HC Deb 12 December 1922 vol 159 cc2651-7

(1) The provisions contained in the Schedule to this Act shall apply with respect to imported cattle.

(2) The Minister may by Order alter or modify any of the said provisions if he considers it necessary or expedient so to do, and the alterations or modifications are such as in his opinion will not diminish or prejudice the protection against the risk of the spread of disease which is afforded by the said provisions as enacted in the said Schedule, provided that no such alteration or modification shall reduce the period of detention prescribed by such provisions.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (2), to leave out the words provided that no such alteration or modification shall reduce the period of detention prescribed by such provisions. and to insert instead thereof the words Anything in this Act to the contrary notwithstanding, on and after six months from the time the Act comes into force, the Minister of Agriculture, upon joint requisition of the Government of the Irish Free State and of the Government of Northern Ireland, may make such an Order as regards the altering and modifying the regulations contained in the Schedule to this Act (including the period of detention) as no may deem advisable. I have had no indication of the attitude of the Government towards this Amendment, which I put upon the Paper last night, but I hope that the Attorney-General will see his way to accept it. If he does, it will remove a blot on the Bill to which I have several times had to call attention, and it will ease the situation. I do not see that there is any essential difference between the proposal of the Government last night and my Amendment. The only difference is that 1 bring in a joint requisition from the Irish Free State Government and the Government of Northern Ireland. I think that is an advantage in favour of my scheme for meeting the situation over the scheme of the Government. In the first place, it does not call upon the Government to take the initiative, but only to act when a requisition is made by the representatives of all parts of Ireland. This method of mine also has the advantage that it brings the North and South of Ireland together in common action for the common good of their country, and anything that will do that for the advancement of their common interests is all for the good of Ireland. The effect of the Amendment will be that the Government will have power to make an Order altering, modifying and, if necessary, suspending the various provisions of the Bill which we think will act harshly upon Ireland, and especially the provision with regard to detention at all times and in all seasons, whatever the conditions of Ireland may be.

Captain CRAIG

I beg to second the Amendment.

This Amendment differs from that proposed by the Government last night in the respect that it would allow the Minister of Agriculture to make regulations removing restrictions from Irish cattle without doing so with regard to Canadian cattle. But, of course, he will still have the power to refuse to treat Irish cattle differently from Canadian cattle, if he likes, so that there really is not a very great deal of difference between the two proposals. I would like to say a very few words as to the attitude of my hon. Friends and myself on the Government Amendment last night in order to remove some misapprehension. We have no desire in the world to be placed in any better position than Canada in this matter of importing cattle into this country. We look upon the Amendment which the Minister of Agriculture offered to us yesterday as being quite worthless. because we believe that the time will never arrive, or at least is very far distant, when any Minister of Agriculture in this country, or his technical advisers, will allow Canadian cattle to be imported without detention regulations somewhat similar to those imposed by this Bill. If we had thought for one moment that Canadian cattle were likely to be received as freely into this country as our own cattle, we would have accepted that Amendment quite gladly, because it would have met our wishes. But we believe, rightly or wrongly, that no Minister of Agriculture within the next 20 years, at any rate, will be able to come to this House and propose that Canadian cattle shall be allowed to come in without any quarantine or detention regula- tions, for the simple reason that it is well known that, although Canadian herds are supposed, and probably are, quite free from disease at the present time, there is an immense border frontier between Canada and the United States, and it is quite possible to introduce or smuggle across the border animals which we do not know to be as free from disease as Canadian cattle. I believe, therefore, that no Minister of Agriculture will ever be able to allow those cattle into this country without severe quarantine regulations, and, that being so, it is obvious that if in any modification which he makes with regard to Irish cattle he is bound by Statute, to treat Canadian cattle in the same way, we can never hope that our cattle will be allowed into this country free from all detention. It is for those reasons that we look upon the offer which the right hon. Gentleman made last night as valueless, and our attitude was not the outcome of any desire to be placed in a privileged position as compared with Canada. This Amendment really gives the Minister of Agriculture all the powers that are necessary. By Statute all cattle, Irish and Canadian alike, are prohibited from entering this country without six days' detention. This Amendment gives the Minister power to modify those Regulations in favour of Irish cattle, either by doing away with the six days detention altogether, or reducing it to any extent he likes. I submit that the cattle of this country are quite sufficiently safeguarded by the provisions of this Bill, and that none of those safeguards are seriously weakened by the Amendment.


I rise to ask the right hon. Gentleman for an explanation with regard to one sentence which occurred in the speech of the right hon. and gallant Member for Antrim (Captain Craig). He stated that it would be possible under this Amendment, on the joint requisition of the Irish Free State Government and the Government of Northern Ireland, for the Minister to make an Order doing away with some of the Regulations, and particularly that of detention as to Irish cattle, thereby implying that there would be differentiation as between Irish and Canadian cattle. I want to know whether that is so, because I read the Amendment quite differently. Under Clause 8, Sub- section (1), the Schedule, if passed, will apply to all imported cattle, both Canadian and Irish, and, as I read the Amendment, there is only power given to alter the Regulations. That is a very important matter. I have no faith whatever in the efficacy of this period of detention for stopping disease. If it had been applied to Canadian cattle coming in and there had been detention at the port, it might have had some effect. I am very sorry indeed that Irish cattle are placed in the position in which they are placed, but I very much object to having any Regulations that have been made lessened with regard to Canadian cattle.


I feel that we should appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to resist this Amendment. When we see the North and South of Ireland united, it makes us rather suspicious that it is simply done for the purpose of raiding the British Exchequer. The right hon. and gallant Member for Antrim (Captain Craig), in his speech, gave two very strong reasons why Canadian and Irish cattle should be treated in the same manner. He stated that there-was a large frontier between America and Canada. There is also a long frontier between the North' of Ireland and the Irish Free State. More over, it must nor be forgotten that probably there will be a very close con nection, and possibly trade agreements, between the Irish Free State and. the United States, and, if this Amendment be accepted, it will be very difficult for us to keep out American cattle which may be imported through the Irish Free State or Northern Ireland. For these reasons, I hope that the Amendment will be resisted.

The MINISTER of AGRICUITURE (Sir Robert Sanders)

I. do not wish, to argue about the exact legal interpretation of this Amendment, but its intention, evidently, from the speeches of the Proposer and Seconder, is to discriminate between Irish and Canadian cattle coming into England. I have stated more than once the position which the Government have taken up with regard to that question. The two Ministers of the late Government gave an undertaking to the representatives of Canada that the treatment of Canadian cattle should be the same as Irish cattle, and, if the Government by any alteration in the provisions of the Schedule were to make that treatment different, they would be guilty of a breach of faith with the Canadian Government. That being so, it is clear that I cannot accept the Amendment, even if only for that reason. But there are other and as strong reasons. The Amendment would make the Schedule altogether nugatory. What is the good of putting into an Act of Parliament things which you can do by order if at the same time you say that you may, by Order, reverse everything that is in the Act? The object of placing in an Act of Parliament that which is done by Order is to make it more difficult for the Minister weakly to give way, and to put in this provision would be to stultify the Act altogether. I cannot, therefore, accept the Amendment.


Did not the Amendment which the Government proposed give power to the Government to suspend the operation of the Regulations?


There was a very important provision in my Amendment with regard to the consent of both Houses, which is not in this Amendment.


I want to oppose this Amendment, because I regard it simply as another attempt to get round the decision which this House gave yesterday in a very emphatic way. Not only that, but, in my opinion, it would open the door to undue pressure of vested and trade interests upon the Minister of Agriculture. It has been very apparent in discussions on this Bill that the whole principle of importation of Canadian cattle, and the benefit it is likely to confer on the consumers of this country, has slipped more and more into the background, and that the interests of breeders and cattle dealers of this country versus the interests of cattle dealers and breeders of Ireland and Canada have emerged stronger and stronger as the discussions haye proceeded. In the removal of the embargo on Canadian cattle, which is very strongly demanded by the people of this country, I regret that the Minister of Agriculture has taken this opportunity of all times to interfere with practices which have existed between this country and Ireland in the past. The contradiction that has been apparent by the statements of the Minister of Agriculture, by the statements of the Attorney-General, and by the statements of the hon. and gallant Member, who, I believe, speaks for Ulster Members, I do feel demands a certain amount of sympathy from this side of the House. If the Minister of Agriculture intended to take this opportunity of placing restrictions upon the importation of Irish cattle, it was very desirable that good feeling should have been maintained, first of all by Irish opinion on this matter being invited as evidence before the Committee on Foot-and-Mouth Diseases; and, secondly, that Irish opinion should have been consulted by the British Government before they gave a more or less indistinct, but nevertheless binding, pledge to the Canadian Government.

We on these benches now are confronted with the difficulty that the Government have made up their mind that the restrictions now to be imposed upon the importation of Canadian cattle must also be imposed upon the importation of Irish cattle. Personally, I do not feel that it is a matter of very grave moment. I do not feel, from a practical point of view, that it will hamper unduly the importation of Irish cattle in this country. I do not believe that these restrictions will in any way interfere with the marketing of Irish cattle in this country. If I did feel that, then the benefits of the importation of Canadian cattle would have to be weighed to see how far the interests of the consumers of this country would be affected by interference with the importation of Irish cattle, but I look upon these restrictions which the Minister of Agriculture is imposing upon Irish cattle as restrictions more of an irritating description, calculated to have, and, I believe, will have, the effect of irritating Irish opinion. On the other hand, now that the question of the importation of Canadian cattle is before this House, it raises once more in the minds of the British public this position. The opponents of the importation of Canadian cattle have always argued, and have held their position hitherto on the plea and the contention, that the importation of Canadian cattle is likely to increase the possibilities of disease in this country.


That does not arise on this Amendment, but on the Third Reading of the Bill. This relates merely to the altering of the Regulations after the cattle have been brought in.


I stand corrected. I understood the whole intention of this Amendment was to demonstrate to the Minister of Agriculture that these restrictions were not necessary as far as Irish cattle were concerned, and the restrictions are obviously being imposed for the purpose of limiting the possibility of spreading disease in this country. If I am wrong, I will not proceed further on those lines, but, certainly, I under stool that that was the purpose of the Amendment. I revert to my original argument, namely, that if this Amendment be passed by this House, it is a direct inducement to the cattle trade interests of Ireland to organise their political power to impress both the Irish Free State Government and the Government of Northern Ireland, and to carry it further to the Minister of Agriculture in this country, and the Minister himself has admitted in the Committee stage of this Bill, and again to-day, that, as far as he is concerned, he does not wish to be subjected to this political pressure brought about by trade interests being organised in this Parliament and other Parliaments. On many occasions already we have had evidence of this description. Therefore, I do feel that if the present Minister of Agriculture is in that fearsome frame of mind, if one may use the term, it is very desirable that this House should reject this Amendment, and any similar Amendment, on these lines. I do not fear that the Irish cattle trade will be interfered with by these restrictions, and, therefore, I ask the House to reject the Amendment.


May I ask a question to clear up this matter, if possible? So far as I read Clause 8, it leaves entirely to the discretion of our own Minister the alteration of Regulations. What I understand the Amendment to mean is that the Irish Free State or the Northern Parliament may make suggestions to our Minister for the alteration of Regulations and they shall receive attention. That is all I read into the Amendment, and, if that be so, it is, in my opinion, a fair proposition to make to the House.

Amendment negatived.