HC Deb 20 February 1924 vol 169 cc1819-24

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

Hon. Members will recollect that two days ago we had a very full Debate upon the circumstances which have led up to the introduction of this Bill, and a full Debate also on the financial measures which we desire to carry out, and which can only be carried out if this Bill passes into law. I hope that, in view of the excellent Debate that we had on Monday, consideration will be given to the urgency of utilising the public time to the best advantage, and to the importance of further business which, in the interests of needy people, we ought to get through later in the day, and that the House will allow this Bill to be read a Second time without delay. I, at all events, will set an example of brevity. The subject of this very melancholy and disastrous disease is apt sometimes to give rise to an outburst of loquacity in this House, but I shall hope to show that I am not suffering from mouth disease myself.

There are only two things which I feel should be said at this moment. One is in regard to the subject raised by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Lamb), on which I had not the opportunity of replying at the time, and to which I should like now to refer. Under the Act of 1894, the Ministry are only able to pay compensation on the basis of the commercial value of animals slaughtered by its orders. The sum so received by the farmer should go a very long way towards re-stocking, and I hope that in nearly all cases it does; but, if further help is required, I want to make a suggestion. We passed last year a very valuable Act, the Agricultural Credits Act, and I think that that Act provides a way by which farmers can get out of the financial difficulty. Groups of farmers are now in a position to form co-operative credit societies under Part II of that Act, and thereby obtain loans for restocking; and I would remind the House that, by a decision which has just been made public, it is now possible for those societies to raise money on very advantageous terms, such as have not been possible hitherto. The Government has sanctioned a plan by which these societies can borrow money at bank rate, that is to say, 4 per cent. at the present time. Full particulars as to the method of forming such societies can be had on application to the Ministry, and I hope we shall find that the work of the Ministry will be fully utilised in pushing their formation.

There is only one other point which, if the House will allow me, I should like to make. I can add something to the information which I gave on Monday in regard to the Committee which I stated would be set up for research. As I announced, I propose to appoint 1, scientific committee, quite apart from Mr. Pretyman's committee, to frame a scheme of investigation, after which the appropriate men will be set to work in each department. I am glad to be able to announce that the President of the Royal Society, Sir Charles Sherrington. has consented to act as chairman of that committee, and I feel that the public is very much indebted to him. I am in consultation with him as to the further personnel of the committee. We all must think that the Ministry is extremely fortunate to have secured his services, because he is the most eminent man that could be found for the purp6se. He has been President of the Royal Society since 1920: he is Professor of Physiology at Oxford, and he is recognised the world over as the most eminent physiologist in Great Britain. He is a man who possesses honours and degrees, not only of British Universities, but of numberless universities and scientific societies on the Continent and elsewhere. I thought I might be excused if I took just this much time to make an announcement of great public interest. Otherwise I fool that this Bill is merely part of a machinery leading to the Vote which we must propose to the House in a few clays.


I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that, after the full Debate that we were able to have on the Financial Resolution a night or two ago, there will be no disposition, as far as I know, in any quarter of the House, to occupy any great amount of time on the Second Reading of this Bill. Indeed, I only rise for the purpose of saying that, as far as we on this side of the House are concerned, we have heard with great interest the right hon. Gentleman's statement on the two points to which he referred. With regard to the first—the use that may possibly be made in the direction indicated of credit societies and so on—I entirely share his view that that does offer a field for providing great. assistance to those who have been adversely affected by this deplorable outbreak. In regard to the second point, the House will, I am sure, have heard with lively gratification the right hon. Gentleman's announcement of his, success in securing so distinguished and well-known a public man to act as chairman of the scientific committee. The name of Sir Charles Sherrington is, of course, a household word in the world of physiology, and I can imagine that no name would give greater confidence to all the interests concerned, which, 1 have no doubt, since the right hon. Gentleman made his announcement a few days ago, have been looking to the work of this scientific committee with the most eager anticipation. I would also assure him that, if and when he finds it necessary to come to this House for the Vote of money to enable, as 1 understood him to say, the work of this committee to be carried on, we, for our part, shall welcome his representations in that regard, and I think we shall be able to give them sympathetic support.


It is not my intention to go over the Debate of the other day. I welcome the statement the Minister has made that farmers may form themselves into credit societies and borrow money at 4 per cent. I hope red tape will not add 1 or 2 per cent. more, because, generally speaking, when one has to borrow money from the Government the circumlocution office comes into being and it is difficult to get things through. If the Minister of Agriculture wishes this to be a, success he must make this loan easy and facilitate the societies and farmers being able to get the money at a reasonable rate of interest. With regard to the scientific inquiry he has just announced, that is a matter on which we congratulate the Government. I hope it may be a very fruitful one, but, the inquiry cannot fructify for, as I think the right hon. Gentleman said, some years to come. That being so, I wish to offer him a word of advice with regard to the inquiry he is setting on foot presided over by Mr. Pretyman. He stated the other day that this Committee is to examine into three questions. The first is the slaughter policy of the Board of Agriculture. I do not. think there is much difference of opinion in regard to that. Therefore I do not think it really requires inquiry. There is, to my mind, far and away the more important part of the inquiry, whether farther precautions should be taken to guard against the introduction and spread of the disease, and I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should direct Mr. Pretyman's Committee's attention to one particular point. The Minister's own words are ambiguous—"to guard against the introduction and spread of the disease." The first. point you have to determine if you are to guard against the introduction of the disease is to find out where it comes from, and no one has told us that yet, and 1 suggest that the Minister and his officials should concentrate on that one point. This is an island and it has been fairly free from foot-and-mouth disease. The disease has been introduced from somewhere, and that is what. we want to find out. That, to my mind, is the most vital part of the inquiry, to find out where the. disease comes from.

There is another subject on which T propose to invite the right hon. Gentleman's attention and to endeavour to support him. I am one of those who refused to be led away by the outcry about the admission of Canadian cattle. I have always believed that the flocks and herds of this country were far too precious to admit live cattle for distribution over the country. from any source, but be that as it may, Parliament decided against it. I observe in the "Times" this morning, from their Montreal correspondent, that because the Minister of Agriculture has laid an embargo upon the admission of Canadian cattle the exporters there allege that the new regulations are deliberately intended to injure the Canadian cattle interest. I am sure that. is not the intention of the Government, but the right hon. Gentleman's first care must be the maintenance of our own flocks and herds free from disease. There is no question of ill will against Canadian cattle or of interfering with their import. The real question for him is to prevent our flocks and herds from being infected with this horrible disease, and I will give him every support in this matter. I hope he will persevere with this policy. It is not a question of wishing to be unfriendly to our Canadian colleagues abroad, but the first essential for farmers and for the Minister of Agriculture is to protect the flocks and herds here which have been so badly decimated by the disease. I do not wish to go over the other points which were mentioned in last week's Debate. I merely direct the right hon. Gentleman's attention to these two points, first to ascertain where the disease comes from, and secondly to offer him my support in any measure he takes to keep disease out of the country.


I wish to call attention to a point which is more or less concerned with the question of cattle coming from overseas. In the Act which was passed last year there is a Section providing that cattle infected at a landing place shall not be the subject of compensation for slaughter. I think it was in the mind of all of us, certainly it was in mine when I read that Clause in the Bill, that it was a perfectly reasonable thing that diseased cattle which came from overseas should be slaughtered and should not be the subject of compensation. But another set of circumstances has arisen. Cattle have arrived in this country from Ireland in a state of perfect health, and have been put in a detention place, and when there they are under the control of the authorities of the right hon. Gentleman's Department. Under these circumstances cattle have been infected by people coming into the detention place who have been in contact with cattle suffering from foot-and-mouth disease. The cattle are slaughtered and use is made of the Section to which I have referred to avoid payment of compensation. I think the Minister must agree that that is a very great hardship. The cattle are taken out of the control of their owners, and while under the control of the Ministry are exposed to infection. I think it is only reasonable and fair that if they are slaughtered they should be the subject of compensation, and if there is any real difficulty in the matter I think the Minister might well consider, now that there is a Bill before the House, taking power to enable him to do justice in cases of that kind.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a, Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr N. Buxton.]

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