HC Deb 05 May 1913 vol 52 cc1820-6

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Wedgwood Benn.]


On this motion, Mr. Speaker, I desire to give the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture an opportunity of stating what he proposes to do in a matter which affects the whole of the animal trade of Ireland, and I would like to point out that this is not entirely an Irish question. It is an international question affecting Great Britain as well as Ireland, and not only does it affect the cattle trade, but it affects agricultural produce all over the country, because butter, poultry, eggs, and vegetables are affected by anything in the nature of detention on either side of the Channel. All kinds of perishable freight are injured by delay in traffic, and the increased cost of shipment on both sides. The inspection which takes place on the Irish side at the present time ought to diminish the risk of importing disease if there is any disease to import. I should like to remind hon. Members of the great public meetings held in the Mansion House in Dublin, of the deputations of Irish Members to the Prime Minister upon this question. Since that time resolutions have been passed by nearly all the public bodies in different parts of Ireland. Questions have been put in this House with no result, and I have had letters almost daily asking me what is to be done, and therefore think it is desirable that we should come to some understanding, and that the right hon. Gentleman should state his views on the matter. The matter is not confined to Irish traders, because the right hon. Gentleman some time since received a deputation from the National Federation of Meat Trades in Great Britain, and the last day I was in the market a Birmingham importer told me that a deputation of importers interviewed the Chief Secretary. I wrote to the Chief Secretary upon the subject, and got this reply on 28th April:— Dear Sir,—Mr. Birrell desires me to acknowledge the receipt of yours of the 24th inst., and in reply to state that he will be happy to do anything he can to assist the Cattle Traders' Association in the matter to which you refer. I hope the right hon. Gentleman has exercised some pressure upon the President of the Board of Agriculture in that direction. I sent the right hon. Gentleman a letter from the largest exporter of lambs and cattle into England, Mr. James Carroll, some time ago, and he complained, especially in regard to lambs and with respect to the effect of the Regulations. I will read a telegram, dated some time ago, but I understand not much improvement has taken place since:— The number of lambs exported from Ireland during the period from 1st January last to the 26th inst., Saturday last inclusive, was 1,426. The number in the corresponding period of 1912 was 2,465. During the week ended 26th inst. 778 lambs shipped as against 1,223 in the corresponding week of 1912. That shows a large decrease in the number of lambs imported from Ireland to England. I will give a short quotation from the market report. It says:— Cross-Channel buyers were very scarce, consequently the number of cattle bought for export were very few. Cattle are very dear at this time of the year. There is nothing like the same number of cattle. The lamb trade is mainly confined to home buyers. The twelve hours detention is disturbing the market very much in this direction. All the salesmen's reports go to confirm that statement. This detention period, as discussed at a meeting of the Irish Cattle Traders' Association on Thursday last, and the Vice-President referred to the twelve hours detention. It was absurd, he said, in the case of cattle, but ridiculously so in the case of lambs and pigs. I will send the report to the right hon. Gentleman, who is giving attention I understand to the Irish case at the present time. "On this question," the Vice-President of the Association says, "there can be no two opinions in Ireland. That is a matter of fact. There are not two opinions. All those who are interested in the trade agree that the detention period, if not abolished, at least should be modified in some way. There was in the "Freeman's Journal" an important interview with Mr. Kelly Tighe, Lower Sheriff Street. He told a representative of that paper, on Saturday, that the present season, which had always been one of the best for him in former years, had been a failure all along. He also complained that there had been an increase in the cost. At the Dublin Cattle Market last Thursday, Mr. Kelly stated that there was an extraordinary falling off in lambs:— Indeed, there was hardly enough to supply the purely local demand, and the prices generally were much below those prevailing this time last year. Under the existing arrangements, Mr. Kelly said, heavy losses must inevitably be sustained by breeders and exporters. Mr. Runciman places the responsibility for the delay in the forwarding of the cattle on the railway companies, and no doubt there is a good deal of truth in that, but what the cattle traders demand is that in the present state of things there shonld be no difficulty whatever in dispatching cattle through from any part of Ireland to any part of England without any detention or unnecessary delay. I have also a letter from a gentleman in Glasgow, in which he refers to the questions put to Mr. Runciman by Mr. Barrie and Sir John Lonsdale and the proposed inquiry into the charges at Merklands and he wishes to give evidence. He says the troubles in consequence of the detention are costing him £100 per week and have done him more injury than he can ever describe. I want to point out that the lambs or pigs do not come into much contact with other animals. At the present time very few sheep are coming from Ireland. Sheep are dearer in the Dublin market at present than they are in England. I understand that there have been cases of scab, and that disease ought to be obviated by inspection on the other side, but scab sometimes arises in the course of or after a journey. Any practical man knows that it sometimes arises in the most extraordinary way. I wish to emphasise the fact that practically we have no disease in Ireland. We have at the present time the cleanest bill of health of probably any country in the world. There are people who say that we have had not foot-and-mouth disease, and certainly we have had very few genuine cases, and I do think that the time has arrived when the right hon. Gentleman might reconsider his position. I think the Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture will bear me out when I say that, as a member of the Agricultural Council, I have always assisted the Department of Agriculture to carry out any regulations to combat disease, and in every way the association, of which I am president, has assisted him during a most trying time. Therefore, I think it should be understood by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture that I do not put forward this Motion in any spirit of hostility, but with the desire of benefiting both countries. There can be no doubt whatever that undue detention does lead to inconvenience, loss, and delay, and also, it is asserted, to deterioration. The question is whether that can be avoided, and whether the right hon. Gentleman can see his way to modify the regulations and reduce the period of detention of both lambs and sheep.

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

I do not in any way take exception to the hon. Member raising this question, for there has been very much discussion about it in Ireland and in some parts of England, and I think it well that some definite information should be given to those who are engaged in the trade, and who have very largely to depend upon the newspaper reports for the information they have received on this subject. The hon. Gentleman has stated to the House the views of many of those who are engaged in the trade as to the injury which they think has been done by the existing Orders on this side, but I would like to point out to the hon. Gentleman and to those whom he represents in Ireland that the injury done to the trade at the present moment is not very apparent. I am sanguine as to the result of this season at the present time, but the figures are by no means disheartening to Irish traders. Up to yesterday, 2,788 lambs had landed in Great Britain from Ireland. I have not been able to get the exact figures up to 4th May last year, but up to the end of April last year the total figures only came to 2,947, and in the year before they only came to 1,917. Therefore the actual figures up to date are larger than in 1911 and very nearly as large as in 1912. At present the lambs are coming forward with greater rapidity than many people anticipated, and those that are coming forward are getting the benefit of good prices. Yesterday no less than 700 lambs were landed at Birkenhead. I carefully examine the market reports from the various centres in England, and I find that the lambs are fetching better prices than for many years past. Irish lambs that have already reached the markets on the coast or inland have been doing well, and if other traders in Ireland were as enterprising, and not as nervous, they would no doubt be reaping some of the benefits which the demand in Great Britain is giving others who have had the courage to send over lambs up to the present date. The points that have been made are mainly that these lambs coming over to this side are not properly provided for, and there has been a great deal of talk about forcible feeding. They are supposed to have deteriorated in quality owing to the existence of the Detention Order now in force, and I have no doubt that a good many people in Ireland thought that they would hold back their lambs until they saw whether or not the Detention Order was likely to be withdrawn. I have taken a great deal of trouble to inquire into every case of complaint brought to my notice by Irish Members.

So far as lambs are concerned, I can say quite categorically that there has been no case brought to my notice in which lambs have suffered. I think they have on the whole been better than they might have been under the conditions. In every one of the landing places in Great Britain provision is made for the lambs being provided with food. I understand there are some Irish Members who are amused at lambs taking food otherwise than from the dam. Possibly in Ireland they do not do it, but in England lambs have taken artificial food, and they certainly have taken milk from the bottle for many scores of years past. I am told that some of the lamb foods have been in use in this country for centuries past, but I am not going to depend upon ancient history. I have no intention of doing that.


Why is the milk put into bottles?


In order that it may reach the lamb's mouth.


By force.


The hon. Gentleman knows nothing about it. He poses as an authority on this subject, but I do not suppose he has taken the trouble to see the lambs fed at any one place. Many of these lambs come forward when worn out, having been twenty-four hours with no sustenance whatever on the voyage. When they come to the landing place they are only too ready to take advantage of the provision made for them. The hon. Member who interrupted me just now said the milk was forced into the mouth of the lamb. There is nothing of the kind. I have reports from the inspectors at the various landing places giving long detailed accounts of exactly what takes place. The lambs are just as ready to take milk out of a bottle as some men are ready to drink ale. The hon. Member is only doing harm to the trade which he considers he represents. Let me give an example of what actually happens. A sample of twelve lambs was taken. They were carefully weighed before they received any sustenance at the lairage, and they were weighed again on leaving the lairage. They were of various qualities. Of the twelve eight gained weight, while they were in the lairage, three lost weight, and one showed no change at all. The greatest gain was 2 lb. 14 oz., the greatest loss was 10 oz., and there were four lambs that gained over 2½ lbs. That is a better test than the idle talk of the hon. Member who has not taken the trouble to investigate the charges which he repeats here.

The reason why I give this information now is in order that it may reach the Irish traders, who are losing opportunities in England of a good market of which otherwise they might have secured. I want them to know that so far from the lambs being harshly and cruelly treated on this side, such provision is being made for them that in actual practice and experience those that have passed through the lairages are to a very large extent gaining in weight by the food that is given to them in the lairages. The scare which unfortunately has affected some of the dealers over in Ireland can be quite easily destroyed now we have had some experiments of the lamb trade during the last few weeks. The lambs have been brought over here under humane conditions. They have taken sustenance, they have mostly been the better for it, and, what is certainly quite true is that the lambs that have been sold here have sold freely and have all fetched better prices than in previous seasons. If that is not enough to induce Irish traders to send their lambs over here, I do not know what is. Certainly present conditions are a good deal more humane than those which used to be practised in years past. As the hon. Gentleman has said, I am an assiduous reader at the present time of Irish newspapers. I have already seen in some Irish newspapers a description of the way in which lambs used to land in this country. I find one gentleman writing, I think, in the "Irish Independent," and he points out that— it was a pitiable sight to observe the lambs at Birkenhead last season, detained four or five days awaiting purchasers, with some hay thrown to them which they never ate except when on the brink of starvation. That was under the old condition of things. I can only say that while I am at the Board of Agriculture I do not wish that state of things to return. The provision we have made is all for the good of the trade, and there is no one who would welcome more sincerely the resumption of the old normal trade between Ireland and England than myself. I believe at present the large figures I have quoted as to the importation of lambs into this country fully justify the faith that we have in the conditions that we have created, and I believe they go to show that during the months of May and June, and the first half of July, when the Irish lamb trade is at its height, the Irish traders will have regained their confidence in the conditions which prevail on this side, and they will take full advantage of the ready market which is available. I trust, therefore, that those who have the ear of the Irish traders will see to it that they are not given false information, for every scrap of false information which is given to them and which they believe damages their trade and does not benefit it. I wish to do all I can to see that they get fair play in the English markets, and that whatever description is given of our administration shall, at all events, be accurate.


Can the right hon. Gentleman see his way to reduce the period of detention?


No, I am afraid I cannot give any definite promise as to a reduction in the hours at present. I have said more than once I should like to have a little further experience of the development of the season before I make any announcement, but I am watching it very carefully, and hope to make an announcement in due course.


The right hon. Gentleman ought to remember what he stated to the House the other day. He said that the lambs were offered hay and oats, and that they partook of the hay freely. He now reads a statement from a newspaper, written by some gentleman, as to what took place last year. This gentleman stated that hay was thrown to the lambs, and that it was only after three or four days, when they were on the brink of starvation, that they took the hay. With regard to feeding the lambs by bottle, what does that imply? That they do not take milk freely out of a cup, but will only take it when it is put into a bottle for the purpose of giving it to them by force.

It being half-past Eleven of the clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3. Adjourned at Half after Eleven o'clock.