HC Deb 26 June 1874 vol 220 cc585-98

said, he had given Notice of a Motion to the effect— That, in the opinion of this House, the Government ought to take the necessary steps to carry into effect the recommendations of the Select Committee of last Session on Contagious Diseases (Animals); (a.) that the regulations in Great Britain and Ireland with regard to cattle diseases should be similar; (1).) that such regulations should he carefully enforced at the landing places both in Great Britain and Ireland; (c.) that the Irish Government should take steps by inspection at Irish ports to prevent the shipment to Great Britain of any diseased or infected cattle; He was prevented by the Forms of the House from moving his Resolution, but as it was a question which directly affected Ireland, and affected also very closely the interests both of England and Scotland, he would venture to press his views on the House and the Government. Last Session a Committee was appointed to inquire into the operation of the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Acts, and also into the constitution of the Veterinary Departments of Great Britain and Ireland. The Committee, which was presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the late Vice President of the Council, held 28 sittings, and examined a large number of witnesses from England, Scotland, and Ireland; and, after due deliberation, arrived at certain recommendations as to the best method of dealing with the cattle disease in future. As to the best mode of dealing with the importation of foreign cattle there was great difference of opinion; but as to the points to which he was specially desirous of directing the attention of the House the Committee were practically unanimous. The first and principal recommendation of the Committee was, that any regulations dealing with cattle diseases should be uniform throughout the Three Kingdoms, and that they should be imperative on all local authorities—the reason being that it was found that while the Orders in Council were permissive, and some local authorities carried out the regulation and others did not, any legislation on the subject was practically without beneficial result. Another recommendation to which the Committee agreed was, that the Privy Council should cease in future from attempting, by Orders in Council, to check: the spread of the foot-and-mouth disease. A third recommendation was that all cattle suffering from pleuro-pneumonia should be slaughtered. Upon those recommendations the late Government immediately took action. All the Orders in Council upon foot-and-mouth disease were withdrawn, and a new Order in Council was passed, making it imperative upon all local authorities to slaughter animals affected with pleuro-pneumonia. What, however, had been the action of the present Government in respect of dealing with the foot-and-mouth disease? The noble Lord the Vice President of the Council laid upon the Table of that House, a few days ago, an Order in Council by which the whole policy which had been shown by the Committee of last year to have been ineffectual was again renewed, and an Order in Council had been issued, giving power to local authorities to deal with foot-and-mouth disease. This, he thought, was a great mistake—the experience gained in the last six years was disregarded, and they were about to re-enter upon the policy which that experience had condemned. Then, as regarded pleuro-pneumonia, the late Government issued an Order in Council that all cattle labouring under that disease should be slaughtered, and their owners compensated. It might be doubtful whether this was a judicious proceeding, because, although the Government had the power under the English Act to order such cattle to be slaughtered and the owners to be compensated, yet very considerable doubt existed whether they had the power of compensating the owners of animals slaughtered in Ireland. It seemed injudicious for this reason that although the local authorities in this country might act with the greatest promptitude and decision, it would be in vain for them to attempt to exterminate the disease so long as the trade in cattle with Ireland remained unrestricted and uncontrolled, and no security taken that animals affected with that disease were slaughtered in Ireland. He did not mean to say that there was any greater amount of disease in Ireland than there was in this country; but the question of the soundness of Irish cattle was of the very greatest importance to the farmers of England and Scotland; for Ireland had become the great source of supply of store cattle to these countries. The trade had of late years risen to great magnitude, and the increase in the last two years had been very remarkable: for in 1871 the number of cattle exported from Ireland into Great Britain was 423,364; and it had increased in 1873 to 684,618. It was very evident, therefore, that if the value of these cattle was depreciated, by doubts as to their soundness, even 10 per cent—and he was sure it was not less—it was a very serious matter for all parties con-corned. On the other hand, while in 1871 the supply of foreign cattle amounted to 247,426, in 1873 it had fallen off to 198,968. It was therefore very evident that the graziers of this country must look to Ireland in the future for a supply of grazing cattle; and both on behalf of Ireland and of the farmers in England and Scotland he urged upon the Government, that the policy which had been carried out in this country as regarded pleuro-pneumonia should be followed in Ireland, and that policy thus carried out simultaneously and effectually throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. Complaint had been made in England that success had not attended the efforts to exterminate disease in those counties where slaughtering had been most vigorously carried out. That might be due to several causes. In the first place, any legislation purporting to deal with cattle disease would not be successful unless the farmers cordially and earnestly cooperated in carrying out the law. That he considered to be a fundamental condition necessary for success in dealing with any cattle disease with a view to its extermination. In the next place, very considerable difficulty must arise in regard to the nature of the disease. In those cases where experienced veterinary surgeons were not employed, it was quite possible that ordinary pleuro-pneumonia might be confounded with contagious pleuro-pneumonia, because, except in the more developed cases, great difficulty existed in distinguishing between the two. Then so long as diseased animals were not slaughtered in Ireland, and the practically uncontrolled importation of Irish cattle permitted, diseased animals would be brought into this country, for if diseased cattle were allowed to go on board the vessels, it was not simply these animals which arrived here in a diseased state, but there was great risk of the disease being communicated to the whole of those on board. This brought him to one of the recommendations of the Committee of last year, to which he wished to direct attention. It was that the Irish Government should take steps, by inspection at the ports of embarkation, to prevent shipment to Great Britain of any diseased animals. He understood the Government did take certain measures to this effect, but he had strong reason to believe that there was only a small proportion of the Inspectors employed who were qualified veterinary surgeons. He was quite sure that ah increased stringency of inspection on this side would be of no use, because great mischief would be done during the voyage—and the development of the disease was so slow that it would be impossible for the Inspector to discover those only recently infected, He thought that inspection should be made as thorough as possible before the animals were put on the vessel. He hoped that the Government, instead of going back to the policy adopted some years ago, would insist on following out the recommendation of the Select Committee of last year—recommendations arrived at after the fullest consideration, and after having heard the views of all parties interested in the subject.


said, the question under consideration was a most important one, and he hoped the Government would adopt the suggestions of his hon. Friend who had just spoken. The importance of the matter in reference to the interests of Ireland could scarcely be exaggerated. Considerable anxiety had been created by a report that more stringent rules were to be enforced in connection with the import of cattle from that country, and strong feelings were entertained upon the point. The diseases of pleuro-pneumonia and foot-and-mouth were very different, and required totally different treatment. The restrictions were so very great that it would be quite impossible to put them in force. An Order in Council had been recently made to greatly increase the Inspectors in reference to this subject, which would increase the taxation on the people of this country. In his opinion the cattle about to be exported should be inspected at the port of embarcation, and if found diseased, there slaughtered. Such a course as that would prevent all the mischief which followed when diseased cattle were imported into a country. It would also be for the benefit of the cattle dealers themselves, for it would be a greater hardship to them to have their cattle confiscated, after the cost of the voyage had been incurred, and on the authority of an Inspector, than it would be to have them destroyed at home. The people of Ireland felt it was their interest that their cattle should be healthy; and with regard to pleuro-pneumonia, great restrictions seemed necessary and required to be enforced. He trusted that the subject would receive full consideration at the hands of the Government.


said, it was quite necessary that this matter should receive full consideration at the hands of the Government. The great point was that the inspection should be thorough without unduly interfering with trade; for if the orders were of too stringent a character, great opposition would be raised; and if rigorous regulations were enforced an army of Inspectors would be required, who would have to be maintained at large expense when perhaps there was no disease in the country. Now in all the recommendations of the Select Committee he did not think the House would agree, and one part could not be well considered without taking other parts into account. The Committee advised that no notice should be given by the police of the outbreak of disease. His own experience, as chairman of a local committee, with regard to that matter was, that it was very important that all possible publicity should be given to the outbreak of disease, and that that was one great means of arresting the spread of it. He also maintained that power should be given to the Privy Council to allow the movement of animals for feeding and other purposes necessary for carrying on the operations on a farm. That was a very important matter. He knew a case in which a farmer, in a locality where foot-and-mouth disease was raging, was unable to move some sheep from a field where they were in danger of starving to another where there was plenty of food, because the local authorities were unable to give him permission to do so. There was another point which deserved the attention of the Government, and that was that it was desirable that a higher rate of compensation should be allowed for the slaughter of animals infected with disease than was allowed at present; and that compensation should be given not merely in respect of the value of the animal, but also in respect of the loss which the owner suffered. To illustrate his meaning, he would suppose that a milch cow or the top of the grass was infected with a dangerous disease. Not only would the farmer in that case lose the value of the cow, but he would also lose the value of the produce of that cow, and he believed that if the local authorities had the requisite power they would almost invariably award compensation for the actual loss sustained by the owner. It was, he thought, agreed on all hands that the compensation was at present insufficient; and not only was it insufficient, but it was also very difficult sometimes to obtain it. The hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay) had spoken of the great importance of having a uniform system of action in enforcing the Order in Council in contiguous districts. He (Mr. Stewart) thought that such an alteration would be a very wise and proper one. His hon. Friend had also spoken of the necessity of careful inspection at the ports of embarcation; in his (Mr. Stewart's) opinion there ought to be the closest inspection on the disembarking of cattle. He lived in a part of Scotland which carried on a very large cattle trade with Ireland, and there was constant danger—he meant danger of infection being introduced into their midst—arising from the peculiar system of husbandry which was practised there. The farmers there never reared any young stock, but bought young stock from a distance as it was required to fill up vacancies. Owing to that system, there was great danger of inroads of disease in connection with importations. For these various reasons, he thought the questions raised by the Motion should be brought more forcibly than they appeared to have been, under the attention of the Government; that the Privy Council Orders should be more carefully attended to, and their practical meaning well worked out before they were sent forth to regulate what was done in different parts of the country. At that period of the Session it might be impossible to make much alteration, but he hoped that next session, at all events, many of the recommendations of the Select Committee would be embodied in the shape of law.


agreed very much with the spirit of the recommendations of the hon. Member for Forfarshire, though to some part of their wording objection might be taken, and more especially as regarded the proposed restrictions on the transit of cattle between England and Ireland. If it were found possible to assimilate the regulations of Great Britain and Ireland, it would, in his opinion, be very desirable. With regard to the foot-and-mouth disease, most of the restrictions which might be enforced in England were optional with the local authorities. It was hardly to be supposed, therefore, that they were very similar all over England; and, if so, it would be very difficult to make them similar all over Ireland. With respect to pleuro-pneumonia, he wished the compulsory provisions, as to slaughter, could be extended to Ireland; for there was no doubt that compulsory slaughter and compensation were the only means of stamping it out; but as regarded the foot-and-mouth disease, a pack of foxhounds running through a farm which was infected with it might carry the disease over the whole country, and he did not see how it could be checked unless by perfect isolation. The disease was imported into Ireland by some calves brought over from Cheshire.


admitted that the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom on this subject were the same. The county of Derby, which he had the honour to represent, would be seriously inconvenienced if the importation of cattle from Ireland were stopped. He agreed with the last speaker that compulsory slaughter with compensation was the best means for stamping out pleuro-pneumonia; but, experience showed that the foot-and-mouth disease might be kept in check, if the Orders in Council respecting it were put in force. He hoped the local authorities would lose no time in taking that course. Although the regulations as to compulsory slaughter were inconvenient, yet, on the whole, the result had been beneficial to Derbyshire, and he thought local authorities should have the power of putting those regulations in force. A strong opinion existed among all those who were engaged in agriculture in Derbyshire that the foot-and-mouth disease was spread more by the railway trucks in which cattle were conveyed than by any other cause, and that it was necessary to have more stringent regulations with regard to railway companies disinfecting those trucks. The matter was, he considered, well worthy the notice of the Department.


, as a Member of the Council of the Royal Agricultural Society of England supported the spirit of the Resolution, although he did not think that many diseased cattle were exported from Ireland. As a rule, he believed that Irish cattle were sound, and he was not in favour of prohibiting the importation of Irish cattle into this country. The Government were asked by the proposition' to enforce a more vigilant inspection of cattle at the port of embarcation and at the port of landing. Two years ago, the Royal Agricultural Society commissioned their Secretary, a very able man, to make careful investigation for six or eight weeks with regard to the foot-and-mouth disease. The Secretary published a Report of his investigations, which was a textbook on the subject. He ascertained that the disease was the consequence of neglect and of a want of care in the transit of cattle; that the railway trucks were not sufficiently clean; that the animals were very often starved, and then sent long distances without proper attention. The pecuniary losses occasioned by foot-and-mouth disease annually were enormous. It was, therefore, most important that there should be a careful inspection at the ports of landing in this country, and he hoped the Government would seriously consider this matter. It would not do to impose vexatious restrictions on farmers; but such would become necessary if the disease they were discussing got a real hold in this country.


said, he was of opinion that, as a general rule foot-and-mouth disease might be best left to the farmers themselves, except when, as periodically happened, it appeared in an unusually virulent form, when it might be well to give discretionary power to local authority. He wished to point out that there were great practical difficulties in dealing with the case of Ireland in respect to the slaughter of cattle at the various points suspected to be suffering from pleuro-pneumonia. Those difficulties arose from the system of compensation, from the absence or inadequacy of a local authority in the country, and the obstacles which stood in the way of obtaining properly qualified Inspectors, the result being that it was found necessary to rely on the Constabulary to act in that capacity. There were, no doubt, considerable difficulties, and as hon. Members connected with England and Ireland had now spoken in the matter, he hoped some Member of the Government would at once rise and announce to the House the views which they entertained on the subject.


said, he did not know that he need dwell on the first Resolution which had been placed on the Paper by the hon. Member for Forfarshire. If the regulations in Great Britain with respect to the foot-and-mouth disease in cattle were not of an entirely satisfactory character, that was hardly the fault of the Irish Government. There was, at all events, a uniform system in Ireland, which was very much wanted in England, and to the absence of which very many of the difficulties which arose in this country in connection with the subject were attributable. He did not doubt, he might add, that several hon. Members who had spoken in the course of the discussion fully appreciated the difficulties which stood in the way of the compulsory slaughter of cattle for pleuro-pneumonia in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken referred to the undoubted deficiency in that country of properly qualified Inspectors, who would see that the cattle slaughtered were really affected with pleuro-pneumonia. But he had not alluded to another point which made the difficulties greater, and that was that the funds out of which compensation would have to come in Ireland were levied in the shape of a national rate and not out of the rates of any particular locality, so that many persons might be tempted to slaughter their cattle improperly, because they would not directly fool the burden of having to pay for them. He wished the House to bear those facts in mind before they blamed the Government for not taking hasty action in the matter. Again, if the undoubted want of properly qualified Inspectors were supplied by sending veterinary surgeons over from England with largo salaries, an enormous expense would have to be incurred. If such a staff were not established, the Constabulary would have to be employed, and, however well qualified they might be for the discharge of their ordinary duties, he was afraid they would hardly be the most competent persons to distinguish pleuro-pneumonia from any other form of cattle disease. Thus, with the inducement of compensation by the country, there might be a system of slaughter which would be practically unchecked; and there would be, he thought it was evident under those circumstances, great obstacles in the way of applying compulsory slaughter for pleuro-pneumonia to the case of Ireland. Then came the question, whether the system had been successful in those countries to which it had been applied? He believed it had been tried in several countries of Europe, and had, after a fair trial, been abandoned because of its enormous expense. It had not, he might add, during the time it had been tried in England, nine or ten months, been so successful in checking the spread of pleuro-pneumonia as had been anticipated. The disease, he might further observe, according to recent Returns, furnished by the Veterinary Department of the Irish Government, prevailed only to a very small extent indeed in Ireland. There were, he believed, only 75 separate farms in Ireland in which the disease at present existed. It was said, no doubt, by those connected with agriculture in England, that a great amount of the disease which prevailed in this country was due to its importation from Ireland, but those who were conversant with agriculture in the latter country would not, he believed, concur in that view. He thought it by no means improbable that, owing to the value which was set on Irish cattle in the market, cattle which were sold as such in England and Scotland had never been out of Great Britain. The voyage across the Channel, too, and the change to cold trucks from the heated holds of ships, rendered, he believed, cattle which had not been previously well-fed, liable to contract disease on their arrival in England, and it was hardly fair, therefore, to accept to the full, the statements which were made on this side of the water as to the importation of pleuro-pneumonia from Ireland. As to the system of inspection, he admitted the difficulty of getting proper Inspectors at the ports of embarcation; but the Irish Government had already a staff of Inspectors thus employed, and were prepared to use their best endeavours to improve it. The proper place for the inspection of exported cattle was at the port of exportation. Before any animal was allowed to leave an Irish port it was branded with a mark which would make it possible afterwards, by application to the Veterinary Department of the Irish Government, to find out the date and place of its shipment and the very farm from which it had come, if, on being sold in England or Scotland, it was found to be diseased. But, although that was the ease, no single complaint had been made to the Irish Veterinary Department by an English or Scotch purchaser; and if disease was imported so largely as was alleged, it was strange there had been no complaints. He quite agreed that every possible way should be tried of detecting and cheeking cattle disease, so long as they did not unduly interfere with a trade which was mutually advantageous both to Ireland and to England, and that it was the duty of the Irish no less than of the English Government to carry out that object in every way compatible with the interest of the country and the economical management of the funds intrusted to their care.


held with respect to foot-and-mouth disease that no other measure was necessary than a strict inspection at the ports, and with respect to that there would be no difficulty in finding proper Inspectors, provided they were paid. With regard to pleuro-pneumonia, whenever the police in Ireland learnt that that disease existed on a farm, a cordon was drawn round the farm and no cattle were allowed to leave it. The Irish farmers were in favour of compulsory slaughter, but thought they were entitled to compensation. At present they were practically compelled to slaughter without receiving any compensation. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman for his temperate and sensible speech, which he hoped would allay the panic which seemed to pervade English and Scotch agriculturists. It was wholly a question of liberality as to the application of the Imperial funds for inspection and for compensation to the Irish farmers.


said, if anything could be more disheartening to the English stock-owner than the action of the Privy Council in this matter, it would be the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland. There was an universal concurrence of testimony that the great losses from pleuro-pneumonia in the Eastern, Midland, and Western Counties had been traced to the importation of Irish cattle; and the country demanded that a strict inspection should be maintained in Ireland as well as here, and also a better system of inspection at the ports, both of embarcation and debarcation. It was no use closing their front door against Continental infection, and leaving their back door open to Irish disease. Possibly cattle, healthy when they left Ireland, might sometimes acquire disease on shipboard and in railways, for he was aware of oases which had arisen apparently in that way; but whatever precautions might be thought necessary, the demand was universal among all reflecting men that the Privy Council should enforce one uniform system in the United Kingdom, instead of leaving independent local authorities to frame different, and sometimes conflicting, regulations, as at present; also, that ships and railway trucks should be effectually cleansed and disinfected, and not become the source of disease, as they too often now were.


said, one gratifying result of the discussion had been to show the importance of giving to the Government as much power as possible to inspect cattle both at the ports of embarcation in Ireland and at the ports at which they were disembarked in England and Scotland. On that point the Lord President of the Council was taking very active steps, in conjunction with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to carry into effect what seemed to be the wish of the House. The Lord President was also giving attention to the question of improving and inspecting the railway trucks used in the conveyance of cattle, and he hoped good results would follow from the steps to be taken in reference to this matter also. With regard to the general question of the treatment of cattle diseases, he should say nothing at that late hour—in the first place, because it was not raised by the Motion of the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay), and, in the second, because there existed wide difference of opinion among competent authorities on the subject both in that House and out of it. The best authorities were divided on the question whether foot-and-mouth disease should be dealt with by the Government at all; and surely, in face of that great contradiction of opinion, it was not desirable at present to take action upon this branch of the subject. All he could say was that the Lord President would anxiously co-operate with the Irish Government, so as to secure as far as possible similarity of regulations with regard to cattle disease in the two countries. The Lord President would also keep steadily in view the one great principle, that the great object of checking cattle disease was to provide a supply of food for the people rather than to promote the interest of cattle breeders and dealers.


denied that the general opinion of the House as to inspection went beyond inspection at the port of embarcation, and contended that all the evidence at present taken on the subject had gone to show that Irish cattle were not more extensively subject to disease than animals bred and sold in either England or Scotland. He approved the proposals made by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and hoped they would be carried into effect without delay.


said, the precautions taken in the county Down had been effectual in stamping out disease among the cattle there, and he believed very few affected animals were sent from that part of the country either to England or Scotland.