Clause 12. — (Spreading of Myxomatosis.)

Orders of the Day — PESTS BILL [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15 November 1954.

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Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford 12:00, 15 November 1954

I beg to move, in page 12, line 13, to leave out from "to," to the end of line 14, and to insert: a fine not exceeding twenty pounds or, if he has been previously convicted of such an offence, a fine not exceeding fifty pounds:Provided that this section shall not render unlawful any experiment duly authorised under the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876. This is an Amendment to the new Clause 12 which was successfully moved during the Committee stage, and which made the deliberate spreading of myxomatosis an offence. The effect of this Amendment would not substantially modify the intention of the new Clause. It simply proposes to do two things. The first is to remedy some small ambiguity with regard to the penalties which might occur on a first or second offence. As the Clause was originally drafted, it might not have been entirely clear what was a second offence in regard to either the gin trap or myxomatosis. By the new wording we make it perfectly plain what is a first offence and what is a second offence in each case.

The more substantial part of the Amendment is the second part which we have inserted to safeguard the position of research work. As originally drafted, the new Clause might have made illegal the research and experimental work which is now going on with regard to myxomatosis. As the House will know, we have been doing a certain amount of work in order to learn more about the behaviour of the virus. Despite its existence in our country, we still know very little about it and, therefore, a certain amount of work is going on in regard to that and for the development of an effective vaccine to give full protection to domestic rabbits.

The Amendment would allow that research and experimental work to con- tinue, but under the full safeguards accorded by Home Office licensing regulations; and I think the House will be fully assured that that will prevent any possible abuse. I trust that with that explanation the House will agree to accept the Amendment.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Test

It would be ungracious to object to an alteration in the drafting of the Clause which I had the honour to move in Committee. I doubt whether any Member of Parliament has objected to Parliamentary draftsmen and has survived. I accept the arguments the Minister has given that this makes a better form of words, but I want to raise a query about the second half of the Amendment.

I read in the "Daily Telegraph" today that the Australians have found that myxomatosis in Australia is less devastating now than it was some time ago and that the death rate among rabbits has dropped from 99 per cent. to 90 per cent. For this reason, Australian scientists are said to be experimenting with the French virus in the hope that it may prove more effective than the South American virus which they have used up to now.

The French virus is the one which was introduced into Kent and which has done all the damage in this country and against whose deliberate use the whole of this Bill is legislating. The "Daily Telegraph" states this morning that, but for this Bill, or for the Clause which we added in Committee, research and experiments to help the Australians to find a more potent form of myxomatosis than the one they are using at present could have been done under British auspices. It says: … last week's decision by the House of Commons to make the deliberate spreading of myxomatosis illegal complicated the situation. If this Amendment were devised to uncomplicate the situation for the benefit of Australian scientists, I would certainly object to it. Nobody except the anti-vivisectionists objects to experimentation with disease, if the aim is to save life and so do good to mankind. I would ask for an assurance from the Minister that the kind of experimental work that he has in mind is the kind that he himself mentioned just now and not the kind the Australians would wish us to indulge in.

I am all for good Commonwealth relations and for the internationalisation of science but we are making a law whose aim, among other things, is to make the deliberate spreading of myxomatosis in this country a crime. We should be illogical if, by this Amendment, we allowed our own research scientists to make it easier for Australian scientists to find a more potent virus than that which they have at the moment. My fears may be entirely unfounded. Indeed, the Act to which the Amendment refers (Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876) places restrictions on scientific experiments on animals. It says that they must be … performed … with a view to the advancement by new discovery, of physiological knowledge, or of knowledge which will be useful for saving or prolonging life or alleviating suffering … It then provides a whole pattern of precautions which must be observed, and of licences which must be obtained. It may be that the Minister can assure us that the parent Act itself gives us all the safety which we want.

10.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Derick Heathcoat-Amory Mr Derick Heathcoat-Amory , Tiverton

It is, of course, impossible to say what research will uncover, or what results will be obtained. I assure the hon. Member that the intention is that the results should be used in accordance with the spirit of the Bill, and not in the opposite direction. That, I think, will give him the comfort which he seeks.

Photo of Mr Frank Hayman Mr Frank Hayman , Falmouth and Camborne

Might I ask the Minister whether, in Australia, scientists have not already developed more potent types and variations of the original myxomatosis virus, the previous strains having become ineffective? There was a report in "The Times," I think some time in September, to that effect.

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

If I may be permitted to reply to the hon. Member for Camborne and Falmouth (Mr. Hayman), the Australian experience is that, over the course of two or three years, the virus has become attenuated and its strength is now a good deal less than it was originally. The strength of the virus in the British Isles, however, is as strong as, if not stronger than, the Australian virus ever was. As far as we know this is the strongest there has been. The Australians are concerned at this weakening, and for that reason they are proceeding with their present work.

Amendment agreed to.

10.3 p.m.

Mr. Amory:

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

The Bill, to which I hope we shall give our blessing, came to us from another place last spring. It deals almost entirely with rabbits. For some time after it came to us the Government, like Brer Rabbit, "lay low and said nothing," wondering whether, in the light of current events in the rabbit world, the Bill would require substantial amendment. However, in the six or seven months that have elapsed, more has happened in relation to rabbits than in any previous time.

When the Bill was drafted this country was still free from myxomatosis. When it came to this House there were, I think, about 12 outbreaks in the south-east of England, and by that time it was clear that the disease had taken a firm hold and had become established. It is now present, to a greater or less extent, in almost every part of the United Kingdom. During these months our minds have been very much exercised with this problem. I think that it was worth allowing a little time to elapse, that events have shown that this Bill, as drafted, is sound, and that developments since then have shown that because of myxomatosis there is a greater need than before for the Bill.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I have been very much encouraged by the recognition coming from all parts of the House to the need for the powers provided in Part I. The basis of Part I is that those who are concerned in this matter, the occupiers of farmland, should plan together and work together to put an end to the rabbit pest, which is the cause of enormous damage to our food production.

Part II of the Bill raises rather more controversial issues, but, though the Committee divided on Clause 8, I think we are united in our determination to get rid of the gin trap at the soonest practicable moment. The difference between us has really been as to how soon it is practicable to do so. I say again that I myself would like to get rid of it tomorrow, if that were possible. My difficulty is that with my responsibility for food produc- tion, while there is no sound prospect of some alternative trap in sight, I feel I simply cannot deny the farmers at this moment any single weapon in their campaign to eliminate rabbits.

A date has now been fixed for the abolition of the gin trap, and farmers have the assurance that, in the time that is left to us, the Government, through the Humane Traps Advisory Committee, will press forward with energy to secure the development of effective humane traps. Potential inventors will be encouraged, and I would once again assure the House that development will not be handicapped for financial reasons.

As regards the deliberate spreading of myxomatosis, I hope and believe that the wishes of the House, which I believe reflect the wishes of the country at large, will bring this practice to an end. I should like to say that I believe that farmers are no less humane than their fellow citizens in the towns. I do not believe that during the past 12 months farmers have indulged in this practice at all generally, in spite of the temptation to do so arising from the appalling damage that these pests do.

Finally, I would say that I believe that there is an unprecedented opportunity at present for us to grapple effectively with the rabbit problem. That opportunity must be seized and exploited with the utmost vigour, and I can assure the House that, as soon as this Bill becomes law, I intend to initiate proposals for clearance areas without any loss of time, and to urge our county committees to prosecute the matter with continuing energy. In commending the Bill to the House, I should also like to thank hon. Members in all parts of the House for the contributions they have made to our discussions in order to ensure that this Bill shall be a practical and effective Measure.

10.9 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Champion Mr Arthur Champion , Derbyshire South East

I wish to congratulate the Minister on having so easily got through the first Bill which he has introduced to this House as a new Minister. I, too, want to bless this Bill, although I must say that there have been times when I have blessed it in another sense of the term. Those occasions were when I sat here Friday after Friday and it seemed that this Bill would never come to us. However, it finally reached us and has had a useful passage through this House and has been considerably improved by the Minister's Amendments. We were not able to secure the acceptance of all our Amendments, but those introduced by the Minister have made this a better Bill than it was when it reached us from another place.

I would urge the right hon. Gentleman to use the power which he will have very shortly to take early action on the rabbit clearance areas. Myxomatosis has provided us with a heaven-sent or hell-sent—it depends upon one's point of view—opportunity to clear Britain of the rabbit pest. However it has come to us, whether by fair or foul favour, we have now power to mop up the few rabbits that will remain from the ravages of myxomatosis.

It may seem inconsistent with what I have said, but I urge the Minister to get the earliest possible date for the prohibition of the use of the gin trap. He has powers to enable him to bring the date nearer. I hope he will use those powers, because although I want to see this country cleared of rabbits I do not want to see it cleared by the cruellest possible method, as I believe the gin trap to be. I ask the Minister to set the earliest possible date for the abolition of the gin trap, using the powers he himself has provided in the Bill.

The Parliamentary Secretary, when he was replying to a debate about the date, twitted me with the fact that the Labour Government did not abolish the gin trap. I can tell him that we did prepare the way to some extent by the appointment of the Scott Henderson Committee, whose report has had such effect in the country that I believe that public opinion is now ripe for the abolition of the gin trap. It is said—indeed, it is a platitude—that timing is the art of politics. I hope that the Minister will be an artist in this matter, and that he will seize his opportunity which he now has for abolishing the gin trap. If he does that, and also uses the other powers to rid the country of rabbits, we shall be glad he introduced this Bill. I bless this Bill, and wish it well when it becomes an Act of Parliament.

10.12 p.m.

Photo of Sir Jocelyn Lucas Sir Jocelyn Lucas , Portsmouth South

While I welcome the Bill I am a little unhappy about Clause 10, which forbids the shooting of rabbits by night. One of the most effective ways of destroying rabbits is to go out at night with a gun in a Land Rover with strong headlights or a searchlight with which to dazzle the rabbits. Then one can knock the rabbits over very easily.

I do not know why this is forbidden. We are asked to exterminate rabbits, and the gin trap is to be abolished, very rightly. Why, therefore, make it more difficult to get rid of the rabbits by not allowing one to go round at night and shoot them? We are allowed to shoot duck by night. Why are we not allowed to shoot rabbits by night? It is too late to do anything about it now, I suppose, but I should like to know the reason for it.

Photo of Mr William Snadden Mr William Snadden , Kinross and West Perthshire

This Clause applies to Scotland only, where night shooting was prohibited by an interpretation of the Ground Game Act, 1880, by the Scottish courts, which took a different view from the English courts. This legislation is in line with the Scottish interpretation.

10.13 p.m.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Test

Among those who declare delight at the Bill in its amended form is a leading Hampshire farmer who informs me that 12 months ago the Alton branch of the National Farmers' Union resolved that it would have nothing to do with the wilful spreading of myxomatosis. I mention this because, as many of us have observed, and as, I think, most people will regret, there has been a declaration by some Cornish members of the National Farmers' Union that their task is to do all they can to spread myxomatosis in the few days that remain between the Third Reading of this Bill here and its being given the Royal Assent.

I have a fairly high regard for the British farmer, and I am inclined to think, especially after what the Minister said just now, that some Cornish farmers are letting the farming community down. One hopes that when, in their better moments, they look back to the time when they trailed diseased rabbits round the Cornish countryside in the last hours before the law made impossible this filthy practice, in the hope that they might, even if successful, add to the number of wretched, tumour-covered creatures, they will feel a little ashamed, and will go out with their guns to help to finish off the diseased rabbits.

I congratulate the Minister on a Bill which sets out to do a killing job which needs doing but which also says that some weapons are too dirty to use for that job, and I thank him for the very sympathetic way in which he has received our attempts to improve the Bill. Even when he refused to accept the Amendments which we moved from this side of the House, he did so as one who shared our views on the general issue and he turned them down with disarming frankness and good will.

When he came to the Box to accept the Amendment by which the wilful spreading of myxomatosis became illegal in this country, he earned not only the thanks of hon. Members on both sides of the House who had put their names to the new Clause but also the thanks and the good will of the vast majority of the British people. I congratulate him on this excellent Measure.

10.16 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

This little Bill has had a most extraordinary Parliamentary history. It was brought from another place on All Fools' Day of this year. It will go back to another place a few days before the end of the present Session, after a very shaky start in this House. The Bill in its resent form commends the approval of both sides of the House, however, and that is, I think, important from the point of view of public opinion, because the support of public opinion will be necessary if the intentions underlying the Bill are to be brought to fulfilment.

The other strange fact is that, as the Minister said, since the Bill was drafted the scourge of myxomatosis has arrived to confuse the whole issue, and it is as well that we should consider its effect because, far from exterminating rabbits in this country, there is evidence to show that it may lead to a very serious increase in their numbers.

People, perhaps quite naturally, refuse to eat even healthy rabbits now that this disease is so well established, because when a rabbit has been killed, who can tell whether or not it has been infected? Official assurances that infected rabbits would not kill human beings will not satisfy people and persuade them to eat rabbits. As a result, there has been no trapping even of healthy rabbits; and if we stop trapping healthy rabbits—rabbits immune from the disease—they are likely to spread at a natural but alarming rate.

My right hon. Friend's assurances that he intends to get the agricultural executive committees busy in clearing this country of rabbits are, therefore, very welcome, but it will need something much more than the efforts of the agricultural executive committees to do that. They cannot do much more than persuade. It requires all kinds of occupiers to assist them, and if one were to start to list the occupiers it would be a tremendous list, including large numbers of public authorities. I hope that my right hon. Friend will communicate his desires and intentions to all other Government Departments which may be affected and to all public authorities, especially those under the control of his own Department which occupy large areas of land, for example, the river boards. Rabbits abound on many flood banks protecting rivers, and if these banks are to be omitted from the scheme, then the efforts of other and more zealous occupiers will be of little avail.

I suppose it is too much of a counsel of perfection to hope that the clearance which is to take place by every possible means over the next 3½ months of winter will, in fact, exterminate rabbits. That is what we hope, but it is a counsel of perfection. Meanwhile, it has come to my notice, on what I regard as good authority—and I wonder whether it has come to the Minister's notice and whether the Parliamentary Secretary can confirm or deny this evidence in replying to the debate—that a most extraordinary experiment has been carried out in the south of England, namely, that about 200 wild rabbits have been innoculated against myxomatosis.

If that has happened, it is one of the most crazy things one has ever heard of. It is only because I have heard of it on good authority that I feel that the matter should be mentioned, and, if it has not been heard of by the Ministry, inquired into. Like other hon. Members on both sides of the House, I wish the Minister well in carrying out the intentions of the Bill.

10.21 p.m.

Photo of Mr Clifford Kenyon Mr Clifford Kenyon , Chorley

I congratulate the Minister on having successfully piloted this Bill through the House, although I am in no way satisfied with its provisions. As I have said before, the removal of the rabbit from the game laws could be one of the most effective ways of dealing with it. Here we have a Bill which in some Clauses sets out to destroy rabbits but does not remove what safeguards them in another Clause. To remove the rabbit from the protection of the game laws would have effectively dealt with it in many parts of the country.

The Minister has a difficult task. The very diverse agriculture which we have in this country creates all kinds of anomalies. Rabbits in certain parts of the country do no harm to the land. They are looked upon by some of the farmers as a source of income. It would be very hard to persuade those farmers to get rid of rabbits. I am fully aware that when the Minister accepted the Amendment regarding the deliberate spreading of myxomatosis, he was meeting the feelings of Members in this House. He was also meeting the feelings of the majority of the people in the country.

There is another side to this question, and I want to put it. I have no use for myxomatosis. But here we are dealing with Nature, and in some of the emotional speeches that have been made that fact seems to have been overlooked. Nature is not emotional and is not sentimental, and when we are dealing with the operations of Nature we have to be very careful about introducing emotions and sentiment into our deliberations. The place of emotion and sentiment is to balance the hardness and harshness of logical, rational reasoning and action. What is the position here?

From now until the beginning of March, the rabbit population of this country will be at its lowest. Breeding has stopped for the winter season. Therefore, we should have attacked the rabbit population with all the means at our disposal now. Man must not spread myxomatosis. Because the Minister accepted the Amendment to that effect, more rabbits will suffer from myxomatosis than if he had refused it. From now until the end of March, the breeding rabbits are in their winter season. If they could have been destroyed, thousands of rabbits that will now be bred would never have been born; the parents would have died this winter. But thousands will be bred and will spread over the country. They will contact rabbits with myxomatosis, and thousands of rabbits that might never have been born will suffer from the disease. That is the position that we must face.

We see all this in operation in the natural order of things time and time again. We should be very careful when dealing with Nature not to become sentimental, because Nature is hard. In its operations, Nature is cruel and has no feelings. The result is that whereas it would have been possible to wipe out colonies of rabbits during the winter by this hateful disease, those colonies will increase three, four and even five times in the next summer, and the whole lot will get myxomatosis.

I have not seen the statement by the Cornish farmers, but I can understand it. They are attacking the rabbit where it is weakest now. I recognise that public opinion has to be taken note of and that the feelings of this House have to be considered, but there is always another side that we should consider before we take action. I fear that as many rabbits, if not more rabbits, will suffer from myxomatosis as if the Minister had refused that Amendment.

Apart from those criticisms, I welcome the Bill. I hope that the Minister will be successful in operating it. We want the rabbit eliminated, but the task before the Minister is exceedingly difficult and his position full of all kind of anomalies and complications.

10.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Morrison Mr John Morrison , Salisbury

I have not hitherto taken part in the debates on the Bill, and I do not intend to keep the House more than a brief moment. The Bill hinges on the question of myxomatosis and the provision of traps. I think the whole House agrees that we all thoroughly dislike myxomatosis, as do nearly all countrymen in the agricultural community. The future of the Bill depends upon the success of inventors of the humane trap.

Mr. Sawyer, who has done so much in inventing traps, particularly the Sawyer and Imbra traps, is a neighbour and constituent of mine. The whole House will join me in thanking him and others who are working on this important task and in wishing them well in expediting a proper and reasonable trap which works efficiently and humanely. But I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to make clear, either now or at a later stage, so that it may be clearly understood by anybody who has a really good trap about which he needs advice and which he wants to perfect and to patent, the channels through which one should apply and to whom provisional plans should be sent, whether to the Ministry, to Mr. Dudley and his committee, or to any other address.

10.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frank Hayman Mr Frank Hayman , Falmouth and Camborne

I am glad that the Minister has accepted the new Clause providing against the spread of myxomatosis. I thing it is a very healthy indication of the value of public opinion in this country. I am fully in agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Kenyon) when he says that Nature is ruthless, but let us carry that consideration a little further. The Minister has taken power tonight to permit scientific experiments with the virus of myxomatosis, and surely that means that that virus is capable of alteration. I have referred to an article which appeared in "The Times" some time ago in September, and which stated that the Australian scientists had produced more virulent types of myxomatosis because those that had been affecting the rabbit population of Australia were becoming less useful from their point of view.

If this virus can be altered, can it alter itself? Is there not some possibility of a new virus that might become dangerous to other animals? We are dealing with something about which we know very little, and that is why I was opposed to the deliberate spreading of myxomatosis. I think the Minister was and so was his predecessor, because neither encouraged its spread. Why? Because he and his advisers, I suggest, were afraid of the consequences. Up to now it is true that no other animal except the hare appears to have been affected by this disease, but myxomatosis was brought to Australia from Brazil. It had become endemic in Brazil and was not a lethal disease there. It became a lethal disease in Australia, and we are told it was more lethal in France, and the Parliamentary Secretary tonight has told us it is still more lethal here.

I do not wonder that people in the country now refuse to eat the flesh of the rabbit. I do not think I ever will touch a rabbit as long as I live. There was also a lot of sense in the thousands of Cornish people refusing to eat blackberries because the petrified corpses of these rabbits were lying in the fields, lanes and hedgerows and the blowflies were coming from the carcases to the blackberries.

I congratulate the Minister on accepting this new Clause, because the Petition which I presented to the House a fortnight ago, signed by 126,000 people—the signatures being obtained by one ordinary family in a few weeks—showed the effect which the revolting spectacle of these rabbits throughout the countryside had on the people. I am glad that the Minister took notice of it, and I hope that the disease will die away and the rabbits, too.

10.34 p.m.

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

I do not wish to keep the House, but I should like to congratulate the Minister on the accommodating manner in which he met the wishes of the House about this Bill. When it was first introduced it was the gin trap that caused horror among hon. Members on both sides, and I remember it was impressed upon the Minister that the utmost use should be made of alternative methods of destruction. The Minister gave great consideration to those alternatives. Since then, the whole question of rabbit destruction has been changed by the advent of myxomatosis, and it is clear that there will not be nearly so much suffering from the gin trap as in the past.

The very fact that the ravages of the disease are to be accepted as an opportunity by the Minister for impressing upon the farming community the opportunities that exist for wiping out the pest by concentrating on the more humane methods of destruction should give us all considerable satisfaction. We welcome the attitude of the Minister, since we wish to see the end of the rabbit pest but this is a humane and animal-loving country in which inhumane methods of destruction, even of pests, cannot be tolerated.

My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Sir J. Lucas) is worried because he assumed that as a result of the Bill the shooting of rabbits at night in England from a Land Rover is to be stopped. I should not like it to be thought that this is so in England. That restriction applies only to Scotland, so it will still be possible to shoot rabbits in this way in England and so help to end the sufferings of those animals which are suffering from myxomatosis.

With these few words I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend on carrying through his first Measure in his new appointment and I wish him every success in the future

10.37 p.m.

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

I will reply briefly to one or two specific queries which have been raised. To my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), who has just inquired about shooting rabbits at night in England and Wales, may I say that this is still legal. It is only in Scotland that it cannot be done by the use of headlamps. I hope that my hon. Friend will shortly be engaged upon it, since it is certainly a useful job.

Photo of Mr Thomas Price Mr Thomas Price , Westhoughton

The hon. Gentleman might just as well go the whole hog, now that he has made that reference to the shooting of rabbits at night, by telling the House the reason why it is forbidden in Scotland. It is because the game laws are more firmly entrenched in Scotland than in England, and the business of the gamekeepers at night would be even more difficult than now if they had to differentiate between the people who shoot rabbits and those who shoot pheasants and other birds that are valuable to the landowners of Scotland.

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

This is not the time to enter into that discussion.

If I may deal with other points of importance that were raised, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) asked about the rumour that deliberate inoculation of rabbits was taking place. It is true that private persons in Sussex have been inoculating rabbits against myxomatosis, their object, no doubt, being to try to establish a strain of rabbits which would survive in a part of the country where the disease is widespread. The inoculant will give immunity probably for a period of six months, and then a fresh inoculation would be required, and the immunity does not pass on to the progeny, so that the effect is likely to be very limited.

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

In other words, my hon. Friend is confirming the reports which I had this week-end. Can he say whether there is anything which his Department can do to stop this obviously stupid practice?

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

My hon. and learned Friend will have noted the terms of the Bill, and my right hon. Friend is not taking power to prevent such a practice. I do not doubt, however, that those who have done this will note the remarks of my hon. and learned Friend and what we understand to be the limitation of the practice.

In reply to the query raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison), my right hon. Friend has said on previous stages of the Bill that we shall welcome at all times the inventors of new traps at the Ministry. If they will make application to the Ministry or to the Advisory Committee on Humane Traps, of which Mr. Dudley is the chairman, they will be welcomed with open arms. We have already received quite a number of designs from different inventors and these, of course, were carefully considered in the initial stages. We shall be very glad to have new ones. It is most difficult to find a practical humane trap and we cannot have too many suggestions put to us.

One other point to which I should reply was that raised by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) about the possible dangers of the virus. It has been said before, but I may say it again, that the virus in its present form is dangerous and, in fact, lethal only to rabbits and, very rarely, to hares, but no responsible person, certainly no hon. Member of this House, would wish to see any virus released widespread in this country. It is always bound to be a danger and anxiety and no one could ever tell for certain what might happen to it.

Photo of Mr Clifford Kenyon Mr Clifford Kenyon , Chorley

Is it not a fact that a number of veterinary surgeons innoculated hares with this virus and it took no effect? They then innoculated themselves and it also had no effect.

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

I was not aware of that, but I am glad to hear that, at any rate, the veterinary surgeons survived that very dangerous experiment. The fact is that the virus is apparently not dangerous to human beings or other animals.

The clear view of our Advisory Committee is that by far the greater part of this disease has been spread automatically by fleas on the rabbits, and whatever part has been played by human intervention that part undoubtedly has been very small.

In the last few words said about this Bill, which my right hon. Friend has so successfully carried through the House, may I say that it has tried to find a proper balance between the obvious necessity to control and exterminate the rabbit, which costs us so very dearly on our farms and forests, and the humanitarian desire we all have to bring to an end the use of the gin trap and human intervention in the spread of myxomatosis. I believe that it has found the right balance. If hon. Members opposite feel critical of the fact that we are taking until 1958 to ban the gin trap let it be recorded that we, as a Government, are the Government which has finally put a date to the banning of the gin trap. For that we can ask for some credit from all concerned.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.