HC Deb 20 February 1896 vol 37 cc771-80

in asking for leave to bring in a Bill to amend this Act said, the Bill consisted of only two clauses, one of which gave the powers sought by the Board of Agriculture, the other consisting of the title. Although the Bill proposed to amend the law with regard to protection from disease among animals it did not, as a matter of fact, make any very material change in the existing state of things. Under the Diseases of Animals Act, 1894, power was given to the Board of Agriculture to protect the country against the danger of disease by the withdrawal of the privilege of free entry of animals when they had reason to believe there was just cause to fear infection. The Bill he asked leave to introduce proposed to remove that discretion altogether, and to make the restrictions upon the importation of animals permanent, and put an end to the power of any Minister to admit foreign animals, except for slaughter at the port of landing. A large majority—indeed, an overwhelming majority—of the agriculturists of this country had declared, times out of number, that, owing to a want of confidence on their part, the rearing of animals of all kinds in the United Kingdom had been hindered. They stated with almost absolute unanimity that, owing to the fact that it was within the power of the Ministry of the day to remove the restrictions at present in force, they were prevented from embarking their capital and skill in an industry the fruits of which were not quickly realised, and which might at any time be destroyed if, by the removal of the restrictions, disease were suddenly to be introduced. A large deputation of the agriculturists of the country waited upon the President of the Board of Agriculture in the late Government, and asked him to take the course now proposed by this Bill. While unable to comply with the request, he was glad to say Mr. Gardner—who deserved all honour for it—adhered fearlessly to the course adopted by his predecessor, and did his best to keep the country clear from disease by means of the powers he possessed. He had himself received a similar deputation to that just referred to. It was introduced by the hon. Member for Hampshire (Mr. Jeffreys), who was Chairman of the Central Chamber of Agriculture, who stated that the deputation represented 63 societies, including the Central Chamber of Agriculture, the Royal Agricultural Society of England, the Smithfield Club, the Farmers' Club, the Highland and Agricultural Society, the National Agricultural Union, the Short Horn Society, the Bath and West of England Agricultural Society, the National Sheep Breeders' Association, and the National Pig Breeders' Association. It would be admitted that this was a very representative deputation of the agriculturists of this country. One of the first gentlemen who addressed him after his hon. Friend was Mr. Ackers, Chairman of Cattle Diseases Committee of Central and Associated Chambers of Agriculture, who read the Committee's resolution, viz.:— The Committee are profoundly convinced that no real security can be felt by British stockowners against the re-introduction of contagious disease among their flocks and herds so long as the Board of Agriculture are compelled, under the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act 1878, to admit animals from certain countries. They consider no such responsibility should be thrown on a Government Department, but that the Legislature should definitely and once for all lay down the only sound and safe principle that all cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs sent to this country shall, except under special conditions, be slaughtered at the port of shipment or debarkation. The request of this influential and representative deputation was that the existing restrictions should be made permanent, and this was the object of the Bill. Some of these contagious diseases had very peculiar characteristics. Pleuro-pneumonia was difficult of detection, owing to the fact that it might long be latent without declaring itself. Sheep scab was also difficult to detect, and had done great mischief to our flocks. The main contention of stockowners was that, when everything was looking most satisfactory, and when they had every reason to believe that they were perfectly safe, the importation into this country of a few diseased animals might bring sudden ruin upon them. It was not reasonable to expect that men would invest their capital and skill in cattle-breeding when they had to run such fearful risks. It had been contended in some quarters that this Measure was an attempt to introduce the principle of protection in favour of our cattle-owners, but he could assure the House that the Government had no such object in view. He should have thought that in these days no hon. Member would regard it as possible that the Government should take any steps that could be regarded as protective in the ordinary sense of the word—that was to say, that they would exclude foreign and colonial cattle in order to enhance the price of meat. The effect of the restrictions upon the importation of live cattle had in no way raised the price of meat in this country. With regard to our existing position as respects disease, he would take the case of pleuro-pneumonia, which was one of the most serious diseases with which they had to contend. The figures for the last four months of 1890 showed that there were 20 counties in which the disease existed, there were 119 outbreaks of disease, and 591 diseased cattle were slaughtered, while 5,389 healthy cattle were slaughtered which had been exposed to infection by contact with the diseased cattle, and there were 66 cattle suspected but found to be free from disease. In the year 1895 there was only one county in which disease existed, only one animal was killed, and that by order of the owner himself, and only 161 which were slaughtered in consequence of their having been in contact with diseased animals. This proved that the restrictions which had been in force so long had been productive of enormous benefit to the cattle-owners of this country. So far as other countries were concerned, whether it was the colonies, the United States of America, or Argentina, there was no desire whatever on the part of the Government to interfere in an unfair or unneighbourly way with their trade with this country. But these restrictions, which the Government now proposed to make permanent, had been in force for a considerable time, and yet, notwithstanding that fact, the importation of meat into this country had largely increased. In 1880 there were 154,814 cattle imported from the United States of America, and 66,722 sheep. Since the restrictions had been imposed the numbers imported had increased to 273,921 cattle and 445,689 sheep, and with regard to the importations from Argentina, the numbers had risen in an even greater proportion. Those figures showed clearly that, while the restrictions protected the stock of the home-breeders from disease, they were entirely consistent with a large increase in the imports of cattle to this country for slaughter. As to the provision of store stock, he was confident that there was no agricultural industry in this country so capable of development. Parts of this country and of Ireland were well suited for the purpose of breeding store cattle, which, by means of these restrictions, were protected from disease. He believed that the normal requirements of this country as regarded store stock could be abundantly supplied by the breeders of the United Kingdom if they had a fair chance and opportunity afforded them. No doubt the hon. Member for Aberdeen would tell them that Scotland felt strongly on this subject, and he was aware that some hon. Members who represented certain parts of England would declare that the measure would inflict great hardship upon those whose interests they represented. [''Hear, hear!"] The agricultural industry was so different in its character in different parts of the country that no Measure would give equal satisfaction to agriculturists in all quarters of the country. Members opposite who represented part of Scotland and the Eastern Counties would no doubt refer to the importance and value of the importation of store cattle to farmers in those localities, but they were, after all, in a very small minority. That minority believed that these restrictions were injurious, but the vast majority of farmers in this country were interested in the protection of their flocks and herds from disease. He had no hesitation in saying, with the full responsibility which attached to his official position, that he could not conceive a moment arising when a Minister for Agriculture would feel himself justified in exercising his prerogative to remove these restrictions. It would be far better for the people in the towns where these cattle were landed if the cattle were slaughtered at once; and if they knew that this was to be done they would make arrangements accordingly. When once the fact was recognised that these cattle would have to be slaughtered a great industry would be created; slaughter-houses would be erected, a large amount of labour would be employed, and capital would be required. But if year after year the people went on hoping that the restrictions would be removed nothing would be done. They must make up their minds to the inevitable. The risk of removing the restrictions was so great, and the advantage to be obtained was in comparison so small that he was confident that if a Minister should strain his responsibility in one direction or the other it would be in order to save the herds of the farmer at home from destruction by disease. He did not propose by this Bill to restore agricultural prosperity, but he believed this was one of the ways in which they could do something to relieve agriculture, [Cheers.]

DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)

whilst fully sympathising with the right hon. Gentleman's wish, following in the footsteps of his predecessors, to stamp out disease, did not see that he had made out any case for obtaining the exceptional legislation for which he asked. The deputation of which he spoke was largely composed of Tory farmers and county gentlemen, who desired a policy of permanent, exclusive of foreign, store, and although the right hon. Gentleman disclaimed any Protectionist policy in bringing in this Bill, he could not absolve those who addressed him on that occasion, from such leanings. He was rather surprised also to hear the argument that this Measure was needed, because the great industry of breeding high-class cattle was dying away. All he could say was that in the district he represented at no time was its reputation in this respect higher, or the quality of the far-famed Black Angus better sustained. He was also surprised to hear the introducer of the Bill say that the exclusion of foreign stores could have no influence on the price of the home-bred article, for in his experience the exact contrary was the case, and it also was the fact that the vast development of the breeding industry had quite outstripped the power of production of home-grown stores, the price of which from the expense of raising and feeding ran down the margin of profit on the finished article perilously low. The figures brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman showing a notable diminution of disease argued strongly to his mind that the powers now given him under the Act of 1894, were amply sufficient and he would much prefer that annual revision and consideration of these powers by Parliament should be retained. He would not like to accuse the right hon. Gentleman of deliberately shirking his responsibilities, but no doubt, as in the case of the Irish Coercion Act, it was much more convenient to escape the annual worry and trouble of its reintroduction. He would not oppose the Bill, but he wished to utter a word of warning against proposals which when closely examined could mean nothing but Protection for home agriculture.

MR. E. H. LLEWELYN (Somerset, N.)

In speaking of the effect of disease imported into dairy districts said, it was difficult to imagine the injury inflicted by outbreaks of disease, which took place about the years 1872 to 1875, and even later. Those who had seen, as he had, the milk of from 20 to 50 cows, all one dairy, thrown away in a ditch morning and evening could realise what this meant. At that time if a farmer had a large farm of dairy cows it would have been far cheaper for him to have killed his stock than to have kept them alive. Those who were, or had been, dairy farmers, knew quite well what he meant. If there was a recurrence of the disease now the few remaining farmers who were holding their own with great pluck and endurance would be swept away; a recurrence of the events of '74 to '75, would ruin the whole of the dairy interests of the West of England. It was impossible to calculate the cost of these outbreaks, because they not only affected the cattle but ruined the herds, and very often necessitated the restocking of a farm. In 1889, pleuro-pneumonia cost in compensation £69,738 alone. If they put these figures and these facts against the inconvenience that accrued to those farmers who depended on the importation of foreign cattle, there was no comparison at all. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of the dairy farmers of the West of England—he thought he might fairly say throughout England—for the effort he was making to preserve this sole remaining branch of the agricultural industry. If men were to live in perpetual fear of these outbreaks the only ground of enterprise was removed, and that was confidence.


said the representatives of Ireland felt bound to listen attentively to all remarks which fell from any responsible Minister who spoke upon the question of agriculture. Personally, he could not help smiling when the right hon. Gentleman spoke about the good which would result from this Bill, because he remembered that the foreign animals slaughtered at Deptford were employed as beef for the English Navy. The Minister of Agriculture had quoted statistics which any one could read in Blue-books. What, however, he ought to have done was to tell them what the Measure proposed to do. All he was able to gather from the right hon. Gentleman's statement, was that the Bill proposed to carry through pre-existing laws, that had in his opinion, been of benefit. As the representative of an Irish agricultural constituency, he felt it his duty to endeavour to get from the right hon. Gentleman more than he had condescended to give to the House. As to cattle diseases he sincerely hoped that all the steps which could be rationally taken for the benefit of the consumer and producer at home, would be taken. Irishmen had had to bear great sacrifices in combating this evil. He hoped, therefore for the sake of his fellow countrymen, that the provisions of the Bill would be worked in a reasonable spirit, and would in no way be so applied as to embody any principle of Protection, a principle which operated in all ways to the disadvantage of the masses of the people.


said, that whenever a measure was brought forward for the assistance of agriculture, a cry of Protection was raised in order to prejudice persons against it. He regarded the Bill—and in saying this he was speaking for a large number of agriculturists—as an honest instalment of justice from the Government to the agricultural interest. It was just such a measure as he should have expected from the right hon. Gentleman who introduced it, and though the Bill might be viewed with diffidence by some persons, he believed the great majority of the farmers of the eastern counties would approve of it on the ground that it had been brought forward for the advantage of the agricultural classes generally, and with a conviction that it would confer some substantial benefit upon them. He, of course, did not think that prosperity to the agricultural interest—and the question of the importation of cattle was one of no small importance to it—could be suddenly effected by one stroke of the pen, but this Bill was introduced with the motive of dealing with one of the greatest difficulties with which farmers and cattle-dealers had to contend, and he believed it would be accepted in that spirit. While he had no desire to enter into a discussion on technical points relating to the Bill, he felt bound to say that he did not agree with the hon. Member for West Aberdeen in thinking that the effect of the Bill would be to largely raise the price of cattle. Speaking for the farmers of the eastern counties, he thanked the Government for introducing the Bill, and for thus undertaking a task which their predecessors dared not touch. [Cheers.]


said, Scotland evidently wanted a Bill of the kind proposed no less than England and Wales, and evidence of this was given by the fact that Scotland was well represented on the deputation that recently waited on the President of the Board of Trade, when the Scotch representatives spoke out strongly on the matter. He had lately been travelling on the Continent, and, from what he had seen and heard there, he thought England ought to take some measures to permanently protect herself from the introduction of foot-and-mouth disease from abroad. He was confident the measure would prove beneficial to Great Britain and Ireland; indeed, he believed it would be of more advantage to Ireland than even to England. It would be cordially welcomed by agriculturists, and he hoped it would pass.

LIEUT.-GENERAL LAURIE (Pembroke and Haverfordwest)

said, he had spent 30 years in Canada, and had filled the position of President of the Board of Agriculture in one of the Provinces. Hence he knew something of the feeling of agriculturists in the Dominion on this question. ["Hear, hear!"] The Canadian agriculturists felt very strongly that this country had not treated them well or fairly in the matter, because they maintained that they had never had cattle disease in the country. They maintained, also, that the policy of this country in prohibiting the importation of live cattle had been practically a policy of Protection to the British farmer. It was felt by an ever increasing number of agriculturists in Canada, and he strongly held that view, that importation of live cattle into Great Britain was practically stopped and the embargo would not be withdrawn, but some people both in this country and in Canada, were still living in a fools' paradise, and believed that the prohibition would be withdrawn, and it was far better that the power should, once for all, be taken out of the hands of the Minister and it be definitely established as the permanent policy of the country, and enacted by Parliament that all importation of live stock should be stopped, and he congratulated the President of the Board of Agriculture on having had the courage to come out squarely and bring in this Bill—and from his personal experience in farming in Canada he knew there was far more profit to be made in Canada in fattening cattle rather than in breeding them to sell as store cattle. He believed that in the long run Canadians would realise this, and that this Bill would really be eventually a benefit to them, hence he strongly supported it.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Walter Long, Mr. Chaplin, and Mr. Attorney General; presented accordingly, and read 1a; to be read 2a upon Monday next.—[Bill 95,]