HC Deb 06 August 1867 vol 189 cc991-1002

Order for Committee read.


said, that most of the Acts relating to the cattle plague would terminate at the end of the present month, and it was, therefore, necessary to pass a Continuance Act with those Amendments, which experience has shown to be necessary. The object of the present Bill was to relax, as far as possible, the restrictions now imposed on the movement of cattle within Great Britain. At present, if the local authorities were lax, the cattle plague might again spread over the country. To prevent that it was necessary to impose general restrictions on the movement of cattle in the place of local restrictions. The restrictions under the Bill would however be local and self-acting, so that a general freedom would then be granted. All restrictions were a burden and tended to raise prices. They should therefore be as partial as possible. But, under the altered circumstances of the country, they must be permanent. The demand for meat had steadily increased for the last twenty years in consequence of the improved condition of the labouring classes. Yet the supply in Great Britain had reached its limit. The various agricultural improvements which had been introduced had tended to diminish the amount of grass land in the country. Even the grass lands which were maintained were not so much devoted to the grazing of cattle as they were formerly. There were better returns from sheep; sheep were ready for the market in one-third the time, and there was always a regular demand for wool. This led to a great increase in the breeding of sheep in preference to cattle. It was now absolutely necessary, therefore, that cattle should be imported from abroad. Before 1842 the importation of cattle was absolutely prohibited. The prohibition was then removed and a heavy duty imposed. This restrictive duty was taken off by Sir Robert Peel in 1846. It was argued at the time that this measure of freedom would prove entirely nugatory and without any result. The wealth and wants of the country however augmented, with the growth of our trade and manufactures. The price of meat rose; and it became worth while to import it from greater distances. Every year the cattle trade increased. And in the year 1865 we drew our meat supplies from Spain and Portugal, from France, Belgium, and Holland, from Sweden, Denmark, Schleswig-Holstein, the Baltic, Poland, Galicia, Hungary, and Styria. In 1843, 1,114 head of cattle were imported; in 1844, 3,682 head of cattle; in 1845, 9,734; in 1846, 17,191; in 1847, 27,831; in 1857, 53,277; in 1865, 188,326. Into London alone the importation of cattle, sheep, pigs, &c., had vastly increased. In the week ending May 6, 1858, 1,840 head of cattle, sheep, pigs, &c., were imported into the metropolis; in the corresponding week of 1866, 8,572; in the same week of 1867, 12,099. On one side therefore we had a great and increasing demand; and on the other, a daily more easy supply. But these very facilities and the rapidity of railway transit rendered us for ever liable to the introduction of the cattle plague. How was this danger met in other countries? In France, prompt vigour, Imperial decrees, and military cordons, were sufficient to shut out the cattle plague. Holland was too trading to be vigorous; they feared to keep out the ugly customer, and were not free from it to that day. In this country the first impulse was a fear, on the part of the Liberal Government, to interfere with trade. But at last they found out that isolation and stamping out were the only effective resources. This was attended with marked success. Just before the restrictions were imposed with the intention of stamping out the cattle plague, the number of attacks in one week in Cheshire amounted to 4,378, and in Yorkshire to 2,028 cases. The Act passed on the 20th of February. In the week ending the 3rd of March the attacks of cattle plague in Cheshire had decreased to 1,273, and on the 31st of March to 765. It was a curious circumstance that the sanitary restrictions imposed seem to have had no effect upon the price of meat either during recent attacks or during those which took place in the last century: For the average of five years, from 1739 to 1744, immediately preceding the distemper, the price of meat was 2¼d. per lb. During the twelve years of the distemper from 1745 to 1756 the price was also 2¼d. During the five worst years of the distemper the price was only 2d. 2–5ths. During the twelve years after the distemper, from 1756 to 1768, the price was 2½d. a lb. The same features were observable in modern times. In 1864 the price of meat ranged from 6½ to 7¼d.; in the beginning of 1865 from 6⅛d. to 7⅛d.; in 1866, during the time that the cattle plague was very bad, from 5¾d. to 7d. In April this year the price was from 6d. to 6½d. The quantity of cattle slaughtered during the prevalence of the distemper had the effect of keeping down the price; while the demand was satisfied as the meat was bought locally; it had the effect of changing the venue of the market, the cattle, instead of being sold in London, being sold throughout the country; but the trade adapted itself to the altered circumstances. Another consequence of the restrictions imposed on account of the cattle plague was that other diseases which had been prevalent among cattle were almost extinguished. The foot and month disease was imported from Holland in 1839, and pleuro-pneumonia was imported from Holland in 1842. In the latter year, and before the disease was imported, the average mortality among cattle in England was from 1½ to 2½ per cent. From that time the percentage rose steadily till it appeared from the Reports of the Cattle Insurance Company, in 1848, that three-fourths of all their losses were due to pleuro-pneumonia. In 1860, 374,048 horned cattle died of disease in the United Kingdom, of which more than one-half was due to pleuro-pneumonia. From 1854 to 1860 the average loss annually from that cause amounted to 160,000 head of cattle. But after the restrictions were imposed what occurred? On the 12th of March, 1867, Professors Simmons and Brown reported that pleuro-pneumonia and the foot and mouth disease existed only to a very limited extent. This, they stated, was due to the restrictions on the movement of cattle, by which they estimated that we saved annually £1,000,000 worth of food. The Agricultural Society of Cornwall was unanimously of opinion that these diseases had been nearly eradicated by the cattle plague restrictions. Various agricultural societies accordingly desired that the same restrictive powers which had been applied to the cattle plague should be extended to other diseases. With that recommendation he could not concur, as the proposal was surrounded with many difficulties. Most persons, looking at a Continental Bradshaw, and seeing that the railways came straight from Hungary and Poland to Bremen and Rotterdam, jumped to the conclusion that all importation of foreign cattle should be stopped. But we might as well attempt to sweep back the tide with a broom as to keep the foreign meat trade out of the country. The object of all men was to make food cheap; but it may be raised in price by stopping the foreign supply as well as by the destruction of British cattle. Some persons maintained that the grass lands in the East of Europe, populated by millions of cattle, were the home of the cattle plague, and that as long as cattle were allowed to be brought from thence we should always run the risk of introducing it here. They then argued that if cattle were allowed to be imported they should be killed at the port of landing. Under the present regulations cattle were killed at all the ports, with the exception of Harwich and Southampton, which were permitted to send foreign cattle to the metropolitan market. But the metropolis was isolated from the rest of the country. The imports for London were so enormous that the attempt to deal with the matter otherwise would occasion a violent disturbance of trade, and an amount of incon- venience that would be almost intolerable. The question was narrowed to the metropolis. In 1866 no less than 164,557 head of cattle were imported into London. The next largest importation was into Hull, where, in the same year, only 26,009 cattle were imported. Newcastle imported 8,418, Southampton 5,045, Harwich 4,322, Leith 4,261. All the other ports in that year were considerably below 5,000. It was contended that dead meat might be sent into the metropolis in the same way that it now came from Aberdeen and the North of Scotland. But that was from a climate favourable for cooling, at a time of year favourable to keeping, and in quantities so small that loss would be trifling. Besides it must be borne in mind that, in that case, each lot was consigned at a named price, so that the consignee was the loser in case anything went wrong. But when meat was sent in large quantities, the loss cannot be fixed on any consignee; with foreign meat the risk was that of the foreign owner. And if the law were that cattle must be killed within a certain number of days buyers had only to hold back for a time, knowing that eventually the meat must come down to their price, and then the foreign farmer would send over no more cattle. Hence, even if the meat could always arrive perfectly good and sound, the foreign farmers who sent it must be losers, because the buyers knew that dead meat must be sold, and they would only have to wait a little in order to get it at their own prices. These were some of the difficulties in the way of dealing with the subject, but the greatest of all was the feeding of the poor. Two-thirds of the meat which came into London was consumed by the working classes at the East End. If the beasts were killed at Harwich or Southampton, only the best joints would be sent up, for it would not pay to send the rest. But the working classes fed not on beef steaks, but on shins of beef; not on South Downs, but on Merino sheep. It was not upon joints, but upon offal, that the poorest fed; and the offal would never be brought to London if the animals were killed at the place of landing. The head and pluck of a sheep were sold for 2s.; the head of a bullock cost 3s.; the heart 2s.; the tail 1s. 6d.; the liver and tripes 7s. 6d.; the tongue 3s. 6d.; the feet 1s.; the value of the whole offal of a bullock amounted to only 18s. 6d. If foreign bullocks were killed at Harwich and Southampton, they would rob the poor of the food to which they were accustomed. Again the sheepskins, and hides of bullocks, the hoofs, and horns, and even the blood, were used in trades. The factories of London would be deprived of these, and the poor of their work. With respect to the suggestion that quarantine should be established at the ports, he must remind the House that store cattle were never imported into this country, and fat cattle in quarantine sometimes lost as much as £5 in value in ten days, while their keep in the time of quarantine would amount to £2. The proof of the inutility of quarantine was that it had never been used. Besides, if one infected beast got in, the quarantine ground would become a pest-house, and perpetual focus of disease. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets wished to have a separate market in London for foreign cattle. But that would be a most expensive measure, as it would be necessary to purchase land and to erect buildings for the accommodation of not less than 5,000 cattle a week, as well as for slaughterhouses for all these beasts. Besides, if they were to have two markets, one for English and the other for foreign cattle, they would divide the buyers and destroy competition. The proposal was therefore "a gigantic system of protection." Another objection to the scheme was that in the Metropolis Market Act there was a clause forbidding the erection of a new market within seven miles of St. Paul's; and, therefore, if the suggestion were to be carried into effect, the buyer would have to go much more than seven miles for his meat, and the price would thereby be greatly enhanced. It was true that in other ports they had established Port-market Licences. But here there could be no competition as the one market was for foreign fat stock, and the other for English store stock. No doubt every restriction on the movement of home cattle was a tax; and every limitation on the importation of foreign cattle was a tax, and tended to an increase of price. They were placed between two difficulties. The English farmers desired that all restrictions upon the inland trade should be removed, while they desired to have the restrictions upon the foreign trade maintained or augmented. But the inhabitants of Liverpool, Manchester, and our other great towns had no objection to the maintenance of restrictions upon the inland trade, while they contended that restrictions upon the importation of foreign cattle led to a great disturbance of trade and an increase in the price of meat. The only means they had found of meeting the difficulty was to make the restrictions locally self-acting, instead of general. This they were attempting to do by that Bill, and they proposed to do so still more through the consolidated Orders which were shortly to be issued. They would endeavour to throw the foreign trade open as much as possible, taking care to preserve intact the principle of preventing contact between home and foreign cattle. That had been already done in the case of the metropolis, which was perfectly isolated, and treated as a foreign country, inasmuch as cattle that once got into it could not get out again. Nor could foreign cattle come in contact with English cattle at Harwich and Southampton, while at every other port they were killed within four days of their landing. He moved that the Speaker leave the Chair.


said, it appeared to him that all the restrictions of which the noble Lord had spoken would be absolutely useless unless something more were done in the matter. About six weeks ago a statement had appeared in the newspapers to the effect that twenty-one animals purchased at Doune in Scotland, and sent by railway to Hampshire, had been from four and a half to five days in the transit, during which they had received neither food nor water, and that out of the number two had died, while the remaining nineteen had arrived in a state of great suffering. It appeared to him that unless something were done to prevent such cases they must always expect to find cattle disease prevailing in this country. Having read that statement in the newspapers he had taken all the means in his power to ascertain whether it was well-founded, and he had received from the persons who had purchased the animals the most positive assurance as to its accuracy. He had then applied to the noble Lord for the purpose of seeing whether he could interfere in any way in the matter, but was told that the Privy Council had nothing to do with a case of that kind, and that he had better refer to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He had afterwards addressed similar applications to the Home Secretary and the Vice President of the Board of Trade; but with them he had been equally unsuccessful. This was a case which could not be a solitary or isolated one, and it clearly had some connec- tion with the progress and communication of the cattle plague. Under these circumstances he had thought it right to bring the matter under the notice of the House.


said, that in this discussion the Reports of the Cattle Plague Commissioners ought not to be forgotten. He wished to make some remarks in favour of slaughtering foreign cattle at the ports. There was a strong feeling in its favour in the country, as had been evinced by the Petitions which had been presented, and it was borne out by the Reports of the Commissioners. In inquiring into the origin of the disease, they came to the conclusion that it did not rise spontaneously in this country; that it was brought direct from Holland, and indirectly from Revel, from Russian Poland, and from the Russian steppes, in which it found its constant home. They therefore recommended an inspection of foreign animals in this country more minute than any that would probably be applied to them abroad. They stated that during several months in the year this country imported from 5,000 to 10,000 animals a week, which were landed at some few ports, and thence dispersed all over the country. Upwards of six-sevenths of these were landed at the three ports of London, Harwich, and Hull. They recommended that the foreign trade in cattle, which had grown to such enormous dimensions of late years, should be subjected to proper regulations; that the cattle should be slaughtered at the ports, and that good landing-places, lairs, and sheds should be provided there, by which much of the cruelty of the land transport would be avoided. He made these remarks with a view of directing attention to the subject. He believed that if the Government carried out the recommendations of the Commissioners, they might dispense with many of the restrictions now imposed inland, and give general satisfaction to the country. Those whom he represented, as practical men, had no objection to free trade in cattle as far as it was requisite to supply the necessities of the country, but they had a great objection to free trade in cattle plague brought from abroad, and to the unlimited importation of disease.


said, it was extremely important that the House should be put in possession of the Report of the International Congress at Vienna on the subject of Cattle Plague, for which a sum of £148 8s. 9d. had been voted. Was it intended to distribute it, and when? The Bill was an extraordinary mode of facilitating the introduction of cattle into this country. Many of the cases of so-called cattle disease were the result of hard usage and over-driving.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 (Meaning of Privy Council)—CLAUSE A.


said, he found it very difficult to understand the clause, and feared that its ambiguity would lead to litigation.


said, that the clause had been inserted in the House of Lords.


said, that the Orders issued by the Privy Council were tantamount to Acts of Parliament, and it was therefore essential that security should be given that somebody should attend the meetings of the Council, where the Orders were framed, who was thoroughly cognizant of the subject, and would be able to declare what was necessary to be done. If the restrictions were to be continued for three years, words should be added to the clause enacting that the President or Vice President of the Council, or a Secretary of State who would be cognizant of the policy of the Government with respect to the subject dealt with by the Bill should attend the meetings of the Council and sign, the Orders.


said, that it might be very difficult to get the President or Vice President to attend at periods of the year when they would be out of town.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 5, 6, 7, and 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 (Appointment of Inspectors by Local Authorities).


said, he moved that the words should be struck out which gave power to the Privy Council to remove inspectors. If the Council were to be allowed, without giving a reason, to remove any inspector they liked, and to call upon the local authorities to appoint another, they would weaken the responsibility of those authorities, and prevent them taking a proper amount of trouble in the selection of the inspectors.

Amendment proposed, in page 3, line 32, to leave out from the word "inspector" to the end of the Clause.—(Mr. Henley.)


said, he thought the Privy Council should have the power of removing incompetent inspectors, because that would make the local authorities more careful in their appointments.


said, he would suggest that a Proviso should be inserted in the Bill, enacting that when a local inspector made an error the Privy Council should have authority to rectify it by reversing the decision of the local inspector.


said, he thought the difficulty would be met by carrying out the suggestion of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, and he would accordingly introduce at a future stage of the Bill words authorizing the Privy Council to reverse the decisions of the local inspectors.


said, he believed that the Privy Coucil exercised that power at the present time.


said, he objected to placing the power of removal of inspectors in the hands of the Government, which were the worst it could be placed in.


said, he believed the local authorities would be better able to judge of a competent inspector than the noble Lord and the Privy Council.


said, that the power of dismissing incompetent inspectors should be left in the hands of the local authorities. The Committee ought to reject the words at the end of the clause, as tending to destroy local self-government.


said, he objected to the clause as most arbitrary, and calculated to remove local authorities by a mere stroke of the pen. It would be better to leave the local authorities and the Government to consider the matter. If the absolute power were given to the Government no such consideration could take place.


said, he would propose that they should omit the words "Privy Council," and insert the words, "Court of Quarter Sessions," thereby giving the power to remove the inspectors to the Court of Quarter Sessions instead of to the Privy Council.


There is an Amendment already before the Committee.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided: — Ayes 80; Noes 38: Majority 42.


moved an Amendment— Provided such Inspector shall, after inquiry, have been reported to be Incompetent for the performance of his duty, and to have been guilty of misconduct.


said, he hoped the hon. Member would not put the Committee to the trouble of dividing again upon a question which had already been decided.


said, the power should not be exercised by the Privy Council until they could show, after inquiry, that the person was unfit for the office of inspector.


said, that it was to be presumed that the inspector would not be removed unless the Privy Council had good reason for removing him. Nothing would be done until after a Report by the local authorities.


said, that he had good reason for desiring to have the words introduced.


said, that if the hon. Member would withdraw his Amendment he would undertake on the Report to introduce words to meet his objection.

Clause 12 (Where Cattle Plague discovered. Place to be deemed infected).


said, he considered it a very serious thing to place power in the hands of an inspector to declare a place infected on his own mere fiat. It would have been well, he thought, to have made some provision as to the proof of the inspectors' competency before their appointment.


said, that from the nature of the rinderpest it was absolutely necessary to act promptly. There were three modes of declaring a place infected—first, by the statutory declaration of the inspector; next, by the action of the local authorities; and thirdly, by that of the Privy Council. The great object was at once to isolate the particular place infected.


said, it was no doubt a large power to place in the hands of an inspector, but it seemed to be unavoidable to make such a provision.


said, that provision should be made for declaring a place disinfected when it was so, and that without loss of time. Was there power to reverse the declaration of the inspector in case of his being mistaken?


said, that power was given to the Privy Council for that purpose.


said, he would suggest that the power of the inspector to declare a place infected should be provisional merely till the local authorities had time to examine the place.


said, he was afraid that would not be sufficient, as the local authorities were often unwilling to act.


said, he objected to the cumbrous machinery of the measure. He feared that the making of a statutory declaration might occasion mischievous delay.


said, that the object of the declaration was to insure that the inspector should not act rashly.


said, he would suggest that notice of the making of the declaration should be published, not by the local authorities, but by the inspector, in order that delay might be avoided.


said, that the local authorities were bound to publish the declaration immediately on its being made.

House resumed.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.