HC Deb 04 March 1869 vol 194 cc672-83

Acts read; considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)


, in rising to move that the Chairman be directed to move the House, that leave be given to bring in a Bill to consolidate, amend, and make perpetual the Acts for preventing the introduction or spreading of Contagious or Infectious Diseases among Cattle and other Animals in Great Britain, said, that he did not intend to detain the Committee long, but as Gentlemen on both sides of the House took an interest in the question, it was desirable that he should state, as briefly as possible, the nature of the Bill. The Government had thought that the time was come when it would be much better to consolidate the Acts relating to contagious diseases among cattle. At present there were seven Acts in operation; indeed, he was not sure that there were not eight, for they had, within the last few days, discovered an Act, passed in 1798, which he thought hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House were scarcely aware of, regarding some diseases in sheep. At any rate, there were seven in force, and of these one passed in 1848 was a permanent Act, and the others were expiring Acts, which had been continued from year to year, and which the noble Lord opposite (Lord Robert Montagu) in the Bill which t he brought forward proposed to continue. In the opinion of the Government it was better there should be only one Act. There was some difficulty among those who took an interest in the question in discovering the scope of the law regarding contagious diseases in animals, and therefore it was proposed to repeal the previous enactments. He stated that circumstance because it was some apology for the length of a Bill which might otherwise create some astonishment in the minds of hon. Members. He would first mention the internal regulations which it was proposed to establish by this Bill, and would at the outset refer to those which related to the Cattle Plague. It was proposed to re-enact almost precisely as they stood the present regulations for stamping out the Cattle Plague, should it unfortunately break out again—for giving the power of declaring certain places infected—for in- spection—for preventing the removal of animals, and for compulsory slaughter, and the Bill also contained the same provisions with regard to compensation. The powers now enforced by Order in Council in the case of sheep-pox would be embodied in the Bill, but though they did not take power by Act of Parliament for the compulsory slaughter of sheep, they proposed, regulations for preventing the removal of live sheep or carcases without license in places declared to be infected with sheep-pox. There was another case in which they proceeded to new legislation, and they had not done so without much deliberation. They proposed to take powers to check other diseases than cattle plague and sheep-pox; in fact, they proposed to take power to check lung disease and foot-and-mouth disease—any contagious disease, in short, among sheep, cattle, or horses. They had done this for two reasons. In the first place, the facts elicited by the Government in the course of their inquiries proved that pleuro-pneumonia had been, from first to last, almost as dangerous and destructive as the cattle plague; and, in the second place, they had every reason to believe that the agriculturists generally were much more willing than they were formerly to submit to interference on the part of the Government. He believed that, a year ago, arrangements for this purpose were dropped in the House of Lords chiefly on account of opposition from the agricultural interest; but the Government had been informed by Gentlemen on both sides of the House that that was not the feeling of agriculturists now. They had seen the good results which had so evidently attended the exercise of summary power in the case of the cattle plague, and they were, consequently, willing to submit to something of the same character in reference to other diseases. But, in the case of pleuro-pneumonia, the Government did not propose to take such stringent powers. Upon the declaration by the Inspector that any premises, field, stable, or cowshed was infected by lung disease, that place was declared to be infected, and came under certain rules set forth in the Schedule of the Act, the main purport of which was that diseased animals were not to be moved out of such infected area, except for slaughter, and no animal that had in any way come into contact with infection was to be moved without license, except for slaughter. They proposed to make it penal to exhibit infected animals for sale in any market, or to turn them on to an uninclosed common, the same provisions being applicable in the case of scab in sheep, and they proposed to take powers to prevent animals being moved when diseased by road, rail, or steamboat. The definition of contagious diseases as given by the Bill was "the cattle plague, sheep-pox, pleuro-pneumonia, foot-and-mouth disease, and scab in sheep," and they took powers to enable the Privy Council to include other diseases in the list if it should be thought necessary to do so, providing however, that the least stringent of the regulations contained in the Bill should be applied in any such cases. The Bill re-enacted the powers at present existing for disinfecting and cleansing pens, sheds, and trucks, and to that category the Bill added steamboats and sailing vessels. These regulations were also to apply to glanders in horses. Another object which they sought to attain was the better provision for animals sent long distances by rail, the destination usually being London. They had received evidence showing that great suffering was undergone by animals so sent by rail—suffering which all humane persons must desire to see relieved, and which, arising as it did from the inadequate supply of food and water, especially in the case of animals brought from Scotland and the north of England, must naturally result in the deterioration of the stock. The Government were pressed by many gentlemen to take compulsory powers to compel the railway companies to provide food and water, but there appeared to be great difficulty in doing so. However, he hoped that the object they desired might be attained without their putting the railways under compulsory powers. The directors of railway companies stated that they did not provide food and water because they had no power to recover the expense from the consignor or consignee, and because they were bound by Act of Parliament to charge certain rates. What the Bill, therefore, proposed was that railway companies should make the charge of supplying the animals a debt upon the consignor or consignee, and that they should have a lien on the animals themselves for the debt. He now came to that part of the Bill which would be looked upon with great interest, not only by agriculturists, but by all those who paid any attention to the supply of our large towns, and that was the regulations with regard, to the importation of foreign cattle. They proposed to take the same powers that were now possessed by the Government to prohibit the importation of foreign cattle into any part of the kingdom and from any foreign country. They did not think it possible for the Government to perform their duty and preserve the country from this terrible disease, unless this power was intrusted to them. At present the power of prohibition was vested with the Queen in Council; they proposed to give it to the Privy Council. Many hon. Gentlemen probably would perceive the distinction. When the power was vested in the Queen in Council, it might occasionally take some little time before the power could be put in force. When, however, it was lodged in the Privy Council, the power could be exercised without any delay by two Lords of the Council; and when the House remembered the necessity which frequently existed for immediate action, he believed they would generally approve the change. They also took power to permit the landing of foreign animals from any foreign country in any port or part of any port only on fulfilment of certain conditions; so that they took two powers—first, the power of prohibiting importation from suspected countries; and, secondly, of defining certain countries from time to time from which, under certain conditions, importation might be permitted. Those conditions were defined in the Schedule of the Act, and in that Schedule it was provided that these animals could only be landed at certain defined ports, at certain defined landing-places, and could only travel within certain defined areas within those ports. The cattle could not be removed alive from the limits of the defined area. Powers would be reserved to the Government, through the Privy Council, to, in the first place, mark out certain defined areas at the ports of import, into which areas the animals could be brought on their importation, but out of which no animals, home or foreign, could be taken alive. It would also rest with the Privy Council to settle from time to time what were the places from which cattle were not to be imported except on these conditions. With the exception of those places the importation of cattle would be free. In the Bill facilities would be given to the local authorities to construct markets and erect lairs and slaughterhouses, and sheds; and they would have power to take land, to levy tolls, and to borrow money on tolls or rates. No compulsory powers were taken for the construction of markets; but, though no such powers were taken, he had reason to hope that it would not be found that they were wanted either in the metropolis or at any other port. He need hardly say that this subject was one in which the Government would be anxious to receive assistance in respect of details. The question was not one to be regarded as in any way a party question. Certainly he felt his own incompetence for the discharge of the duty which now devolved upon him; but, seeing how very important the subject was, he had given his best attention to it; and both his noble Friend Lord De Grey and himself would be most anxious to receive any assistance from the representatives of agricultural constituencies. As to principles, there were two or three paramount ones. First, the Government thought that the time was come when all persons, and especially persons engaged in agriculture, would be content to put up with a certain amount of interference not otherwise desirable in matters of trade, but rendered necessary for the protection of all classes in the community. Next, as health was the normal condition of cattle as well as of men, the Government hoped that we should not have to look forward to a continued exclusion of foreign cattle. There could be no doubt that the restrictive measures had had a very marked effect on the importation of cattle not only in the metropolis but also in the provinces. Some gentlemen from Hull had furnished him with statistics which showed that, at that port, while the number of oxen, cows, and calves imported in 1865 was 45,864, the number imported in 1868 was only 8,534. Similar results had followed at Newcastle and other ports. There could be no doubt that so great a diminution in the number of cattle imported must have been felt very seriously by consumers. A cordon having been drawn round London, and no cattle having been allowed to be taken outside it alive, perhaps the effect of the restrictions on importation had not been felt in the metropolis so much as elsewhere. He had observed that this was no party question, and he would venture to hope that it was one in which interests even would not be supposed to conflict. There might be the interests of growers and importers, but he trusted neither of these would be considered to be opposed to those of the consumers. The interest of the consumer was plain enough—namely, that there should be only so much interference as was necessary to stop disease, and that there should be that interference. Since he had come into Office he had heard a great deal of argument and much strong statement on the subject of the cattle plague. Some persons boasted that it was not an English production—that it had been imported from Holland; and there were those who said that nothing but complete prohibition would secure us against a recurrence of the evil. However the cattle plague had broken out—there could be no doubt that it did rage in various parts of Europe. It was now in the eastern part of Europe; and no Government could think of permitting cattle imported from countries in which the disease existed to be brought in among cattle not infected with the disease. On the other hand, he thought no hon. Gentleman could suppose that we could expect to feed our enormous population without relying to a great extent upon foreign countries. Having thanked the Committee for the attention with which they had heard him, the right hon. Gentleman concluding by moving that the Chairman be directed to move for leave to bring in the Bill.


congratulated the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Forster) on the manner in which he had approached the subject, and expressed the pleasure he felt at hearing that the Government, not regarding the matter as a party one, were willing to receive suggestions from whatever quarter they might be offered. The first part of the Bill, it appeared, merely consolidated the existing Acts, not limiting—if he had understood right—but rather extending the existing powers. But then he could not understand what the right hon. Member meant by saying that, in the second part, he took powers to prohibit importation or to permit the landing on certain conditions. The powers existed already. He thought, therefore, that the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's Bill must be a limitation on the first part, and a limitation on powers now possessed by the Privy Council.


observed that, as by the first portion of the Bill the existing Acts would be repealed, it was necessary in the second part to define what the powers of the Privy Council under the Bill would be.


said, that he apprehended the meaning correctly, and feared that the second part of the Bill would limit the existing powers of the Privy Council. The power which he took to prevent the landing of cattle from infected districts would be found insufficient. In many cases it was impossible for the Privy Council to know that the plague existed, in a particular country till after diseased cattle had been exported from that country, and, perhaps, landed in this. He would give examples—At one time, an enormous number of cattle infected with disease had been landed in this country from Holland a week before the Government received information that the disease had broken out in Holland. The Dutch farmers, knowing that their cattle had become infected, and fearing a general and serious stoppage of the trade, had hurried their cattle down to the water's edge, and telegraphed for steamers, and shipped those cattle over to England. Again, in May, 1867, forty head of cattle, which on their way to this country had passed through a country in which the disease existed, brought the infection with them. Those forty head of cattle were sold in the metropolitan market, and spread over the City and the suburbs. The first the Government heard of the evil effects of that occurrence was from a policeman who came to the office and stated that cattle were disappearing nightly from the sheds of several dairymen. The Privy Council then employed detectives, who found that the disease was abroad in London, and over 200 head of cattle had to be killed, and stringent measures used to prevent it from spreading. Yet these forty beasts, for whom 200 English beasts had to be sacrificed, had come from some foreign country, no one knew whence, and passed the veterinary surgeons in Berlin who gave a certificate of health, and had also been pronounced healthy by the English inspectors, and had been sold in open market. Therefore, he believed that to regard as an effectual safeguard the power to stop importation from countries in which the disease was known to exist was the merest delusion. As to the permission to land cattle from other countries, only if they were slaughtered in a separate market, he thought that this power was not large enough. For, in the first place, if this were not to be permanent, he did not think local authorities would be willing to construct markets and erect the necessary buildings. It would be like asking a man to build a house on a three years' lease. Secondly, unless the arrangement were general for all imported cattle, it would not be worth while to construct a separate market. A sufficient amount of tolls to pay the interest upon the capital to be expended would not be collected unless all foreign cattle were obliged to be sent to the separate market. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that there had been a diminution in the quantity of meat sent to the great towns in this country; but that was clearly an error on his part, because there had been an increase in the quantity of meat and in the number of cattle slaughtered in the country each year. He asserted, and he was prepared to prove the fact on the second reading of the Bill, that not only had the quantity of meat sent to London increased of late years, but that during the last fourteen years the dead meat trade had increased 72 per cent. Therefore it would not affect the question, even if the quantity of cattle imported had diminished in any slight degree; but he denied that in London or in any of the great towns there had been such decrease. The measure of the right hon. Gentleman appeared upon the first blush to be very good indeed in its first part, but the latter part of it, he was afraid, would not satisfy the agricultural interest. Without unduly praising his own Bill upon this subject, he thought it would be advantageous if the two Bills were to be referred together to a Committee of the Whole House, in order that the best parts of each might be adopted, and a measure framed which would forward the interests not of the agricultural class on the one hand, nor of the commercial class on the other, but those of the whole community.


deprecated any discussion of the details of the Bill at its present stage, but expressed an opinion that the measure would be a very serious and important improvement upon the existing system. With regard to the foreign cattle trade, he could not express in too strong terms his opinion of the manner in which the existing regulations interfered with that most valuable trade, without producing any very great good to the country, or preventing the importation of disease. The right hon. Gentleman's Bill was divided into three parts, the first providing that cattle should be imported perfectly free from certain countries where disease did not exist, or where it had for so long been absent that there was no danger to be apprehended. No one would object to that portion of the Bill. The second part gave power to the Privy Council to absolutely stop the importation of foreign cattle from places which were dangerous, and no one would grudge the existence of that power, which was an exceedingly desirable one. As to the other part of the Bill, relating to places where suspicion of disease existed, he would offer no opinion until he saw the provisions. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Robert Montagu) seemed to desire that the present system should be made permanent and general, and that obstacles should be thrown in the way of the importation of foreign cattle for ever. He had no chance of agreeing with any one who held such views as that. He urged his right hon. Friend to proceed with his Bill as rapidly as possible, for it was important that there should be no unnecessary delay in passing a really good measure on the subject.


referred to the marked absence of Gentlemen representing the agricultural interest from the other side of the House, which was a pretty fair sign that they were not perfectly satisfied with the provisions of the noble Lord's Bill. The Bill of the Government seemed to deal with the subject in a larger and more genial spirit; for, while protecting fairly and honestly the home producer, they did justice to the foreign importer. He objected to the noble Lord's Bill being discussed in Committee with that of the right hon. Gentleman.


said, he hoped the House would not discuss a Bill the provisions of which they had not seen. There would be a great desire, he was sure, on both sides of the House to produce a Bill which would be satisfactory and which would have the effect of cheapening the price of meat.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman's Bill would be a liberal measure for the outports, and though it might not be entirely satisfactory to his constituents, it met with his strong approval.


, as the representative of an important agricultural constituency, hoped the right hon. Gentleman's Bill and the Bill of the noble Lord would be considered together by the same Committee. His opinion was decidedly in favour of slaughtering cattle at the point of debarkation. No one who went to the noble market which had been erected in London could fail to be struck with the great importance of the carcase trade, which was steadily increasing; and it had been found that, with our present facilities of railway communication, it was much cheaper and better to send dead meat instead of living animals into the market. He hoped those things might be taken into consideration, and that we might be protected from disease of this dangerous and malignant nature.


said, that as representing a borough situated in a county which had suffered more than any other from the cattle plague, he rose to express a hope that the prayer of many petitions which he had presented would be taken into consideration, and that while the mistakes or omissions of previous legislation were remedied, the House would seriously consider the great injustice which had been placed on the county of Chester. At the proper stage he should propose that a clause be inserted in the Bill to alter the legislation from which Cheshire had so grievously suffered.


pointed out that the people of Manchester were opposed to the slaughter of cattle at the point of debarkation. Their experience was that those restrictions had seriously injured both the shipping interest and, through the shipping interest, the great consuming interests of the country. The falling off in the import of cattle, including calves, for their use, had been rather more than four-fifths.


said, he would not give any opinion upon the multiplicity of powers contained in the Bill of the Government; but he hoped that among those powers there would be some statutable security to protect the people of this country, as far as possible, from the evil which might come among us, and not leave us as we were before to be worried by the exercise of every power imaginable on the face of the earth, till it almost became a question which was the greatest curse—the plague or the powers.


said, he was of opinion that the Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman would not prove satisfactory to the country. He denied that the noble Lord (Lord Robert Montagu) was not supported in his views by the agriculturists of the country. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council would consent to the request of the noble Lord, and have the two Bills taken together. He believed we were now at the commencement of a great revolution in the meat trade of the country, and dead meat markets were now on a very different scale to what they had ever been before. In Harwich the dead meat trade had increased very considerably of late. By a Return which had been forwarded to him it appeared that, during the four months from September 1868, to the end of January, 1869, 7291 foreign sheep were slaughtered in Harwich, and in the corresponding periods of 1867 and 1868 there was not a single foreign sheep slaughtered at that port. The right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council, had spoken of there being three interests involved in this question—the interest of the consumer, the interest of the agriculturist, and the interest of the importer. He maintained that the interests of the consumer and producer were the same, both requiring protection for their herds from foreign disease. The interest of the importer, however, was distinct, and might be opposed to both the others.


, in reply, said the noble Lord opposite (Lord Robert Montagu) had pointed out as one of the difficulties of the Bill that the markets to be provided would not be permanent, but he would find a clause inserted to meet that difficulty. It would be somewhat premature to speak about the arrangements with regard to the future conduct of the Bill; but the Government were anxious to push the Bill on as quickly as the rest of the Public Business would permit. Any differences of opinion as to the importation of foreign: animals would be most easily settled by Amendments to the Bill, which had been so drawn that those questions would be instantly raised by Amendment.

Resolved, That the Chairman be directed to move the House, that leave be given to bring in a Bill to consolidate, amend, and make perpetual the Acts for preventing the introduction or spreading of Contagious or Infectious Diseases among Cattle and other Animals in Great Britain.

Resolution reported:—House resumed:—Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. DODSON, Mr. WILLIAM EDWARD FORSTER, and Mr. Secretary BRUCE.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 38.]