Clause 95. — (Prevention of damage by pests.)

Orders of the Day — Agriculture Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5 June 1947.

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Photo of Sir Frank Soskice Sir Frank Soskice , Birkenhead East 12:00, 5 June 1947

I beg to move, in page 78, line 44, to leave out "may," and' to insert "shall not."

This Amendment, together with the succeeding two Amendments, which, it you will allow me Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I would like to explain at the same time, are designed to meet arguments advanced by hon. Gentlemen opposite and by my hon. Friends during the Committee stage with regard to Clause 95, which deals with pests and weed control. Objection was taken to Subsection (2) on the grounds that it appeared to go too far in providing for the destruction of pests, where the destruction, apart from the authority of the Subsection would be unlawful. During the Committee stage, I indicated two major purposes which the Minister had in mind, namely, to be allowed to destroy game during the close season and to make use of poison in destroying foxes. The next two Amendments embody these two objects and remove the vice objected to in Subsection (2) as it stood; namely, it takes away the power to destroy pests generally where that would otherwise be unlawful, and limits the Minister's power to destroying game in the close season, and also to using poisons, subject to the precautions necessary to comply with Section 8 of the Protection of Animals Act, 1911. It does, therefore, limit the Minister's powers to the two objects I have indicated.

Photo of Mr Joseph Alpass Mr Joseph Alpass , Thornbury

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. May I respectfully submit that the three Amendments seem to be dealing with the same point of the control of pests and the methods of destroying them. Would you give us a Ruling that these might be discussed together?

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

I think the Solicitor-General did say that he was going to discuss the three Amendments together.

Photo of Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller , Daventry

I recollect that during the Committee stage the question was posed to the Solicitor-General whether or not bird lime would he permissible under this Clause for catching birds, and I have a clear recollection that the question seemed to catch the Solicitor-General to a considerable degree. While I recognise that what he has said is, to a considerable extent, satisfactory, I suggest that the words of these Amendments are not in the least degree satisfactory.

I invite the House to consider the wording of the first Amendment to line 44, to insert "shall not" instead of "may." We have no objection to that, but when we come to line 45, the Amendment to leave out "notwithstanding that apart from this section" and to insert "if apart from this subsection," so that Subsection (2) would read: A requirement may be imposed under the last foregoing subsection if apart from this subsection, the killing, taking or destruction in question would be prohibited by law. The first point I put to the Solicitor-General is this: Subsection (1) and other parts of the Clause give no right to infringe the general law with regard to animals and birds. Therefore, I suggest that the words "if apart from this subsection" are entirely unnecessary. That is the first, and, perhaps, a minor point of drafting, to which I draw the Solicitor-General's attention.

I come to the proviso in line 47. I understand the first three lines deal with the destruction of game during the close season. I am a little intrigued to know why the Government at this 'time require power to destroy game within the meaning of the Game Act, 1831, during the close season. I should like to have an explanation of that. Then one looks at the Amendment and sees for the purposes of the last foregoing subsection a person shall not be deemed not to have the right to comply with a requirement falling within this proviso by reason only that apart from this proviso compliance therewith would be prohibited. I am not in the least confident as to the meaning of the expression a person shall not be deemed not to have the right to comply with a requirement. Surely, the failure to comply with a requirement would be an offence. Surely, the drafting of that particular part of this proviso is wrong. The obligation under Subsection (1) is to comply with the requirement and the drafting of the last part of the Subsection seems to me not only to be confusing, but to be entirely inaccurate and entirely wrong, and I would like to have a reply to that point. When one comes to Subsection (3), apparently it contemplates that poison can be used for destroying rabbits, deer, foxes, moles and birds to which this provision applies. I would like to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman what plans are in mind for the use of poison in connection with the destruction of birds.

Photo of Sir Frank Soskice Sir Frank Soskice , Birkenhead East

It does not apply to birds.

Photo of Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller , Daventry

The hon. and learned Gentleman says it does not apply to birds. If one looks at Subsection (3), one sees that clearly it does. One sees from it that: poison for destroying rats, mice or other small vermin so long as reasonable precautions are taken to prevent injury to domestic animals and wild birds) for the words 'rats, mice' there shall be substituted the words 'animals other than deer or hares, to which section ninety-five of the Agriculture' Act, 1947, applies. Section 95 of the Agriculture Act, 1947, applies to rabbits, hares and other rodents, deer foxes and moles and the birds to which the Section applies. If the hon. and learned Gentleman likes to say that birds are not animals, he is entitled to express that view, but I suggest it is not clear in the drafting. So far as the drafting of this Clause is concerned, I suggest to him that it really does not correspond with the words he uttered in moving the Amendment.

12 m.

Photo of Mr Joseph Alpass Mr Joseph Alpass , Thornbury

This question aroused very great feeling and interest in the Committee. Very strong feeling was expressed on all sides of the Committee and I believe it was a reflection of what was pretty general throughout the country, that the use of steel-toothed traps should not be permitted for dealing with rabbits. I thought that the Minister, bowing to that general feeling, went a considerable way to meet those of us who advanced the case against it; but we are not quite satisfied with the present position. We feel very strongly that the use of these spring steel-tooth traps should be prohibited in every way, because they not only inflict cruelty if used above ground, but they subject those animals which are caught in their holes to the same torture. I appeal to the Minister to take some steps before the Bill becomes law to assure us that the use of these spring steel-tooth traps shall be prohibited absolutely for destroying rabbits.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

I am not sure that this is in Order. In the Amendment which we are discussing, I see nothing about spring steel-tooth traps.

Photo of Mr Joseph Alpass Mr Joseph Alpass , Thornbury

With respect, Mr. Speaker, I would say that the wording will allow the use of these traps if the original wording had remained. That would have allowed the use of these traps for which power was given in a previous Act.

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

Previous Acts have nothing to do with this matter. This is a separate Act, and the matter to which the hon. Member was referring is not included in this Amendment.

Photo of Colonel Sir Ralph Clarke Colonel Sir Ralph Clarke , East Grinstead

I am not certain about the wisdom of some of the provisions of Subsection (3) of this Amendment. It has already been pointed out that this Amendment is really an Amendment of Section 8 of the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, allowing the use of poison and other matter to be set on the ground for destroying small vermin, provided that all reasonable precautions are taken to prevent access thereto of domestic animals. What is allowed here is a very much wider distribution of that poison, and I want to know what steps the Government think can be taken to exercise all reasonable precautions to prevent access to it of dogs, cats, fowls and other domestic animals. That will be a very difficult matter.

I am glad that we have the Home Secretary here, because a short time ago he took part in a Debate when the subject was the preservation of wild life. A great many other animals than those which it is intended to destroy may be involved, because when poisoned animals die they are eaten by other animals. Quite a number of wild animals are eaters of carrion, some at all times, others only when they are growing old and their teeth are going, and they cannot themselves catch live things. I believe that very wide destruction of animals may ensue. Not only wild animals may be destroyed but dogs, for it is well known that dogs like to eat carrion if they get the chance. We may he, as it were, throwing a stone into a pond the ripples of which may extend very much further than was the original intention of the Bill. Therefore, I feel that these provisions should be very carefully vetted before the Bill becomes law.

I know that, although hares are excluded, rabbits are included, and I wonder whether this may not be related to the defeat of the Government upstairs on the steel traps, and whether it is not an alternative to the steel trap for rabbits. I feel that, perhaps, the Minister is being a bit of a fox himself over this and is pulling a fast one over those who defeated the Government upstairs. I was not on that Committee, so I cannot go into details about all that happened; but I suggest that this is not a subject which should be put into law without the effects it may have on wild life being seriously considered.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Lieut-Colonel Geoffrey Clifton-Brown , Bury St Edmunds

I want very strongly to support the suggestion that the Government should look at this again, because I think it is far more cruel, and far more inhuman, than anything to do with steel traps. When you get poison laid about anywhere in the country, you are going to have a most enormous destruction of cats and dogs. Families cannot, keep their cats indoors, and they will be out, and will be killed. Not only will it affect that animal, but it will affect every animal known in wild life. It will affect not only the animals, but birds. It will get almost every bird that goes to carrion, because you cannot possibly limit the putting down of this poison to places where the dead animal cannot be got at by some other animal or bird.

The poison will spread through our rivers, because after it has been eaten the animal that has taken it will go for water, and you will find that a great many of the sick animals will be into the river, and there will be polluted water, and a certain number of persons drink the water out of rivers. Therefore, I ask Ministers to go into this again. I think it will give far more trouble than they realise. I would like to say again, as I said in Committee, that this is really being done only to try and help out the idle man who is told to destroy vermin. Any good gamekeeper or naturalist will get rid of animals which are a nuisance to farm crops without having to use poison and without having to use steel traps.

Photo of Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks Hon. Lancelot Joynson-Hicks , Chichester

I only want to put one point to the House. As the Minister will recall, he gained considerable time in Committee by the multiplicity of the assurances which he gave. I ask him to give us an assurance in respect of the third of these Amendments—the power to destroy all game during the close season. Once we initiate the right to take wild life during the close season, we run the risk of destroying, and completely eliminating all game throughout the country. I am using the word in no sporting sense, but in the technical sense in which it is defined in the Game Act. It is almost impossible to limit the use of the powers once they are allowed. I think it is essential, before we grant such exceedingly wide powers as are asked for in such exceedingly exceptional cases, to know rather more of what is the right hon. Gentleman's intention, and how far he proposes to use the powers for which he is asking.

Photo of Mr Morgan Price Mr Morgan Price , Forest of Dean

I should like to support those who are asking for further explanations as to why it should be necessary to destroy game during the breeding season. There may a reason, but I have not yet heard it. I can see there could be reason that power should be taken to destroy during the breeding season certain animals and certain birds, more particularly wood pigeons and rooks, but I do not see why it should refer to all game. In regard to the proposed new Subsection (3), the use of poison, I cannot support those who take the view that poison is a great danger. It is not a great danger if it is properly used. I think we ought to keep a balance in this matter. Certain poison gases, certain chemicals which produce gas, to destroy rabbits and vermin can be used without any danger to any other animals, by laying all poison in the runs for rats, and so on; so that, with proper control, it should cause danger to the life of no other animals. If the poison were laid one evening, and the person responsible went round to collect next morning all the dead bodies, there would be no danger. So I think it is reasonable to give these powers in the new Subsection (3), but I should like further reason why game should be included in the previous Subsection.

Photo of General Sir George Jeffreys General Sir George Jeffreys , Petersfield

I should like to join in the protest against the laying of poison in the open. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Philips Price) who said that, with proper care, poison could be safely used. There will always be careless people about, and if people are allowed to put down poison, they will not take proper care. During the war there was an order issued by the Ministry that care was to be taken in setting steel traps in the open, and that they were to be put only under thick bushes, and so on, where other animals than those for which they were set would not get at them. People did not take that necessary trouble and that necessary care, and it will be exactly the same with poison. If it is laid down, as has been pointed out by my hon. Friends, it will quite certainly be picked up, by animals other than those for which it is laid, and by domestic animals, and they will be killed or maimed, or undergo severe cruelty. It is a very retrograde step in this civilised age to legalise in any sort of way the laying of poison in the open in exposed places where animals and birds get at it.

I hope the Minister will think again about this. I do not think it is a reasonable Amendment to put into the Bill, or a reasonable power to give people to lay poison indiscriminately. That does not affect the use in any way of poison gas in circumstances which were referred to by the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Philips Price). Poison gas can certainly be effective and need not be harmful either to animals or to human beings. But poison gas is not a sovereign remedy, by any manner of means. In very heavy clay soil, where every aperture can be stopped up, it may be very useful against rabbits and so forth, but in porous and chalk soil it is absolutely ineffective. I hope the Minister will think again about this question of the laying of poison in the open for animals, which may involve serious cruelty, which I am sure is not contemplated.

12.15 a.m.

Mr. Baldwin:

I add my plea to the Minister to think again about this proposal. It is a lazy way of dealing with pests. The Minister knows that there is no one to see whether or not 'reasonable precautions are taken. I have had some experience of rats killed by pest control officials during the war who have insisted on laying poison. There is one particular animal which will feed upon carrion—there are not many that will—and it is the badger, a very useful animal in keeping down the pest of rabbits. There is no animal that will control rabbits better than the badger and if this poison is laid in an indiscriminate manner, even if rats are killed, and even if one goes out to collect the rats in the early morning, the badger will be at the rats first.

Photo of Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller , Daventry

Will the Solicitor-General reply to the points that have been raised?

Photo of Sir Frank Soskice Sir Frank Soskice , Birkenhead East

I will reply very briefly. The hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) has referred to Subsection (3). There is a clear definition with regard to animals and birds, and only animals are incorporated in the Section under the 1911 Act. With regard to the putting down of poison we are adopting and making use of the section which has been worked since 1928. The poison that it is desired to use is poison gas. With regard to the question of game, pheasants have been known to become a considerable pest and they are principally the type of game which are aimed at. The persons who will judge whether it is necessary to use the powers will be the county executive committee, and I think they can be relied upon.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 78, line 45, leave out: notwithstanding that apart from this section and insert: if apart from this subsection.

In line 47, leave out from "law,' to end of line 7, on page 79, and insert: Provided that a requirement may be so imposed to kill or destroy game within the meaning of the Game Act, 1831, at a time of year at which apart from this proviso the killing or destruction would be prohibited by section three of that Act; and for the purposes of the last foregoing subsection a person shall not be deemed not to have the right to comply with a requirement falling within this proviso by reason only that apart from this proviso compliance therewith would be prohibited as aforesaid.(3) In the proviso to section eight of the Protection of Animals Act, 1911 (which allows the putting down of poison for destroying rats, mice or other small vermin so long as reasonable precautions are taken to prevent injury to domestic animals and wild birds) for the words "rats, mice" there shall be substituted the words "animals, other than deer or hares, to which section ninety-five of the Agriculture Act, 1947, applies."—[Mr. T. Williams.]

Photo of Sir Frank Soskice Sir Frank Soskice , Birkenhead East

I beg to move, in page 79, line 16, at the end to insert: Provided that regulations under this subsection may provide that for the purposes of the proviso referred to in subsection (3) of this section any such other animals specified in the regulations shall not be treated as animals to which this section applies. This is an Amendment consequential on what has gone before. What this does is simply to say that such other animals as are brought under the provisions of Subsection (3) can be dealt with either inside or outside the scope of the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, and either can or cannot have poison gas used against them.

Photo of Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller , Daventry

It is said that the Minister has power to make regula- tions, but I cannot see that the right hon. Gentleman has power to make any regulations at all. The last two lines refer to any such other animals specified in the regulations shall not be treated as animals to which this Section applies. This is inconsistent with the Amendments just made. Quite apart from that, however, I suggest that this proviso which the Solicitor-General is seeking to insert is quite unintelligent. It says, … regulations under this subsection may provide that for the purposes of the proviso referred to … What really is the intention of this proviso, and what really is the meaning of it? It is one of the best examples of bad drafting which we have seen for a long time.

Photo of Mr Hugh Fraser Mr Hugh Fraser , Stone

Once one has poison in the open, it is perfectly absurd, and one of the objects for which poison can be used is the destruction of pheasants.

Photo of Sir Frank Soskice Sir Frank Soskice , Birkenhead East

I did not mention birds at all.

Photo of Mr Hugh Fraser Mr Hugh Fraser , Stone

Pheasants have been mentioned, and when people living in this country are on inadequate rations they will take a pheasant home and poison themselves.

Photo of Captain Harry Crookshank Captain Harry Crookshank , Gainsborough

I do not think we want to get heated over this affair. I see signs of risk in that direction. I suggest to the Solicitor-General that he might be able to say that he would look at the drafting of this Amendment. I really wanted to understand what was meant and entirely failed, and I still fail, in spite of his explanation. Nobody in the world could make any sense of these four lines. If he would only say he would look at the drafting, quite apart from the merits, I dare say we would agree.

Amendment agreed to.