HC Deb 19 March 1866 vol 182 cc492-8

said, he rose to move the adjournment of the House that he might have an opportunity of asking for an explanation in reference to an Order in Council made on Saturday last in regard to the cattle plague. The House would remember that all railway traffic in cattle was prohibited up to the 25th of March, and that all trucks that had been used for the conveyance of cattle were to be properly cleansed and disinfected before being again used. The Order to which he referred ran thus— Every railway or other company or person carrying animals for hire within any part of Great Britain shall forthwith thoroughly cleanse and disinfect all pens, carriages, trucks, and boats used by such company or person for holding or carrying animals by a washing of lime water, or, with the approval of the Board of Trade, by some other process, and until such pen, carriage, truck, or boat has been thoroughly cleansed and disinfected as aforesaid, no animal nor any article shall be placed or carried in any such pen, carriage, truck, or boat; and when such pen, carriage, truck, or boat has been thoroughly cleansed and disinfected as aforesaid, such company or person, as aforesaid, using the same, on every occasion after any animal has been taken out of such pen, carriage, truck, or boat, and before any other animal or article is placed therein, shall thoroughly cleanse and disinfect every such pen, carriage, truck, or boat in such manner as the Board of Trade shall from time to time direct, and if any pen, carriage, truck, or boat shall at any time be used in contravention of this order, the company or person by whom it is so used shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding £5 for every time that such pen, carriage, truck, or boat is so used. He wished to point out to the House that the various companies conveying cattle from place to place were by this order required to cleanse and disinfect the trucks and boats used in this service. When the Cattle Plague Bill was before the House it expressed an opinion that the process of disinfecting the trucks should be conducted under the superintendence of officers appointed by the Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department, however, for a considerable time opposed this course; but, so strong was the opinion of the House on the subject, that he (Sir George Grey) brought up the following clause:— Every railway company that carries animals for hire within any part of Great Britain shall, before the 25th day of March next, thoroughly cleanse and disinfect all cattle pens, trucks, and boats belonging to such company, and used for holding or carrying animals in the manner which shall be directed by an order made by the Board of Trade, which order they are hereby empowered from time to time to make, vary, or revoke; or, in case of no such order being made or being in force, by a washing of lime water, or some other efficient means; and every such pen, truck, or boat shall, on or before the said 25th day of March, be inspected by an officer duly appointed in that behalf in writing, under the hand of the President or Vice President of the said Board of Trade, or by an inspector duly authorized in that behalf by the local authority having jurisdiction in the place where such pen, truck, or boat is; and such officer or inspector shall, if satisfied that such pen, truck, or boat has been properly cleansed and disinfected, certify to that effect in writing under his hand; and until such certificate has been given no animal shall be placed in any such pen, truck, or boat; and when such certificate has been given in respect of any pen, truck, or boat, such company, on every occasion after when any animals have been taken out of any such pen, truck, or boat, and before any other animals are placed therein, shall thoroughly cleanse and disinfect as aforesaid every such pen, truck, or boat; and if any pen, truck, or boat shall at any time be used in contravention of this Act, the company to which such pen, truck, or boat belongs, or by or on whose behalf it is so used, shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding five pounds for every time which such pen, truck, or boat is so used, That was the clause of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Grey), and he (Mr. Hunt) accepted it in lieu of his own; but, according to the Order in Council issued on Saturday, he understood that no provision would be made for official superintendence in the cleansing of trucks that had been used for the conveyance of cattle. He believed this to be a matter of vital importance. The railway companies, as admitted by one of their superintendents, employed the lowest class of the servants in their service to cleanse the trucks, which were shunted into a siding without any responsible person to look after them. There was, therefore, not the slightest security that when the trucks should be again used—as they could be by law on Sunday next—they would be properly cleansed and disinfected, When he undertook to withdraw his Bill on Wednesday last, it was on the assurance that the Government would accept the responsibility of the whole matter, and that the Orders in Council would be dictated very much in the spirit of that Bill. The first Order in Council, however, was a direct departure from its principle, and Government had attempted to throw off the responsibility which they had accepted and which had devolved upon them. Tie desired to know, Whether the Order he had read was an authentic Order, and why the right hon. Gentleman had departed from the principles of his own clause?

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Hunt.)


said, he could not tell whether the Order the hon. Gentleman had read was authentic or not, because he had only read a portion of it. The Bill of the hon. Gentleman imposed upon the Government the obligation of cleansing all railway trucks throughout the country, while the expense of the process was to fall upon the public. He, therefore, objected to the clause containing this provision, thinking that the responsibility of properly cleansing and disinfecting the trucks should rest with the railway companies, who ought also to bear the expense. He undertook to bring up a clause to that effect, and it was inserted. Another objection which he made to the clause of the hon. Member was this—that it would be of little use to secure cleansing the trucks before the 24th of March, if after that time no precautions were to be taken for the continued cleansing of trucks, and he, therefore, proposed that the obligation should be thrown on the companies of cleansing and disinfecting on every occasion on which they carried cattle. The obligation of disinfecting the trucks was now imposed upon the railway companies, who would have to pay the whole of the expense incurred by the proceeding, and the order of Saturday not only provided for the cleansing and disinfecting of cattle trucks during the present week, but that they should be thoroughly purified every time they were used. When the Bill came down from the House of Lords the Government had come to the conclusion that it would be impossible to provide the machinery by means of which the railway trucks throughout the country could be inspected by the officers of the Board of Trade before the 25th of March. It had been suggested that the only mode of inspecting those trucks would be to order them to be brought to some central station, but to take that course would, he thought, be to interfere materially with ordinary railway traffic. It had been thought right, under the circumstances, to place the immediate and the future cleansing of the trucks upon the same footing, giving powers of inspection so that it could be ascertained whether the Order had been carried out, the railway companies being rendered liable to prosecution unless they complied with the regulations which had been laid down. The hon. Gentleman, however, complained that the duty of cleansing the trucks was to be left to the lowest class of officers in the employment of these companies, when it should rather have been committed to the station-master and others holding more responsible positions, through whom he contended it would be more effectually discharged. The Government, however, had nothing to do with the railway officers, and thought it better to impose the responsibility on the companies themselves, who, if they should practically neglect their duty in the matter, by appointing subordinate and inefficient officers for this purpose, would run the risk of rendering themselves liable to a penalty of £5 for every truck not properly disinfected.


said, he regretted that the right hon. Gentleman should have taken the view he had as to the inspection of the railway trucks. When the subject was lately before the House the almost universal opinion appeared to be that, in order that those trucks should be thoroughly and effectually cleansed, it was necessary that the work should be done under the superintendence of some authority external to the railway companies themselves. We had already some experience as to what Orders in Council could do in the proposed direction. An Order had been issued last autumn for the purpose of enforcing the disinfection of their trucks on those companies, but that Order had been disobeyed. He hoped, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman might be induced to reconsider his determination in the matter, and that we should have no more of that laissez-faire system with respect to the cattle plague, of which we had already so much. To the neglect of their duty on the part of the Government, and to the delegation of important functions to be performed by persons over whom they had no control, it was that the continuance of that frightful disaster, and the consequent loss which so many counties had sustained, was to be attributed. Unless, therefore, the Government were content to pay nothing more than a mere perfunctory attention to the question, and to forego the supervision of the precautions necessary to prevent the further progress, and, perhaps, absolute naturalization of the disease in this country, they must undertake themselves, or else give the local authorities full power to see that the railway trucks were properly inspected. Some agency was required in the matter on which greater dependence could be placed than on the conscience and care of the lowest class of officers in the service of railway companies. He trusted as it was only issued on Saturday the Order-was not to be regarded as the final decision of the Government in the matter, and that before long a most essential precaution would be carried out under a satisfactory system of inspection.


said, he concurred with his noble Friend in thinking that the country had had enough, and more than enough, of the trifling and temporizing of the Government on the question of the cattle plague. On a former occasion, when his hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt) withdrew his Bill, a promise was made by the Under Secretary for the Home Department that a Bill would be brought in by the Government on the subject, and he should like to know whether they proposed to act upon that promise.


said, that no promise had been given that a Bill would be introduced. It was stated that, if the powers conferred on the Privy Council under the existing law were not found to be sufficient, the Government would deem it to be their duty to ask Parliament for further powers. It might be necessary to do so, and the question was now under the consideration of the Government.


said, he wished to know if it were the intention of the Government to continue the prohibitions with reference to the railway traffic after the 25th instant. As far as he understood, the Order by the Privy Council gave power to the local authorities to fine a railway company £5 if their trucks were not disinfected; but would that answer the purpose they had in view without adopting means to obtain the necessary information? [SIR GEORGE GREY: Anybody might inform against the infraction of the Order.] He had no great faith in Government inspectors being sent over the country; and besides, that would be almost an impossibility. Hitherto, the difficulty which they had laboured under was, that when the local inspectors complained of the condition of the trucks they had no power to inflict a fine; but now that under the Order in Council a fine could be imposed and levied, it would answer all purposes.


said, he thought it would be more likely that all the railway trucks throughout the country would be disinfected if the task of disinfection were committed to the railway companies themselves under a penalty, and with a power to anybody to inform against them if they did not discharge their duty properly, than if reliance were to be placed on the certificates of a staff of inspectors who must, under all the circumstances of the ease, be quite unable within the given time to do that which would be required of them. It would be quite impossible to collect all those trucks together and have them in spected within a few days, so as to have reliable certificates that every railway truck in the kingdom had been disinfected. The Board of Trade could not undertake such a duty unless they had a perfect army of inspectors; and before the necessary appointments were made and the inspectors received their instructions the time would have arrived when the trucks might come into use.


said, that it was a very old saying that that which was everybody's business was nobody's business. To whom was the information to be given in the event of anybody informing against the railway companies for neglect of the duty imposed on them, and to whom was the authority to levy the fine invested?


said, he wished the Government was as ingenious in finding out means to do their duty as in finding out reasons for not doing it. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Milner Gibson) said it would be impossible to find an army of persons to carry out this duty; but he (Mr. Hunt) would say it was perfectly possible if the Government would only nominate the chief local inspectors in the different counties for that purpose. It was easy to say that it was sufficient to lay on a penalty, but how were they to obtain the proof whether a truck were disinfected or not unless it was done by official authority?


said, he wished to ask, whether the traffic of live cattle by rail would be resumed after the 25th of March?


said, he wished to know, whether the inspectors of the local authorities had the power of entering into railway stations to ascertain whether the trucks were disinfected or not? There was considerable difficulty, as he knew from his own experience during the winter, in laying informations and in finding the parties. The magistrates were now to have the power of fining; but he believed there was no power which enabled the local inspectors to go into the railway stations in order to obtain information.


said, he wished to know when the new Orders in Council permanently regulating the cattle traffic would be issued?


said, that the substance of the proposed Orders had been agreed to on Saturday last, but that it would take some little time to place them in proper shape. As to the other point, it was a question as to what could be done and what could not be done. It would be impossible to organize before the 25th of March a system under which all the railway trucks throughout the country should be inspected by Government officers. The only practical way of proceeding in the matter was to impose the duty of cleansing on the railway companies, rendering them liable to a heavy penalty if they failed to do so. That penalty would come under the operation of the 11 & 12 Vict., and might be recovered by summary process, half to go to the informer. In respect to the question as to the continuation of railway cattle traffic, the House must recollect that the prohibition extended only to the 25th of March, unless continued by any Order of the Privy Council, and the Government were not prepared at the present moment to say that it was their intention to continue that prohibition.


said, that as regarded inspection they should throw the onus of proof upon the railway companies, and make it compulsory upon them, when informed against, to prove that they had disinfected and cleansed their trucks.


said, he wished an answer to be given to the question, whether the local authorities had power to inspect trucks in railway stations?

Motion, by leave, withdrawn