hyde Park is approximately 360 acres, I believe, and Parkhurst Forest is something like 640 acres. There is practically nothing in that forest except, occasionally, escaped prisoners. There are no keepers and there were no rabbits. When I shot there in December there were no rabbits; but now, for some unknown reason, they have appeared. There are no rabbiters, though there is a pest officer in the island who is paid £700 a year and provided with a car. These rabbits are coming hack; they are like people who have been inoculated against some disease; and they are not going to be put down by gas and similar methods. Therefore I wonder whether we should not take a new line in this matter, and not seek to impose heavy penalties on law-abiding people. I am glad that Lord Merthyr is withdrawing the present Bill and that the Government is to support the new one which we are promised.


My Lords, I wish to say a few words before the Minister replies, but I am not sure whether I am in order in so doing.


For the information of the noble Earl, I may say that I was going to ask whether it was your Lordships' pleasure that the Bill be withdrawn. Therefore, if he wishes to say anything, I should think that now is the time for him to say it.

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble and learned Viscount. I should like to support the plea made by the noble Lord opposite that he be given permission to withdraw this Bill and to introduce another Bill which will be a redrafting of the present Bill. I think there is great advantage to be gained from that course. We have approved the principle of the Bill. Clearly, a large amount of time would have to be spent in the Committee stage upon it in dealing with a good many points which will, no doubt, be cleared up by the redrafting of the Bill, which the noble Lord desires. That will save a substantial amount of time in another place and should also make administration of the Bill far more satisfactory.

There is one plea I should like to put to the Government, and I hope that the noble Earl will consider it before he replies. While I think this Bill is generally and widely approved, it is clear that a Bill of this kind is not going to pass into law unless it is given special facilities by the Government. The noble Lord said that the Government had indicated that they would support the new Bill. I doubt whether that would be sufficient to secure the passage of the Bill in another place. For that purpose it would have to become a Government Bill or the Government would have to be prepared to allow discussion of the Bill during Government time. I do not think it would pass through another place as a Private Member's Bill. The only other matter I should like to mention is a question of speed. The noble Lord said that he would do this as quickly as possible. I am sure we should all wish to endorse what he said about the importance of the-minimum of delay. It clearly would be a great misfortune if the effect of this prohibition of the re-introduction of wild rabbits were entirely nullified by the natural increase of the, species in the meantime. I hope that the least possible delay will take place before another Bill is introduced.


My Lords, I had not intended saving anything on this Bill. In regard to the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about the future passage of the Bill in another place, I think it would be better if we discussed that when the new Bill is introduced. I might be able to say something on that Bill.


My Lords, are the Government introducing a new Bill?


That is right, my Lords.

Bill, by leave, withdrawn.