Orders of the Day — Rabbits Bill.

– in the House of Commons on 7th March 1930.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Sir Joseph Lamb Sir Joseph Lamb , Stone

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The object of this Bill is the prevention of excessive damage to agricultural crops and trees by rabbits. It will be noticed that I said "excessive" damage, because he would be a very great optimist who could imagine that so long as there are rabbits, we shall ever prevent any damage being done by them, and this Bill proposes only to intervene where the damage is excessive. This is not really new legislation, because in 1917 the Government of the day passed the Rabbits Order, and powers very similar to those to which I shall refer, though not exactly the same, were put into operation. That Order was incorported in the Corn Production Act, Part IV, but, unfortunately, it was in that portion of the Act which was subsequently repealed and ceased to be law on October 1st, 1921. That legislation was effective for the purpose for which it was introduced and worked smoothly and without the friction which some people erroneously imagined might occur.

The re-enactment of that legislation, for which I am asking to-day, has the support of all sections of organised agriculture, both the owners of the land and the occupiers. In a Bill which was before the House previously I had included rooks with rabbits, but owing to the fact that there is a great difference of opinion as to whether the rook is a beneficial bird or does damage, it was decided, and I think wisely, to exclude rooks from this Measure, because we want, if possible, to get it through the House and give agriculturists and the country as a whole the benefits of this legislation. I question whether the average person realises the damage done by rabbits. A great deal of the depredation goes on during the night, when people are, or ought to be, otherwise occupied, and consequently they do not see the damage being done, but really there is very serious damage, even on grass land. I know of no animal—the rabbit is called vermin but it is an animal—which will so soil grass as a rabbit. Practically no animals will graze over land where rabbits have been. If there is a section of a field overrun by rabbits you will see that no stock will graze upon that part of it.

Then there is the damage done to root crops. Many people do not realise the work which the cultivation of a root crop entails. First there is the ploughing, the harrowing, and rolling. Then comes the work and the expense of manuring, because the farmer who wishes to be successful to-day must not be content with scarifying the soil in a casual manner without applying manure. Next there is the seeding. When the plants come up they are found to be growing together too thickly and the crop has to he thinned out. The thinning out process leaves young plants growing singly, each in its own little space of ground. Then a rabbit may come in the night, and with one little nip at that young plant it will destroy it. I think the law says that dogs are entitled to have one bite; but if the rabbit takes one bite at that tender little plant just after the thinning out process has gone on the plant is entirely done for and the portion of ground in which it rests will not produce any food—unless the farmer goes to a considerable amount of trouble in re-harrowing and re-sowing.

The damage done to corn has also to be considered. It is in the Spring of the year when rabbits are more troublesome than at any other time, and in travelling round the country one can often see in a field of growing corn where a whole strip has been eaten off by rabbits which have come, possibly, from a neighbouring wood. In addition to what is suffered by agricultural crops a great deal of damage is being done to trees. Forestry is most important to the welfare of the country at the present time, when so much timber has been cut and when it is necessary that the land should be replanted with young trees; but I know of cases where owing to the depredations of rabbits all the time and money spent on replanting has been absolute waste. It is very difficult to protect young trees from the depredations of rabbits. There is another point. We talk a great deal in these times about the high cost of production. That is not wholly a question of what is spent on production, but of what the expenditure yields; because if the product of all this labour and money is reduced, then the price of corn or of roots is increased to that extent. We pay for the cost of all that waste.

Who is responsible for this damage? Primarily, of course the rabbit; but it is the owner of the rabbit who is responsible. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who owns the rabbit"?] I will tell you. It is not always the man who is looked upon as being the owner of the sporting rights in the sense of being the old landlord. I know there are some estates where even to-day the landlord keeps more rabbits than is desirable, but those instances are very few, and they are not the people to whom I am referring in this Bill. Quite a number of large landowners have spoken to me about this Bill. Let me say here that most of those people who have written to me, or have spoken to me about this Bill, entertain fears as to what the Bill may do, and, when I have inquired if they have read the Bill, I find that most of them have never read it at all, and as soon as it has been explained to them, or they have taken the trouble to read it, I have frequently received communications from them to the effect that they had no idea what the Bill was, and stating that there was nothing in it to be afraid of.

There are others whom we have to consider beside the sporting landlords of the old days. There are the railway companies. How many people realise that in certain districts the railway embankments have become absolutely infested with rabbits. It is difficult to get them out, because the farmer has no right to trespass. There are many places belonging to railway and canal companies where the embankments are infested by rabbits, and where there is no food for them except on the land adjoining the railway. During the War we know that there was a great demand for pit props and other timber, and many people bought extensive woods, felled the timber, and made profits out of it, and after this was done the actual land upon which the timber had been felled was of little or no value, because before that land could be devoted to agricultural purposes, it had to have a considerable amount of money spent on it for clearing purposes. The only other alternative was to leave the land in its present state. What happened? The owners left the land alone; it became infested with rabbits, and they spread themselves all over the neighbouring country to the detriment of the agricultural interest. The owners took no interest in the matter except that of occasionally shooting the rabbits. During the period that the rabbits were uncontrolled and were not being kept down, they were doing a good deal of damage to the farmers in the immediate districts. It is said by some that of course the owner of the crops can protect himself by fencing his land, but the farmer cannot be expected to spend money to protect himself from a danger which exists on some other person's property. If the farmer erects fences, what happens? It is quite easy for the keeper who does not wish to see his own rabbits die on his land to put his foot through the fence. Even if the keeper does not do that, there is one characteristic in which rabbits are similar to human beings, and it is that they will never starve as long as there is food available.

The Bill itself might almost be called a one-Clause Bill. As a matter of fact, there are three Clauses, the first Clause being the operative Clause. The second deals with appeals to the County Court. The third is the definition Clause. Clause 1 constitutes the county council as the authority to operate the Bill. Some people think that perhaps the county council is not the best authority to carry out these duties, but let me remind the House that I am not proposing a new type of work for county councils to do. At the present time, they are the only public body employing the type of officer who is competent to do this work, and it is the same kind of work that is already being done by the county council. At the present time, county councils employ inspectors under the Weeds Act and Rats Order and officers dealing with drainage and small holdings, and they are competent to deal with this sort of work. There are other instances where the county councils are already doing administrative work of this kind, and consequently county councils are authorised by this Bill to do this particular kind of work. They have already been doing this work to a certain extent under the Rabbits Order of 1917. When that Measure was under discussion, I had communications from no less than 22 county councils, and there was only one of them which had not operated that Measure. All the others had operated it with great success, and, with very few exceptions they found it unnecessary to take any action against the owners of the land. All that they had to do was to write a letter of warning backed by the Act, and frequently they found the results were satisfactory.

The first Clause enacts that where an occupier is suffering from damage from rabbits from an adjoining owner whose rabbits he has not himself any right to kill—the only effective way to destroy rabbits is to follow them to their burrows—he has the right to appeal to the county council to make an inspection, and, after that, the council can serve an order on the owner of the rabbits telling him that he must, within 21 days, take steps to mitigate the damage being done, or else destroy his rabbits. Of course, the owner who is responsible can perform the necessary operation without anybody else entering upon his property, and it is only where the owner himself does not take action that the county council is empowered to instruct duly authorised persons to kill the rabbits. A further Sub-section provides that the rabbits must be sold at the best possible price, and out of the sale the county councils are entitled to recoup themselves the expenses which they have incurred, and, whatever balance remains after the sale of the rabbits, goes to the owner of the rabbits, so that there is no hardship whatever in that case.

Another Clause prohibits the use of spring traps. I am not going into the merits or demerits, or the cruelty or otherwise, of catching rabbits by traps, but, to ensure that there should be no opposition to this Bill from that section of the community who are against the use of traps, we have included a prohibition of the use of traps, either in or outside the holes, by these officials who are authorised by the county council. Clause 2 deals with appeals. Previously, there was no right of appeal, but, again in order to try to expedite the passage of the Measure, and to ensure that there shall be no attempt to infringe the rights and liberties of others, but only to protect our own, we have included in Clause 2 the right of appeal to the County Court, and, consequently, if any owner has been served with a notice which he thinks is wrong, he has the right to appeal to the County Court, and the County Council cannot take any action upon his land until the appeal has been heard or an Order made by the County Court. Clause 3 deals with definition, and I do not think it is necessary for me to go into that now. What are the objections which have previously been made, and which, perhaps, may be made to-day to this Bill? In the first place, it has been said by some that it would stop rabbit farming. I do not know of many pepole who attempt to make rabbit farming a success, but, even if there are any—

Major the Marquess of TITCH-FIELD:

What about hats?

Photo of Sir Joseph Lamb Sir Joseph Lamb , Stone

That subject is a relic of the past, and I do not think I need say much about it. It is quite true that on the last occasion there was some opposition from the fur hat trade, but I do not think it was serious, because the quantity of skins provided by rabbits in this country for that trade is very small; but, even if it were otherwise, surely the preservation of food for the sustenance of mankind is much more important than the production of fur to place upon hats. Silk hats are not very much used now, even in this House. There is nothing in this Bill, however, to prevent rabbit farming. A man can take an area of land and use it entirely for that purpose. The only thing that the Bill would do would be to enact, quite justly, that, if he farms rabbits, he must feed them himself, and not allow them to feed upon the crops grown by his neighbours.

Another ground of opposition is not in regard to the Bill itself, but in regard to the procedure. A certain section consider that the better way would be to give compensation for damage done. I am entirely opposed to that, for several reasons. In the first place, I think it is very unwise to allow damage to be done and to rely upon compensation, and that it is very much better to prevent the damage, when no compensation would be required. We know very well that one of the most valued feelings in the agricultural areas is that pleasant feeding which has existed for so many years between landlord and tenant, and anything that is likely to destroy or minimise that pleasant feeling would, to my mind, be a disaster. I am not going to say that all landlords are good, but certainly most landlords are; but, whatever we think about that, there is undoubtedly a great reluctance on the part of a tenant to go to law with his landlord. I must admit that I know of cases in which tenants, out of desperation, have adopted that course and gone to law, and have won their case, but I am afraid that they have lost their farms; and that, of course, is not desirable.

This Bill is supported, as I have said, by the whole of organised agriculture. The county councils have expressed their willingness to operate the Bill. In evidence given before the Committee, the Chairman of the County Councils Association definitely said that they were willing to do so, and, of 22 who wrote to me on the previous occasion, only one had not operated the Bill, and all the others had done so without any ill effect, but with very great benefit. I have tried not to bring any acrimony into this Debate, but to express my views and make my plea with due moderation, because I think it is very much better, in a case of this description, not to over-state the case, but rather to under-state it, because that is more likely to secure reasonable consideration for it. Let me again say, in asking the House to give a Second Reading to the Bill, that there is not, either on my own part or on that of any of those who support me, any antagonism whatever towards legitimate sport. I am sure that hon. Members will all agree with me that this Bill, if it is given really fair consideration, will be in the true interests of agriculture and of food production, and on these grounds I commend it to the House.

Photo of Rear-Admiral Tufton Beamish Rear-Admiral Tufton Beamish , Lewes

I beg to second the Motion.

I have had some experience in supporting this Bill previously, and nothing has happened since our previous Debate, or in the Debates that took place in another place, which has caused me to change my mind. The only thing is that the Bill has been approved in the respects which were touched upon by my hon. Friend in moving the Second Reading. The present position is unquestionably an unsatisfactory one, and we ought not to allow the continuance of the serious damage which is inflicted by rabbits in this country. This popular but always pestilent rodent is not sufficiently kept under control, and it is interesting to quote the Report of the Select Committee appointed by the other House. Notwithstanding the fact that ultimately they threw out the Bill, the Select Committee reported that: Rabbits have no compensating virtue, and during their lives rabbits are an unmitigated nuisance to every good farmer and good forester. There is no gainsaying that fact. I think that unquestionably the Bill is a good one in its present form. It has been considerably improved, and will do good to agriculture. There is an anxiety in all quarters of the House that agriculture shall have a better chance than it has had, and agriculturists deserve support in their efforts to raise the standard in this country. It must never be forgotten that this Bill will not have any injurious effects on those who wish to use the rabbit for sport or for purposes of providing imitation fur or for hats, because very much better rabbits can be obtained from properly-controlled warrens on the tens of thousands of acres of rather useless land that we have in many parts of the country, than by allowing them to exist, as at present, in woodlands which abut on to arable land. If rabbits are kept in warrens, there is certainly a great deal less cruelty in the killing of them. They do not require to use spring traps, or even snares, in warrens, for they catch them in a different way, by means of drop nets, and the rabbits can then be instantaneously killed as they are picked up.

The argument against the Bill which makes the strongest appeal, and was the primary cause of its being thrown out in another place, is the idea that it interferes with the rights of property owners, in particular the landowner, and that it will, therefore, create bad feeling, but access to property for the purpose of mitigating a nuisance is no new thing. One only has to refer to the question of choked drains, causing flooding on adjoining land. If such is the case, access may be had to the land in order that the drains may be cleared. It is also suggested that the county councils are not the right people to work the Bill. County councils, overworked in many respects as they are, have expressed, through their association, perfect willingness to work it. it is also suggested—to me it is a very astonishing thing—that compensation, which can be got in a county court, is a great deal better than abatement. It seems to me that, whenever you go to law, you create a sort of permanent unpleasantness. Anyone who has had an action at law, either as a landlord or a tenant, will agree that it is a most unpleasant thing. But this is an application merely to a local authority to make an inspection and, if they agree that the pest of rabbits is sufficiently serious, they can take the necessary steps to order the abatement and, if it is not carried into effect, they can send an authorised and skilled individual on to the land to make the necessary abatement. After all, no one likes to be compensated because he has to put up, let us say, with a terrible smell from a factory. Everyone would prefer that the factory was made to abate the nuisance than that it should continue and pay compensation. In the same way with noise and a great many other nuisances that we have. It is suggested even that county councils would employ incompetent people, or even poachers, to do the work. That is rather a ridiculous suggestion. It has certainly not been my experience that county councils employ incompetent people to carry out their work. It is even suggested that gorse would be set fire to and gates would be left open and cattle would stray. That seems to me a very thin and poor argument, always remembering that at present—I hope the custom will continue—on every county council we have the very people who may be taken to task on account of the pest of rabbits—I refer to landowners themselves. They are not likely to employ bad or incompetent people to carry out the Bill. Then it is said it will become a dead letter. If it becomes a dead letter because the nuisance of rabbits is sufficiently abated that would be a happy consummation.

It is alleged that many tenant farmers actually encourage rabbits. It is well known that they do and they make a certain amount of money by letting their sporting rights to mugs from town to come down and shoot whatever they can with more or less success. At the same time the Bill will also look after the tenant farmer who does that, and he can still let his sporting rights, but he will have to control his pests, both vegetable and animal in the form of rabbits. The Bill will not adversely affect any single landowner or tenant. The bad ones will have to improve their methods, and I see no reason why they should not. I hate trespass. I think everyone is entitled to have his property private for himself, but one of the effects of the Bill would be to reduce the disdeameanour, or whatever it is in the legal term, of trespass, because a great deal of trespass is done in the search for game, almost invariably rabbits, and, therefore, it can be said that the Bill will discourage that form of trespass and the very understandable crime of poaching. I do not want to stand up for the poacher except to say one realises what his feeling is—not an unnatural one in the human being. At the same time, the Bill will have the effect, if rabbits are kept down, as I can personally testify, of reducing the number of people who go on to other people's property in order to pick them up.

No compensation can ever repay any agriculturist for damage to crops. I do not care what a man produces, whether a crop or a picture, or anything else. If it is destroyed or damaged, it is never the same thing, no matter what compensation is paid, if he has taken a pride in his work. Nothing you can do to him will give him the moral compensation. He may get a certain amount of monetary or physical compensation, but it can never make up and, therefore, abatement is what is required, and not compensasation. Compensation can be added if necessary, but abatement is the main object of the Bill. Defence against damage by rabbits is the light and the duty of every farmer and landlord, and the Bill will provide that.

Photo of Dr Christopher Addison Dr Christopher Addison , Swindon

I am sure the House will agree that the Mover and Seconder have made out a very good case in support of the Bill. It is common knowledge that the Ministry is entirely sympathetic to their aims, though I may have one or two comments to make on the Fill itself. All who have lived in the country will agree that the case as to the atrocious damage done by rabbits under the circumstances that have been recited to us has not been overstated, and measures of this kind are clearly desirable. The story of the Bill shows how difficulties of every possible kind can be introduced into what ought to be quite a simple affair. It really ought to be an extraordinarily simple business, but it is mixed up with all kinds of legal and other artificial entanglements. I am not sure that that is not partly due to the fact that the rabbit is not altogether without compensating virtues. I was not in the previous Parliament, but I used to derive considerable entertainment from reading the controversies that appeared to have arisen about this little animal. My impression was that it got linked up with rooks, and I never quite understood how this judicial separation occurred. Anyhow they seem to have got a divorce or something.

I have been looking up the record of this Bill in 1928, and I find that there was considerable controversy in a very large attendance in another place. As a matter of fact, 66 voted against the Bill and 55 for the Bill. So it attracted a very large assembly. [An HON. MEMBER: "They were not regular attenders."] I did not suggest that. I was wondering why it was. It occurred to me that, probably seeing that some of us, perhaps quite unfairly, in our platform harangues, suggested that the other place took the same view as the previous Government about most Measures, they felt that they ought to have some scalp in their belts and they took the scalp of the rabbit. It seems to me that this little proposal, quite a straightforward, sensible proposal in itself, was decked about with all kinds of artificial and unnecessary entanglements and disputes, and I am glad that the promoters of the Bill have avoided the questions of compensation and so on, although, no doubt, these can be invented quite readily enough if people are so disposed.

There is, however, one criticism which really ought to be made. Those of us who have been in the habit of living in the country know that it is desirable to be good neighbours as far as possible. This Bill rests upon some man making a complaint against another. We suffer ills sometimes longer than we should like, simply because we do not want to make ourselves unpleasant to our neighbours. This rests upon the initiative of a complaint. The promoters of the Bill ought to consider whether it would be desirable that the initiative should also be open to the officers of the county councils who are experienced and sensible men. I do not see why we should have to require a neighbour to go to the extent of lodging a complaint to the county council against somebody else in the same parish. That is a point which ought to be borne in mind.

I am glad that there is a Sub-section relating to traps. This, no doubt, meets with a considerable measure of opposition, but, frankly, for personal reasons, I have great sympathy with it. Some years ago I had a field where a lot of rabbits were feeding, and I asked a farm labourer to clear them out the best he could and to make what he could out of the rabbits, and I think he did very well. At the end of three months you could not see a living thing there at all. There was no doubt that he had cleared out the rabbits. But I well remember one day a friend of mine brought home our little Yorkshire terrier in his arms. This little dog, a sprightly and friendly little animal and the friend of us all, had been pursuing its legitimate investigations down a rabbit hole and had got its head in a spring trap. It was a horrible affair but I am glad to say that the dog ultimately recovered. Still, it makes me entirely sympathetic with the portion of this Bill which deals with spring traps.

As is usual with Governments, having said all these nice things, one has to conclude with the unpleasant things. I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading. I am sure that it ought to have a Second Reading, and, subject to one or two criticisms such as I have made, I think that it can easily be made into a good Bill. I hope that the distinguished Peers at the other end of the passage may be less insistent upon some of the points of which they made so much before. I must say that the Government see no prospect whatever of being able to afford any time for this Bill if they are asked to provide any special facilities for its later stages. I should not like to mislead the House on that point. [An HON. MEMBER: "Work overtime!"] Everybody knows how crowded is our time-table, and that the prospect of squeezing any further time for additional Measures is exceeding remote. Those of us who have been here until the small hours of the morning during the present week have seen enough of it. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that the time-table is exceedingly crowded, and those of us in the Departments pressing for a few days or for a day for our own Bills have a very acute and constant impression of the real facts of the case. I cannot hold out or give any encouragement as far as Government time is concerned, I am sorry to say, at this stage. Subject to that, I am sure—there is no party feeling on this question—that it is a very useful Measure, and that we ought to have had this kind of thing in operation a long time.

Photo of Mr William Taylor Mr William Taylor , Norfolk South Western

I should like to have the pleasure of supporting the Bill which has been so ably moved and seconded by hon. Members opposite. When I first saw a report that the Bill was coming forward on a Friday, I thought that the modest coney was in for a Black Friday regarding its future in this country. When I looked at the Clauses I did not see anything very dangerous about the Measure. A few coneys need be unduly disturbed by its provisions. One cannot help feeling in regard to the real object of the Bill, looked at by an ordinary countryman who has suffered somewhat from the depredations of rabbits and the want of power to get at them, that the desire to prevent damage by rabbits is almost secondary to the desire to meet the wishes of the owners of sporting rights who, perhaps, have been unduly safeguarded.

As a member of a county agricultural committee since the formation of those committees, I have had considerable opportunities of seeing the work which these committees are prepared to do, and the broad and fair spirit in which their officers are prepared to carry out any duty ascribed to them. I am bound to suggest that this Bill in its actual operation will scarcely be a remedy for a tenant suffering from the scourge of rabbits as long as the person who allows those rabbits to go on to his land is in a position to make it difficult for him to take action. To put the position bluntly, the first ground of complaint has to be made by the occupier of the land. Assuming that the woods adjacent to his land are the property of his landlord and that they have been let to a sporting rights' tenant by the landlord, it will be to the owner or occupier of such woods that the sufferer will have to direct his attention. I should like a definition, before I consent to vote for this Bill, of the word "land". Does it include woods?

Photo of Mr William Taylor Mr William Taylor , Norfolk South Western

One requires an assurance of that kind, because that is the crux of the question in some parts of the country. Why place the onus of proof on the victim? The producer of food is the sufferer in these cases, and he is put in the position of having to run the risk of complaining either to the shooting tenant who has the sporting rights over his farm as well as the adjacent woods, if occasion requires, or to his landlord. I have no complaint to make and I do not associate myself with any complaints against the landlords. I do not regard it as wise on the part of those who desire the real progress of the countryside to make complaints against the landlords. It is not the landlord or the tenant, hut the system under which we operate which makes things so difficult. Rabbits ought to be declared vermin, and anyone should be allowed to kill them.

Photo of Mr William Kelly Mr William Kelly , Rochdale

Wherever they stray.

Photo of Mr William Taylor Mr William Taylor , Norfolk South Western

I would not say wherever they stray. As a countryman I am prepared to be taught many things by my city friends, but in regard to the business of rabbiting I am as much amused by that remark of my hon. Friend as by the remark of the Seconder of the Motion that the poacher if an incompetent person. Remembering the county from which I come, I do not subscribe to that description of the poacher. I could not refrain from a smile when the Mover of the Second Reading suggested that rabbits did their damage at night, when people are unable to see them, or at a time when they ought to be somewhere else. It does not take much imagination for the countryman to know that a good many people in some places do themselves pretty well in performing what this Bill is now seeking to extend, as many a coney has had reason to know.

The Mover of the Second Reading said that there are some landowners who keep too many rabbits. With great respect I say that they do not keep them, other people have to keep them, and the object of this Bill is, or I hope it is, to give compensation; but the impression left in my mind is that the Bill has been drafted more with the idea of passing the critical eyes of the sporting rights fraternity in another place than with regard for true sport. The time has come when rabbits might be generally recognised as doing as much damage to food production as rats. Rabbits get at the corn before it has properly grown, whereas the rats get into the stacks afterwards and destroy them.

12 n.

Successive Governments have refused to find time to pass any drastic legislation to put us on our feet in the agricultural industry, and we now discover that there is not even time to chase the rabbits. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I expected that the supporters of a Government whose delinquencies in this respect are much greater than those of the present Government, would shout "Hear, hear!" I enter my emphatic protest against fining a man £2 before he is allowed to put his case before the county council. That is an unjust discouragement and must have been put in by someone who desires to stop any advance. To fine the man who is seeking an opportunity to produce more food is not a principle to which the supporters of the Bill ought to adhere. If they must insert some particular sum, I think that 10s. would be adequate and that should be refunded by the defendant when it is discovered that there is case enough to justify a complaint.

Photo of Sir Joseph Lamb Sir Joseph Lamb , Stone

The hon. Member need not be under any apprehension. That provision is only put in to meet a, frivolous complaint. It would not apply in any other case.

Photo of Mr William Taylor Mr William Taylor , Norfolk South Western

I accept my hon. Friend's adjective as to a frivolous complaint, but I would point out that the Seconder of the Motion made reference to preserving the position of sporting rights. I do honestly say, from experience, that in regard to the killing and expulsion of rabbits on many of our farms the difficulty of getting fair play in dealing with the matter will arise in securing entry into the woods adjacent to the land. In that connection, the county council will be the interested people, but I would point out that the majority of gentlemen on the county councils are landowners. They do jolly good work, they are thorough good sportsmen, and I cast no reflection upon them, indeed, as colleagues of mine for 20 years I have the highest regard for their sense of fair play, but human nature being what it is and in the absence of opposition, there will be a greater tendency to preserve the sporting rights than there will be to look after the extermination rights. I hope that the suggested fine of £2 will be withdrawn and that provision will be made that it shall be paid back, or a portion of it, to the person making the complaint.

Clause 1 (7) provides that No person authorised to act under this section on behalf of a county council shall use any spring trap.

I wonder why. My hon. Friend opposite said that it was to save the rabbit from undue cruelty, but I gathered from the Parliamentary Secretary that it was to prevent any dogs who belonged to people outside from being allowed to poach on other people's preserves. I do not know whether it is a question of cruelty to dogs or cruelty to rabbits. There are several authorities in the House on this point, and I will accept them, with reasonable reservations. I suggest that Clause 2 spoils the value of the Bill. To expect a tenant who is suffering in these circumstances to face the possibility of an appeal at the county court, is creating a situation that is not worth the candle so far as this Bill is concerned.

Photo of Sir Joseph Lamb Sir Joseph Lamb , Stone

It will be the county council and not the tenant who will take the responsibility. The county council will take the responsibility for the appeal.

Photo of Mr William Taylor Mr William Taylor , Norfolk South Western

The hon. Member has faith in the county council taking up an appeal in a case of this sort. The county council is a responsible public authority, honourable and straight in its dealings, and, if it has any bias at all, it will certainly safeguard the sporting rights of those who may be the persons complained of. Their verdict should be accepted as a reasonable conclusion. I am sorry to have appeared unduly critical, but the absence of any ginger in the Bill to achieve the real purpose of exterminating this nuisance is a defect which will have to be remedied when we consider a Bill on a broader basis dealing with land reform, which will give those who feed fur or feather the right to them.

Photo of Sir George Newton Sir George Newton , Cambridge

It generally takes several years for a private Member's Bill to reach the Statute Book, but I think we can congratulate the hon. Member who has introduced this Bill on his pertinacity in pursuing this important piece of legislation. This Bill has been before this House and in another place on several occasions, when it has made substantial headway, but never completed all its stages. I am hopeful, however, after the sympathetic consideration which has been given to it to-day, that it will make progress and reach the Statute Book at last. In spite of what the Parliamentary Secretary has said I am going to make an appeal to him to try and make an exception in regard to this Bill and do what he can to assist its further progress. This is a Measure which will do something to assist the farmer. We were hoping that something of a constructive character would have been done before this, and while we all realise the pressure of Parliamentary business and the difficulties which undoubtedly stand in the way of giving effect to the pledges which were given at the last election, that farming must be made to pay, here, at any rate, is a Bill which is almost non-controversial. It is wanted; and it will do something to assist the farmer and the food producer in this country.

There is no question that rabbits are an unmitigated nuisance to the good farmer, the forester and the fruit grower; and as one who is closely associated with the cultivation of the land I heartily welcome this Bill. Its sole object is to protect the occupier against the depredations of his neighbour's rabbits. I can see no justification, if it can be avoided, for allowing rabbits to come over boundaries into a neighbouring occupation and destroy the work of a good farmer. This is not a landlord's question. It is not really a tenant's question in the ordinary sense. It is a farmer's question. The Mover of the Bill has pointed out how a crop may be renewed by re-sowing, but, after all, re-sowing does not provide an answer. Crops to be productive, must be sown at the appointed time, and if you have to re-sow a crop you will not get the same yield as if the cultivation had proceeded in the ordered course it should pursue.

Certain objections were urged against this Measure on previous occasions and no doubt they will be urged again during the course of the debate this afternoon. The difficulty, it is said, is to say whether rabbits are or are not damaging property. I think that is a perfectly easy question to answer. Anyone accustomed to working land can tell at once whether there is an excessive number of rabbits. It is also said that the county councils are not qualified to undertake these duties. The answer to that is found in the fact that this work was carried out very satisfactorily during the time when increased food production was necessary during the war period, and there is no reason to believe that the county councils will be unwilling to work this Bill. There is every reason to believe also that they will be able to find and employ men who are fully qualified to give effect to the provisions of this Bill, should it ever become law.

I am glad that the promoters of this Bill have kept it down to the simplest possible terms. It is always difficult for a private Member to get a Bill through Parliament, and directly extraneous issues and matters regarding compensation are introduced the difficulties are increased a thousand fold. It has been argued that the objects of this Bill could have been attained in other ways; by means of civil actions for compensation through the processes of the law. That would be a bad policy to pursue, because at the present time there is happily in the main extremely good feeling between one farmer and another and between landlords and tenant, and anything in the nature of actions for compensation would tend to break down that good feeling and raise difficulties. Probably the lawyers would be the only people who would benefit.

Photo of Mr William Taylor Mr William Taylor , Norfolk South Western

If there is a case for compensation does it create good feeling that the sufferer should remain uncompensated?

Photo of Sir George Newton Sir George Newton , Cambridge

No, I quite agree. It is for us to determine what is the simplest way of dealing with this particular matter, and in my judgment it is far better to remove the cause of the grievance than to go to law and endeavour to get compensation in that way. The hon. Member who has moved the Second Reading has pointed out already that there is nothing restrictive in this Bill. If a man wants to have rabbits on his land he can do so to any extent he likes, provided he keeps them on his own land and feeds them with the produce grown on his own land. That is a reasonable position to take up. Some complaint has been made in respect of the provision that anyone who wants to take advantage of this Bill will have to deposit a fee. That is a safeguard to prevent frivolous complaints being made. There are, unfortunately, in every community some people who do not quite play the game, and they may be inclined to take advantage of this Bill and become a nuisance to their neighbours. I warmly support the proposal of the Parliamentary Secretary that power should be given to the county council to initiate proceedings. That would prevent the difficulty which has been suggested that one man might become unpleasantly involved with his neighbour as the result of a complaint. I welcome the Bill and I hope the House will give it a Second Reading. In that sense I again appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to do what he can to see that it reaches the Statute Book.

Photo of Mr Ernest Bennett Mr Ernest Bennett , Cardiff Central

With all due respect to the modified pessimism of the hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Mr. W. B. Taylor) I welcome the Bill, and I should like to join in the congratulations to the hon. Member who moved it on his reasoned statement. I congratulate him also on another matter; that the evolution of political opinion should have produced a Bill of this kind from the Conservative benches. I remember introducing a new Clause to the Agricultural Holdings Bill in 1906, more or less on these lines. It was turned down by the then Liberal Government on the ground, no doubt a very good ground, that it would inevitably be destroyed in another place. Everyone will agree with the main proposition of this Bill.

In passing, I would like to join issue with the Minister. He suggested that complaints are odious things in themselves, and that they should come from some other source than the farmer. Where are you to get complaints from, if not from the person who is suffering? There is no other source available. You cannot expect a county council to employ officials to go about and collect information from people. They would have to collect the information from the aggrieved farmer, everyone in the neighbourhood would know about it and that would put the farmer concerned in the same position as the farmer who made his complaint directly. Heaven helps those who help themselves. If the farmer has not the courage to complain himself, you cannot expect a public authority to do so for him. The position of the farmer to-day is very different from his position in the old days. He is a far more independent person. By law, as far as I remember, no farmer can be evicted from his farm except for non-payment of rent or bad farming.

No doubt a Bill is required to deal with this problem, but the need is far less urgent than formerly. I ask hon. Members to look back to the old reports of Royal Commissions and conferences on agricultural questions. They will find paragraph after paragraph dealing with the devastating damage done by rabbits. It was a very real evil. I recollect how, when I was a boy, farmers protested against the absence of provision to deal with what has been described as the pestilent rodent. I remember, too, the Berserker rage of my old neighbour—still remembered with affection by some older Members of this House—Mr. Lulu Harcourt, afterwards Lord Harcourt, who treated the rabbit as the Israelites did the Amalekites and waged war against them without regard to sex or age. Things have improved since then, but there is no doubt still room for further improvement. Every one in the House will agree with the general tenor of the Bill. There are one or two points in the Clauses to which I must refer. It seems that proceedings can be taken against the landlord or the owner of the land in 22 days—anything after 21 days. If you deduct three Sundays, only 19 days are left. He is an optimistic person who believes that you can "abate or destroy" a rabbit nuisance in 21 days.

Photo of Sir Joseph Lamb Sir Joseph Lamb , Stone

If he makes a commencement within the time it will be all right.

Photo of Mr Ernest Bennett Mr Ernest Bennett , Cardiff Central

The Bill says "abate or destroy." One knows the difficulty of measures for keeping down rabbits in a climate like ours. You never know where you are. I remember entering upon a crusade of rabbit destruction a year ago. What were the conditions then? We had three weeks of incessant frost and it was impossible to put a spade into the ground. Then there were deluges of rain. The Bill must provide a reasonable time limit. It is true that under other Clauses the County Court comes in if the local authority is obdurate, but I think those of us who dwell in the country and have anything to do with agriculture and the like, have a very wholesome and well-sustained suspicion of the County Court. The Bill says that a man can go to the County Court. My own experience of the County Courts has taught me that I would rather have rabbits nibbling off my young corn than go to a County Court.

Then there is the provision regarding the sale of rabbits. I would like to see some measure of protection given even to the rabbit in the main breeding season. I do not know whether the rabbit is to be regarded here merely as verminous. I have always regarded it as rather disgusting to destroy animals at a time like that. An hon. Member opposite described the rook as one of the worst enemies of the farmer. An equally bad and probably worse enemy is the wood pigeon, yet the wood pigeon and his mate are protected under the Wild Birds Protection Act. You cannot destroy a wood pigeon between certain dates. [Interruption.] I suggest that hon. Members look it up. I may be wrong, but that is my recollection.

Photo of Sir Joseph Lamb Sir Joseph Lamb , Stone

An opportunity for another small Bill.

Photo of Mr Ernest Bennett Mr Ernest Bennett , Cardiff Central

Bring rooks and wood pigeons into this Bill if you wish. Who could make anything out of rabbits killed in April, May or June? I shot seven of them last Saturday and I need hardly add that I am not going to eat any of them. The Bill refers to "any person." Is tie county council to send one person or more than one person? Does "any person" mean one person accompanied by other persons?

Photo of Sir Joseph Lamb Sir Joseph Lamb , Stone

Whoever was sent would need to have written authority and to show it.

Photo of Sir Joseph Lamb Sir Joseph Lamb , Stone

One might be sufficient.

Photo of Mr Ernest Bennett Mr Ernest Bennett , Cardiff Central

Even if it be one person, are the promotors of the Bill not going to introduce some provision which at any rate will limit the destruction of rabbits, as far as fire-arms are concerned, between September 1st and Christmas or the end of December? There is one other matter I must mention. Picture a county borough sending some gunner, accompanied by dogs, with strong chasing proclivities, into covers or even into roots. You can imagine what would be the result of his blazing about in early September or October and the effect on the pheasants in coverts and parttridges among the roots. That statement will appeal to those who have sporting rights. Every one will have sympathy with the provision of the Bill that deals with the use of spring traps. Such traps are illegal now in the open, but I believe that under the Ground Game Amendment Act of 1906 they were permitted in rabbit holes. Anyone who has seen mutilated and tortured rabbits in spring traps placed in rabbit holes will be only too glad to welcome that provision. However, these are points which can be dealt with in Committee. I welcome the Bill very much and support its Second Beading with pleasure.

Mr. GUINNESS:

To those who have listened to previous Debates on this subject, it is very gratifying to see the change of opinion in the House as to the importance of this matter. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture has described in a humorous way some of the difficulties which beset the Measure which preceded this Bill, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has over-estimated the difficulties which this Bill will have to face. I do not see why any Government time should be necessary for it, because there appears to be a general recognition of the necessity for dealing with this grievance, and the Measure ought to have a very good chance of getting through without any opposition. This Bill is practically the same as the Bill which we introduced as a Government Measure two years ago. In the year prior to the introduction of that Measure we had taken over a Bill which re-enacted the provisions of D.O.R.A. and the Corn Production Act in this respect, but a good deal of criticism developed upon the details of that Measure, and we then modified so many of the details that I do not think there can be any possible danger of hardship under the present Bill. In point of fact, the use of the extreme remedy under this Bill is likely to be extremely rare because when this power was previously in force under the closer control of the Ministry of Agriculture, in the War period, it was hardly ever found necessary to do anything more than have a notice served by the local authority. I expect that that will be the general procedure. In many cases there is no doubt that rabbits are allowed to become too plentiful, but when a man is warned that he has to take action or otherwise action will be taken at his expense, in nine cases out of ten he will be prepared to do the work himself.

The three weeks' notice to which reference has been made is of course only a minimum. In fact, the notice would often be given at a time of year when it is quite impossible to kill rabbits owing to the amount of vegetation, and no rural authority would be so foolish as to imagine that rabbits could be brought under control in so short a period. But it is reasonable that they should have this minimum, so that at the time of year when it is easy to ferret or net rabbits, they will be able to get some evidence that the occupier is prepared to do his part in abating the nuisance. The proposal of the Parliamentary Secretary for inspection is a rather dangerous one. I do not see how a patrol going around the country looking for rabbits would be able to form any valuable opinions as to their multitude or where they lived. Unless you see them in all conditions, in all weathers in all temperature, and at different times of the day, it is very easy to be misled as to where the evil exists.

I believe that the Bill, if it becomes an Act, will not be applied in a vast number of cases. My impression is that the grievance is an exceptional one, but undoubtedly there are many hard cases, and when the previous Bill was being considered I had brought to my notice instances of men who had to give up their farms because there was derelict land near infested with rabbits, which made cultivation impossible. Of course, there is a new difficulty arising from much of the land being in the hands of shooting syndicates who do not take the same interest as that of the old-fashioned landowner, and I do not think there is any other way of dealing with the matter than that proposed in the Bill. When the subject was previously discussed the lawyers in the House all said that we ought to proceed by means of compensation. Of course, that would have been the better method from the point of view of the lawyers, but I doubt whether it would be so satisfactory to those concerned. From the point of view of food production, we do not want to have to pay for waste, and we think prevention is very much better than cure.

Photo of Mr Samuel Rosbotham Mr Samuel Rosbotham , Ormskirk

I have pleasure in supporting the Second Reading of this Bill. I have spent many happy moments at the tea-table with my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) discussing agricultural questions, and I have an additional pleasure in supporting the Bill, because it was introduced by him. I hope that he will reciprocate in due course when the Minister of Agriculture brings in his great agricultural policy. I feel sure indeed that we shall get a large measure of support from hon. Members opposite when we bring in a Measure of real benefit to agriculture in a few days.

Photo of Sir George Newton Sir George Newton , Cambridge

When will it be introduced?

Photo of Mr Samuel Rosbotham Mr Samuel Rosbotham , Ormskirk

We hope in a few days, and as I came here with the honest intention of doing something to help agriculture, I shall be very disappointed if I have to go back to my constituents and tell them that I have not been able to do anything. Each Member of the House thinks his own Division the best, but I venture to claim mine as the best because, in part of my constituency, we have land which grows two crops every year. We have first early potatoes, and then we have cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts, savoys and other vegetables. If we did not destroy the rabbits we should not be able to have the second crop. Rabbits are very fond of barley and it would be a great loss to the right hon. Gentleman the late Minister of Agriculture if there was not sufficient barley to brew beer. In the interests of barley growing we ought to destroy the rabbits. But I am afraid if we are going to depend on this Bill—which is causing such great excitement in the House—our hopes of an agricultural restoration are vain indeed. I look forward to something more drastic than this proposal. I noticed a smile pass over the faces of hon. Members opposite when my hon. Friend the Member for Stone rose to move the Second Reading of the Bill. It was looked upon as a sort of amusement. This Bill can do a good deal, but if we are relying upon it only, we are relying upon a broken reed to restore agriculture.

There would be no need for a Bill of this sort if all landlords were good landlords; it is the bad landlords against whom you have to protect the tenant. Socialism will get rid of the bad landlords, and the good landlords who will remain will remain through doing what is right and just to their tenancy. I am a farmer, and I am proud of it. I am proud to say that I am a tenant of one of the best landlords in the country, and it is a pleasure for me to see his two sons sitting on the benches opposite, whom I have known ever since they were lads; and if ever the Tory party return to power, which will be in about 20 years from now, I suppose, we may possibly see one of those gentlemen Prime Minister of this country.

My landlord keeps down the rabbits, and to make certain that there are no rabbits left for the coming year, during a season he allows his tenants to have a rabbiting day. In my Division there are two historic events in the sporting world. One is the Waterloo Cup and the other the Grand National, which both take place in my Division, but those events are as nothing compared with the rabbiting day of the farmers. That is a great event. We start in the morning at about 10 o'clock and round about one o'clock we have beer and tea and so on, and later we retire, and there is a great feed. It is the day of the year, you know! Then we do not pretend to go home before two or three o'clock in the morning. Many a time have I returned at three in the morning with my gun on my shoulder and a couple of rabbits hanging behind me. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is that all?"] Certainly I have gone home poorer from the pocket point of view, because I never could play nap, but although I have gone home poorer, I have gone home a happier man. In that way my landlord undertakes to see that rabbits are extinguished.

What do we want to protect ourselves against the indifferent landlords? We want security of tenure, and then there would be no need of victimisation or intimidation. If you are going to restore agriculture to its proper position, I firmly believe you will have to get security of tenure. I would like to deal with the question that has been raised with regard to rabbit as a food. The rabbit is a cheap food for our working classes, and I would not like to see it extinguished, but if rabbits are to be kept, they should be kept on rabbit farms or warrens. We import a great number of rabbits from other countries every year, which we could produce at home without doing anybody any harm, so I am not one of those who go in for the total extinction of the rabbit. In fact, I venture to say this, that those who have rabbit farms and warrens today are making more money out of them than out of growing wheat under present conditions, and that is a state of affairs which should not obtain in this country. We ought to try to do something for agriculture and to make it profitable to grow wheat, which is our mainstay and our main food supply, and I trust that whatever legislation is brought forward in this House will be such that it will give a paying price to the cultivator for wheat.

Something has been said about wearing rabbit fur. Some of the most lovely coats worn by our ladies to-day are made of the furs from rabbits. In our county council we have some of our tenants, small-holding tenants, who keep rabbits, but they keep them for the fur which they produce. The rabbits are shorn of their fur every so often, and the tenants make a good profit out of it. Those men should be encouraged. It has been mentioned that the danger of this Bill not becoming law is to be found at the end of the passage, in another place, but I think we can frighten the Members of the other place and say that if they do oppose this Bill, we shall perhaps be able to deal with them. The Bill could be passed readily, if we all agreed to do it, in two or three minutes, and why should we not do it and get on with some other work? We shall have to get time for the very important policy and legislation which the Minister of Agriculture is bringing in, and why should we waste time on other matters? I know that the staffs of the county councils are very efficient. We have an efficient staff in Lancashire, and they would be well able to look after this Bill, when it became an Act, and administer it in a proper way. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Cardiff (Captain Bennett) raised a question with regard to breeding. I do not suppose he has considered the character of the rabbit.

Photo of Mr Samuel Rosbotham Mr Samuel Rosbotham , Ormskirk

I venture to disagree with him, because they are very prolific. There is no close season in breeding; they breed all the year round, and you have to deal with them in a drastic, way. I have pleasure in supporting this Bill, which I trust is a preliminary to greater things for agriculture, and I hope that some day we shall be able to take part in something far more important, but this is a step in the right direction, and I welcome it as something to be going on with.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel George Windsor-Clive Lieut-Colonel George Windsor-Clive , Ludlow

One of the most valuable features about this Bill is that it represents the principles of prevention rather than compensation. After all, whatever compensation could be given could not make up for the fact that a certain amount of foodstuff grown in this country had been destroyed, and that could never be replaced, whatever compensation might be given. Another valuable feature about the Bill is that, once it becomes an Act, the nuisance of too many rabbits will very largely abate without the Act being brought into force at all. I heard it said in a former debate that the Measure could not be carried into effect because the time when the excess of rabbits would be greatest would be in the late spring or early summer, and that it would be impossible then to kill them. I believe that once this Bill comes into force people will take very great care to kill down their rabbits at the proper time, which is in the winter, and, therefore, I do not think it would ever be needed in practice.

Mention has been made of the fact that if a tenant made complaints it might put him in an invidious position with regard to his landlord, but I think that point was well answered by a subsequent speaker. The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Rosbotham) said the party opposite intended to clear out the bad landlords. Do they mean that they are going to instal the worst landlord of all, namely, the State? One hon. Member compared rabbits with rats and called them vermin, but I would point out that you cannot eat the rat, whereas the rabbit is a very excellent form of food. I do not think that hon. Member could have been in the last Parliament, because if he had, he would have heard, in a similar Debate, an hon. Member who is no longer in the House telling us of the extreme value of rabbits from the point of view of making silk hats. There is one point in the first Clause which, I think, may need to be looked at in Committee, and that is that when a complaint is made notice should be given at the time to the person against whom the complaint is made, because the Clause says: If any person proves to the satisfaction of a county council. I do not quite see how the county council could be satisfied of the existence of the nuisance. That is a point which should be seen to in Committee. But, I think that this is a most useful and valuable Bill, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary may be able to reconsider his decision about no time being given for subsequent stages. I hope that it may be possible as time goes on.

Photo of Mr John Mills Mr John Mills , Dartford

I, as a City man, do not desire to take up very much time with regard to this Bill, except to express my surprise that the promoters, especially the National Farmers' Union, could not frame a one-Clause Bill to abolish the whole poaching laws. Without that, I do not see much is going to be attained from the point of view of the extermination of the rabbit. Speaking as one coming from Western Australia, where the problem of the rabbit has become very acute, I put it to the House that if the rabbit be such a pestilential nuisance as it is supposed to be, how is it that in all the cities where the rabbit is looked upon as a delicacy for the week-end meal of the workers the price of rabbits is so prohibitive in the shops? In my view, the county councils should not only have the power to do these things, but should act on their own initiative from information supplied by their own officers. If that be done, I think the possibility of squabbling and quarrelling on this common informer business would be eliminated, with better results.

Mr. PALMER:

I approach this Bill with a perfectly open mind, and I would not have intervened in this Debate but for one point in particular. I do not think enough has been said about the rabbit. I must confess that I have some prejudice in favour of the rabbit. I do not think that that point has been emphasised sufficiently in this Debate. This Bill might have been called, perhaps more appropriately, a Rabbits Regulation Bill, rather than what it seem to be developing into, a Rabbits Destruction Bill. The rabbit has been described as a pest, but it is not clearly set out in the Bill as to whether or not the Bill really intends the extermination of rabbits. If it does, then I suggest that wider powers should be given under the Bill, but I want to urge that that is not the public mind. There is much to be said in favour of the rabbit for food purposes, and while I do not intend to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill, I would have much preferred to have seen a Bill for the regulation of rabbits. I would even suggest that the House would do well, or the Ministry of Agriculture would do well, to look into the possibility of rabbit farming in such a manner that the rabbits would be rounded up in a better fashion than they are to-day, with some sort of rabbit warren, and rabbits bred and sold for food, fur and all the by-products of rabbits.

More could be said for the rabbit, I think, than has been brought out so far in this Debate. But if it is the purpose of this Bill to regard the rabbit merely as a pest for extermination, then I think the Bill ought to be strengthened and adapted to extermination, and, as was suggested by my hon. Friend, if it really is the case that you want to exterminate the rabbit, there are plenty of people under the direction of the county councils, if you like to make regulations, who could be let loose on these rabbits at appropriate times in the year, and they would soon reduce the numbers very effectively. The trouble is that while landowners want to preserve their shooting rights, and regard anybody who would make the slightest contribution to a relief of this case by the ugly name of poacher you will not get the pest eliminated. All that I wanted to say is that, in so far as rabbits are prejudicial to neighbouring crops—and I think the case has been fairly established that damage has been caused—the Bill ought to have its Second Reading for the purpose of preventing that, but I do hope that the other side of the question will not be lost sight of, that is, whether the rabbit is to be regarded as a pest for extermination or whether it has real food value and is a marketable commodity which should be treated in the way that any other commodity is treated.

Commander Sir BOLTON EYRES MONSELL:

I do not rise to make a speech on this Bill. I want only to make an appeal to the House to let us have the Bill. It is getting on for 1 o'Clock, and it is well known that the Rules of this House allow of a Count after 1 o'Clock. I am afraid that, perhaps, the rabbit could not muster 40 friends, and this very valuable Bill would be lost. As hon. Members know, anyone can raise a Count by calling attention to the fact that 40 Members are not present. I think every one wants this Bill, so I hope that the House will let us get it before 1 o'Clock.

Photo of Sir Richard Denman Sir Richard Denman , Leeds Central

I am extremely sorry not to be able to acquiesce in the appeal of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, but as a previous speaker has pointed out quite truly, Central Leeds has a very great interest in this Bill. My predecessor was extremely active in his opposition to it, and I have taken the trouble to find out precisely why it was he objected so strongly. Perhaps I may enumerate the reasons. He opposed it generally on the ground that it was an intolerable tyranny. We all know that whenever we elect anyone to act for us on councils anything they do is intolerable to someone. The second reason was that it diminished the supply of raw material for hats. It would, of course, be disastrous if we no longer had our top-hats. We nearly lost the War through the absence of top-hats. The third reason was more tragic. The process of drying skins apparently encourages bluebottles to lay eggs in the skins, and these produce maggots, I regret to say. These maggots are sold by millions to fishermen for bait. It would be disastrous to have an industry of such magnitude interfered with, and to increase unemployment among fishermen and producers of maggots. The fourth reason was that the council sending men on to the land would destroy hedges, and we know that men are more destructive of hedges than rabbits.

The final reason was the objection of the shooting syndicates. If there were no longer an adequate supply of rabbits to shoot, there would be a loss of revenue, because fewer gun licences would be taken out. Then there would be a loss of money on the countryside, because people who shoot spend an appreciable amount of money when they go about shooting rabbits. The railway companies would suffer, because shooting syndicates would not be transported from the great towns to the countryside. That is the authentic view, not only of Central Leeds, but of Leeds as a whole, and I feel bound to express it to the House. At the same time, I must confess that I am a rebel, and cannot adopt the undoubted view of Leeds. I have special reasons for being a rebel, because I had a humble part in the foundation of the original deterrent Clause in the Corn Production Act, and my only regret is that it was not more effectively operated, because it gave powers for dealing with this dangerous pest. I welcome the Bill, because it is a step in a process which is necessary for giving wider authority to control bad farming, whatever form bad farming may take. The case was cited of an eccentric man who allowed his big estate to go to pieces, and no one had the least authority to do more than compel him to cut the weeds. We want to extend such powers.

Photo of Captain William Sanders Captain William Sanders , Battersea North

This is more than a rabbit destruction Bill; it goes to the fundamental root of the social organisation of this country. I listened with most interest in this interesting Debate to the speech of my hon. Friend who spoke as a farmer, and I am glad that he said he was proud of being a farmer. The part of the speech which impressed me most was that in which he described what his landlord did in order to keep down this pest of rabbits. It may seem surprising to come from these benches, but we prefer voluntary collective action for dealing with social problems, when it can be effected, to legislative restrictions, because we know quite well, and sometimes better than hon. Gentlemen on the other side, the difficulties of fair and just administration between landlords and tenants. Therefore, I am inclined to believe that the best way to deal with this problem is not to ask for powers to be given to a local body, but for the organisations connected with the agricultural interest to make a co-operative effort in order to get rid of redundant rabbits.

1.0 p.m.

Another point to which I desire to call the attention of the House, especially the other side, is the dangerous extension of a principle to which the other side axe always objecting. We had a Debate a little while ago on the extension of what is called municipal trading, and sometimes municipal Socialism. I find in this Bill a proposal from the other side that county councils, as local government authorities should be entitled to set up business as rabbit selling merchants. That is very dangerous from the point of view of the other side. Have they seriously considered the introduction of municipal authorities into the area of food selling and food distribution? If they really know what they are doing in supporting the opening of a kind of municipal rabbit shop, I hope, when the next proposal comes along to enable municipal authorities to open meat and tea shops, that they will support it, and allow us to do in the towns what they want to do in the country. I cannot help observing the extraordinarily fractious opposition which is given to proposals for constructive organisation which come from this side, but, when the interest of the other side is concerned, they are not only prepared to support restrictive and interfering legislation, but also to adopt the principle of Socialist organisation.

Photo of Mr William Kelly Mr William Kelly , Rochdale

The promoter of the Bill has been asked once or twice whether he was prepared to consider certain alterations, such as the elimination of the deposit of £2, which would have to be made when a person made a complaint. It is all very well to say that it is to guard against complaints being trivial, but one knows that in administration the £2 will be demanded on every occasion. With regard to the misuse of the land, the promoter of the Bill might have taken up a strong position against people who acquire land for the purpose of felling timber and then allow it to remain in a condition that is a disgrace to the country. He might have done something in that direction rather than try to remedy what is an evil consequent upon the methods adopted by these people. Has the promoter not considered, instead of this method of engaging somebody at the call of the county council or the so-called person responsible to deal with the rabbits, allowing the most competent person to deal with the pest; I refer to the poacher. If he is allowed to have his full play, he would do it without any charge at all, for he would recoup himself very well.

Photo of Mr Robert Taylor Mr Robert Taylor , Lincoln

I wish to draw attention to the extraordinarily bad draftsmanship of the first Clause of the Bill. It is extremely difficult to see from that Clause what it is the promoters intend. But before I deal with that, I would like to commend to the House the suggestion made by my hon. Friend as to the very efficient service that might be rendered by a class of people for whom the law has not very much respect, but who could do all that is necessary under this Bill without very much expense to the community. Lincolnshire is noted for the excellence of its poachers. The Lincolnshire Regiment marches to the strains of "The Lincolnshire Poacher," a most inspiring and inspiriting tune; and in and about the City of Lincoln we have a number of men who have inherited very special gifts which would enable them to clean up quite a large part of the county if only legal sanction—

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted; and 40 Members being present

Photo of Mr William Taylor Mr William Taylor , Norfolk South Western

I commend that suggestion to the House for dealing with rabbits in so far as they are a pest. I do not want to oppose the Bill, but one point on which I feel some doubt is the provision which gives county councils power to employ persons to enter on the lands of occupiers who have failed to take action after the requisite notice has been served upon them. I think that puts into the hands of county councils much wider powers than they should be given in a Measure of this kind, and one sees great possibilities of constant friction between neighbours. We want to develop good will and co-operation amongst neighbours, and should avoid everything that might contribute to ill-will and strife.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.