asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1) on how many occasions in 1965, 1966 and 1967 he has prosecuted owners or occupiers of land for failing to abate an infestation of rabbits, authorised the exercise of his default powers of entry to carry out necessary rabbit clearance work, or issued formal warning letters to the owners and occupiers of rabbit-infested land;
(2) whether, in view of the fact that it is possible for an offender to avoid conviction by taking only nominal remedial action, he is satisfied that his powers under the Agriculture Act, 1947 to protect farmland from infestation by rabbits are sufficient; and if he will make a statement.
During the years ended 30th September, 1965, 1966 and 1967 there were no prosecutions; in each of these years two entries were made in default and 33, 13 and 17 warning letters respectively were sent.
I should, however, like to emphasise that this formal statutory action is taken only in those comparatively rare cases where persuasion fails.
We do not agree that an occupier can circumvent the law as the hon. Member suggests; our present powers under the Agriculture Act, 1947, and the Pests Act, 1954, to see that rabbits are properly controlled are adequate.
Can the Minister say how long the normal interval is between the first inspection by his officers and the exercise of default powers or prosecution, if there were a prosecution? Secondly, does not he agree that if this pest is to be kept under permanent control the ultimate sanction must be made more severe and effective than it is at the moment?
I cannot give the hon. Member exact figures at the moment but I will look into the matter and let him have them. On the other point, we feel that rabbits had been kept fairly well under control with a voluntary scheme. The hon. Member's right hon. Friend is continually at me in other contexts for taking too many powers. I hope that the hon. Member will not ask for more powers than his right hon. Friend wants me not to have.