§ 2.54 p.m.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government what information they have about the increasing import into this country of the Asiatic striped chipmunk (Tamias Sibirious); how many cases have been reported of these animals escaping from captivity; and whether they are satisfied that there is no risk of these animals establishing themselves in this country in a wild state, in view of the risk of damage to farm and forest crops.]
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (LORD CHAMPION)
My Lords, no records are kept of the number of Asiatic striped chipmunks entering the country. No reports have been received of these animals escaping from captivity. It is impossible to be certain whether any which might escape would establish themselves in a wild state, or, if they did, whether they would become a pest. If there were any such risk, my right honourable friend's field staff would soon become aware of it; but we have no information suggesting that chipmunks are regarded as serious pests in their own countries.
My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that there is danger in complacency in these matters, and that from the evidence obtained from foreign countries, and not least from Russia, it appears that these animals can easily become a pest? Has he not heard of one recent consignment imported into this country numbering 5,000? And will he not also agree that in this country we generally leave these things until it is too late; that we then have to spend large sums of public money in unsuccessful attempts to exterminate animals like the grey squirrel, the coypu and the mink; and that it is better to be wise before the event?
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, arising out of the experience of the animals which the noble Lord has mentioned, the Minister of Agriculture's staff are very much aware of the problem and, indeed 722 are looking everywhere for these animals. Very careful inquiries have been made of the field staff, but there is nothing to suggest that there is existing in this country any colony of the size mentioned by the noble Lord.
§ VISCOUNT LONG
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he can say that there is no fear of rabies being brought into this country through these particular animals from Siberia, or wherever they may come from?
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, the only thing I can say on this matter is that if there were any such risk my right honourable friend's officers would be alert to it. I recognise the importance of the Question which the noble Lord has asked.