HC Deb 30 December 1912 vol 46 cc175-84
Captain CRAIG

In accordance with the notice I gave at Question time, I wish to ask the President of the Board of Agriculture one or two questions which very nearly affect the cattle trade, not just at this particular moment alone, but for the future in connection with the announcement he has made to a certain deputation that it is the intention in a very short time to issue orders from the Board with regard to the detention of cattle on this side of the water for the purpose of furthrer inspection over and above what takes place at the export town in Ireland. During the very short Christmas recess I was at a meeting in the North of Ireland, which was attended by all classes interested in the cattle trade. It was a meeting of the Ulster Agricultural Society, at which there were present representatives of shipping companies, as well as of those practically interested in cattle dealing. The unanimous opinion was that whatever restrictions were necessary in regard to the stamping out of foot-and-mouth disease during the particular crisis through which we are passing must be borne with either good or bad grace according to the nature of the person affected. But a very different state of affairs occurs when those dealing in cattle, one of the greatest industries throughout the whole of Ireland, have to look forward to permanent double inspection of cattle, sheep, and other stock coming across from Ireland to England and Scotland. That announcement came, first of all, with astonishment and the gravest apprehension, because the cattle are inspected first in Ireland by the veterinary inspector and given a clean bill of health to leave for this country, and after having undergone detention, which is not the simple matter some people imagine, because it is not always convenient for the inspector to sec a certain lot of cattle, and sometimes they are sent back to the depot or place where the man keeps them, and he has to bring them out perhaps two or three times to suit the veterinary inspectors. That is the case at present, so much so that sometimes three or four weeks go by and the cattle exporters have to drive the cattle through crowded towns in order to suit the convenience of the Government inspector before they are put on board. That treatment of cattle once is surely quite sufficient for all purposes. A short journey on a steamer from Belfast, Derry, or Dublin to this side could be taken by the cattle in charge of herds to their destination without the great inconvenience and enormous extra expense of having to take them out of the steamer and drive them to some perhaps rather distant compound for veterinary inspection again, but not to be rested. Remember this is not a question that can be put on grounds of humanity towards the cattle. Otherwise the attitude of both Boards would be under the gravest criticism for what has taken place in the past.

It is merely asking to return to the status quo, and that these cattle should not be driven into this compound and under the suggested scheme of the right hon. Gentleman subject not necessarily to one further inspection in addition to what has taken place in Ireland, but actually to two, because it appears he has suggested that if there is daylight during the twelve hours' detention the cattle may be inspected during the twelve hours, but they will be further inspected as they leave the lairage at the end of twelve hours. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I will read to refresh his memory the interview which he had with Lord Inverclyde and others on this important point. I excuse the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues for a great deal owing to their undoubted stress of work during the last month, but there is no excuse when dealing with a matter which affects the whole trade of the whole country for the future to keep all these poor people, many of whom are very poor, absolutely trembling to know what the fate of their trade will be. One day the Prime Minister makes a definite statement that the Government intend to return to the status quo. Then the right hon. Gentleman in three or four days throws the Prime Minister over, and says the Prime Minister never had before him this proposal to maintain for all future time a double inspection of cattle in the United Kingdom. The idea of the right hon. Gentleman is not only to inspect the cattle once, but to keep moving them about this compound, to keep inspecting them during the daylight, and then after the daylight fails he says he may take into consideration having an artificial light erected that he may inspect them as they leave the lairage later on. I need not read that statement. When I threatened to read what he said he acquiesced.

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

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is quoting one sentence. We had a long conversation on the subject. Final arrangements were certainly not stated at that interview.

Captain CRAIG

It is printed by His Majesty's printers, and it contains the whole of the evidence. Of course, I cannot hold him to exactly what took place, but I will send him a copy of this, and he will see what I stated is perfectly true. I am sorry to say I have not marked that particular passage, but I refreshed my memory a quarter of an hour ago. All I can say is that I hope it is not true, and that the right hon. Gentleman will deny it. I hope he will say that one inspection, at any rate, will clear that point. [Mr. RUNCIMAN: "Hear, hear."] Then I will not dwell on that further. In any case he has left these poor people in a state of mind bordering on despair. The ports of Glasgow, Ayr, and a number of the ports that take cattle from Ireland, either in Scotland or England, are bound to put down compounds costing something like from £5,000 to £10,000, in order that cattle may be taken to them and there inspected. All this enormous expenditure is to be provided, and the Government has sternly refused to subscribe one halfpenny towards the cost, which will fall upon the railway companies, or those interested in the cattle trade At the lowest computation the extra cost which will be borne by the dealers in cattle, and therefore by the consumers in this country—of course, as an absolute Free Trader, the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it is to be borne by the consumers in this country—is about 40 per cent. on the charges for carrying cattle coming to this country. The interest on the money expended in providing these compounds is about 2s. or 2s. 6d. per head. In nearly every case where the railway runs to the docks there is not sufficient space for keeping cattle for twelve or twenty-four hours in order that they may be inspected twice by the Department's inspectors. Therefore, the vessels conveying cattle have to be taken to places where it is convenient to erect compounds, and where the cattle have to be detained twelve or twenty-four hours; after which they have to be driven through the docks, across the railways, and through the narrow streets to where the trains in the sidings are prepared to clear them off to whatever part of the country they are destined for. I agree that if the cattle have to be taken from the Clyde as far as Perth, or some of the long journeys, there might be some excuse for making an arrangement to give them a rest and to water them on landing from the steamers.

But that is not the idea at all. It is not done on humanitarian principles, and, from the way in which the compounds are being arranged, it would be literally as much trouble to take cattle from Derry or Dublin into Liverpool as it would be to some far distant centre of Scotland, for the simple reason that your docks are so placed that if you land in a port like Liverpool you must go through all the trouble of re-training the cattle, because it is impossible to drive them through the streets. Over and above that, there is another very grave question which arises, and that is why all this is necessary? This panic about foot-and-mouth disease I hope will pass off, as the panic about tuberculosis passed off a few years ago; but when it passes off for goodness sake let us return to sane methods. I think the right hon. Gentleman said that for many years past we had been protected on this side, but in the deputation speaking to Lord Inverclyde he asked: When they found among the animals coming to this side no less than 127 cases of sheep scab, speaking as business men, whether, when they had that experience working with double inspection, they would be justified in going back to single inspection again? I say that is a most unbusinesslike and unreasonable proposal. The whole fault lies from start to finish in the want of confidence in the Irish inspectors by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, but surely for some petty jealousy between those two Departments the whole cattle trade of Ireland, and of England, and of Scotland, is not going to be ruined. We should send over to the port of embarkation some of the right hon. Gentleman's most trusted inspectors, and let them work in peace and harmony with the Vice-President's staff of professional examiners; and, working thus in harmony, let the one examination at the source from where the cattle are sent suffice for any part of the United Kingdom. I say that would solve this great difficulty to the satisfaction of any man who has the real interest of the cattle trade of Ireland at heart. The right hon. Gentleman said that some of his inspectors had gone, and we all know what that means. He said at Question Time that some of the heads and tongues of those infected animals had been sent over here but what happened in the case of Newry? The whole ship was inspected, and the cattle were sent because the inspector thought it was not a case of foot-and-mouth disease at all, but when they arrived on this side the inspector of the President of the Board of Agriculture said it was foot-and-mouth disease, and immediately the trouble scattered, and the area affected was far greater than it had been. If the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture had sent his inspector in the first instance to Newry to pronounce upon—

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

made a brief explanation which was inaudible.

Captain CRAIG

I will leave that case on one side because I do not wish to make any misstatement. I have no desire to do anything except to bring this whole thing to an end. I am not chiefly dealing with the present foot-and-mouth disease; I am dealing more with the future. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board, when he likes, can be concise and plain so that everybody can understand him. The deputation in the meeting with Lord Inverclyde seemed to me to 'end without any real definite indication of what the Board's future proposals are. All that I ask tonight is that the President of the Board should shortly reassure the trade that there will be nothing done in any great hurry to peril this great trade in Ireland, and that he should not use the threat which he used to this deputation, that if they did not build new lairage in certain ports other ports would accede to his request, and the trade would be moved. It is not dignified for the head of a great Department to set one port against another in that way. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make a statement which will relieve the minds of those who are watching events with such closeness.


I make no complaint. of the hon. and gallant Gentleman having raised this question to-night. But I think the sooner a statement is made the better for all concerned. He has quoted from the interview that I had with Lord Inverclyde and his colleagues in the shipping trade between Ireland and Scotland and England some little time ago. I might point out, however, that that was only a conversation when we were trying on both sides to understand the difficulties we had to meet, and I could not pretend to state definitely what our final arrangements would be. But in order that the shipping companies and the railway companies might be in a position to make their arrangements, so that when the normal trade was resumed there would be no delay in the erection of new compounds or the preparation of wharf accommodation, or whatever it might be, I was anxious to let them know, at the earliest possible moment, that there must, in future be, on this side, whatever there was on the Irish side, inspection of the animals which were imported into Britain from Ireland.

Captain CRAIG

Why on this side?


As time is short, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make my statement. The difficulty we have had in the immediate past has been that animals arrived over here—I am not imputing blame to anybody, but they were not caught in Ireland, and the disease was scattered over such a very large district in the north and middle of England that we had to track early in July no less than 60,000 Irish animals to their destinations. If we had then had our inspection on this side as well as the inspection on the Irish side we should almost certainly have succeeded in stopping some of the animals before they had gone out to their distant destinations in Yorkshire, the Midlands, and elsewhere, and I hope we should have succeeded in preventing a very large number of the outbreaks which have made this year a rather disastrous one for some of the farmers in England. The necessity for a double inspection is that we may not run this risk in the future. And when the hon. Gentleman asks why it should be on this side, I can only tell him that the conditions of the, trade, and the fact that the animals pass over, collected together in one ship, and that quite conceivably one animal infects the whole shipload, provide sufficient reason for our taking precaution on this side as well as having inspection on the Irish side. The hon. and gallant Gentleman made same reference to what I said to Lord Inverclyde on our experience with regard to sheep-scab. I do not blame the Irish Department for not having succeeded in spotting these cases during last summer. They have been working under the greatest pressure. Practically none of their men have had leave for some months past. They have also been working at the ports under very great pressure. As a matter of fact, the figures show that altogether over 300 cases of sheep scab have been caught at the ports by our inspectors under what is the double inspection system, the one in Ireland and the other in England. It is very much better for the inspectors to stick to their own country. We work in collaboration with the Irish Department. The inspection on this side does give us an extra safeguard. If we can stop disease at our ports it is a most convenient place. The hon. Member says,, "Why on this side?" There is a double object in having a resting time for these animals after their arrival on board ship. The hon. and gallant Member says I have no humanitarian object in the suggestion that there should be this resting time.

Captain CRAIG

Excuse me, what I said was: Leaving that on one side, what is the object of the double inspection?


I am very glad the hon. Member thinks there is that object as well. There is. Because I have had reports from all places which receive animals from Ireland that they have frequently arrived worn out, tired out and jaded from their sea passage, however short, and even that short passage, as the hon. and gallant Member knows, can occasionally be rough. They have been taken straight from the steamer right into the truck and sent off at once, without any time for rest, watering, or feeding. That is a condition that does not add to the value of the cattle when they have reached their destination. So far from there being any loss to the cattle owners and dealers from this short period of resting over on this side, I am informed by those who know more about cattle than ever I can profess to do that this resting time will actually add to the value of the cattle.


Did you get that from: Irish dealers?


I got it both from Irish and English dealers.


Will the right hon. Gentleman give us the names?


No, I am not prepared to give the names. I could not guarantee that my memory would carry me safely, but I trust the hon. and learned Gentleman will accept my assurance that what I have stated is so. We have had this double object of giving the cattle a better chance of arriving in good condition. It is not a double inspection in England. I never suggested that. To one of the shipping representatives who came to see me, I suggested inspection by electric light, so that if the animals arrived at night they would be ready to go on first thing in the morning; the animals would have their rest and there would be no interruption of traffic at all. Such an arrangement would add greatly to the facilities under which the traffic is conducted, and will give a sense of security to those who follow the Irish cattle trade. The purchase of the Irish animals in England depends not only on the conditions on the animals for food, but that the English purchasers have the double assurance that they are not bringing in with those animals disease which might possibly exist in Ireland. And if we can restore the confidence of the English public and purchasers, we do a great deal towards helping the cattle trade and to restore it to its former prosperity. In making the arrangements I hope to make in the future I have no intention of detaining these animals for any long period of time. I suggest that probably twelve hours would be the outside time required for the purpose. That, I believe, would fit in with most of the shipping sailings and arrivals conveniently. There is no reason why we should not have the trade carried on without any interruption and without any difficulty of double drovers, or in carrying from one town to another.

I am told that the shipping companies and harbour authorities in every one of the ports where Irish animals normally arrive are ready to make arrangements, and have started to make arrangements whereby the compounding of animals for short periods of rest and watering can conveniently take place. In Glasgow the authorities are likely to increase this accommodation. At Greenock, at Ayr, at Stranraer, at Hey-sham, at Holyhead, at Birkenhead there will also be ample accommodation, so that enormous numbers of cattle can pass; and at Cardiff, Deptford, Newcastle, arrange- ments are now complete. Whatever expenses the shipping companies are put to I know they will try to take it out of the trade, but the advantage the trade will get from the extra time spent by the animals in resting, which will enable them to be sent out in a better condition, will more than make up for the trivial amount—this small interest which they will have to bear. I am told that in one case the cost will be £5,000. The normal interest on that would be £250. Tens of thousands of animals pass through there every year—I am told it runs to 80,000, and the extra cost would be but a few pence per animal. One hon. Member mentioned 40 per cent. I cannot conceive where he gets that figure from. The extra cost will be more than made up by the increased price which the trade will get. I urge hon. Members to do nothing to disturb the minds of the British agriculturist because British agriculturists are the main purchasers of Irish animals. I am anxious to restore his confidence in 'the Irish trade. I am doing all I can in co-operation with my right hon. Friend to do that. Our expert advisers are working together from day to day, and my right hon. Friend and I are working together with that object. I want to see the normal trade restored, but when it is restored let it be on safe lines, which will not give anyone over here the idea that in purchasing Irish animals they have to undergo any undue risk. I hope I have made my statement plain. I shall be prepared to give fuller details in reply to questions in the House as to the form of the Order, the difficulties I hope to avoid and not to create, the exact time and also the ports where the facilities can be allowed.

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

Adjourned at Twenty-sis minutes before Twelve o'clock.