HL Deb 22 June 1965 vol 267 cc461-2

2.40 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 whether they are satisfied that survivors of the recently imported Japanese squirrels will not escape and become a pest.]


My Lords, the small rodents which arrived recently at London Airport were Asiatic chipmunks. It is impossible to be certain whether any which might escape could survive and breed here, 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, while thanking the noble Lord for that reply, may I ask whether Her Majesty's Government are aware of the very grave menace to the countryside of imported grey squirrels and imported mink, and whether they are prepared to hold the amenities of the countryside at hazard for the sake of this highly unnecessary importation?


My Lords, we are aware of what happened with the grey squirrel and of the consequences of its escape. The Destructive Imported Animals Act, 1932, was introduced largely as a result of what happened in that case. We feel that the circumstances of the threat are not yet such as to cause us to use the powers contained in the 1932 Act, but we will watch the position very carefully, because we are anxious to ensure that no destructive pest like the grey squirrel shall ravage our countryside again.


My Lords, while sympathising with the noble Lord about the possible escape of these squirrels, I should like to know whether any steps have been taken to ensure that, if they are again imported, it will be under far better conditions, from the point of view of the animals themselves, than has been the case in the past, and whether anything has been done to make the arrangements watertight.


My Lords, this is a slightly different question, but it arose out of the report in some newspapers as to the suffering caused to these animals, which we deplore. The Protection of Animals Act, 1911, makes it an offence to convey, or, being an owner, to permit to be conveyed, any animal in such a manner as to cause unnecessary suffering. Anyone, of course, if he so desired, could prosecute under that Act, but the Government could not. B.O.A.C., I understand, tend to say in this case that they feel it would have caused greater suffering to leave the animals behind at the airport abroad than to have them brought in. But, clearly, we are aware of the public disquiet about the unnecessary suffering.