HC Deb 24 July 1868 vol 193 cc1749-56

said, he rose to call the attention of the Government and the House to a practical grievance seriously affecting the interests of his constituents at Newcastle-on-Tyne. Some years ago his constituents had an important and valuable trade in foreign cattle, partly derived from Denmark and Schleswig-Holstein, about the best grazing country in the whole world. That trade had contributed materially to increase the comforts and luxuries of the people of the district, but owing to the operation of the Orders in Council enforced by the Government it had been practically destroyed. Grave injury had been done to his constituents through their not being allowed to import any cattle from the districts to which he had referred except under restrictions that were fatal to the carrying on of the trade. He had sought to bring about a reasonable compromise, under which the law now existing in France might be applied to this country. The Government of France was a paternal Government. It undoubtedly sought the welfare of the people, that people being agricultural, and it put a stop to the importation of cattle where there was danger, but where there was no danger the importation was entirely free. It was most harsh to his constituents that they should be precluded from having cattle introduced into their district against which no objection could be made. These stories of the breaking out of the cattle plague abroad were certainly very opportune; but if the cattle plague had broken out in Egypt, or at St. Petersburg, or in Livonia, then let the Privy Council stop the importation from those places, but not from places where the disease did not exist. The practical effect of the present Orders in Council was to destroy the foreign cattle trade in his district. The evils inflicted under those Orders were unnecessary and uncalled-for, and he called upon the Government to give some assurance that they would not perpetuate the present system.


said, he thought that his constituents at Hull also had a right to complain of their not being allowed the same privilege as was possessed by the ports of Liverpool and Southampton. The port of Liverpool had the advantage of being represented by two Gentlemen who sat on the Ministerial side of the House. Some time ago the Government was urged to allow the port of Liverpool to import cattle from Spain, Portugal, and France, and that privilege was conceded by the Government. The port of Southampton, which had also the advantage of having a Member who sat on the Ministerial side, obtained a similar privilege. Now, why had not that privilege been extended to Hull and other Northern ports? The reason seemed to be that as the hon. Members for these towns sat upon the Liberal side of the House their remonstrances had less weight with the Government. There was no good reason for stopping cattle coming from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. The noble Lord the Vice President of the Council told him the other day that there was no port in Denmark proper from which cattle could be exported, but the fact was that there were five such ports. The cattle trade of Hull had been ruined. In 1865 no less than £27,000 was paid for the conveyance of cattle to Hull, and they sent in one year 28,000 head of cattle into the interior, but the restrictions which were imposed entirely cut off this supply, and the profits of merchants and importers from this source had vanished. The proper policy would be to stop cattle coming from infected districts, to place regulations upon cattle coming from suspected districts, and to leave the rest of the trade perfectly free. He challenged the noble Lord to deny this statement, that in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway there had not been a single case of cattle plague.


said, he believed that before long they would have to get up the same battle against the beef and mutton laws as they formerly waged against the Corn Laws. The hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Read) furnished him with a paper yesterday which stated that there were 22,000,000 sheep in this country, and that 5,500 had died from the disease. There could be no pretence for keeping out sheep upon this ground.


The sheep brought the cattle plague.


There could be no doubt that the object was to place obstructions in the way of the importation of foreign beasts.


said, that his constituents suffered from the prohibition of which the hon. Member for Newcastle complained. Leith—the port of Edinburgh—as hon. Members knew, was the great entrepôt of the foreign cattle trade of Scotland. A very large number of animals had been brought there, not merely for consumption in Edinburgh, but for consumption in Glasgow, with its 500,000 inhabitants, and in all the towns around Glasgow. A large trade had existed in that way, but the Orders of the Privy Council had paralyzed that trade. In these circumstances, he hoped Her Majesty's Government would be prepared with some measure to relax the stringency of the laws which now existed, and to take away all impediments which were not absolutely necessary for the safety of the cattle of the United Kingdom. It was quite true that those whom he represented obtained a large supply of meat from the northern portions of Scotland; but if they were to be confined to that—if there was to be no competition with foreign cattle—were they not in the very same position as if they were told that they must depend for bread upon their home-grown corn? If obstructions were put in the way of foreign cattle, the Mr. Norwood price of meat in this country would inevitably be raised to a very considerable extent. He hoped, therefore, that more stringent measures would not be adopted; that the Orders of the Privy Council would be gradually relaxed; and that, unless very strong symptoms of disease were proved to exist, we should hear no more even of the law which now existed. He had no doubt that the cattle plague existed in certain divisions of the Russian Empire; he supposed it had existed there for at least half a century, and it would perhaps continue there to the end of time; but surely that was no reason why restrictions should be placed on the importation of cattle from other regions where cattle plague did not exist.


said, he hoped some reply would be given on the part of the Government to the statements and arguments that had been put forward from that (the Opposition) side of the House. He was one of those who thought it a good system under which restraints on the importation of foreign cattle were remitted to the Privy Council, for if they went beyond or fell short of their duty they could be called to account by Parliament. This, however, proceeded on the assumption that when hon. Members made statements in a becoming manner in behalf of their constituents the Members of the Government whose conduct was challenged would feel it their duty to rise for the purpose of giving an explanation. Now, this appeared to be a case in which a good system was not well administered, or in which one portion of that administration was grossly inconsistent with another portion. The ports of this country, from the West Coast of Scotland southwards, and round the Southern Coast up to the mouth of the Thames, were allowed the privilege of importing cattle from Spain, Portugal, and France. France, as he understood, was a country where importation was open, subject to vigilant observation from all the rest of the world—these things, he was afraid, being managed there infinitely better than here, and an example being set us, which we had not the wit to follow, of securing the health of the cattle without impeding trade or raising the price of food. Now, why was the importation of cattle from France permitted when France did not exclude foreign cattle in the way desired in this country? The main question, however, which he wished to put was, why the privilege of importing cattle from Spain, Portugal, and France was not granted to Hull, Newcastle, and Leith, as well as to Liverpool and Southampton? He would not suppose with his hon. Friend the Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) that the reason was that one of the Members for Southampton, and both the Members for Liverpool, sat on the Ministerial side of the House; while Hull, Newcastle, Leith, Aberdeen, and Dundee were all so unenlightened as to return Members who sat on the Opposition side. ["Oh, oh !"] He was protesting against that view; but he should like to hear some other reason assigned. He also wished to know, why the importation of cattle was not allowed from Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, as well as from Spain, Portugal, and France? The former countries being free from disease equally with the latter, the representatives of these ports had a right to know upon what ground these different regulations were based; and if no satisfactory reason could be assigned it might become the duty of some hon. Member, on the part of their constituents, to prevent the restriction and extinction of trade, and the lessening the supply of wholesome food for the people, by moving, even at this period of the Session, an Address to the Crown. The opinion of Parliament would thus be taken as to whether there should be a free supply of food in this country, or whether, as the noble Lord (Lord Robert Montagu) had intimated, we were to abandon the "new lamp" used since 1842, and revert to the "old lamp," which, he (Mr. Gladstone) would say, served the purpose extremely well—the "old lamp" being the law which prohibited the importation of foreign cattle, and the new one the measure introduced by Sir Robert Peel, for supporting which an hon. Member opposite (Mr. Neville-Grenville) took credit the other night. The "new lamp" having been thus denounced by the noble Lord, it was necessary that he should be asked with some jealousy for an explanation of these inequalities in the administration of the law by the Privy Council with regard to the countries and ports similarly situated.


said, that having already spoken on the Motion for Adjournment, he must solicit the indulgence of the House in answering the questions and representations which had been addressed to him. The hon. Members who had urged complaints had failed to trace the effect to the proper cause. They had complained of the Act of last Session which enabled the Privy Council to define parts of ports, but they should have remembered that the importation of foreign cattle had not decreased, but had rather increased, since the passing of that measure. Even if the importation had decreased, it had not been in consequence of the regulations of the Privy Council, for in that case the decrease would not have affected sheep, whereas in point of fact, the importation of sheep, which came over in separate vessels, and did not come within the Orders of the Privy Council, had decreased to the same extent as that of cattle. The real cause of the decrease, as was proved before the Select Committee, was that when the prices for cattle and sheep were high on the Continent the animals were attracted to Paris and Brussels, it not being worth while to import them into this country at higher freights for longer journeys, unless prices were very high here, for the margin of profit was insufficient to enable the importers to make a livelihood. The reason why the privileges extended to the South Coast and to the West Coast up to Glasgow had not been granted to Newcastle, Leith, Hull, and other ports was this,—Spanish cattle had never been imported in any numbers on the East Coast; a few had been imported one year and the next year none, and the trade was entirely abnormal. It was evident that some persons had attempted to foster a trade in Spanish and French cattle on that coast, but had not succeeded, and the attempt had been given up before the cattle plague visited this country. It was, therefore, useless for the Privy Council to recognize a trade which could not thrive or be beneficial to the importers under any circumstances. With regard to Denmark—the Spanish trade was a totally different one from the Danish trade. The Spanish trade was carried on in certain ships which were set apart for that trade alone. These ships went from Liverpool to Spain for the purpose of bringing over casks of wine, and when there was space cattle were brought over also. Danish ships, on the other hand, went indiscriminately to Rotterdam and to the Baltic ports; they might, therefore, be contaminated, and the cattle brought over in them would become infected while on the voyage. Nearly all the cattle and sheep from all parts of the continent of Europe were, moreover, shipped at Geestemünde, and came thence to London. Cattle from Hungary, Livonia, and other provinces, as well as from Prussia and Schleswig-Holstein, were shipped together there, and arrived in London on the same day; so that if the cattle from any one province were infected, all the cattle shipped there would become infected also. This was his answer to the questions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone).


said, that the noble Lord had not touched the case of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire; and, besides, the noble Lord was in error with respect to the commercial facts. The right hon. Gentleman had asked why Spanish cattle, which were permitted to come to the South and West Coast, were not permitted to come to the East Coast; and all the noble Lord had to say in reply was that there was a special trade between Liverpool find Spain which did not extend to the Northeast Coast, and, therefore, the cattle would not come there. If there was no importation of cattle at present from Spain or Portugal into the North-eastern ports, why impose any restrictions? That was a very good reason why the noble Lord should stand aside and not interfere. The trade, if a natural trade, would soon develope itself. But he was prepared to state, in opposition to the noble Lord, that there existed a large trade between Spain and the ports of Hull, Aberdeen, Sunderland, and Newcastle. There were large imports of ore, which was a very heavy cargo, and to fill up the unoccupied space necessarily left in vessels loaded with such cargo, cattle could be easily and most advantageously imported from Spain to these North-eastern ports.


said, that the noble Lord had stated that the only reason for not granting to the North-eastern ports the privilege granted to Liverpool was that there was no trade in Spanish cattle with those ports. Now, without entering into the question of the extent of the cattle trade between Spain and the Eastern ports, he wished to know what proof there was that, under present circumstances, the trade might not prove a paying one, when other ports prosecuted it so beneficially. He would claim, on the very grounds advanced by the noble Lord, that the Northeastern ports should be declared open for the entry of those cattle.


said, he must ask the House to pause before proceeding further with this measure. The noble Lord might declare that he would not allow certain articles to be imported into certain places because those places had no trade of the kind before. But it was the duty of the Government to encourage importations in every way. In 1866, 234,000 head of cattle and 800,000 sheep had been imported, while in 1867 the numbers had fallen to 177,000 head of cattle and 540,000 sheep; and yet the Privy Council plumed itself on showing such paternal care in providing for the wants of the people.

Motion made, and Question put, "That this House will, at the rising of the House this day, adjourn till Monday next."—(Mr. Jacob Bright.)

The House divided:—Ayes 38; Noes 105: Majority 67.