HC Deb 10 December 1912 vol 45 cc411-22

I rise to ask the Vice-President of the Depart- ment of Agriculture For Ireland (Mr. T. W. Russell), if he has any statement to make with regard to the restrictions imposed on the cattle trade in that country, and more particularly in reference to those imposed in county Westmeath. I want to point out that five weeks have now elapsed since disease was found in that county and then the early cases that occurred were in Mullingar and its immediate vicinity. During that period of five weeks no case has occurred in any part of the county. The people co-operated with the right hon. Gentleman to the utmost degree in the endeavour to stamp out the disease and we have every reason to believe that it has been stamped out. A very much longer time has elapsed since the restrictions have been imposed round that town than is usually the case, either in Great Britain or in other parts of Ireland. The rule is I believe to continue them for twenty-eight days in the restricted area, but in the case of Mullingar they have been existent for five weeks. The people did not complain of their imposition because they realised that it was to their interest just as much as it is to the interest of hon. Members above the gangway that the disease should be stamped out, and notwitstanding all the hardships and suffering imposed on them they have loyally assisted the efforts of the right hon. Gentleman. I speak, not for the big cattle dealers or jobbers, but for the small tenant farmers who depend for their livelihood on a few cattle and pigs. They are the people who have suffered most, yet they have not complained of the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman. I know perfectly well the time of worry and anxiety he has gone through. I know he has done his utmost to try and stamp out the disease in order that the trade of the country may be restored to its normal condition. I have risen in the hope that he may be able to make a statement, such as the people are impatiently awaiting, and such as I think we are entitled to expect from him. I have heard within the last half-hour that a statement has been issued in Dublin, which if true, will create bitter disappointment all over Ireland. I do not know if it be the case, but I sincerely hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us it is not, and that he will tell us that Ireland is to be treated in the same way as any English county, and that county Westmeath is not to be treated more harshly than county Dublin. The people of Westmeath have rallied round the right hon. Gentleman. I know he will bear me out in that. I have done my best to make them trust him and to comply with the regulations he has imposed. I therefore hope I shall receive a sympathetic reply from the right hon. Gentleman.


I think that everybody in this House, when aware of the facts, will agree that the Irish members will be failing in their duty if they do not take the earliest possible opportunity to raise this most serious question. The Vice-President at Question time courteously informed me that, as a result of the negotiations which have taken place, his Department has now decided to schedule four whole counties in Ireland, and that, out of five others, in respect of three there is an absolutely stand-still Order. On behalf of county Monaghan I want to protest in the most vehement manner against what I believe to be a most unreasonable and stringent Order in regard to that county, having regard to the facts. The facts are that early last week a cargo left Newry for Birkenhead, which included 73 cattle, 113 sheep, and 525 swine. On arrival at Birkenhead it was discovered that one of the animals was diseased. Immediately the machinery of the Department was put into operation, and the seventy-three cattle were traced home to their place of origin in Ireland in every case. In every case it was discovered that every place of origin was absolutely free from disease. I am speaking only of the twenty-eight Monaghan cattle, every one of which was traced home. The Department received every facility from the men in the district, from the men who bought the cattle, the owners from whom they came, and the local officers. I am told, and I believe it is correct, that on Thursday in last week the inspectors of the English Department reported that none of the twenty-eight cattle which came from Monaghan were infected or involved in the outbreak at Birkenhead. The Irish Department then and there scheduled the rural district of Monaghan and Castleblayney. We did not complain. We were quite satisfied. But what do we find you have done tonight? You cannot find the disease in Monaghan; you cannot trace it to the Monaghan cattle, but now you have scheduled the whole county. In respect to those parts of Monaghan which have only been scheduled for three or four days, they occupy the anomalous position of being under stand-still Orders, while other parts are under movement-out Orders. That is unreasonable action on the part of the Department. I want to know why you have scheduled the whole of county Monaghan? The Vice-President said yesterday, "We will schedule a district where there is any disease." That is quite right. Last night, on the Motion for the Adjournment, the President of the English Department said:— I believe we now know the area which has been under suspicion, and therefore, by deduction, the area which has not been under suspicion The area has been defined, and communications are passing rapidly between the two Departments, which, I hope, will enable my right hon, friend to-morrow, I believe, to issue ail Order prohibiting movement out of the suspected area. What is a suspected area? An area in which you have reasonable ground for believing that disease exists. I ask the Vice-President, here and now, has he any grounds whatever for suggesting that the disease exists in county Monaghan? You have had no disease in Monaghan in any of the recent outbreaks during the past twenty-five years. I ask the Vice-President does he support the Order scheduling county Monaghan, which has been issued by his Department? Does he justify the Order, or does he accept the Order because it has been put as a pistol to his head by the English Department? That is what I want to know, because whilst it is the duty of the Irish Department to do everything to stamp out foot-and-mouth disease, it is also their duty to protect Irish trading interests, and if English officialism has become frightened, and panic has spread through the English Department, that is no reason why we should allow Irish interests to suffer. I wish to urge this matter most strongly. We are perfectly patient in regard to any reasonable investigation. You have had the County Council of Monaghan meeting on Monday, and passing a resolution approving the steps you have taken to stamp out the disease, and to run down this outbreak. But here you have a county without a single case for twenty-five years. You have traced every animal that came from the county, and formed part of this cargo, and I ask what justification have you for suggesting that any suspicion attaches to county Monaghan? So far as we are concerned, and I am certain I am speaking on behalf of every Member on these benches, we are more anxious than the English Department to see the disease stamped out, and we will do everything in our power to assist in stamping it out, but I for one will not stand silently by and allow the trade of my county to be stamped out.

Mr. T. W. RUSSELL (Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture, Ireland)

In reply to the hon. Baronet (Sir W. Nugent), it is entirely due to what has taken place since this morning that I am unable to carry out what was my intention with regard to Westmeath. I promised the hon. Member (Mr. Lardner), to-day that I would be in a position to-night to state the terms of the Order which had been issued to-day in harmony with the wishes and desires of the English Board, and the terms were that on our issuing this Order, the Order opening the ports in England would go out to-night. A telegram which I received from the Department in Dublin is to the following effect. "District scheduled by to-day's Order comprises whole of counties Meath, Louth, Monaghan and Armagh, part of county Westmeath, north and east of a line running from junction of Westmeath, Meath and King's County through Rochfortbridge, Castletown and Loughanavally to Ballynacarrigy. That is, roughly speaking, eastern half of county Westmeath, county Cavan, east of Midland Great Western Railway, that is eastern half of county Cavan, part of Tyrone, south and east of a line running from Trillick via Six Mile Cross and Pomeroy to county boundary near but excluding Cookstown, part of county Antrim, south of a line from town of Antrim to Belfast, but excluding Belfast, part of county Down excluding Belfast, east of Belfast and county Down railway line from Belfast to Ardglass, that is major portion of county Down. Order prohibited movement of animals out of this district, but does not prohibit movement into or within it, except as regards the portions of it which were scheduled by previous Orders. The portions are the Westmeath district and Armagh district which were scheduled as precautionary measure, and which comprise county Armagh and adjoining parts of counties, Monaghan, Tyrone, and Down. The Westmeath and Armagh districts are subject to stand-still restrictions, all movements of animals into, out or within them being prohibited."


What happened today? The right hon. Gentleman says if it had not been for something that happened to-day he would have been able to redeem the promise he made.


What happened was that the two Departments have had to consider the new position created by the incident at Birkenhead and the incident in Meath arising out of the two animals which were discovered at Dublin.


Surely that has not happened since yesterday. That is three or four days old.


The hon. Member forgets that the President of the Board of Agriculture stated last night that he and his advisers had to consider the matter. This is the result of the consideration. That is what I mean by what happened to-day.


May I ask if this Order rescinds the previous Order and exempts county Longford?


What I desire to say as to that is that at the present moment the restriction is as in the old Westmeath Order. The hon. Member will know what I mean by that. The other side is covered now by this new Order. I think it is quite impossible, as I had intended, to restrict the Westmeath Order.


Does that mean that the fairs will be allowed to take place next week?


I would rather answer that question to-morrow if the hon. Gentleman will repeat it.


I felt after the statement of the President of the Board of Agriculture last night that Irish agriculturists might reasonably look forward to considerable relief by the Order which was to be issued to-night, but I confess that I am absolutely taken aback by the suggestion that counties which have been absolutely free even of a suspicion of disease should now have very substantial portions of them scheduled. I take to begin with county Antrim. So far as I am aware there is not even a suspicion that any of the animals to which reference has been made have come from any portion of that county. As to county Down, it is surely a monstrous thing to say that at least one-third of it is now to be scheduled because some suspected animals have passed through a remote portion of it. I can only say that when this discussion is read in Ireland to-morrow the depression of agriculturists, which has been growing for some time, will be accentuated. The feeling that has been existing there is that the Irish Department has yielded to pressure to which it ought not to have submitted in regard to the issue of this Order. I join with hon. Members below the gangway in impressing on the Government that Ireland ought not to be treated worse than England has been treated in similar circumstances in the past. We in Ireland are as anxious as any English or Scottish agriculturists can possibly be to do all that can reasonably be done to stamp out the disease at the earliest possible moment, but to say, at this the most critical and important time of the whole season for the raisers of fat stock, that practically two-thirds of Ulster is to be held up is very strange in view of the facts in regard to the counties in that province. Out of nine counties we find the prohibition extending to six of them. I thank the Vice-President of the Department for the small concession in respect of the county of Londonderry which I and my colleague have the honour to represent. It has as yet been free from this dread ordeal. We do not know how far the thing complained of is to be allowed to continue elsewhere, or how long the three remaining counties—Londonderry, Fermanagh, and Donegal—will enjoy exemption. We have had frequent telegrams as to ports where cattle not affected, have been detained, through the working of the Order, while the origin of suspected animals is being traced. The last case is bad almost beyond conception. I will only add that if we do not have some more reassuring statement from the President of the Board of Agriculture tomorrow I shall press the Prime Minister to give us, even though it would be very inconvenient to many Members, Saturday to discuss this matter.


I shall have the sympathy of Members in all parts of this House in expressing regret that in a Debate of this enormous importance the President of the Board of Agriculture is not here, especially as he received notice at Question time to-day that the matter would be raised on the Motion for Adjournment. Others of my hon. Friends have drawn attention to their own counties and the manner in which they will be affected by this new Order which the Vice-President of the Department has just communicated to the House. With reference to my own county, the county Down, he has told us that nearly the whole of it is to be scheduled, but he has not told us why it is to be scheduled. He has not given a shadow of reason or justification for the procedure adopted by his Department. I should like him to tell us on what basis or principle his Department proceeded in scheduling this county or the county Antrim. I understand that the Department has decided to omit the certain strip of land running through the county Down along the line of railway to Belfast. On what principle has that part been exempted from the Order which affects the whole of the rest of the county? The whole thing is totally illegal. It seems to me that a number of clerks have sat down round a table in some office in Whitehall, at the Board of Agriculture, with an ordnance map in front of them, and drawn fantastic lines upon it, and said, "there are the areas that have got to be scheduled." These clerks know nothing about Ireland and care less. Not one of them has ever been in Ireland, and I do not believe that any one of them ever wants to be in Ireland. They have no knowledge of the country beyond what they get from ordnance maps. A more overwhelming proof of the necessity of Home Rule for Ireland has never been given. For all practical purposes the Department might as well schedule the whole province of Ulster, as do what they have done to-night. It is a case of bureaucracy run mad in Whitehall, because these gentlemen are playing ducks and drakes at present with a trade worth over £12,000,000 a year to the Irish people. I will ask the Vice-President also to tell me what becomes of the pledge which he gave me to-day at Question time that no restrictions will be applied in any area unless affected by foot-and-mouth disease? That pledge has been absolutely broken by the announcement read out to-night.


I cannot allow that. There can be no doubt about it that the animal found at Birkenhead had been shipped at Newry and had gone through part of the county Down. I used the word "effected."


There is no suggestion that this animal came from the county Down at all, even though it was shipped from Newry. On the contrary, the right hon. Gentleman has admitted that in no part of the whole county Down could the slightest trace of foot-and-mouth disease be found by him or his Inspectors. Therefore the pledge has not been kept. I am not blaming the right hon. Gentleman for it. I am not sure that he deserves all responsibility, but there are some questions which I would like him to answer at the earliest opportunity. Perhaps they will be more fittingly answered by the President of the Board of Agriculture for England. The first is: on what principle and what grounds has the county Down been scheduled? The second is: which Department is responsible for scheduling it? Is it the Boad of Agriculture in England or the Department of Agriculture in Ireland? These two Departments have been playing battledore and shuttlecock long enough with Irish interests, and it is time to know on which of them we ought to fix responsibility for playing havoc with the whole trade and industry of Ireland. I want to know how the Board of Agriculture in England intervened in this matter, and what representations have they made to the Department of Agriculture in Ireland? Has the Board of Agriculture said to the Department, "we will not allow cattle to be landed in England from certain areas which we now name," and by a wonderful coincidence are these the very areas that the Department of Agriculture has scheduled to-day. I think we are entitled to a straightforward answer on that point. If that is so the responsibility rests more with the Board of Agriculture in this country than with the Department of Agriculture in Ireland. I do not know whether we will get an answer, but certainly we shall force the matter again and again until it is elucidated.


I have only to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will allow his intention to stand, or whether it has been forgotten, to release certain districts in Ireland from the restrictions previously imposed upon them. Or are those districts to be tied up again, not on account of disease, but on account of the requirements of the English Department? Is that to stand as the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman and to go before the country?


As a Scottish Member I desire to protest against the restrictive policy of the Government on this question. They seem to be acting in a state of panic. The agricultural interests of Ireland and the agricultural interests of Scotland are identical, and the interests of consumers in our cities are also identical. While it is desired that this disease should be stamped out as soon as possible, we think that cattle from healthy districts should be allowed to come over to this country just as cattle from healthy districts in this country can be removed to other districts. We should have cleared up all this scheduling of these large areas. Is it due to the attitude of the Vice-President or of the President of the Board of Agriculture? If that is the case, I think the Government are assuming a very grave responsibility, and doing much injury, both to the agriculture of Ireland and of Scotland.


I rise to protest against the action of the Vice-President in scheduling the whole county of Meath against the advice given him, against his own judgment, and under coercive authority. The right hon. Gentleman said m the House last week that there was a suspected case in the county of Meath. He made the following statement:— First, there is the cape of an animal, one of a large cargo which it was proposed to ship to Dundee. One animal was found by the inspector of the Department to be suffering From some ailment, and was challenged and not allowed to go on board. It was examined, and three of our principal inspectors saw the animal. The lesion in the tongue was an old lesion, said by the chief veterinary inspector of the Board of Agriculture in England, to be a mouth or two old. Our three inspectors in Dublin were unable to pronounce it foot-and-mouth disease, and they were confirmed in their action by the fact that the animal had been for eight months in a field near Kells, in the county of Meath."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 5th December, 1912, col. 2470, Vol. XLIV.]. There is the right hon. Gentleman's own statement, and he now goes back upon that statement, and schedules the whole of the county of Meath in respect of a case which his own inspector said never existed. How are farmers in Ireland to believe that they will receive justice if the Department has not the courage of its own convictions? If the right hon. Gentleman is bound to repudiate the advice of his own inspector and act upon the advice of others, what course is open to us? What is the case of Meath. It is a great fattening centre for sending stores to this country. The county Meath sends more fat cattle to this country than any other county in Ireland, especially at this time of year for the Christmas market, and here because of that solitary case the whole of the trade of that county is shut out from the markets. I say a more monstrous injustice was never committed on any county. Whatever our politics may be we should stand together and see who is responsible; whether it is the Department of the right hon. Gentleman in Merrion Street or the right hon. Gentlemen in Whitehall. There was another case reported from Dunshaughlin. His own Inspectors advised him and their opinion was confirmed by the head of the Veterinary College——

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

Adjourned at One Minute after Twelve o'clock.