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Myxomatosis

Volume 529: debated on Thursday 1 July 1954

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21.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether there has been any further spread of the rabbit disease of myxomatosis during the last fortnight; and what is the most northerly outbreak reported up to date.

During the past fortnight there has been some spread of the disease in the areas already affected and isolated outbreaks have been confirmed in wild rabbits in Devonshire, Cardiganshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Lincolnshire (Lindsey). The most northerly outbreaks reported to date are in Anglesey and Lincolnshire (Lindsey).

Will the Minister be good enough now to answer the supplementary question which I put on Question No. 20?

I stand exactly where I stood originally after I got the Report of the Committee which investigated the problem. We are against the artificial spread of the disease. What we have decided is that, where the disease is in existence, we cannot take measures to stamp it out. We are quite convinced of that at the present time. We have no positive evidence whatever of outbreaks having been started deliberately by individuals, as has been written in the Press.

We understand that the Minister is against the spread of the disease. Would he tell the House whether he would wish to have the rabbit population completely exterminated if that were possible?

That is going a very long way. I do not think we shall see the rabbit population of this country exterminated in our lifetime.

24.

asked the Minister of Agriculture to what extent the myxomatosis virus is proving effective in making a complete clearance of rabbits in districts where the disease has taken hold; and what evidence he has to show that this is a comparatively painless death as the rabbits quickly become comatose.

In some areas where myxomatosis has taken hold the first wave of the disease appears to have eliminated over 90 per cent. of the wild rabbit population, but it is too early to say whether this high rate of mortality will continue. I have no way of estimating the degree of pain suffered by wild rabbits which are affected with myxomatosis but such rabbits are plainly in distress for a varying period before death.

Has my right hon. Friend consulted the scientific authorities in Australia who seem, on the evidence available to them, to have made up their minds that this is quite a happy death for rabbits because the animals go completely comatose very quickly?

That must be a matter of opinion. The only ones who could give us the answer are the rabbits, and they cannot tell us.

Is it not a fact that after a while a proportion of the rabbits become immune to the disease? Is not that what has happened in France?

Again, that is the opinion of some people. In Australia, after the disease became rampant a certain proportion of the rabbits became immune, and they are starting up again. We are studying the whole problem all the time.

Is it not a fact that the disease involves the swelling of the eyes until they burst and the swelling of the genital organs until the orifice is closed? Is it seriously suggested that this is not infinitely more cruel than any gin trap ever invented?

Again, that is a matter of opinion. I have no doubt at all that the disease must be painful