HC Deb 27 February 1857 vol 144 cc1492-5

said, in consequence of the answer given to him on Thursday by the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade as to the murrain among cattle, he had to state to the House that it had caused out of doors the utmost alarm. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that the Board of Customs had shown extraordinary sagacity and energy in killing a single calf, but he was given to understand that a whole shipload of cattle, supposed to be infected, had been allowed to pass. As long ago as June last the English Consul at Hamburg had called the attention of the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to the subject, and had informed him of the existence of the murrain—the same fatal disease which in the last century had destroyed 200,000,000 of cattle. It was a disease in the highest degree contagious; the hide, hoof, and horns, were equally affected, and it was transmitted, not only by actual touch, but by effluvia, at the distance of only twenty paces. Considering the necessarily close contact of cattle carried on board ship, it seemed impossible to avoid infection if a single animal out of a cargo were affected. Now, as it had been deemed necessary to kill one animal, the obvious course would have been to reject the shipload, and to prohibit the importation of any more cattle from the infected districts of the Continent. But all they had heard was, that the Board of Customs had the power by law to take proper precautions. What the House wanted to know, however, was, not what the Board of Customs had power to do, but what it had done, or, if it bad done nothing, what it intended to do. Under the present state of excitement on the subject, the answer of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) had been most unsatisfactory, and it was very desirable to know whether the Government intended to take any measures to prevent the introduction of infected animals into the country.


said, that in the absence of notice of the hon. Gentleman's intention to put his question, he could only say that the Board of Trade had put themselves in communication with the Foreign Office in order to obtain from our consuls all possible information on the subject; they had also communicated with the Board of Customs, from which they had received assurances that they were perfectly awake to the danger which threatened the cattle of this country. As a proof of that, they had stopped one animal and had had it killed on suspicion of its being affected with this disease.


said, he thought that the answer of the right hon. Gentleman was most unsatisfactory. The Board of Trade was in correspondence with the Board of Customs, and the Board of Customs was in communication with another department, and thus nothing was done to prevent the importation of this terrible malady. Mr. Hewett, in his book on cattle, said it was an epidemic first introduced into England in 1745, by two calves from Holland, and the consequence was the destruction of 40,000 head of cattle in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, and almost as many in Cheshire. The disease raged with scarcely any intermission for eight years, and visited nearly every part of the grazing districts of England. The disease was of a most contagions character. It had been known to be carried in the clothes of persons who attended upon the cattle, and there had never been a case in which contact had occurred without the disease being communicated. The permitting a cargo of cattle to land, one of which was affected with this disorder, must have resulted from the grossest ignorance, or from want of instructions on the part of the officials. The practice of every State in Europe was at once to prohibit the importation of cattle from countries where disease had broken out, and all who had studied the subject were of opinion that it was the duty of our Government to adopt the same system. He sincerely hoped, therefore, that measures would be taken without delay to prevent the extension of this dreadful scourge.


said, this was a subject which concerned every consumer of meat in the country as well as the graziers and breeders of cattle, and the answers given on that evening and the evening before by the Vice President of the Board of Trade were, he considered, most unsatisfactory. Since live cattle had been admitted duty free under Sir Robert Peel's measures there had been a very considerable increase in the fatal diseases to which cattle were liable, and the agricultural interest had been extremely patient under the losses to which it was thereby exposed. They knew that a shipload of diseased cattle had been dispersed over the country, causing great danger of contagion. Cattle bought at fairs sometimes did not show symptoms of the complaint till two or three weeks after they had caught the infection; and the most ruinous losses must ensue to the graziers if a check were not put immediately upon importation. He therefore entreated the noble Lord at the head of the Government to take this urgent matter into serious consideration.


I shall certainly cause inquiries to be made upon the subject; and if any precautionary measures can be taken I shall be anxious to adopt them.


said, he had the misfortune to have been a farmer for a great number of years. The attention of the Royal Agricultural Society had been called to this subject many years ago, but it so happened that after much deliberation concerning the disease or epidemic, the Royal Agricultural Society came to the conclusion that nobody knew anything at all about it. The small-pox in sheep had a few years ago suddenly disappeared in a most miraculous manner; he knew himself of a case where ten beasts of one breed and ten of another were on the same farm; the whole ten of one breed had the disease, the whole of the other ten escaped. He did not think the farmers could place any confidence in the authority of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade—it was of a most limited character—according to his own account confined to the case of a single calf. The subject, however, was one which well deserved the attention of the Government.