HC Deb 24 September 1948 vol 456 cc184-6W
Sir W. Darling

asked the Minister of Agriculture (1) in view of the fact that the best rabbit pelts in the world are produced in Britain, what steps does he propose to take to encourage this industry, with a view to developing the export trade;

(2) what has been the result of his Department's plan for rabbit production based on the distribution of a bran ration and the formation of domestic rabbit clubs;

(3) in view of the fact that the official plan has resulted in an increase in fancy rabbit keeping and a negligible quantity of rabbit meat available to the public, if he has any further proposals; and what is the amount of the bran ration issued to rabbit keepers;

(4) if he has considered the advice of the Sub-Committee of the Agricultural Research Council, 1939, that domesticated rabbits bred in this country could form a useful addition to the food supply of the nation; and what steps he is taking to encourage such meat production.

Mr. T. Williams

The recommendations of the Sub-Committee of the Agricultural Research Council appointed before the war to investigate rabbit breeding in Great Britain were considered after the outbreak of war in 1939 with a view to supplementing the depleted meat supplies of the country with tame rabbit flesh. The Ministry was advised that any considerable extension of tame rabbit keeping might involve both the diversion of feedingstuffs necessary for the production of other foods, such as milk and eggs, and the feeding to rabbits of food intended for human consumption. such as bread and potatoes.

My Department's advice to keepers of tame rabbits, through the field organisation of the Domestic Poultry Keepers' Council, has aimed at securing the production of the maximum amount of rabbit meat by the use of household and garden waste, and rationed feedingstuffs are available only to breeding does.

There are at present in England and Wales some 5,400 commercial rabbit keepers drawing rations and in addition about 1,000 domestic rabbit clubs comprising a total membership of over 47,000 also receive rations. The total number of does kept by these classes is approximately 240,000.

The bran allowance to rabbit keepers is 7 lb. of bran per quarter per breeding doe (six months or more old). The ration is issued for does kept by commercial rabbit keepers owning not less than eight does, and to domestic rabbit clubs for not more than four does per member. Both the commercial and the domestic ration is conditional upon the progeny of the does being fattened for meat and a reasonable proportion of the meat being sold to licensed dealers, or upon the sale of the young breeding does for further meat production.

I am satisfied that the provision of a small ration of bran under these conditions has encouraged the keeping of rabbits without any substantial diversion of feedingstuffs from more important livestock, and has resulted in a material contribution to the country's meat supplies.

Since the general programme of expansion of livestock products for food is likely to absorb all available supplies of rationed feedingstuffs for some time to come, I can hold out no hope of increas- ing the present rations for rabbits, or of extending them to provide for maintenance of rabbits for the production of fur rather than meat.