HC Deb 13 July 1869 vol 197 cc1807-18

, in rising to move— That, in the opinion of this House, the distress occasioned by the Cattle Plague to the Ratepayers of the county of Chester entitles them to the favourable consideration of Her Majesty's Government, with a view to some remission of the heavy debt incurred for the amount of compensation"— said, that he would have to go back as far as the year 1865. There could be no doubt that it was the duty of the Government to endeavour to stamp out the disease the moment it was found to exist in the metropolis, and had the Government of the day only done its duty, the disease would never have reached the county of Cheshire. Owing to the course pursued by the Government, however, the disease did reach that county, and before the passing of the Act, in 1866, no less than 38,000 head of cattle had been slaughtered under the authority of the Privy Council, for which no compen- sation had been made, the owners not even being permitted to realize the £2 per head, which was the value of the hides, horns, and hoofs, while they were obliged to bury the carcasses six feet below the ground, which was a very difficult and expensive matter in Cheshire, where the soil was a stiff clay. He might mention that during the debate upon the Act of 1866 the right hon. Gentleman the present President of the Poor Law Board expressed an opinion that hunting ought to be put a stop to, as being calculated to spread the disease. In Cheshire, however, they had not the heart to hunt, and therefore there was no necessity for putting a stop to it in that county. Since the passing of the Act of 1866, the county had borrowed the sum of £270,000 from the Public Works Loan Commissioners at 3¼ per cent interest, to be re-paid by instalments spread over thirty years. £14,000 would be due in November of the present year, £28,000 was payable next year, £28,000 in the following year, and £14,000 per annum for the following twenty-five years. Besides that a sum of £30,000 had been raised by public subscription to relieve those who had suffered by the slaughter of the 38,000 head of cattle before the passing of the Act, £25,000 of which. was subscribed by the inhabitants of the county, and principally by those landlords who had suffered so severely by the loss of their cattle. Deputations from the county had waited upon Members of the last and the present Government, and they had invariably been met with expressions of sympathy; but he asked from the House on that occasion not only sympathy, but consideration. The case of Cheshire was this—their cattle had been killed, not for the good of that county merely, but for the good of the country at large, and therefore the loss thereby sustained should be borne by the nation generally, and not left to rest upon the inhabitants of that unfortunate county solely. On the Motion for the first reading of the Act of 1866, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth, the then Home Secretary (Sir George Grey) said that— The principle on which his (Mr. Banks Stanhope's) proposal was founded, I believe, is perfectly sound—namely, that the losses occasioned by the slaughter of diseased animals, and the expenses requisite for carrying into effect the provisions of the law for checking the disease, ought to be borne, to a certain extent, by the whole community, because the whole consuming and producing population are interested in checking the disease; but that a special burden may be fairly thrown upon those on whom the loss primarily and immediately falls. He proposed, therefore—and in principle it is what we recommend—that in counties the county rate should furnish part of the fund out of which the compensation should come, and in boroughs, the borough rate; that the proportion in which the burden should fall on these funds should be two-thirds, and that the remaining one-third should be borne by the cattle owners."—[3 Hansard, clxxxi., 379.] In the course of the debate on the second reading the right hon. Gentleman the present Chancellor of the Exchequer said— The object of this Bill is not to compensate for what persons have lost, but for what they have lost by the direct agency of the Government, in taking possession of and destroying their property for the public good, and for the public good alone. Is that a new principle? If it is necessary to destroy houses to fortify a town, or to destroy any other property for a public purpose, there is no civilized Government in the world that does not compensate the person whose property is taken."—[Ibid. 484.] Again— In my opinion, it is out of the funds of the entire country that compensation ought to come."—[Ibid. 485.] He was perfectly aware that the right hon. Gentleman was not in Office when he made those observations, but he thought he might claim the support of the right hon. Baronet and of the right hon. Gentleman for the Motion he was about to make. He would quote a few figures to show that the case of Cheshire was an exceptional one. It appeared from a Parliamentary Return of June, 1869, that the total amount of compensation for loss of cattle slaughtered and expenses incurred in England and Wales, was £830,363, of which Cheshire had paid 32 per cent, or £266,502. The same Return showed that, after excepting the counties of Cheshire and Cumberland—which latter county had borrowed £26,900, and had levied a cattle rate of 6d. in the pound—fourteen counties had paid no compensation whatever, sixteen had paid less than 1d. in the pound, eight less than 1½d., five less than 4d., two less than 6d., five less than 7½d., and Lincoln and parts of Lindsay 9½d. He thought these figures worthy of the consideration of that House. The annual return of the burden that this county would have to bear would be felt as a great grievance by the consumers of beef, butter, and milk, and princi- pally by the poorer inhabitants of the boroughs. A Petition he held in his hand from the borough of Congleton, in the county of Chester, stated that the factory operatives in that town would suffer very severely by that tax. They did not ask for the remission of the whole burden which had been cast upon them, but thought they had some title to a remission of part of it. The noble Earl concluded by moving his Resolution.


, in seconding the Motion, said, this was an exceptional case, which required an exceptional remedy. Cheshire had suffered more from the cattle plague than any other county in the kingdom. No county was now liable to pay more than 9d. in the pound; but the rate, if levied in Cheshire, would be 3s. They did not ask for sympathy, but the House of Commons had committed an injustice; the cattle in this case had been slaughtered for the public good, and he thought it was only fair that something should be done for the rate-payers of Cheshire.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the opinion of this House, the distress occasioned by the Cattle Plague to the Ratepayers of the county of Chester entitles them to the favourable consideration of Her Majesty's Government, with a view to some remission of the heavy debt incurred for the amount of compensation."—(Earl Grosvenor.)


said, that representing a county which had suffered more severely even than Cheshire in proportion to the number of its cattle, and having himself been a great sufferer, he felt much sympathy with Cheshire, but he could not support this Motion. He had proposed what he still thought would have been the fairest plan—namely, that the compensation should be thrown in the first instance on the Consolidated Fund, and that the Government should recoup itself by levying a rate on cattle over the whole country, his theory being that the owners of cattle in the distant parts gained more by the suppression of disease than those districts where the rinderpest was raging, However, Parliament had decided that those who lost most should pay most. If this Resolution were carried, he should ask, on behalf of Forfarshire—and other Members would, no doubt, ask on behalf of other parts of the country—that Parliament should give com- pensation for all the losses which had occurred there. But such a proposal would never be carried, and, therefore, he could not see his way to allow part of the burden of Cheshire to fall upon his constituents in addition to their losses.


said, the people of Cheshire did not, as the hon. Member said, ask to be compensated for all the losses they had sustained. They were quite ready to bear the full extent of the loss which had been borne by any other county. They did not object to bear a 9d. rate. But Cheshire had lost from 70,000 to 80,000 cattle, valued at £800,000, and inasmuch as the House had declared that no county should sustain a loss of more than 9d., that rule should extend to Cheshire. The Act of 1866 was passed a great deal too late for Cheshire. The cattle there were doomed when the Act came into operation, and no benefit arose to the county from it. Under these circumstance, he hoped that the House would do justice to Cheshire, and not allow such an enormous burden to fall upon that county.


said, he could quite understand that many persons might feel this to be a very exceptional Motion. At the same time, this was a very exceptional case. A great calamity fell upon the country, and a larger share was borne by one particular part of the country than by any other. Was the Government of the day wholly free from blame in the matter?—because that was a consideration which weighed on his mind in deciding this question. The cattle plague was known to be coming here in the middle of the year. The Government of the day were pressed to act, or to call Parliament together if they did not choose to take upon themselves the responsibility of acting. The experience of a similar outbreak a hundred years back told them that there was only one thing to be done—namely, to kill. They commenced acting with a feeble hand, and with a still feebler mind had scarcely commenced acting before they withdrew the Orders which would have stamped out the disease and prevented much of the loss which fell upon the country. If ever, then, there was a case in which the Government might depart from the strict rules which ought to guide them generally, this was such a case. If in the early part of the autumn the Govern- ment had put in force, or called on Parliament to put in force, the measures which were enacted in February, no one could doubt that this calamity, serious as it would have been, would not have fallen anything like so heavily upon this unfortunate county. He therefore thought that the Motion was entitled to favourable consideration, and that the Government would do well to act on the side of kindness, instead of standing upon strict rules.


said, he regretted the calamity which had fallen upon the people of Cheshire, and if it were possible to benefit them by a mere remission—that is, by letting them off from some burden without putting it on other people's shoulders, he should be glad to do so. But he must beg the House to consider seriously not only the particular case, but the very large, important, and far-reaching principle which the case involved, and which it would for the first time establish. This was a matter not to be discussed in a spirit of anything but the calmest, coolest reason and reflection. By indulging compassion the House might be doing great mischief, unless they examined the principle on which they acted, and were prepared to defend it, not upon the ground of an exceptional case, but of constitutional principle and precedent. The Motion itself was an evasion of Parliamentary practice. It was the rule of the House that private Members should not propose to increase the burdens of the people; but it seemed that this could be done indirectly in the form adopted by the noble Earl—that of a general Resolution expressing a wish that the Government should increase them. This itself was a very serious step, because it was a direct infraction of the rule which' alone was a protection of the public purse in this country—namely, that increased expenditure should only be proposed to the House by those Departments which were responsible for expenditure. The first evasion of principle which the noble Earl invited the House to make was to coerce the Government, in whom the Constitution placed the control of the expenditure of the country, to incur an expenditure which they were not of themselves willing to incur. The proposition presented itself in the most objectionable form conceivable. The county of Chester had borrowed from Government about £260,000, of which it had paid neither principal nor interest; but in November next the first instalment was to be paid, and now the persons who had borrowed the money asked the House to put a stress on the Government in order that they might be relieved from the obligation they had deliberately incurred. That was a transaction which could not be justified in private life, and in respect to public life he asked anyone to point out a single precedent for it in the annals of Parliament. [An hon. MEMBER: Ireland!] Well, he asked, was there any precedent in respect to Ireland, of that House by a vote forcing the Government to remit a loan? but even if such a precedent could be adduced he denied that a precedent with respect to Ireland was binding on them. Everybody knew that numerous things were done for Ireland which no persons dreamt of asking for themselves. In this country the police were partly paid out of the Consolidated Fund; but in Ireland the whole of the expense of the police was paid out of the Consolidated Fund, because it was an Irish affair. But what he wanted was a precedent of the House of Commons forcing, after deliberate debate, the Government to remit a loan to Ireland which the Irish Members and people had deliberately contracted. It was, then, a perilous proceeding to wrest the control of the expenditure from those who were responsible for it, and to transfer it to those who were not responsible; and he had a right to demand some precedent to be produced before they departed from the ways of their forefathers. How was it that Cheshire borrowed the money in question? In 1866, different plans were suggested to compensate those whose cattle were killed on account of the plague, and the plan adopted happened to be the one which he had advocated. The noble Earl had read a portion of a speech of his, in which he expressed an opinion that in the abstract this burden should fall on the Consolidated Fund; but he went on to say that though that might be abstractedly the merit of the case, yet it would be too dangerous to make compensations out of the general funds of the country, as such a course would take away all motives in the different localities for the inhabitants to do everything in their power to abolish the disease. He at that time added that he thought that such were the overpowering advantages of giving to localities every inducement to use their utmost exertions to put down the disease, that the expense ought to be paid by certain circumscribed districts. The House adopted his view, and it was under the Act of Parliament which was then passed that this money was borrowed and spent, and before they could take the burden off Cheshire and spread it over other counties, which had also greatly suffered, they must repeal that Act of Parliament, and pass a fresh Act. That was a serious course of proceeding, for which he was entitled to ask for a precedent. The Members for Cheshire and the people of that county had been willing to borrow £260,000 under the law, and that law ought to be maintained until the money was returned. If it was not maintained a most fatal blow would be struck at a system which was found most useful in enabling assistance to be afforded by the Government to individuals. The proper way of looking at this matter was not as a remission but as a grant. If the House would not have voted a grant, it would, under the name of a remission, be doing the same thing, and much worse, because the money was borrowed from Government under the understanding that it was to be re-paid; and when the first instalment was about to become due, then a pressure was put on the Government and Parliament to cancel the debt. The right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) spoke of this as being an exceptional case and constituting an extraordinary burden; but the question was, were the resources of Cheshire so bad as not to be able to meet the burden. The rateable income of Cheshire was £2,295,000, and the amount of the debt was £266,502, or about 11 per cent on the rateable income. Nothing had yet been demanded in re-payment, but in one or two years £28,000 would have to be re-paid, and £14,000 a year for a limited time after that period. He was sorry that Cheshire should have to bear such a burden, but it did not appear to be so great that, in order to get rid of it, much valuable principles and good faith should be trampled under foot, and that an attempt should be made to impose the burden in defiance of the Act of Parlia- ment, on other people. He did not wish to reproach the unfortunate when things in Cheshire made it very subject to cattle disease, and it was likely never to escape. But when they were asked to put this burden on a portion of the people at large, particularly on those who had already suffered heavily from the cattle disease, he must be allowed to read a few lines from the Report of an Inspector under the Cattle Plague Department of the Privy Council. The date of the Report was February 9, 1866, after the disease had been in Cheshire about four months. The Inspector stated that he had visited the undermentioned places in the vicinity of Chester, Upton, Whitby, Pulford, Nantwich, Poole, and other places, and his attention was directed to several instances of positive nuisance arising from dead carcasses. In all cases he had ascertained that the Order in Council relating to disinfection and burial had not been carried out. In some instances, a want of ordinary care and caution had been manifested in the burial of carcasses in porous soil, and near the source of water supplies. Disinfectants were rarely applied to carcasses or manure, and healthy animals were commonly herded with the sick and dying. So far as his observation extended, a lamentable apathy appeared to prevail among the owners of stock. Not only were the Orders in Council ignored, but ordinary precautions which common sense would dictate were neglected. In the face of these difficulties the police, under the orders of the chief constable, had exerted themselves with praiseworthy activity. Under these circumstances, the Inspector added, he had addressed a communication to the chief constable, directing attention to the facts, and suggesting remedies for the existing evils. When they were called to make an order cancelling this debt at the request of those who had deliberately incurred it, he thought they ought to have some answer or explanation to such a statement as that. The object of the Act was to make those persons in the immediate neighbourhood of the disease anxious and eager in checking it, and the effect of the present Motion would be necessarily to frustrate the whole Act, which would then become a dead letter. They were asked virtually to break down the rules which regulated the expenditure of the public money. They were next asked to bring the power of the House of Commons to bear on the Government to induce them to cancel a portion of debt which had been deliberately incurred. They were also asked to repeal the Act which imposed the charge, and cast it on the shoulders of persons who had not had the opportunity which Cheshire had to some extent neglected of checking the disease. In conclusion he would say the words he had formerly used on this subject were that— It is absolutely necessary that the money which we expend should be most carefully expended—more carefully than any other, because it may become a double prodigality. If people are careless and remiss, they will first of all slaughter cattle which ought not to be slaughtered, and then pay for them. Therefore, you require a check upon them, and what check so good as that those who order the slaughter should feel that they themselves will have to pay for it."—[3 Hansard, clxxxi. 620.] That statement was made on the 16th of February, 1866. He was very sorry to have so invidious a duty to perform. It was very desirable not to be wanting in sympathy, but it was still more desirable to maintain the great constitutional principles on which that House had always acted.


said, the people of Cheshire considered that in this matter they laboured under a grievance and an injustice which was not the less felt because the county was wealthy. They had been told that the Act had not been properly carried out; but the only proof of that was an extract from an Inspector's Report, dated before the Act was in operation. The loan was forced upon Chester in 1866, in order to keep faith with those whose cattle were slaughtered under the Act. The distress of the county was so great that it was impossible at that time to levy a rate. It was an injustice to have to pay what they ought to pay whether the county was rich or poor. It was a great hardship to call on the towns to levy the rate for the repayment of the loan. Many cattle were carelessly slaughtered and buried; but that arose from the great loss, with the limited number of men on the farms to put the Act into operation to prevent the spread of the disease. The Act was passed so hurriedly that the rate-payers of Cheshire had no power of protesting against it.


opposed the Motion. Lincoln had raised £94,000 by rates for the destruction of cattle, and if an allowance was to be made to one county it ought to be made to another.


supported the Motion. The injury was exceptional, and it was the duty of the House to consider it.


said, he thought that this was an exceptional case, in which a rate-in-aid ought to be granted from the Consolidated Fund. The losses in Cheshire were so great as compared with Lincolnshire that the latter county had no claim on the Consolidated Fund.


, on the part of the consumer, protested against any remission being made to Chester. He opposed the Motion.


said, the answer given to his right hon. Friend had been that a loan had been forced upon Cheshire at £3 5s. per cent. If so it had not been forced by the Government, which could not afford to lend money at £3 5s. per cent. [Mr. J. B. SMITH: It is £3 10s.] No loan of that amount either had been forced upon Cheshire by the Government. It appeared, however, that the inhabitants of a single county, who now came to Parliament for a further grant of public money, had to meet an addition of 1½d. in the pound to the taxation of the county extending over a period of thirty years. But then it was said that it was not a question whether the county was rich or poor, but that the charge was unjust. If it was a question of justice, every county in England and Scotland was entitled to make the same demand, for the circumstances of each county were precisely the same, as far as Parliament was concerned. He denied that it was the duty of the Government to prevent people's cattle from falling ill; and it would have been well if the example of Aberdeenshire had been generally followed elsewhere. He deeply regretted the burden which rested upon Cheshire, but, heavy as it was, it was not to be compared with that which had fallen upon Lancashire during the cotton famine, from causes quite as independent of its own control. The right hon. Gentleman quoted from the Report of an Inspector to show that there had been negligence on the part of the farmers in regard to the spread of the disease, and then proceeded to meet the argument that this was an exceptional case. It was, he admitted, a very exceptional case, but exceptional in a very different sense from that in which the plea was urged by the noble Earl (Earl Grosvenor). At this moment the rates of Cheshire were supplemented in a very peculiar manner—namely by a tax levied from the consumers of salt throughout the country. The tolls on the Weaver navigation derived from the commodity of salt amounted, in ordinary years, to £20,000 per annum, and this year, owing to exceptional circumstances, they had fallen to £12,000, or within £2,000 of the amount of the loan which Cheshire had to pay on an average of years. He congratulated Cheshire on the possession of that valuable resource, which seemed as if it had been intended to meet this very exigency.


, as representing Birkenhead, which would have upwards of £40,000 of the debt to pay, protested against the injustice of asking Cheshire to bear the whole burden of the loss. They asked nothing for Cheshire except that it should not be asked to pay for cattle destroyed after the Act was passed, by order of the Government and for the national good.

Question put,

The House divided:—Ayes 85; Noes 126: Majority 41.