asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in which districts myxomatosis has proved a killing disease in the past six months; and to what extent the reports received by his Department show that myxomatosis and the use of gas and other measures are preventing an increase in rabbit numbers generally.
During the past six months fairly widespread outbreaks of myxomatosis have occurred, and are still active, in Berkshire, Hampshire, Suffolk and Sussex. Isolated outbreaks have also occurred in about thirty other counties. In most outbreaks the disease has killed a high proportion of the rabbits, but myxomatosis in a weakened strain has now been found in widely scattered areas, and blood tests from samples of rabbits examined suggest that a fairly large proportion of the rabbit population may already be immune to myxomatosis. Reports received by my Ministry indicate generally that the rabbit population is increasing, although where active measures, by gas and otherwise, are being taken, rabbit numbers are being kept down. I should like to emphasise the great importance of occupiers doing everything in their power to destroy rabbits over the next two or three winter months.
May we take it that the new advisory council which was mentioned in another place the other day will give the country regular reports on the progress, or lack of progress, that we are making in dealing with the rabbit pest? Does my hon. Friend agree that we are often lulled into a sense of everything being all right when it is not all right? If we could have these reports they would be invaluable.
I should be only too glad to give the utmost publicity to this. I agree that it is important to give the fullest publicity to the question, and I hope that the farming community will continue to do all it can to deal with this pest.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a noble Lord in another place last week said that there had been three cases of men handling diseased rabbits in Scotland being affected, or supposedly affected, by a mild form of myxomatosis? Will he ask the advisory council to look into this allegation?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for bringing that point to my attention. I was not aware of it. I agree that it would be unfortunate if human being were to suffer from it in any way.