HC Deb 09 December 1912 vol 45 cc211-20

I do not desire to detain the House, but the matter I desire to draw attention to is one of extreme importance, and time is the essence of the position. There is so much uncertainty as to the live stock in Ireland that we want an immediate declaration of policy from the President of the Board of Agriculture. I have frequently pointed out the fact that Ireland has supplies, and that Great Britain needs them. As a matter of fact cattle have gone up in price £2 within the last couple of days, mutton 1d. to 2d. a lb., whilst practically there are no pigs to be had. Meanwhile there is congestion in Irish ports— in Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Derry, Water-ford, Dundalk and Sligo. I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that there are a number of live stock in places which are not fit to keep them in, and that is one of the best means calculated to produce disease. In addition to this congestion, there are a very large number of cattle at grass deteriorating at this season of the year, unless there is a liberal supply of oilcake. I have representations practically from all the ports in the three kingdoms, from both sides of the Channel, from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. I will not detail the letters and telegrams, or the telephone messages I have received, but I have been kept busy during the last fortnight answering all kinds of communications as to what is to be done. The only person who can give us that information is the right hon. Gentleman opposite. There is another matter I desire to bring before the House because it is one with which I am intimately acquainted and that is the Dublin Fat Stock Show to be held in Dublin next Wednesday. The exhibitors and purchasers want to know what is going to be done in regard to that show, and surely it is time they had information. At Christmas time there is a very good class of cattle prepared, and if this time is allowed to pass over the time for that particular class of cattle will pass away, and there will be no market. I understood—I hope I am wrong—that the right hon. Gentleman said that no exhibits from Meath and Louth were to be permitted at that show. If that be so you are shutting out the two best counties in Ireland. Up to a few days ago I understood there was a difference of opinion on the Dublin case— I do not want to more than refer to the fact as time does not permit now—and with regard to the Newry case I understand one beast was affected and four subsequently became affected in contact. Whether that beast got affected on board the vessel through coming in contact with something on board that had infection I cannot say. That is a matter to be determined by the Board's experts. I understand that the districts from which these animals came have been inspected and examined and no trace of disease of any kind has been discovered. We thought that would satisfy the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture, but he seems hard to satisfy. I maintain that Ireland has practically a clean bill of health. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh."] Hon. Members may scoff, but that is my opinion, and I am prepared not only to state that opinion but to prove it. That is my opinion, hon. Members have a right to theirs, but they may find they are quite wrong. I assert, nothwithstanding the sporadic outbreaks in Ireland, we have probably at the present time the cleanest bill of cattle health of any country in Europe, and I wish to emphasise the fact that at the present time we have no disease either in Munster or Connaught. I cannot understand what valid reason, there was for applying the embargo to those two provinces. Those two provinces should be treated as separate zones. The fact is in the whole of this matter Ireland has been exceptionally treated. In England cattle are allowed to travel if they are outside the fifteen-mile zones, but because there were a couple of cases of foot-and-mouth disease in Ireland there is an embargo placed upon the whole country. I admit in certain circumstances such a course w7ould be a wise and prudent course, but I do not admit that there was any necessity for panic legislation or for the exaggerations that appeared in the English and unfortunately in some of the Irish papers. The result has been that the public mind has been poisoned against Irish cattle and a kind of alarm has been created in the minds of the British stock owners. We are just as much in earnest and just as anxious to keep out foot-and-mouth disease as any British stock owners or stock breeders can be. As President of the Irish Cattle Dealers and Stock Owners Association I wish to say that those with whom I am associated have loyally carried out all the regulations which the right hon. Gentleman has imposed on Ireland, and I think they have been more severely carried out in Ireland than in England. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] I want the House to remember that we have been more successful in keeping free from foot-and-mouth disease in Ireland than England has. I have always been of opinion that this disease has been imported into Ireland from England because you have had it here more recently, you have had more outbreaks and you have imported more foreign cattle and material of an infectious nature than we have. The animal industry in Ireland is much more important to us than it is to England because it is our staple product, and it is in fact the biggest product we have and the biggest trade between Ireland and England. That being so I hold that an Advisory Committee ought to be appointed in connection with the officials of both departments in order to avoid friction. The business men whose livelihood depends upon that business are not likely to give advice that will vitiate or destroy business between the two countries. There is no need for panic, but I think the cattle, sheep and pigs from Ireland should be permitted to land and an exception should be made in the application of the regulations in the case of Munster and Connaught which should be treated as a separate zone. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will fall into line and allow the business between the two countries to go on with proper safeguards.


I desire to join in the appeal which has been made to the right hon. Gentleman to release at the earliest possible moment the apparently panic regulations recently instituted. It is true that Ireland was never more full with cattle waiting for the English market, and I do not think in England the supply was even more needed that it is at the present moment. We all deplore the recent occurrence of this disease, but when you consider the vast number of animals that have been passing across the Channel the wonder is that there should have been so few rather than there should have been only these isolated cases. With regard to the exemption which has been referred to, I would also claim exemption for the province of Ulster. I know that we have had a few cases in one extreme part of the province, but as regards the four larger counties of Ulster we are absolutely free of even a suspicion of the disease, and we have been right through. We hope that, in view of the Christmas market, the stock now accumulated at all of our leading ports will be allowed to pass over to this side of the Channel after due inspection. Personally, I think a mistake was made in allowing any cattle to come over to this side of the water without being inspected and tested before they were shipped.


That was a special arrangement entered into.


I quite understand that, but it has aggravated what has happened. I think it was clearly the duty of the Vice-President to have got sufficient professional help to have made sure against the risk of shipping a single diseased animal. It is a reasonable demand that the cattle now accumulated at the ports of Belfast and Derry should be allowed after examination on the Irish side, to come to this side for immediate slaughter and that very shortly the movement of store cattle should be resumed with adequate quarantine regulations applying to them on this side of the Channel.


Two distinct matters of vital importance to Ireland are concerned in this question. There is first of all the question of the renewal of the exportation of fat stock which affects the eastern and the southern portions of Ireland. I will not say another word about that because it has been dealt with by my hon. Friend, but I would strongly urge upon the Vice-President whether he cannot take into consideration the claim, I think the overwhelming claim, of two whole provinces of Ireland which have never been affected by the disease for the last thirty years to free trade and to a complete removal of all restrictions. It would be perfectly easy —I speak in the presence of a number of practical men—to draw a cordon which would completely prevent the passage of cattle from either Leinster or Ulster into Connaught and Munster, because, as a matter of fact, the flow of cattle goes from Connaught and Munster to Leinster and Ulster, and the interference to trade in drawing a cordon which could be rigidly maintained would be slight. I would put it to the Vice-President whether he cannot set free the trade of Ireland, after the suspected districts are settled, both as regard fat stock and also store stock which is an equally and in fact a more burning question to the poorer parts of Ireland, and whether he cannot now consider the practicability of restoring complete freedom of trade to Connaught and Munster which for thirty years has been absolutely free.


I desire to ask why Ireland has been exceptionally treated. If it had been an English shire, there would have been no prohibition; there would merely have been a circle of thirty miles radius drawn round the affected district. The loss to the people of Munster and Connaught by this unfair treatment has been enormous. Millions have been lost; in fact, the effects of the embargo on the cattle trade of Ireland will be nearly as disastrous to the country as the Financial Clauses of the Home Rule Bill. I trust the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to treat Ireland equally with England. Why should Connaught be prevented from exporting cattle when an English shire would, in the same circumstances, be allowed to do so. I do hope this unfair treatment of Ireland will cease, and that the people will not be beggared and robbed by this embargo, and by one rule obtaining in England and another in Ireland.

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

Perhaps it may be convenient that I should tell the House at once what is the position, and how far it has been cleared up during the last four or five days. Last week two cases of animals which were suspected by the Irish Department of having suffered from foot-and-mouth disease occurred in Dublin. The Irish Inspectors succeeded in detecting these animals. They were slaughtered and the infected parts having been examined there, were sent over to England and also examined here. There is no doubt that the animals showed lesions of some age, which were thought in Ireland to be of a mild nature. But in England the Board's Inspectors and independent veterinary inspectors declared them to be the ordinary lesions of foot-and-mouth disease. They held it was possible that the ordinary period of infectivity had passed. But our recent experience in Northumberland, where we had had a number of outbreaks one after another, led us to believe that animals which had recovered from foot-and-mouth disease and still showed signs of lesions in the mouth had not lost the power of infecting healthy stock even after recovery, and in one district of Northumberland we found the infection had been spread there in the first instance by animals which did not show any lesion. It is a not uncommon quality of disease in human beings, especially in some well-known complaints common to children, for the illness to be conveyed in a far more infectious degree when the patient is recovering than when actually down with it. Very much the same sort of thing occurs in regard to these lesions, and our experience in Northumberland, where we had had very bitter experience and where the farmers had suffered from over thirty outbreaks, taught us that we could not be too cautious in holding up animals that had been in contact with those two cases. We therefore prevented the animals that had arrived in Dundee from passing on to the farms on which they were to be fattened. They are detained at Dundee and will remain there until the period of incubation has been safely passed. I hope we may find at the end of that period that we are still free from disease, and in that case the animals will pass on to the farms for which they were purchased and there be fattened in due course.


At what period will that be?


Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to complete my full statement. If the animals show any signs of the disease while they remain at Dundee that will complicate matters in Dundee, and I am afraid it must lead to the destruction of the animals, for we can take no risk whatever of introducing the disease into Scotland which throughout this trying period has been entirely free from it. The case at Dundee will be carefully watched, and the farmers who are anxious to get cattle in the Eastern counties of Scotland will receive them as soon as it is safe for them to be released from the Foreign Animals Wharf at Dundee. We had no sooner got rid of these cases than a day or two later our Inspectors discovered in fat animals which had come from Newry undoubted evidence of lesions, stated in one case to be ten days old and in four other cases of much more recent date. Much turns on the age of the lesion, and we took a good deal of trouble to verify the judgment arrived at by our veterinary officers. I have every confidence in our officers, and especially in our Chief Veterinary Officer, who has had a larger amount of experience than probably anyone else, both at home and abroad, of foot-and-mouth disease. I was anxious that we should not depend purely on his judgment. I therefore asked for the independent opinion of three other veterinary surgeons, and they, independently, all estimated that the length of time these lesions had appeared in the mouth of the animal was certainly varying from seven to ten days. That pointed to the fact that this animal must have had foot-and-mouth disease before it left Ireland. In justice to the Department over which my right hon. Friend presides I ought to say it was by an arrangement with us that we provided that in the case of fat animals the rough inspection should be done in Ireland, but that the mouthing should be done on arrival in England.

That, however, does not relieve us from the necessity of taking such steps as we think incumbent upon us to prevent any animals which show signs of disease communicating it either to other animals in the foreign wharves, or from being imported from the infected quarter in or around the ports where they are slaughtered. In all we have had five cases out of the Newry cargo. As soon as we discovered these cases we asked the Irish Department to trace them back, and, with great energy, they have succeeded in tracking back every one of the animals which came over in this infected shipload. My right hon. Friend informed the House to-day exactly where they did come from, so far as could be ascertained. That has very much cleared the air, and we know, so far as we can know, that these animals which have been under suspicion and those which have shown no evidence of the disease have not come from some parts of Ireland. I do not know that we can ever tell quite accurately the farms from which they did come, but all the evidence points to their coming from some districts and not coming from others. What I propose to do is, with regard to the districts from which they cannot have come, to resume the importation into England of the fat stock from those districts. That will greatly relieve the markets both in Ireland and in England, and I believe, as we now know the area which has been under suspicion, and therefore, by deduction, the area which has not been under suspicion, we may safely resume the importation into this country of the fat animals without subjecting them to fourteen days' quarantine or keeping them out altogether as we are at the present moment. The area has to be defined which is the subject of sus- picion, and communications are now passing rapidly between the two Departments which I hope will enable my right hon. Friend to-morrow, I believe, to issue an Order prohibiting the movement out of the suspected areas.

Immediately that has been done I shall issue an Order authorising the importation into England once more of fat animals through Bristol, Deptford, Glasgow, Manchester, Cardiff, Hull, Newcastle, Holyhead, Dundee, when it is cleared, and Birkenhead as soon as it has been thoroughly disinfected, that is, from the long list of Irish ports which appeared in the Order of 27th November—practically all the Irish ports, almost without exception. This will greatly relieve the fat cattle trade and enable a largo number of animals now at Irish ports to be sold over here and the money returned to their owners in Ireland. With regard to the stores all I can say at the moment is that until we have something like a much clearer definition of the problem in Ireland than we have at present I would rather not make a full statement, but I hope within the next few days to announce exactly what we can do with regard to the stores and thus relieve the tension both on the Irish side of the Channel and on this, and especially in Scotland where the necessity for obtaining stores at this time of the year is not only a question of fattening up animals for market but clearing the ground for the general benefit of agriculture.


Does the Order that the right hon. Gentleman will issue mean that they will have to be subject to four days' quarantine as before or can they now proceed straight to the slaughterhouse?


They will be slaughtered at the foreign animals wharf immediately on landing.


Will the Order be issued in a couple of days?


If my right hon. Friend gets his Order out to-morrow I hope to have mine out before midnight to-morrow night.


Does the Order with regard to fattening include all fat stock?




Having regard to the fact that all the cattle have been traced to their original farms and to the fact that there has been no disease in county Monaghan for thirty years does the right hon. Gentleman see his way to exclude Monaghan from the Order?


Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to include the whole of county Tyrone in the scheduled area, considering that only one portion of that county has been found to have been infected in this respect?


The officers of the Department are now engaged upon this very question of boundaries and I would rather not say anything, but there is no idea of scheduling the whole county of Tyrone. As regards Monaghan perhaps my hon. Friend will leave it until to-morrow until the officers of the Department have had time to consider the whole question of boundaries.


The House has heard a good deal from the Irish point of view. May I say a word from the English point of view. I gather that fat stock are to be admitted from certain parts of Ireland for immediate slaughter at certain English ports, but that under no condition will these fat stock be admitted to other ports of England. I hope the right hon. Gentleman in the interests of English agriculturists will hesitate some time before he admits Irish store cattle indiscriminately to this country again. There have been applications from various parts of the House for the admittance of Irish fat and store cattle from practically every province in Ireland except Leinster. When my hon. Friends and my Nationalist Friends begin to combine against the Government it is about time English people looked out for themselves.

And, it being half an hour after the conclusion of Government business, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put.

Adjourned at Twelve minutes before Twelve o'clock.