HC Deb 07 August 1912 vol 41 cc3284-90

I rise to call attention to the system under which I understand the Government propose to admit animals from Ireland, from certain ports in Ireland, to foreign wharves in England. Under those circumstances, and remembering the conditions under which that fell disease has been reintroduced quite recently into this country from Ireland beyond all possibility of contradiction, I feel bound to enter my protest against this course being taken at the present time. I need not assure the right lion. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture that in the difficult position in which he is placed the last thing in the world that ever entered my head is to do or say anything whatever to embarrass him in the struggle which he is making, and which he will still have to make in order to extirpate this great calamity again. On the other hand I am bound to consider the interests not only of the community, but the agricultural interests as a whole on this side of the Channel, as well as the interests of the agricultural industry in Ireland. Speaking with a long experience on this question, and having had all those difficulties to encounter myself in former days, it would be most distressing to me, as it would undoubtedly be to him, to see this disease widely spread over the country again. I feel it even more than he does, because I know from experience the intolerable loss and annoyance and difficulty in which it places the whole agricultural interests for years. That is not only because of the immediate money loss which is suffered, but the annoyance which arises from the necessity of imposing the strictest regulations and restrictions on the movement of cattle and sheep in all parts of the country in order to get rid of it again. It is for that reason only that I ask permission to say a very few words upon this subject. Once more I desire to impress on the right hon. Gentleman that I do sincerely hope that this step will not be taken unless he is absolutely satisfied with regard to the condition of affairs in the sister isle. I have been looking into this matter and the few observations I wish to make are founded upon two documents in particular. One is the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman himself in this House on 1st July, and the other is the report of an action just undertaken by the Board of Agriculture of Ireland against certain people for concealment of the fact that this disease was in existence when they knew or ought to have known—I am perfectly satisfied that they did know—that it was in existence and had undoubtedly been in existence for some considerable time. When I compare a few passages from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman with statements in the Report of this trial I think the House will agree, if the Report be correct, that I am justified in complaining of the lax administration on the part of the Department in Ireland which has allowed such a state of things to come to pass. On 1st July the right hon. Gentleman told us:— On Thursday last, the 27th ult., the Board received information that the lesions characteristic of foot-and-mouth disease had been discovered in the tongues of two beasts which had been slaughtered in the abattoirs at Liverpool. … Inquiries were immediately set on foot in order to ascertain the origin and destination of the diseased animals. … It was ascertained that the affected animals had been bought in Stanley Market, Liverpool, on Monday the 24th ultimo, to which they had been brought on the previous day by an Irish dealer who buys cattle in the Dublin marker. … These cattle formed part of a consignment which had arrived from Ireland viâ Dublin and Holyhead on the previous Sunday. There was therefore abundant evidence that the outbreaks had their origin in Ireland, and I am informed this morning by the Irish Department that the disease has been discovered there on a farm near Swords in the County of Dublin, twenty-four cattle being visibly affected."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 1st July, 1912, col. 769, Vol. XL.] That was the information afforded to the Board of Agriculture on 1st July. Now what do I read in the Report of this trial? It is very desirable that it should be contradicted if it is inaccurate. I understand that the Report is the same in all the newspapers. I am quoting it merely to show that there have been circumstances in Ireland connected with these outbreaks which, to say the least, are most unsatisfactory—especially if the statement I am about to quote is true:— Mr. William Malone, Veterinary Inspector to the Department, deposed to visiting a farm on 30th June and finding more cattle suffering from the disease. The man in charge, named Maguire, at first said nothing was wrong with then), but subsequently said that one or two cattle might have tinber tongue, and had been treated for that disease by a cow doctor. On being examined that evening, 30th June, seventy-four cattle were found to be suffering from foot-and-mouth disease, and they were slaughtered on 3rd July. We were told in the House of Commons on the afternoon of 1st July, that there were only twenty-four, and that information must have been communicated to lie President of the Board of Agriculture in England by the Irish Department. That is a matter which, unless there be some reason of which I am not aware, certainly does not show the kind of administration of these Acts, and circumstances connected with them, which would give me great confidence in the Department; sufficient to justify me in agreeing to the export of animals from ports in Ireland at a distance from the inspected district so small as that which is proposed now. I do not want to dwell upon this a moment further than it is necessary. I pass now to the next point. I sent an inquiry to the right hon. Gentleman, and I asked him if he could tell me how far the ports in Ireland from which the animals are now to be sent are from the infected district. I have been trying myself with such maps as I possess to make out as well as I could how far in a straight line they are. Swords itself, which is the centre of the disease, is considerably north of Dublin. I understand that the whole of the county of Dublin is scheduled as an infected district; that is so?

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Runciman)



The nearest point in the county of Dublin does not appear to be more than twenty-five or thirty miles at the very outside from the port from which it is now proposed to export these animals. The question suggests itself to my mind: What other country in the world would dream of doing such a thing as this, especially if you knew that the disease had been concealed, must have been concealed, for a considerable number of days? Over seventy animals on a farm do not become infected immediately. They would not be found by the inspector altogether infected unless there had been disease about the place for a very considerable time. What other country in the world, under these conditions or circumstances would think of exporting animals from a port in that country within a very short distance from the infected district itself? That is the first question which occurs to me to which I should like an answer much more satisfactory than anything I have heard up till now. The right hon. Gentleman yesterday told me that no guarantee could be given, or at any rate was given, that the slaughter of the animals would prevent the introduction of this disease. He said that he entirely disagreed from me. He used the word "safeguard," but "guarantee" was the word I used. I used it on purpose, because I wished something more than what is supposed to be a safeguard. I wish every possible step to be taken to prevent this disease coming back again. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that he could not take any steps or adopt any policy which would result in a meat famine. Why should there be a meat famine? Ireland is not the only source from which our supplies of meat are received in this country. There are millions of tons of dead meat imported, and these can be distributed in all parts of the country at short notice. If it be necessary to do so—although I acknowledge it might involve a certain amount of loss of profit— that is a matter for the producers in Ireland to consider for themselves. Do not let it be supposed for a moment that I am at all indifferent to this, or that I do not recognise fully and completely what a strain this may place for the time upon the farmers in Ireland, and from all I know about it I have the utmost and most complete and fullest sympathy for them. But if this disease was permitted to spread in Ireland, they would have to face all the troubles and difficulty again which I very well remember a great number of years ago. On the other hand, in the public interests and in the interests of the whole of the community, and, above all, in the industry of agriculture in the United Kingdom, I felt I could not reconcile it with my duty to leave this Parliament for the Recess without the least doing my best to raise these questions and to submit them to the right hon. Gentleman, that even now it would be wiser and better and right, at all events, to postpone this special Order for some longer period than he has given in view of the disastrous results which might quite conceivably and quite possibly occur if, in view of this new proposal, fresh seeds of infection were imported, and a further spread of the disease was possible.

6.0 P.M.


The fears of the right hon. Gentleman are I believe largely unfounded. Indeed, if I believed anything else, I should certainly not have taken the step to authorise fat cattle to be brought to the foreign animals' wharves for immediate slaughter. The right hon. Gentleman appears to think that that is a recent decision of mine, but I have informed the House several times during the last three weeks that I would allow fat cattle to be brought to the foreign animals' wharves at Bristol, Glasgow, Birkenhead, and Deptford, from one or two selected ports in Ireland, under severe restrictions, and I believe if that had not been done, it would have been impossible for the meat supply to be maintained, partly in the North-West of England and to some extent in the immediate districts round about Glasgow. I admit at once that there is no absolute guarantee against the introduction of disease, not only from Ireland, but from other parts of the world. Anyone who knows anything about the insidious nature of the disease, knows it may be carried, not only by animals, but by persons and birds, and I have heard it suggested that it may be disseminated by foxes. From Cheshire representations have reached me from the farmers with a view to preventing foxes running about in areas affected. We must draw the line somewhere. We cannot prevent persons, for instance, passing to and fro; and it is past the powers of the Board of Agriculture to prevent migratory birds passing. All we can do is to apply such restrictions as we think possible and as we think will result in the extirpation of the disease and in preventing its introduction. So far as I know no one member of the Departmental Committee, presided over by Mr. Aylwin Fellowes, expressed one word of dissent from the restrictions applied against outbreaks in this country. The suggestion that the foreign animals' wharves might become a source of infection I believe to be utterly unfounded, and my reason is that during the sixty outbreaks during the last five weeks not a single one of them has been traced, either directly or indirectly, to the foreign animals' wharves. Most of the cases we know were traceable to the infection having come in from the county Dublin. It was possible that the market of Dublin may have been infected by animals that passed through from Swords, but it is certain that nearly all the outbreaks were attributable to the infection carried from this one centre and disseminated throughout the country before it was known that the disease was coming in at all. Immediately it was discovered the most prompt action was taken. I would point out that promptitude of action is of the very first importance. Indeed I shall make a comparison between the promptitude of action which is considered necessary now and what used to be considered necessary in the old days. Let me, first, take the risk of disease coming into the Foreign Animals' Wharf. Cattle used to be put on trucks and shipped to Holyhead, thus carrying the infection into our markets, and practically affecting a whole consignment of cattle before it was noticed in the country at all. Animals that come into the Foreign Animals' Wharf now are not allowed to be scattered in this way; they are kept within circumscribed areas, and not a single fat animal is allowed to come from a scheduled area, and only from centres that are certified free from all disease. They are carefully inspected by veterinary surgeons at a small number of ports from which we are receiving fat cattle, and when they come to this side to the Foreign Animals' Wharf the animals are all placed in charge of an inspector of the Board.

At other times the animals coming over here used to be subjected to inspection of and put in charge of officers of the local authorities. I have not seen fit to allow that in the case of the Foreign Animals' Wharf, because our own officials ought to be responsible for what we are doing under these exceptional circumstances. The animals are examined as soon as possible in daylight by an inspector of the Board, and in the meantime they are not allowed to come into contact with any animals except those that came in the same ship. Therefore not a single one of these animals at either end of the journey have been suspected of being diseased after the closest possible examination. If the animals are all found to be free from disease, they are retained for a period not exceeding ten days, after which they must be slaughtered, and under no circumstances are they allowed to proceed outside the lairs on the Foreign Animals' Wharf. The inspector has the power to order the immediate slaughter of any animal, or of all the animals, if he thinks it is necessary. To prevent infection being carried about by persons we provide that no person shall be allowed to enter or leave the wharf without a special permit. He must specially disinfect himself, and his working clothing have to be removed before he leaves the wharf. Manure may not be removed without the inspector's permission, and before it is removed it must be disinfected to his satisfaction. I venture to say a set of safeguards so complete as this provides us with all practical measures which are necessary to enable us to bring in fat animals from areas in which there is no disease at the present time.

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