HC Deb 25 February 1924 vol 170 cc103-33

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 pleuro-pneumonia 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 the Clause stand part of the Bill."


On a point of Order. May I ask whether it is intended to take the Amendment which stands in the name of some of my hon. Friends as a New Clause, or as an addition to Clause I?


After we take Clause I and II, the hon. Member can raise that question.


In view of the importance of the situation as it now is with regard to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, I think that we are justified in seeking to obtain all the information that we can from the Government on this Bill as to what is the exact position of affairs at the present moment. In the course of the discussion which took place on the Money Resolution last week, we were told by the Government that there had been a very rapid improvement, that the disease was now well under control, and that it was felt that the restrictions still in force in a wide area may soon be removed. When these words were used by the Minister of Agriculture he did not know what was taking place in the country at that moment. Last week in the county, part of which I have the honour to represent, there has been a very serious outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. I would like to take this opportunity of asking the Minister of Agriculture whether he can give us any account of the origin of this recent outbreak.

The outbreak occurred in Northampton market. That market had been closed for weeks as a store market. On Saturday week it was re-opened, and in consequence very large numbers of stores were submitted for sale in that market. Of course, the animals sent to the market had gone there without any permission or licence being given, and after sale they were distributed all over the county, and for all I know, to other parts of the country as well. Since that market took place in the county of Northampton alone there have been 17 outbreaks of this disease confirmed by the Ministry of Agriculture. The question arises, how did these animals get contaminated in Northampton market, or were they infected before they were sent there? I undertand that, at any rate, in the case of the first outbreak, the animals who were first infected, and consequently infected other animals in that market, were the property of two dealers, and had been part of a number of store cattle which had come direct from Ireland via Fishguard, and were sent forward to market immediately after arrival, and in the other case the animals were the property of another dealer, and they had come direct from Pembrokeshire, Wales, and they also after arrival were submitted for sale in this market.

These animals, so far as I am informed, were found two or three days after the market to have contracted this disease. But while they were in the market they must have given it to a great number of other cattle who were distributed throughout the county, and possibly beyond the county boundary, and infected numerous herds, and there are now 17 cases registered in the county of Northampton. Either these animals contracted the disease in the market, or they must have had it before they got there, and I should be very much obliged if the Minister of Agriculture would inform the House whether in the course of the investigation, which no doubt he has set in motion since the outbreak occurred, he has ascertained where these animals contracted the disease?

I should be sorry to suggest that the Ministry were not carrying out the regulations in the best manner to stamp out this disease. On the other hand, I should be sorry to suggest that the dealers and farmers and others are not doing their part in obeying the regulations which are made from time to time by the Ministry. But it would appear that these animals, which could not have been sent unless they came from what was supposed to be an uninfected area, must have contracted it before they came in what was supposed to be a non-infected area, but must really have been an infected area, or they must have contracted it in the market when they got there. So far as these cattle are concerned, the market has been closed for a great many weeks, so that it is very difficult to understand how the animals could have contracted the disease in the market itself. The disease is practically paralysing the whole agricultural industry in all the infected areas at present in England. It has already cost this country upwards of £3,000,000 this year, and those are quite sufficient reasons why we should take every opportunity that presents itself to us in this House of inquiring how the Ministry thinks that its methods of stamping out this disease are progressing and whether it is taking the best possible precautions to prevent the disease from spreading any further?


I would ask the Minister of Agriculture whether his attention has been drawn to the fact that an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease took place in Jamaica in 1922, and that Jamaica hides are coming into this country? These hides, I understand, have been refused admission into the United States, but they are still coming here. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that his Department has taken any steps to ascertain whether the outbreak of this disease is attributable to these hides? I asked the other day that the one question should be where this disease came from. We have been free from it for years, and now it has come from overseas. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the allegations made this morning in "The Times" is accurate or not, and whether any steps have been taken by his Department to ascertain whether Jamaica hides are infected with foot-and-mouth disease and whether they are still coming into this country?


On the last day on which we discussed this matter, I expressed doubt as to the efficiency of the Ministry of Agriculture in dealing with this question. Since then our anxiety has increased rather than diminished. I happened to see in "The Times" a few days ago—I cannot remember the exact date—the statement that at Bristol cattle coming from Ireland had been found in lairages infected with this disease, and that the ports had been closed against foreign cattle and Irish cattle coming into this country. A few days afterwards I saw it stated that the ports had been reopened. I would like to have from the Minister some explanation as to the reasons for this conduct. I myself have always taken the view that the cattle with which this disease came over were probably Irish cattle. Whenever suggestions were made to this effect, we have always been told by the Minister of Agriculture that there is no trace of foot-and-mouth disease in Ireland. I would like to know on what information that statement is based. I can understand that no Irishman would ever admit that there was such a disease in Ireland. That would be fatal to a very valuable trade of the Irish farmers who send over large numbers of cattle here.

That Irish cattle have been infected, and are infected, appears from the statement made to-day by the hon. Member for Daventry (Captain Fitzroy), who stated that in Northamptonshire there has been an outbreak of seventeen cases which apparently have originated from Irish cattle travelling about the country. So far as I can gather from what he said, they have come direct from the port of landing to the market in Northampton, and they spread the disease which has resulted in these seventeen outbreaks. In the cases which I mention, the cattle were infected in Bristol before they had started their travels through the country. Is there any arrangement between the Ministry and the Department of Agriculture in the Free State or in Northern Ireland to have a joint inspection or is it possible that an arrangement might be made? What is the evidence that there is no foot-and-mouth disease in Ireland? If there is no such arrangement as I suggest, do the British Department simply take the statement of the Irish officials that the disease does not exist in Ireland, and will the Minister tell us whether he himself is satisfied that in the case of these animals at Bristol the disease did not come from abroad and is not coming from Ireland?

There is one other matter to which I would like to draw attention. On the occasion of the last discussion I stated that I was not at all satisfied that the membership of the Committee, which the right hon. Gentleman was appointing to investigate the further outbreak of disease in this country, should be confined solely to members of the old Committee. It is extremely desirable that the spread of this disease should be investigated by new men who look at it from a new angle. I would like to know whether anything has been done in that direction. It is fairly plain that the disease may be air-borne. I wish to ask the Minister whether he is satisfied with the method that has been adopted by the persons employed by him in carrying out his slaughter policy. I have no doubt that the slaughter policy is the right one, but if it is to be effective it must be put into operation at the earliest opportunity, and be carried out with the greatest celerity. Since I made a few observations on this matter last week, I have had a number of letters from farmers in various parts of the country, and from others living in the rural districts, pointing out that it was quite a common thing, where herds have been slaughtered, from them not to be slaughtered for some days, that after they were slaughtered the carcasses were left exposed in the fields for days before they were disposed of, and that there were cases where the carcasses had been left lying in this way, with a strong wind blowing, and neighbouring farmers complained of their cattle being infected. If that be so, it is gross carelessness. If the work of investigation is left to the four gentlemen suggested for the Committee, is it not possible that it will be regarded as an attempt to whitewash the Ministry of Agriculture? Is the Minister quite satisfied that burning is the proper way to dispose of these carcasses? To my mind it is not, because the burning is not complete. The particles of burning matter are spread by the wind and otherwise. Though I do not claim to be an expert, I ask the Minister whether he is satisfied that burial and destruction in quicklime is not a much quicker and more certain method? In these matters I should be very glad to have his considered opinion before we part with the subject.


At this stage, in view of the fact that we have an Amendment on the Paper to be moved later, I should not take part in the discussion but for some observations that fell from the right hon. Member for Daventry (Captain Fitzroy) and the last speaker. There would appear to be some misconception as to who is responsible for the administration of this Act in Northern Ireland. A question was put to the Minister as to whether he was coming to an arrangement between the two Governments in Ireland with respect to the supervision of animals on export. I wish to point out that it is the Minister of Agriculture who is responsible for all the Regulations and for the whole administration, at any rate, in Northern Ireland. His officers inspect these cattle at the port of embarkation, just as his officers inspect them upon arrival. He is directly responsible to this House for the whole of the administration in so far as Northern Ireland is concerned.


Does that mean inspection on the farm in Northern Ireland, or only at the ports?


The whole business of the inspection of animals in respect of disease. If they are to be inspected upon the farms, the inspection is carried out by the officers of the right hon. Gentleman, who go to the farm to make the inspection. If the animals are to be inspected at the port the same officers carry out the whole business. Therefore, in so far as the criticism we have heard is supposed to imply any neglect of duty in Northern Ireland, it loses its point at once. But there is another aspect of the matter. The right hon. Gentleman can scarcely quarrel if we press the point that we are subject to a great deal of harassing and vexatious restrictions. Let me give one case as an illustration. A consignment of animals was exported from Belfast to the Port of Fleetwood. Amongst them were some milch cattle. One of them was a cow which had just calved. This cow was seized with milk fever after a stormy voyage and lack of attention. They sent for the veterinary surgeon to the hydro at Norbreck, near Blackpool, where in fact at the moment a very serious outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease was raging. A question put in this House elicited from the Minister's predecessor that this gentleman went down to inspect this particular animal without having been subject to disinfection. He not only communicated the disease to that particular cow, but to the whole of the animals there. They were slaughtered.

What we complain of bitterly is this: These animals were infected as the result of the action of the Ministry's servant. They were infected in this country and not in Ireland, but the wretched owner was denied any compensation. Two or three cases of that kind occurred in quick succession, and three men, largely engaged in this trade, were broken and had to go out. It is not too strong a complaint to make, and I put it very pointedly now that the time has come to consider one fact seriously, not so much in the interests of the cattle trade in Ireland as out of regard for the interest of the cattle trade in this country. You have had denudation of nearly three counties of all your store cattle. You must look to Ireland as your nearest and only market for replacing these. Unless you give to the people to whom you look for replacement an assurance that the kind of thing I have described is not to go on for ever, I fear that you will look in vain. The injustice of it is so palpable that it needs no argument. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give the matter sympathetic consideration.


The fact that the country is suffering from foot-and-mouth disease is not due to any positive or negative action on the part of the present Government, but is due to the past Government's neglect of the obvious course to be taken, namely, the earnest prosecution of scientific research. That is what successive Governments have failed to do. The amount of money that has recently been devoted to the endowment of a school of animal pathology at Cambridge was a step in the right direction, for from it the greatest hopes of success are promised. It is all very well for the last speaker to say that a veterinary surgeon communicates the disease because he does not take the necessary precautions.


I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman does not misunderstand me. I made a specific charge in respect of a specific case. The facts were admitted, and are upon the official records of the Ministry.


Even if the facts were admitted by the Ministry, I doubt very much whether the present state of knowledge with regard to the communication of the disease, the incidence of the disease, and the incubation period is sufficient to prove the point of the right hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Moles).


The point that I wished to make was clear. It was found impossible, in the subsequent tracing of the movements of animals, to discover any disease whatever in any part of Ireland. The disease was proved to exist on the farm from which this veterinary surgeon came, and it was found at the expiration of the incubation period at the place where he treated the animal. The rest is matter of obvious inference.


The most obvious things in science are sometimes impossible, once they are thoroughly investigated from their source. It is not always the obvious which proves to be the cause. So far, we know precisely nothing about foot-and-mouth disease, except that it has a certain effect. We know nothing about the period of incubation or about the particular virus that communicates the disease. That is what we want to know. We are endeavouring to ascertain this information, and a group of investigators is trying to produce a culture of the particular virus. That is a matter which should engage the very earnest attention of the Government. During the past 12 months alone the outbreak has cost £3,500,000, but we can assert with some confidence that if £100,000 a year, which is about half the interest on the capital charge, had been devoted for the past ten years to the investigation of culturable viruses, that is, since the time when Dr. Twort asked for a little assistance from the Treasury for the prosecution of his researches—there are many others who have asked the Ministry of Agriculture and the Development Commission in vain for money to prosecute their researches—we should be in a very different position to-day.

An absurd sum, which many of us believe could have been saved, has been spent in this country in the last few years because of outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease. Before that time, much of the loss was borne by the farmer, because he had no Ministry to look after him and to compensate him for the slaughter of his cattle. I suggest that we should get some new blood on the Committee which is set up by the Ministry, and on that point I am in entire agreement with the hon. Gentleman opposite. We want not only investigators or an investigator on the animals pathology side, but a thoroughly competent investigator on the human pathology side. Many of these diseases are common to both human beings and animals, and human pathology does not differ necessarily from animal pathology. We ought to call in the best human pathologists or ask the Medical Research Council to assist to the best of their endeavours in trying to eliminate this disease, in very much the same way as other diseases, which are equally dreadful in their effects, such as rinderpest and swine fever, have been stamped out. We want more co-operation between scientific departments and we want more money. These investigations should be endowed by the State. We also want to have on that Committee new blood—members who will determine that the whole matter should be referred to a competent group of investigators, charged with the fullest responsibility and given the fullest facilities. Such a course, obviously, entails research in foreign countries. There is the field of research. The only wonder is that, after the last serious outbreak, this course was not taken, and investigators were not sent abroad where there would have been no danger of communicating the virus to cattle in this country. I feel sure every facility would be granted to such investigators by foreign Governments, who are as keen as we are on eradicating the disease. It is in that direction I am convinced that success is most likely to be achieved, and it is in that direction I hope the Ministry intend to act.

Viscount WOLMER

I agree that nothing like as much research has been done by the Ministry of Agriculture and the British Government in the past as might have been done. But I would remind the hon. Member who has just sat down that you cannot, by the mere spending of money or even by administrative ability, make a discovery to order. For several years past enormous sums of money have been spent and some of the greatest medical intellects of our time have been concentrated on the problem of the cure of cancer. Nobody knows when the necessary discovery may be made. It may come to-morrow, or it may not come for 10 or 20 years or even longer. While I do not suppose anybody would dispute the necessity for research, that cannot be looked to as a solution of the problem which faces the country and the Ministry at the present moment. I associate myself entirely with what the hon. Member said about the intimate connection between human and animal pathology, and I should like to add that the task of the investigators has not been made easy by the frequent attacks on vivisection made in this House and elsewhere. These have, in some cases, greatly hindered the work of research and in others has interfered with it almost to an even more serious extent. While agreeing with the hon. Member on that point, that is not the problem which now faces us. We have to stamp out the disease by such methods as are at present known to us, and do what we can to remedy the damage which has been caused.

This leads me to mention a point which I raised in my speech on the Money Resolution, and in a question to the Minister, namely, the basis of compensation. I do not think, with all respect, that the Minister quite adequately dealt with this matter. It is true the right hon. Gentleman is only following in the footsteps of his predecessor, but that is not an adequate defence for everybody in these days of progress and enlightenment. I wish to point out again, that the case of the dairy farmer differs completely from the case of the farmer who owns a herd of bullocks and they are affected differently by the way in which compensation is at present administered. Both are paid for the value of their animals and thus the farmer who is merely fattening bullocks receives some measure of compensation for the loss he has suffered, but the man who is in the dairy business may have had his business ruined; his goodwill may be gone and his business connection ended, but in respect of that which is far and away the most important matter to him, representing a very much greater figure than the value of the animals, he does not receive a single penny from the Ministry. I questioned the right hon. Gentleman on this matter before, or rather I attempted to put a question to him, but questions to the Ministry of Agriculture are now so arranged that verbal queries are utterly impossible. All we are favoured with are little written replies which we receive about two hours after Question Time—replies which are sometimes very tantalising in the number of potential supplementary questions which they invite.

In reply to a question which I put to the right hon. Gentleman, he stated that he is merely carrying out the law as it stands. Do I understand that the Diseases of Animals Act, 1894, prevents the Government from paying compensation to dairy farmers in respect of the goodwill which they have lost through the slaughter of their herds? Can the Minister tell me what particular Section of what particular Act, prevents the Ministry from paying fair compensation to dairy farmers? When he has told me that however, he has not satisfied me because he is coming to the House for another Bill, and why can he not insert in it a Clause enabling him to compensate dairy farmers in the same proportion as the owners of fattening stock are compensated? The basis is technically the same, but in effect totally different, and the Minister, when seeking financial powers to compensate, should ask for powers to compensate in a fair and equitable manner. I also raised the question of compensation for the farm labourers who were turned out of work as a result of the outbreak. The right hon. Gentleman has been able to give me an assurance that practically all the farm labourers turned out of work through the slaughter of herds during the epidemic, have been provided with other work at approximately the same remuneration. If that be the case, I agree that the need has been met, and I am very glad to receive that assurance. On the other point, however, we should have an explanation as to why the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to meet the dairy farmers' case. It is no defence to say that this has not been done in the past. We have never had an outbreak in the past comparable to the present one, and just as we must review the whole of our position from a medical point of view, so we must, when we are paying these vast sums in compensation, see to it that they are paid on a fair basis.


In their attempts to find the sources of infection and the methods of transmission of infection, the officials of the Ministry seem to have overlooked one very important possible source of infection—namely, hired sacks. These hired sacks go all over the country. They are carried about in farm carts, they are liable to infection, and when their use on a particular farm is finished they go back to the hirers and then to another farm. If they are capable of carrying infection—as to which I offer no opinion, and as to which I do not think anyone is prepared to offer an opinion—there is an obvious source of danger. The cost of these sacks is comparatively small, and where hired sacks are in use on an infected farm, it would cost very little to destroy them and pay compensation for them. In view of all the possibilities, I think that principle might be adopted by the Ministry. The question of compensating dairy farmers is one of extraordinary difficulty, because it is almost impossible to determine the value of the goodwill of a dairy business. It is impossible to forecast the future of such a business, and it is impossible to judge by the past what its value is. There are other matters which complicate the question, and even if the principle suggested by the Noble Lord who spoke last were adopted, it would be very difficult indeed to work it in practice.


There are two questions which I wish to put to the right hon. Gentleman. It appears to me as though Northamptonshire might follow in the painful experience which we had in Cheshire, and I ask, first: Is the Minister absolutely certain that he has adequate staff to deal with what may take place in Northamptonshire in some days' time? My experience in Cheshire was that when a man notified the existence of foot-and-mouth disease on his farm, there was not adequate staff to deal with the case for days. The cattle were not slaughtered; they began to get better, and then the Ministry's officers came and slaughtered them. Nothing could be more maddening to farmers than to see cattle treated in that way. I am not blaming anybody, because I know the outbreaks were so numerous and so sudden it was impossible to deal with them, but I think on a second occasion the Ministry should be prepared. If slaughter is to be satisfactory, it must be immediate in cases of this kind. The second question is: Will the Minister keep an open mind as regards the Committee which he is going to set up? I fear if the Committee is what the right hon. Gentleman has called the Pretyman Committee, farmers in the country will regard it as a sort of whitewashing Committee, and that is not what is wanted. I think it would be much better that a county like Cheshire, which has suffered so frightfully, should have a Member on that Committee, someone who has not expressed an extreme view one way or the other. It would be a thousand pities if the people were to take the view I have just indicated, namely, that the Committee is merely intended to provide a coat of whitewash for the Ministry.

5.0 P.M.


On the question of the publication by the Ministry of the results of their investigations into the origin of particular outbreaks, I wish to raise one point. There have been a great many outbreaks in my part of the country and, directly outbreaks take place, there are the wildest and most contradictory rumours among farmers of different schools of thought and different opinions. Then usually the Ministry of Agriculture endeavours to collect some chain of evidence and sift what is accurate from what is inaccurate. The great difficulty is that that takes a long time, and real publicity regarding the actual evidence as to what has proved of value seldom is brought out in time, if at all. One of the first things to be done after this great outbreak is to publish in Blue Book form both the positive and negative results of their investigation as to the cause of particular outbreaks and the spread of the disease to particular districts. In one case of which I know, I asked one farmer about it and he said: "I have got definite evidence that this came from Ireland." I said, "Have you sent it to the Board of Agriculture?" and he replied "Oh, no; they say Ireland is free and it is not worth sending it." Another farmer said in another case that the disease came in fodder from France, because a particular ship had brought goods packed with hay and straw from a port on the West Coast of France where there is a great amount of foot-and-mouth disease.

It is of the utmost importance to the agricultural community that all investigations by the Ministry of Agriculture into the conflicting evidence about things of that kind should be adequately published. It is quite as important in a scientific matter of this kind to publish the negative results as to publish the positive results. The next point I wish to speak about is in regard to what the hon. and gallant Member for East Leyton (Major Church) said as to the necessity for research. There, again, it is most important that all who are carrying out research into this matter should encourage farmers, even quite humble farmers, to send in their suggestions and their knowledge and anything that may usefully contribute to the research. That is the difficulty one is up against in the rural community of this country. They are apt to regard the research people as highbrows living in laboratories at university centres, and there has not been sufficient liaison between the practical farmers and farmers' organisations and the research centres in this country. I do hope that in the future that will be improved, because it will be mutually beneficial to scientific men and to practical farmers.

In connection with the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for East Leyton, as to the necessity for publishing in this country more fully the results, again even the negative as well as the positive results, of all foreign research into this matter, I would say that, after all, we have not spent a great deal of money. The Argentine have spent enormous sums on this particular investigation, and other countries where the disease has been prevalent have spent largely on the work. We should arrange for more systematic investigation of the whole question of the communicability of this disease. Different aspects of this research should be referred to different countries for evidence as to facts. Then I want to know what is this story about Canada offering to provide dairy cattle for Cheshire and those cattle having been refused? Is it a fact that under the present law it was impossible for us to accept the offer by the Canadian Government of dairy cattle to replace the herds that had been destroyed? Is it true such an offer has been made and has been turned down, and, if so, why? It would be a great thing for the Empire generally if, such an offer having been made, it could be accepted, if only to show the good will that Canada is showing the farmers of this country, owing to the removal of the embargo on Canadian cattle.


I would feel obliged to the right hon. Gentleman if he would make a statement as to the case of the Aberdeenshire herds which were slaughtered. I do so principally for this reason, that I observe that a pedigree herd in Ayrshire has been slaughtered with the authority and presumably at the expense of the Ministry of Agriculture. That makes the case of Aberdeenshire even more unique than it was last week. It is the only county where slaughter has taken place without compensation being paid. I would ask if it is impossible to indemnify the county council under this Bill. The matter will not be pressed on these benches, but we do hope the Minister will take it into serious consideration and find out if it is possible to compensate Aberdeenshire with a grant or in some other way. One point was not made clear in the recent Debate. It is that the Ministry, in deciding to isolate and not to slaughter the Aberdeen pedigree herds, were under the impression that the farm where the outbreak occurred was easily isolated. It appears that the farm was not capable of being isolated, for the reason that through the farm there run two public roads and a stream, and it is obviously difficult to isolate a farm situated as that farm is. It was possible to secure partial isolation so long as the stock was under cover, but it would have been entirely impossible to maintain isolation after the cattle were out in the fields. I hope the Minister will give us some reason to hope that he will consider this matter favourably if he secures his Bill.

With regard to the spreading of infection, may I say that it has just been brought to my notice that there is some danger arising from the hides of animals slaughtered in the infected areas? In the case about which I have been speaking, there are no adequate slaughtering facilities in the controlled area. The Ministry would not allow the animals to be removed from that area to a clean area where there are slaughtering facilities, and a large number of cattle were slaughtered in improvised places. Farmers were puzzled to know why they could not remove live cattle for slaughter, while hides and hoofs from the infected herds were removed from the infected area to a clean area. In a county so far north as Aberdeenshire, I recognise it was impossible for the Ministry to exercise very strict supervision of what was going on, and, perhaps, they were not aware that that impact was taking place, but it has caused a certain amount of uneasiness among farmers.


I may be allowed to deal, first, with two or three suggestions which were rather apart, in their general bearing, from this Debate. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) raised the question of a possible source of infection in hides. We are always looking out for possible sources of infection, but I am sure there is no more danger in these hides, which are absolutely dry, than in frozen meat from the Argentine or anywhere else. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) raised the question of publicity. The Ministry is always endeavouring to keep the public fully informed of the situation, and a report of the latest facts is actually sent to the Press each day. I wish it was more carefully studied by a larger public. Then the interesting suggestion was made that farmers and others with ideas should be encouraged to lay them before the Ministry. I can assure the hon. Member that suggestions pour into the Ministry and that they are carefully considered. Some are very interesting indeed. There is certainly no lack of readiness to impart ideas or any sense that they will not be welcomed by the officials of the Ministry.

In regard to the question of cattle from Canada, it is the fact that the Canadian Government expressed its readiness to supply the cattle which a section of the farmers, in Cheshire particularly, were anxious to have. The Canadian Government indicated that the cattle were there and that they would encourage the sale of them to British buyers. This subject came up at the Imperial Conference. To have allowed these cattle in would have gone rather beyond the decisions of the Conference. I had to consider the question in the interests of the largest number. There was a large proportion of the farming community who were very strongly opposed to the entrance of these cattle. I am a good Free Trader, and I satisfied myself that the real reason for excluding these particular cattle, which is not the ordinary importation of Canadian stores, is in the interests of maintaining the standard of British cattle. We have arrived at a very much higher standard, and there is a certain danger if we allowed this importation that our standard might be lowered. I am clear that, on the whole, it would not have been a sound thing to do.

As to the Aberdeenshire case, I have no power to pay compensation. The local authority exercises power to slaughter animals in certain cases. I could, if the hon. Member wished, give the whole history of this particular case, but the fact was that the local authority decided to slaughter. The Foot-and-Mouth Disease Order, following the terms of the Diseases of Animals Act, as my hon. Friend knows, directs the local authority to pay compensation out of the local rates, and there is no authority given by the Act to the Ministry to refund any such expenditure. It might very well be supposed that the Act should do so, but at present I, like my predecessors, am only administering the Act as it is. So much for the Aberdeenshire case.

Now I come to the very serious matter raised at the opening of the Debate by my right hon. Friend opposite, the Member for Daventry, namely, the Northamptonshire outbreak. That is another illustration in this outbreak of the extraordinary obscurity which attaches to foot-and-mouth disease. It is certainly a great disappointment that when the disease appears to have been got under foot, there has been, not exactly a recrudescence, but certainly the temporary disappearance of the hope that a clean bill of health would arise in the very near future. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he fully recognised the efficiency and hard work of all those concerned in dealing with the outbreak generally, as well as his recognition of the farmers and the loyalty they had displayed. It is a very obscure thing that somebody, one or more persons, put one or more infected animals into the market, and infected many other animals there, unknown to anyone. The market was, of course, distributive, and many animals which had contracted the infection were so distributed. The Ministry has not yet any definite knowledge regarding who was the delinquent. Inquiries are proceeding, and I hope that the truth will be found out. The market was held on the 16th, and it was in an area recently freed from restriction. The disease was found among animals which had only just come from the market. I hope the person will be traced, if only because enormous damage has resulted. It was said that 17 outbreaks had followed in Northamptonshire, but that is not all. I believe the total resulting is 20 outbreaks in all.


Is it true they were Irish cattle?


That is not known.


Has the right hon. Gentleman assured himself that the cattle that were responsible for this outbreak were infected before they went to the market, and were not infected in the market?


I take it that even that cannot be ascertained with absolute certainty, but it is almost certain that they were infected before they were placed in the market. The Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) raised the question of compensation for certain other claims, which I have often felt are very cogent indeed. Extreme hardships arise in all these matters, and not only in connection with foot-and-mouth disease. I remember very well the hardships which arose in connection with swine fever long ago. The Act lays down very explicitly that you may compensate for slaughtering. I have read the Section, the number of which I do not, at the moment, remember, but we are certainly not able, as the Act stands, to depart from the present limit of compensation for slaughtered animals. My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Simpson) asked whether it would not be profitable and efficient to destroy other things on the farm, and so make sure that infection was not spread. I understand that that is done in many cases. You can, of course, purchase any article, and compensation is afforded in that way, and wherever it is thought necessary, articles or equipment on the farm, which might carry infection, are destroyed.


My point was that hired sacks are a special case, as they differ from other articles in that respect.


I can assure my hon. Friend that that will be very carefully gone into, and he may take it that no risks are run which can possibly be avoided, and the Act does allow us, in effect, to compensate for those losses. You have every ground in reason and humanity for holding that certain cases ought to receive compensation which do not now receive it, but then, to what are you led? I noticed in several quarters of the House last week a very strong desire that we should not be led into larger expense, and if you are to accept every claim which may be based upon justice, you are very likely to get into a bill which the country would not stand. I think, really, there is more hope in the inquiries we are setting on foot into the possibility of a general scheme of insurance. I know people, relations of my own, who have insured against consequential losses, and not on bad terms at all, even in these bad times, and I hope we shall get to a feasible proposal for removing the enormous risk which attaches to people who are not insured now, in spite of the very generous and enormously costly compensation which the Act does provide. We had an Amendment moved last week, which, I suppose, was inspired by a fear that too much might be spent, and we must not forget that there is that objection. It was asked whether, in the event of this outbreak assuming any proportions comparable to those of the outbreaks in Cheshire, the staff was ready to deal with it. We are not taken by surprise as the country was in the case of Cheshire, and I think I can certainly give the assurance that there will not be any breakdown, unless something quite unforeseen and critical occurs, of the machinery for carrying out the policy laid down by my predecessors and followed by myself.

I may be allowed a word on the question of Ireland. Some Irish cattle, which came from Bristol, after arrival in Nottinghamshire seven days after leaving Ireland, developed foot-and-mouth disease. This left a suspicion that they might have contracted the disease in Ireland, and therefore the Irish trade was stopped while inquiries were made, but the inquiries showed that they were not infected in Ireland. There was no disease at Bristol, and there would, undoubtedly, have been disease among the rest of the animals remaining at Bristol had the disease come from Ireland. I think that that piece of possible evidence against Ireland was entirely disposed of, and my information is that we cannot attach suspicion any longer. In regard to the question of inspection raised by an hon. Member below the Gangway opposite, the body which is responsible for the inspection in Ireland is the Home Office.


The Irish Home Office, or the English Home Office?


The English Home Office.


So far as Northern Ireland is concerned, it is my right hon. Friend's Department that deals entirely with the Diseases of Animals Act in Northern Ireland. It is the Home Office which deals with it in Southern Ireland—that is, the Home Office for the Free State.


My question related to Southern Ireland, as to whether we had any inspection there.


I was asked whether I was satisfied with the administration as it has been carried out. I am comparatively new to this business. A month ago the outbreak had already subsided in the main, and the real crisis occurred about six weeks before. There was, I am told, a distinct breakdown. Animals were left unslaughtered, and carcasses were left undestroyed, and I do not know that it was humanly possible, though I, of course, had no knowledge or responsibility at the time, that that breakdown could have been avoided. Certainly, I know that the chief veterinary officer and his staff worked day and night, and nearly killed themselves, with the extraordinary labour that was suddenly thrown upon their Department. I am sure that the Department is in the highest state of efficiency. In regard to the problem of burning, or not burning, that seems to be a matter for technical opinion, but I have seen the burning on one farm at least, and I should say that the safest thing was to burn. At all events, I am not prepared to undertake the responsibility of altering a policy and a method of administration which have been in force for a long time, and which were pursued by my predecessor through the outbreak when it was at its height. The responsibility would be too great for me to take to change it, especially when the outbreak has subsided now to an infinitesimal extent compared with what it was.

I have left to the last a point which was raised by several hon. Members—namely, the subject of research, because that seems to me to be the direction in which we must turn after consideration of all these things, and it is only in research that any great hope can be placed. I was asked whether a Committee consisting of new men might not be advisable in the circumstances. I still think I was right, and that when you had some very competent men, who reviewed certain circumstances two years ago and knew all the technicalities, all the ropes, of this question, and now you have a similar thing, but on a larger scale, with new features, and you have these men with the knowledge and ability to review these new features, I do not think you could do better than appoint these men. If I could hear of any very highly qualified man—if he was an antislaugher man, well, all the better, I might add him to the Committee. Let every opinion be represented on the Committee. I have endeavoured to hear who were the best men, and for the particular purpose of examining the administration and the working out, for instance, among other things, of a plan of insurance, I doubt very much if you could do better than appoint these men. I am sure that their names are a sufficient guarantee that the public will not associate with them any suspicion of whitewashing or hushing-up, or a mind not open to new ideas in view of the circumstances with which we are met.

I think that great hope for any reform and great progress attaches to the other committee which I am appointing, and of which I hope very soon to be able to give the names. Last week I mentioned the name of a distinguished man who was willing to be chairman. It is on the scientific side, I think, that there is most hope of getting abreast of this disease. The question has been asked why more was not done during the last two years. I think all of us have asked that question, and I do not think it is for me to wonder or suggest that anyone was not active in seeking any opportunity there was of dealing with foot-and-mouth disease. Certainly two years ago there was a tremendous stimulus to public interest in the whole matter, and whether then more could have been done or not, it is perfectly clear more ought to be done now, and I think my predecessor did the right thing two months ago in inviting Sir William Leishman to sketch out a plan of inquiry, and it has fallen to me to receive his report. I am very hopeful that we shall secure for that inquiry the very best men that are to be had anywhere, I fully agree with my hon. Friend behind me that both branches of scientific research should be represented. There will be, I hope, an equal number of human pathologists and veterinary experts, and I hope the interest indicated in the Committee to-day will be maintained to the full, that money will not be grudged to the Committee, that it will be given every support—it may have to be maintained, perhaps, for several years—and that we shall arrive at a satisfactory result.


I do not wish to prolong the Debate, but I have one or two things to say. I think slaughter is the most brutal and most unscientific method ever adopted to combat an infectious disease. I do not feel myself competent to say it is not the only method available, but I would urge on the Government the prosecution of research. It is really amazing that so little has been done in this direction. The cost in compensation and administration for the last six months was £2,800,000, and the amount spent on research during that time was £30,000, and the scientific men have been complaining bitterly during the last twelve months of the way they have been hampered in this research. Professor J. M. Beattie, who wrote to the "Times" on the 9th of last month, protested against the way in which the Committee had been hampered and restricted in prosecuting its research, and how money that was necessary for prosecuting that research in foot-and-mouth disease had been withdrawn and they had been compelled to cease their investigations. The suggestion has been made that some of the farms might be isolated and used for experimental purposes. I have not been able to discover whether or not one attack of this disease gives immunity against subsequent attacks. It is one of the lines along which investigation could be made, whether, if an animal—a calf, for instance—contracts the disease, and then recovers, it is immune from subsequent attack? I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has been advised by his scientific advisers on that particular point, because, if so, we might find some system of inoculation during the early period of growth. I think if money were lavished now upon research, it would be money well spent. I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend has had the suggestion made to him that some prize or award should be offered for a discovery. Our scientific men are not sufficiently considered in this direction. Very often an investigator is produced by the offer of some award. If £50,000 were offered to any person in the world, whatever country it might be, for the discovery of a preventive or cure—more particularly a preventive—some reward might be offered. It is wonderful how the prospect of a reward of that kind stimulates research. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the effort he has made on the lines of research. I feel quite sure it is the only hope of remedying this disease, and the sooner we discover a remedy, the sooner we shall get rid of a brutal and an unscientific method of trying to combat this disease.

Lieut.-Colonel JAMES

There are only two points on which I should like briefly to touch. The first is, that when slaughter operations have taken place on one or two occasions that have been brought to my notice, the methods of the slaughterers has been singularly inadequate and ineffective. A case came to my direct notice in Kent, where an outbreak occurred, and certain cattle had to be slaughtered. One of the cattle due for slaughter escaped, and for 24 hours, more or less, was wandering about the country districts without any trace whatever being found of it. Eventually it was shot, but that, I submit, is an evidence of very indifferent arrangements. I believe representations were addressed to the Minister of Agriculture at the time of the occurrence. I understand a similar episode occurred at Cheshire. Precautions should be taken to prevent such episodes. If slaughter has been decided upon and strict isolation is necessary, for Heaven's sake let us see that cattle do not escape in this manner.

The other point upon which I should like to touch is the question of rats. There is a Rats Act in force, or, rather, on the Statute Book, and not in force. It is well known that rats and other rodents—mice and so on—disseminate a very large amount of disease, and one of the medical officers of health in Cheshire drew special attention to the circumstance that when an outbreak occurred on an isolated farm, all the cattle on that farm were killed, but in a few days the rats, which were very numerous on the farm, left, owing to this infection which had taken place, and invaded the neighbouring homesteads. In a very short time there was an epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease around that particular farm where this isolated outbreak had first occurred. I do not say there is conclusive proof that the rats conveyed the disease, but, as we know that rats convey immunerable other disease—typhoid, typhus, and so on—I do suggest it is time the Rats Act was made a live instrument rather than the purely inoperative Measure it now is, because there is no doubt that rats do an enormous amount of harm to agriculture generally, quite apart from the probable dissemination of foot-and-mouth disease. I thought it important that these two points should be raised.


Not only in this Debate, but in previous Debates, time and again, the question of compensation for the slaughter of animals in Aberdeen has been raised, and, as far as I can gather, considerable pressure has been brought to bear upon the Minister to grant compensation to the county council in Aberdeen. I hope the Minister will not grant compensation in that particular case. As I understand the position, this was a pedigree herd of cattle, and the policy of the Ministry has been that, while they favour slaughter, in the case of pedigree cattle they do not pay the pedigree price. The Aberdeen County Council ordered the slaughter of these animals, not while the disease was on the animals, but, as I am informed, two months after the animals were actually cured. The statement has also been made that a pedigree herd of cattle has been slaughtered in Ayrshire. That is not a correct statement. The cattle have not been slaughtered. The circumstances are that the owner of the herd refused to slaughter, and the county council, like the county council in Aberdeen, are anxious that the cattle should be slaughtered. Unlike the Aberdeen County Council, they try to bring pressure to bear upon the Ministry to slaughter the cattle, but, up to now, the cattle have been isolated, and not slaughtered. I want to suggest to the Minister that if he gives way in recognising payments to the Aberdeen County Council, who, without receiving the liberty from the Ministry to slaughter the cattle, do slaughter them, and then try to recover the cost of the cattle from the Ministry, they will be up against every other county committee who may find themselves differing from the Ministry. I would suggest that if the Ayrshire Committee, who, presumably, are acting directly under the instructions of the Ministry, got to know there was any likelihood of the Ministry conceding the claim of the Aberdeen County Council, then the Ayrshire County Council would be justified in slaughtering the cattle under the authority they have under the Act and then coming to the Ministry for compensation. Under these circumstances I hope the Ministry will retain their own policy. While I quite agree that proper research should be made, still if the policy is that of slaughter and paying the ordinary market price for the cattle, and refusing to pay pedigree price, then until that policy is altered the Ministry should resist any action taken by any county council.


It certainly seems to me, if the statement just made by the hon. Gentleman opposite is correct, that cattle were slaughtered not after the disease was diagnosed, but two months afterwards, that it is a most extraordinary line to be taken; and I really should like the Minister of Agriculture to make some statement and let us know what are the actual facts. Especially so in regard to the alleged non-slaughtering of pedigree cattle. It seems to me—and a great many people share the view—that there has been a great deal too much slaughtering, especially as we do not seem to get this terrible disease stamped out by doing so. If we slaughter all the herds which take the disease, we get no opportunity of making veterinary and other research into the matter. We do not know as to how these outbreaks of the disease are spread. One suggestion is that it is spread by the slaughterers themselves going from farm to farm, while another suggestion is that it is spread by the carrion crows, which, I am sorry to say, in certain cases have undoubtedly been allowed to feed on the diseased cattle after slaughter before the carcases have been destroyed. Other suggestions are that it is carried from farm to farm by rats, hares or rabbits. But whatever the source of infection may be, unless, however, we isolate some of the cattle and endeavour in that manner to find out what actually causes the disease, we shall not do much as to the possibility of cure. I believe I am right in saying that in one of the farms of Cheshire where the disease broke out among a large herd of pedigree cattle, only two were lost when the policy of isolation was adopted. These particular two animals were apparently not in the best state of health. A few words from the Minister of Agriculture on this policy of slaughter would be welcome. There may be an opportunity to try the isolation policy so that, it may be, wholesale slaughter may be avoided. It would appear that the disease is going to continue in the country for some months, and it is desirable that something should be done to save the actual and appalling loss and appalling expense which is incurred at the present time.


I am dissatisfied with the exposition of the Minister of Agriculture as to foot-and-mouth disease in England and Scotland. We have none in Ireland. However, my object in rising is for the purpose of drawing the attention of the right hon. Gentleman once more to the anomaly that Irish farmers are suffering from in the Act that was passed last autumn whereby they cannot receive, and do not receive, compensation for the loss of their cattle. I have in my hand at the moment an advertisement which has been issued by the East Anglian farmers. These farmers are anxious to get 1,000 Irish store cattle per week. How are these store cattle to be got here if the British Government does not help the Irish farmer to send them here? Cattle, which in an ordinary way leaves Ireland, are subjected to a very stern examination by the officers of the right hon. Gentleman—and here I should like to compliment the right hon. Gentleman on the officers that he has, specially in Northern Ireland. These cattle that leave are examined by these officers before they are shipped. They are also examined on this side by the right hon. Gentleman's officers, and are detained during the normal period of detention. Surely, after these two examinations, and after they go through the period of detention, they should be dealt with as English cattle, not leaving the poor Irish farmer to suffer the loss incurred between battledore and shuttlecock, by his cattle, in that sense, not being Irish or English cattle?

I should like once more to draw attention to this very important matter. I do hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to try and help the situation, because you want our cattle, and we want to sell you our cattle. Therefore let him facilitate us in sending the cattle in a healthy state, as we have at all times tried to do. Here, in passing, let me say that we look carefully after our lairages, but I would respectfully suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that there are some lairages on the west coast of Scotland and England that require attention.


I did not propose to intervene in this Debate, but I am forced to reply in a few words to the speech which has just been delivered by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock Burghs (Mr. Climie). I want to do so because my hon. Friend the Member for Eastern Aberdeenshire (Mr. F. Martin)—who is not in the House for the moment—raised this subject of compensation for Aberdeenshire in the early part of the evening. I am not as cognisant of the facts as the hon. Member for Eastern Aberdeenshire. I make bold, however, to deny the statement made by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock Burghs. I understand that this particular case has been investigated. I think, therefore, the Committee ought to know the result of the investigations made by the Minister. I do not think a statement of that kind ought to be made in the presence of the Minister of Agriculture without some observations from the Minister.

My information is quite contrary to the information supplied to the hon. Member who represents Kilmarnock Burghs. There is not a word of truth in his statement that these cattle were not slaughtered till two months after. I should like my right hon. Friend, therefore, in the interest of the discussion of a matter of this kind, to state to the House here and now what is the information he has in regard to this particular point, and whether or not the compensation should be paid. My own view is that whether the cattle were pedigree or not that were slaughtered under the ægis of a public authority appointed for the purpose, that generous compensation should be paid. I do not approve of wholehearted slaughtering; but where the public authority placed in power, either by the suffrage of the people, or the Minister in charge, comes forward and says cattle should be slaughtered, in these circumstances it is a public duty that the owner of these cattle should be compensated. I am not discussing the merits of this particular question, but I would put this point to the hon. Member. I believe he is certainly in favour of democratic principles. I myself am firmly persuaded that the whole of this trouble could have been avoided if the administration of this particular Diseases Act had been handed over to the appropriate authority in Scotland. The Ministry of Agriculture in England has nothing of contact with, and no personal knowledge of, the actual conditions in Scotland. We have a Board of Agriculture in Scotland equivalent to the Board of Agriculture in England. We have a great many officials fully competent to look after this class of work. I should like the hon. Member who sits for Kilmarnock Burghs to join with me in pressing that all future administration of this sort should be handed over to the officials in Scotland. He comes forward at this stage of the evening and makes an accusation against a public authority. It is one which I trust the Minister of Agriculture will tell us is wholly unjustified.

There is one other point which I should like to make while I am on my feet. I understand that a great many experiments are to be conducted. I am glad of that. There is nothing so valuable as experiments by great men in research. I should like to know, in the event of stations for experimental purposes being set up, whether schemes in Scotland are to be considered? I am not quite sure whether my right hon. Friend mentioned this matter in the course of his speech—part of which I heard—but I should like him to give a reply, if possible, on this matter. Meanwhile, as I said before, I rose to get information about the more serious point, and I should like my right hon. Friend, now that this case has been investigated, to give us the information he has upon the subject, as to whether or not the allegation made against a public authority is true that certain cattle were not slaughtered until two months after they were heeled.

6.0 P.M.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir J. GILMOUR

I should like one word, because I look at this matter from the point of view of Scotland. I do not wish it to be thought by this House that the main agricultural opinion of Scotland is against the policy of slaughter. Some remarks have fallen from various Members on this subject. While I agree absolutely that much can be done by research, and in an endeavour to ascertain the sources and means of communication of the diseases, one thing is perfectly clear to my mind, that if we are to maintain our position as a great breeding country so as to be able to export to other countries, we must at all cost, at all hazards, prevent this disease becoming endemic in our country. Therefore, I hope that this Committee which the Board is setting up will investigate with great care both the scientific and administrative side of this question. To show how the disease is spread, I may mention that in my country a farmer desiring to engage a farm servant went to another county in Scotland where the disease was rampant. He engaged a man and his wife actually from the farm where the disease had occurred, and these individuals were brought across into a clean country. The effect of this was very soon apparent, and the outbreak has now spread to other parts. I would like those who are investigating these questions on the Committees to take into consideration not only the question of disinfecting those who come in contact with these diseased animals, but it would be a cheap measure of protection if the actual clothes and everything belonging to those people were destroyed and replaced at the public expense. I feel certain that much more stringent regulations will have to be adopted in dealing with people who come from farms where the disease has broken out. There is also the question of children going to school from an infected area. I hope all these points will be fully investigated. I rose really to say that I am in favour of the policy of slaughter, and I hope that this House will realise that the great mass of agricultural opinion is strongly in favour of it.


I rather agree with what the hon. and gallant Member for North-West Hull (Lieut.-Colonel L. Ward) said on the subject of indiscriminate slaughter and substituting research. I should not have dared to intervene in this Debate had it not been for a conversation I had on this subject at a dinner last night, where a friend of mine told me that an effective remedy for foot-and-mouth disease had been found in Spain and used with great success. A gentleman had acquired the English rights of this process, and he had offered to go to any part of this country without any remuneration, and he was prepared to provide the medicine and treat the cattle, and yet he was told that the Ministry of Agriculture could not entertain this because it was a commercial matter.

This is not the only country where they have foot-and-mouth disease, and it often occurs in Rumania, where I happen to know they have remedies which are very effectual. I have seen bullocks attacked by this disease which had been treated by those local remedies, and in a week they were able to pull tremendously heavy casings up the hills. It is a fine sight to see these bullocks pulling enormous weights up those hills in the oilfields, a task which a horse would decline to take on, but from which the patient oxen never flinch, for the bullocks try and try again, and the team manage to get a very long string of casing up the hills. I have seen animals that have been treated by these local remedies, and I can reinforce what has been said on this point, although I know that agricultural opinion in this country is all against me. I believe that cures are being used successfully for this disease in Spain and Rumania, and I urge that instead of the present policy of indiscriminate slaughter some attention should be paid by the Board of Agriculture to an examination of these potential remedies.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Clause 2 [Short Title] ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Captain DIXON The following new Clause stood on the Order Paper in the name of

Section five of the Importation of Animals Act, 1922, shall only apply animals diseased or suspected of being diseased or which have been exposed to the infection of any disease before admission to a foreign animals wharf or an approved landing place.

The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. Entwistle)

This New Clause is out of order, because it would extend the grounds on which compensation should be granted, and that would constitute an additional charge.

Bill reported without Amendment; to be read the Third time to-morrow.

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