HC Deb 24 October 1912 vol 42 cc2409-11

I wish to ask the leave of the House to make a personal explanation with regard to a matter which arises from a statement that I made in the House of Commons on Friday last. That statement was to the effect: That if I had been guided entirely by expert advice at the time of the Pleuro-Pneumonia Bill, which I afterwards introduced and carried into law, the Bill would, in all probability, have never seen the light. That statement was, however, called in question by a letter in the "Times" on Wednesday, "in justice," as it said, "to the memory of the three distinguished veterinary surgeons who constituted Mr. Chaplin's professional staff when he was at the Board of Agriculture—Professor Brown, Mr. A. C. Cope, and Professor Duguid," by an anonymous correspondent signing himself "Annales." It has never been my practice to pay much attention to anonymous correspondents, but there are exceptions to every rule, and as in this case the names of three most distinguished public servants have been mentioned in connection with my statement, I came at once to the conclusion that I thought some reply was desirable, and that as the statement had been made in the House of Commons the proper place in which I should make a reply was in the House of Commons also, instead of writing a letter in reply to the anonymous correspondent; and after consulting Mr. Speaker upon this subject I decided to take that course. Let me say at once what it was I referred to when I made the statement that I did on Friday. It is many years ago, and, of course, I spoke from memory, but I am very confident that I was right on that occasion in my recollection. After my appointment to the Board of Agriculture I took an early opportunity of telling Professor Brown, who was head of the Veterinary Department, that in my opinion the time had come when the question of pleuro-pneumonia in the United Kingdom ought to be dealt with by legislation. I asked him to write me a memorandum on the subject, which he did. I was very much disappointed with his memorandum. I remember that I thought it rather pessimistic than otherwise in reference to the views which I entertained. I fancy that the Professor was alarmed at the probable cost of the undertaking, which was uncertain, and to all appearance was likely to be very large. When we discussed the matter together he assured me most emphatically of his conviction that the Treasury would not agree to it for a moment, and that I should not get the sanction of the Cabinet to my measure. I am bound to say, from long experience of the Treasury in after days, that perhaps he was not altogether without some reasonable grounds when he made that statement. I had to tell him, however, that that was a matter rather for my concern than for his. The upshot of it all was that I asked him to write me another memorandum more in accordance with my views, or at ańy rate something not so discouraging as that which had been put before me, showing how the scheme could be carried out. I subsequently got the sanction of the Cabinet, and introduced and carried the measure referred to.

Let me say this of Professor Brown. With some peculiarities of character he was a man of great ability, and when once Department, I was determined on this he was convinced that as head of the measure, no man could have served me more loyally and more faithfully than he did in enabling me to carry out my views at that time. This anonymous writer, however, hazards the opinion that my statement could not have applied to Professor Brown, and the proof of it is in the fact that he had signed the Report of the Departmental Committee already referred to. I do not see it. It is one thing to sign a somewhat academic Report as to the best methods of controlling pleuro-pneumonia, whether by slaughter, inoculation, or otherwise, and quite another thing to be asked to undertake a scheme for the complete extirpation of pleuro-pneumonia throughout the United Kingdom—for the Bill applied to Ireland as well as to England—by a new Minister so soon after his appointment. Let me say a word with regard to the other two gentlemen. I have every reason to believe they would have done anything in the world for me, and they knew that I would have done the same for them. They were not only officials, but they became my personal friends. In that category also must be included Professor Brown himself. The very last transaction I had with him was that I made a present of something which I knew he would value very greatly—namely, the skeleton of a very celebrated horse called Hermit—to the great veterinary college of which he was the distinguished head, and he afterwards told me that he prized that skeleton almost more than any other possession he had. One word in conclusion, in reference to these three distinguished public servants, and I hope I shall have done something to relieve the apprehensions of this anonymous writer with regard to my relations with them. No Minister was ever served more loyally than I was as the head of the Department by each and all of these three Gentlemen, and there is no man in the world who knows so well as myself how much I owe to them.