HL Deb 10 November 1999 vol 606 cc1346-8

2.46 p.m.

Lord Kennet

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will require all local authorities to deal with infestations of mice and other vermin that cannot be dealt with by individual householders.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, under the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949, local authorities are required to keep their districts as far as possible free from rats and mice. They are also required to carry out such inspections as may be necessary for that purpose.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, do I understand from that Answer that there is the same degree of compulsion on all local authorities to take action? Are the Government aware, for instance, that if there is a street-long infestation of mice in Westminster, involving a number of houses, one cannot get the council to do anything about it? However, if such a problem occurs in Brent, one can. Is it not paradoxical that one of the richest boroughs should be unwilling or unable to help while one of the poorest is willing and able? Can the Government use their powers to even things out?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, all local authorities are under the same requirements. If householders singularly or collectively have a problem, the local authority should investigate it under the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act. If it is a public health problem, there are other provisions under the Environmental Protection Act. However, all local authorities should deal with the issue with the same degree of urgency. It is fully the responsibility of the local authority. I therefore concur with the noble Lord.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in the City of Westminster the council provides a free service? I must declare an interest, having found a rat resident in my garden on my return from Australia. Westminster Council not only sent a person to deal with the problem; he came back to check several times afterwards. I was informed that the service was provided free to residents but not to businesses. Perhaps a full street should have acted through individual households applying to the council.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the responsibilities are the same under the statutes but the charging regime will differ from authority to authority. it is certainly the case that had those householders individually or collectively applied, the local authority was bound to respond. As I understand the noble Baroness, that would have been a free service in the case of Westminster and many other local authorities. However, the charging aspect is a matter for each local authority.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that we should be cautious about imposing additional duties on local authorities, particularly a duty of mouse hunting? Should not more thought be given to whether we should be creating a power for local authorities better to promote the well-being of their areas?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. Nothing I have said suggests that we should impose any further duties on local authorities; they have those responsibilities already. As with other issues, it may be that local authorities, under the legislation we envisage, will find better ways of fulfilling their responsibilities. That may be business for your Lordships to consider during the next Session.

The Earl of Limerick

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware—I am sure he is not—that recently I lost my telephone in central London for a week, that being the time it took engineers to discover that the guilty parties were rats which had eaten the cable under the pavement? Does the Minister share my surprise at the recent estimate that the rat population of Notting Hill may exceed the human population? Does he have any comparative statistics on the population of rats in other London boroughs, including Westminster?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I was neither aware of the specific incident nor the population count in the area the noble Earl described. I assume there was no overlap between the two counts. There remains a large rodent population in the city and elsewhere. However, the last detailed survey on this matter did not suggest that in total there was a general increase in rats and mice. Another survey is being carried out, the results of which will be complete by the end of this year.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the responsibility on councils in relation to rats extends to "tree rats", which do so much damage? They are perhaps otherwise known as grey squirrels.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, this House spent some hours debating grey squirrels, certainly in regard to their being vermin. Other measures are available to local authorities and landowners to try and limit the incursion of the grey squirrel. However, it is a slightly different topic to that raised by this Question.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, am I right in thinking that the Government still permit the use of mouse papers? For those noble Lords who do not know, they are sticky pads put out to catch mice. When a mouse puts its foot on it, it gets stuck. Frequently the mouse will tear itself free leaving a limb or some other body part behind or, if it remains stuck, will take many hours to die. Do not the Government feel that that is an unreasonable level of cruelty to impose on a pest species?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, all I can tell the House is that the normal method of tackling infestations of mice and rats nowadays is not as described by the noble Lord, nor indeed through traps. It is through the laying of bait and poison. Such practices therefore, would be extremely limited if they were still permitted. I shall need to write to the noble Lord on the precise point.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, is there not a method whereby householders could deal with their own rats and mice?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am sure there is.