HC Deb 19 February 1924 vol 169 cc1704-10

Resolution reported, That it is expedient that the limitation of one hundred and forty thousand pounds imposed by Section eighteen of the Diseases of Animals Act, 1894, on the moneys which may be provided by Parliament towards defraying the costs in such Section mentioned and be paid to the cattle pleuropneumonia account for Great Britain shall not apply to moneys so provided in the financial year ending on the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and twenty-four.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution.


I do not want to allow this thing to go further without an answer being, given to the question put by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire. This is to some extent, I agree, a local matter, but there is at the same time a principle behind it and as far as there is a principle involved it is important for the whole country. Here is a case where the Aberdeenshire County Council went out of its way to take upon itself a risk of having to pay some £4,000 in order, if possible, to clear the county of foot-and-mouth disease, and I think it is quite obvious now that the reason why the Government did not assume the responsibility of slaughtering the herd was that they were going to be landed in a liability amounting to some hundreds of thousands of pounds probably. That, however, has not taken place. It has only amounted to some £3,000, and I hope we shall get some assurance from the Government that they are going to shoulder the responsibility of paying this money. I am sorry -that when the Ministry replied last night they did not see fit to give some reply, and it is only because we are entitled to a reply that I fee: bound to intervene, and so far as my friends and myself are concerned, we are going to divide the House on this Resolution unless we get a promise that the money will be paid or the whole matter be gone into in a sympathetic manner.


The hon. Member only told me of his intention to raise this matter a very few minutes ago. I can undertake that it will be gone into in the most sympathetic manner possible. We are bound only by the provisions of the Act under which we work, and the objects for which compensation can be given are extremely limited by that Act. There are many objects of sympathy, very deserving objects, for which, in my opinion, compensation might very well be given. For instance, there are the cases of men thrown out of employment as a result of the outbreak. Most difficult cases occur, but we are absolutely precluded from dealing with them under the terms of the Act of 1894. All I can do is to say that the moat sympathetic consideration possible will be given to the matter. At a later stage the subject will come up again, and I shall be very glad, if my hon. Friend likes, to say then all that we have found it possible to recommend on the subject, and to go further into the matter.

Major M. WOOD

Is there any other case where a herd of cattle has been slaughtered and no compensation given by the Government? Why should there be an exception in this particular case?


To the best of my knowledge, there has not been any other case.


Why should there be an exception here?


I will inquire very fully into the case. I much regret that my hon. Friends were not kind enough to tell me an hour ago that they intended to raise this matter, because I should then have been able to give an answer which I shall have to give later.

Major M. WOOD

The case was given yesterday.


The answer which the right hon. Gentleman has given can hardly be regarded as satisfactory. Let us recall what occurred yesterday. The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire (Mr. F. Martin) raised the case, and put it clearly and forcibly on the Committee Stage. The right hon. Gentleman was unfortunately absent, but he had two representatives here, both of whom replied on the Debate, and the whole of the last hour was taken up by Ministerial replies. We had, first of all, a reply from the Parliamentary Private Secretary, which is a very unusual occurrence. I always understood in the old days that when a man was made a Parliamentary Private Secretary it was to shut his mouth. I speak from experience. I was once a Parliamentary Private Secretary. The old practice has been reversed. The Prime Minister has told us that there are to be new methods and a new spirit in the new Government. Consequently, the Parliamentary Private Secretaries, no matter what violence it does to the arrangement of business, have been allowed the gift of tongues. In view of this new liberty or licence granted to the present Government, three official representatives are now entitled to reply. On the present occasion the case was put very clearly. It was only a local case, but as it was an Aberdeenshire case one would have thought that it would have appealed to some hon. Members. It was, however, deliberately ignored, not only by the Parliamentary Private Secretary, but by the Parliamentary Secretary, and now on the second day the Minister comes to the House and says he knows nothing about it. It is not merely a matter of the procedure of the Government; there is something more in it. This is a case in which no eompensation has peen paid, and the only reason that I can imagine why no compensation has been paid is that—


It is Aberdeen.


Another example of the gift of tongues on the part of a Parliamentary Private Secretary. The Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister tells us that it is because it was in Aberdeenshire that no compensation was paid. It is remarkable that when you have a Government with a Prime Minister from the North-East of Scotland the assertion is made that because the case happened to occur in Aberdeenshire that no compensation is to be paid. One could hardly expect that from a Government of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon is Prime Minister. Apparently, compensation is not payable under the existing Diseases of Animals Act.

We are entitled to know why compensation is not paid. The hon. Member for Central Aberdeenshire is willing to volunteer an explanation, but he may be as unhappy in his explanation as the Parliamentary Private Secretary of the Prime Minister. So we are entitled to have a real explanation from the Minister of Agriculture. And for this reason. If it turns out that no compensation is payable under the Diseases of Animals Act, and that this Resolution does not cover compensation in that case, it would be necessary in order to authorise payment in that case to have a further Financial Resolution. The right hon. Gentleman should be in a position, before the House passes this Resolution, to state on what grounds compensation has been refused in this particular case. If it is true that the Resolution does not authorise payment, it will be necessary later on to have a further Financial Resolution. The only way in which compensation could be paid is by an Amendment introduced into the Bill, which would necessitate a further Financial Resolution. In such an important situation it is most unfortunate, first of all yesterday that neither the Parliamentary Private Secretary nor the Under-Secretary could reply, and that to-day, after 24 hours, the Minister himself is in ignorance of the matter.


I think it significant that at the beginning of our sitting to-day and at the end of it a Scottish grievance should arise. Here we have a typical example of what is happening with regard to Scotland. I see my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland present. It should have been his duty, as head of agriculture in Scotland, to look fully into matters of this kind. As it is, we in Scotland are legislated for and administered by an English Minister of Agriculture, and it is most significant that the one case in which compensation has been refused is a Scottish case. I strongly protest against any such maladministration, and if my hon. Friends behind me are prepared to take any action to resist any Bill which is produced with such a grievance. I will support them.


In saying a word or two on this matter, I wish to repeat what the Minister has said in regard to the want of any proper notice that this question was going to be raised. The hon. Member did raise the question yesterday. Unfortunately, owing to the shortness of time in which I had to reply at a later stage of the Debate, no reference was made to it; but it is true that the hon. Member had spoken to me about this question earlier in the day, and I told him then that, so far as I had been able to ascertain, it was not possible for the Ministry to accept any financial liability but I also told him something else. I said that I would again consult the officials at the Ministry and see whether or not the case could be reviewed from that Standpoint which he was seeking. I think, that conversation having taken place earlier in the day, it is hardly fair to the Ministry at this stage to raise the question and give us so short a notice of the intention to do so. The real explanation in this case is that when the disease broke out among this herd of cattle, the Ministry, exercising its powers, decided not to slaughter, but to carry out the policy of isolation. The Ministry was acting quite within its rights in taking up that attitude. Later on the local people felt that that was not the correct policy, and used the powers they possessed to put into operation a policy of slaughter of their own. The law on this matter is that where the Ministry give instructions for slaughter to take place, the financial obligation rests on the Ministry, but where the local authority give the order to slaughter, the financial obligation rests upon the local authority. The local authority have accepted that obligation, and now my hon. and gallant Friend asks that the Ministry should refund to the local authority the money expended. I submit that this is not a procedure which it is very easy for any Ministry to follow. The law is clear and explicit. As a matter of fact, this occurred before we came into office, and we are defending the actions of a previous Government. But the facts of the case may as well be made clear. At the moment we can give no answer other than that which we have already given, and we can announce no decision different from that already reached.


What has been said by the Parliamentary Secretary exactly represents the facts of the case with regard to the conversation which I had with him this afternoon. He has naturally given an accurate account of what took place, but the matter has now been raised because, when that conversation took place, at all events, was led to understand that this Resolution would not be taken again to-night. We were rather alarmed when we discovered that a further stage was being taken, and we wanted to safeguard our interests.

That is why we have raised the question at this late hour. We expected that at this stage we should get an answer from the Minister which we did not get yesterday. The point which I endeavoured to make yesterday was that, considering everything, it is now quite apparent that the proper policy in this case in Aberdeenshire was the policy of slaughter, and not the policy of isolation. The county council, having been forced to take upon itself the responsibility of slaughter, and having incurred liability for compensation, we take the view that this is a case where the State might come forward and relieve the county council of that liability. Looking back on all that happened, there can be no doubt that the policy of isolation in this case was a mistake and the policy of slaughter was correct. Considering the enormous amount of compensation paid in other parts of the country, we thought a sum of £2,000 or £3,000 would not be a very great addition, and that it was really a moral duty to the County of Aberdeen to provide for it. I realise there might be a difficulty in bringing what I want within the four corners of these proposals, but I hope, even now, the Minister will give the matter full consideration and, if possible, do justice in the case of Aberdeenshire.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in upon the said Resolution by Mr. Noel Buxton, Mr. W. R. Smith and Mr. William Graham.