§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Lieut.-Colonel LANE-FOX
This Bill presupposes the policy of slaughter and the continuance of that policy for some considerable time. Though, personally, I agree in principle with the policy of slaughter, I do so only on the assumption that it is carried out under conditions which make it both effective and safe. One of the more recent victims of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease on my own farm, I have had some experience, and I hope that I may be able to make certain suggestions which may be of some use in deciding whether the policy, as at present carried out, is effective, efficient, and safe. There can be no doubt that the methods which have been adopted hitherto, and for which compensation is to be given, have, in certain districts, led to a distinct increase of infection. In the earlier stages, before the present methods were understood and before the arrangements could be made, there was a good deal which required considerable remedy. I do not want to minimise the great difficulty with which the Ministry are faced. Far be it through me to make their task difficult. I only want to help them.
There is no doubt that many years ago, when foot-and-mouth disease existed in the country, it did not spread so quickly as, or flare up in the different districts with the same rapidity that it has done during the past year. Look at what happens. When a case occurs on an ordinary farm, there is on that farm a very small collection of people, comprising the farmer himself, his family, and the comparatively few people who are employed on the farm. The moment a case occurs—it cannot very well be avoided—a crowd is collected. You get a lot of people arriving to deal with the outbreak. First of all, you get the inspectors of the Ministry. Then you get veterinary surgeons, and we all know that in the past the carelessness of some of the 528 veterinary surgeons has been the cause of carrying infection from one area to another. You get, of course, the butchers if you carry out the policy of slaughter, and you get a large amount of labour to carry out the subsidiary operations. In addition, you get the village constable or constables to see that no unauthorised persons go on the premises, and they themselves may be the method of carrying infection. There is a considerable process which has to be gone through when the animals are slaughtered. The carcases of those not affected have to be dressed. There is the burning and burying of the others, and the processes of disposal have to be put into operation. That all means, in a great many cases, that there must be a large importation of casual labour. The persons employed in these operations are disinfected as best they can be, and then they are allowed to go home. All that is, to a certain extent, inevitable.
I want to know whether the system of disinfection is really satisfactory to the Ministry, and is one which cannot be improved. I am glad to find that in recent outbreaks the use of overalls by those, employed in these operations has been insisted on, and that overalls are now provided. In the early days that was not done. The men engaged put their hands, their overalls and all they used in some disinfecting mixture. That is a very primitive and incomplete method of disinfection. The ordinary casual labourer is not a very careful man, or at all intelligent in the use of disinfectants, and the overalls may come into contact with a man's clothes when he is getting out of them and into his own clothes. A certain amount of infection may in that way attach to a man who has been wearing the overalls. It is perfectly evident, therefore, that the mere process of disinfecting is not satisfactory or really thoroughly efficient. That leads to the point whether some better method cannot be found by employing men over whom the Ministry has more control, and who can be more thoroughly and completely disinfected. The casual labourer is not a man who thoroughly understands what disinfection means, or who understands the complexity of the infection, or the extraordinary rapidity with which it can be conveyed. These men go away from their work with their clothing very likely infected, and 529 they mix with the general community. You cannot prevent them mixing with other farm labourers, and possibly spreading the disease. Some of these casual labourers—I know of one or two cases—are sportmen, and it is their habit to go about the country districts, often with doge, and move among the stock on the various farms. That is a very possible means of infection.
I want to ask whether it is not possible—I know it is not in every case—to employ disciplined men from depots, or barracks, or from wherever they can be found. There, are some districts where that would be quite impossible, but there are others where it would be possible. I asked the question about this yesterday, and the reply was that there were very few Army butchers, and that consequently the number available would be very few. I quite agree that that is an answer with regard to butchers, but I do ask wherever it is possible that disciplined men, whose employment can be regulated and on whom an adequate and complete system of disinfection can be imposed, should be used. Disinfection by the mere application of a liquid disinfectant cannot be complete. There must be a complete system of fumigation before the risk of carrying infection can be got rid of. I do not want to minimise the difficulties of the Ministry. I know that it is not easy to choose the men in their employ, but I do suggest that they ought to exercise the greatest care in selecting those whom they employ in the slaughtering operations. I do not think that enough care has been shown in the past, and this is a point to which attention should be given.
We all admit that the system of slaughter is the most primitive possible. The cost to the country has to be considered. The country loses this enormous sum of money which is paid in compensation, but it loses also the value of the stock which has to be slaughtered. There is further a great deal of incidental loss falling on those on whose farms outbreaks occur, and for which no compensation is given. In addition, there is the loss to the labourers of their employment. I see it was suggested in one of the previous Debates that some of the compensation might be paid to the labourers. One would be very glad if that were possible, but it is absolutely impossible, because obviously the compensation then would be inadequate for the 530 re-stocking of the farms, and, if the farmer is not going to be able to re-stock his farm, he is not going to be able to employ the labourers in future. I am ready to accept the policy of slaughter so long as I am assured that it is regarded as only a temporary and primitive method on which we are hoping to improve.
I welcome the announcement which has been made, that there is going to be some better system of research. It is only on the basis that there is going to be research that slaughter can be considered for a time, and until that research shows something better. There, has been, for a long time, a rather unfortunate and detached attitude on the part of the Ministry towards the Medical Research Council. I hope that this announcement of a really scientific investigation means that that attitude is going to cease. We want some system of general research. It cannot be too often said that the science of pathology is one which cannot be segregated. The organisms which affect animals and human beings are largely related, and the research which applies to the one may well apply to the other. Research, therefore, applying to one section and not applying to the other is a waste of energy and of time. In the past there has been on the part of the Ministry far too much trying to keep the doctors and the Medical Research Council out of it, and far too much desire to run their own show. I hope that the announcement made means that that is going to come to an end. The research hitherto carried out has been inadequate, and has certainly been very unsuccessful. The method of having an isolated farm on which to carry out your research, or a ship in which, as the House knows, research has been hitherto carried out, merely means that you are creating a new centre of infection. There has been nothing to prove that in this disease infection cannot be carried by the wind. It is quite clear that if you moor a ship within a few miles of the land and if this infection is wind-borne, you are simply creating a new centre of infection and thereby doing more harm than good. If, in addition, you only allow a short time to elapse and then ask those who are carrying out the investigation—as has been done in the past—whether definite results can be promised at the end of a 531 certain limited time, then it is perfectly obvious you are not treating the problem as seriously as it ought to be treated.
What is required is a full, complete and comprehensive investigation, and such an investigation will have to last for a considerable number of years. In dealing with a problem like this you cannot expect immediate results. Furthermore, why is it necessary to have an isolated farm or a ship for these experiments? Why should not the investigation take place in London? There are no cattle kept in London; the most infectious diseases are investigated here, and the investigations are carried out with perfect safety and under the best possible conditions, I suggest that system would be much more satisfactory than the system which has obtained hitherto. I do not desire, however, to raise any difficulties, and I am sure we all wish the Ministry success in their task. It is a very unsatisfactory position. I sat on a Committee dealing with this particular disease fifteen or sixteen years ago, and I do not believe we know any more about the origin and cause of the disease now than we did then. At that Committee we had all the most eminent officials of the Department before us and we collected evidence from every other source of information which we could find, but nothing material resulted and no action was taken. Since that time there has been no real organised definite attempt at research work which can be called satisfactory. Therefore, I welcome the proposal of the Minister to set up a Committee of investigation, and I think the House would be well advised to pass this Bill, but only on the assumption that this is not the last word on the subject and that the Government really mean to press—as I think previous Governments ought to have pressed—the research question, so that in a very short time we may hope for, at any rate, some result and so that we may be able to depart from the very primitive and unfortunate method of slaughter, which at present is the only weapon we have against the disease, and adopt some more scientific and more effective means.
§ Major STEEL
The Minister of Agriculture a few days ago said this outbreak was now well in hand and under his control. I notice in to-day's newspapers that twenty fresh cases were confirmed 532 yesterday, and that out of these twenty fresh cases three are from a new centre somewhere in Lancashire. It seems to me that not even the most optimistic person can say we are within sight of the end of this terrible outbreak. The cost of this outbreak is very great not only to the flocks and herds of this country—already we have slaughtered over 90,000 head of cattle, 30,000 head of sheep and 40,000 head of pigs—and to a very large number of individual farmers, but the cost in the payment of compensation is a very heavy burden upon the taxpayers of the country, and it seems to me it is the duty of all who represent agricultural constituencies to do our very-best to satisfy ourselves that every possible measure is being taken by the Ministry to bring the outbreak to an end as speedily as possible. I realise the difficulties of the Ministry; I know how difficult it must be to face an outbreak such as this with a limited staff, and I have often wondered how the limited staff has been able to cope with the enormous additional work entailed by the outbreak. All the same, the slaughter policy is very expensive to the country and we must see that coupled with the slaughter policy every possible additional effort is made to end the outbreak.
With that object in view, I ask the Minister's attention to certain points to which the farming community might be asked to give special consideration. One of these points has already been dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Barkston Ash (Lieut.-Colonel Lane-Fox), and in regard to it I ask, have steps been taken to advise all farmers in the infected areas to ensure as far as possible that stockmen and cattlemen have their clothes, especially their boots, disinfected after coming in contact with infected animals? It seems to me there is absolutely no doubt that this disease is very often spread by the employ és themselves, who carry it upon their clothes and boots, and every means should be adopted to urge upon farmers the necessity that those who come in contact with infected animals should have their clothing disinfected as speedily as possible. With regard to the destruction of empty sacks, I have no doubt the disease is often spread by empty sacks taken away from infected areas. Has the Ministry considered the compulsory destruction of all empty sacks from 533 infected areas? It would mean additional compensation, but that would be a small matter if, in fact, the disease is being carried from one farm to another, even on some occasions, by means of these sacks. Has the Minister taken step to approach the railway companies with a view to getting them to disinfect and clean out the cattle trucks far more thoroughly than they are in the habit of doing in ordinary times?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I have to remind the hon. and gallant Member and the House that, on the Third Reading of a Bill, the discussion is confined to the contents of the Bill, and is not of the same width as the discussion on the Second Reading of the Bill. I do not think the powers conferred by this Bill include the matters just referred to by the hon. and gallant Member, namely, the destruction of sacks and the cleaning of the railway trucks.
§ Viscount WOLMER
On that point of Order. Is not this a Bill giving increased financial powers to the Ministry of Agriculture for coping with this disease, and are we not at liberty to discuss the purposes to which this money is to be applied by the Ministry of Agriculture?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Only the purposes to which it can be applied, and I do not think either of these two particular purposes are purposes to which this money can be applied.
§ Viscount WOLMER
Am I not right in believing that the money can be applied in burning the farmers' property, and compensating them for it?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think not. This Bill merely removes certain limitations in the previous Act with regard to compensation for the slaughter of cattle.
§ Viscount WOLMER
If that be the case, may I ask the Minister to tell us whether the Ministry is not now actually paying money for these purposes?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think not under the Act. Under their other powers, if the money has been provided for in the Estimates, it may be so.
§ Major STEEL
In any case I am quite sure the Ministry will do everything possible to bring the outbreak to an end as quickly as possible and I hope they will take into account the points I have made. We all welcome the Committee to deal 534 with research. If far more money and attention had been devoted to research in the past we should not be faced with our present difficulties. There are many questions into which a research committee can go, and one matter of interest has been brought to my notice by a prominent agriculturist in my constituency. That is as to there being a special difficulty in diagnosing foot-and-mouth disease in the case of sheep. It seems to be much more difficult to diagnose the disease in sheep than in cattle, and my informant, who has very wide experience, suggests that there are many occasions on which farmers allow sheep affected with foot-and-mouth disease to go about for several days after contracting the disease, in the belief that the animals have only got foot-rot. I do not know whether that can be anything more than supposition, but it would be a good thing if the Ministry were to circulate a statement of the exact symptoms of foot-and-mouth disease in the case of sheep, so that farmers can be absolutely certain when disease occurs, whether it is foot-and-mouth disease or merely foot-rot, and if it should be the former, the farmer will be able, at once, to give notice of it. We all hope that the Committee's investigations will enable us to find the origin of this great disease and to find means of coping in a more efficient way with future outbreaks.
§ Mr. GEORGE EDWARDS
I wish to congratulate the Ministry on the promptitude which has been shown in dealing with this matter. This terrible plague which has come upon the agricultural industry has been the cause of a great deal of distress and difficulty. I am pleased that the Ministry have indicated in this Bill their intention of proceeding with the policy of slaughter. For a very long time I had an open mind on this method of dealing with the plague. I happened to be on the Advisory Committee to the Ministry of Agriculture set up by the late Government, and I believe the late Government did their very best to grapple with this disease, but the rapid spread of the disease and the wide area which it covered got beyond the limits of the staff at their disposal and they were unable to grapple with it thoroughly, and I think that that is why there have been so many hardships inflicted on the 535 industry as a result of this outbreak. I am also glad that they intend to devote a good deal of the money to scientific research. I hold the view that it is far better to spend money to prevent than to kill, and I hope that in setting up this Committee to consider the question of scientific research they will seek the advice of the very best medical experts that can be found, so that if possible in the near future some method may be found to prevent an occurrence of this kind.
I hope, too, that they will continue to compensate the farmers and to devote even more money than at present to that purpose. We may be unable to compensate fully the man who grazes cattle and deals with his fat stock, but in regard to the man who has a dairy herd, who has devoted a great deal of time and money and labour to obtaining for himself the very best milking herd, and has taken years to get a record of from 350 gallons to almost 1,000 gallons, in that case it is absolutely impossible to compensate him for his loss. You can give him the value of his cows, but you cannot pay him for the great financial loss caused by the loss of his goodwill and his business. I would like to see even more money, if possible, spent in that direction. The Minister on the last occasion said something about insurance, but I hope he will not entertain it, because the farmer ought to, and docs, insure against normal and natural losses, but here you have an epidemic for which the agriculturist is not responsible and over which he has no control, and therefore, as it is a national question, the Imperial Parliament ought to find the money, without any further burden on the industry in relation to an epidemic like this.
Taking the Bill as a whole, I hope it will be passed, and I want to congratulate the Ministry upon their efforts in dealing with this terrible epidemic, from which I hope the country will soon be clear. Unfortunately, however, it seems to be rapidly spreading, and only by my post this morning I heard from a number of farmers in Norfolk, saying that they had another outbreak, which is very serious. I therefore hope steps will be taken, both by scientific research and the very best 536 method by slaughter, to stamp out this disease, and that the farmers and the agricultural industry as a whole may soon be relieved from this terrible burden.
§ Mr. EDMUND TURTON
I have no desire to delay the Third Reading of the Bill, and I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that I will loyally obey the ruling that you have given and will not, I hope, transgress what you told the House was the proper order of debate on the Third Reading. Certainly I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards) into the question of isolation against slaughter, but I most cordially agree with him that no amount of compensation can recompense any of our breeders, whether they breed Lincolns, shorthorns, or Friesians, if they have the misfortune to have their herds attacked by this disease.
The first point I wish to bring forward is the question of the £250,000 which are to be taken from the Local Taxation Account. Speaking as the chairman of the parliamentary committee of the County Councils' Association, I feel that we cannot in any way controvert the statement that was made at the time when the Money Resolution was brought in, and I cannot, on behalf of the Association, raise any objection whatever to that amount being taken from the Fund. I am glad to see the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in his place. He is commencing in his office, and I trust that he will not be too fond of raiding that Fund at the expense of the ratepayers in the district. It is a very easy Fund for Financial Secretaries and Chancellors of the Exchequer to raid. There have been far too many calls upon that Fund in the past, and I hope that, whether it be the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture or the Financial Secretary to the Treasury who replies on this Debate, we may have an assurance that this sum of £250,000 is not to be a stereotyped or stabilised sum. I think we have a right to ask, on behalf of the county councils, an assurance from the Government that this sum of a quarter of a million is to be treated as for the present financial year only and is not to be taken in other years. I think, in the words of the right hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Acland), who, I am sure, at the present moment has the deepest sympathy from every 537 Member of the House in the calamity that has happened to him, we have a right to insist in this matter that the House shall not lose control. Therefore, I ask my hon. Friend to give us an assurance that the amount to be taken from this fund is not to be a stereotyped or stabilised amount.
The other point to which I wish to draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture—I regret that the Minister is not in his place—will not, I hope, transgress your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I want to ask the Government whether they cannot give more consideration to the question of freeing the infected areas without always looking upon the number of days, whatever that may be. The point I want to put forward is this, and it happened only last week: I am sure every member of the Government will agree with me when I say that the spring sales of shorthorns are of the greatest benefit to the farmers of the country, because they are able to buy at these sales the very best strains of blood at, I am sorry to say, a totally inadequate price. I happen to be a shorthorn breeder, and I can only say that the farmers of the district are able to get at an extremely reasonable price the best strains of blood. What happened at Penrith last week? There had been, unfortunately, an outbreak within the area of certain farms which send stock to the Penrith sale. The time had elapsed within one day of when that area was going to be declared no longer infected, and actually two of the principal breeders who had entered stock for the Penrith sale received notice on the night of the first day of the sale. Their stock had been entered; it could not be removed; it was impossible to take it; and there was no opportunity for intending purchasers to see it.
I would ask my hon. Friend to consider whether the Ministry cannot act with a little more freedom in this matter, having regard to these sales that are taking place. It do not want it to happen again. I am not here merely as a captious critic in regard to what happened at Penrith, but I want the Ministry to recognise that there is a very important sale in this country coming off the week after next, at York, under the auspices of the Yorkshire Shorthorn Society, whose shows and sales are unequalled by any other sales in the 538 country, not even excepting [...] I ask my hon. Friend, to cons[...] there are entries from districts w[...] day are not free, whether, on application, they will consider whether it is safe for the entries to be sent to York. I am speaking, perhaps, on rather personal grounds, as I have entries for York myself. At the present moment my herd is in an infected area, while immediately over the fence my tenants are free. Whether we shall be free by Wednesday week is a matter entirely for the Minister to say, but I suggest that in cases where we have these sales which are now beginning, and which I am sure my hon. Friend will admit are of the greatest value to the agricultural community, some discretion should be used in this matter.
I am not pleading for one moment that any risk should be run—far from it. On the contrary, there is nobody who has lived in greater terror than I have all these months for fear of my herd being infected. I do not ask him to run any risk, but if there is a rule of thumb, a red-tape system, that it must be 28 days, I would ask him that we may be allowed to send an application into the Ministry of Agriculture asking—and we will be quite content with the decision given—whether in the circumstances the particular area where the stock has been entered for sale could not be freed. If my hon. Friend will give me that assurance when he comes to reply, I shall be very grateful, and I hope I have not raised anything that is outside the purview of this Bill on Third Reading.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I join in the congratulations given to the Ministry on the passing of this Bill, and I sincerely hope it will be of practical advantage to our agricultural industry. I do not rise to make a speech. The few words which I propose to address to the House are in the nature of a personal explanation. In the course of the Debate the other day in Committee, two speeches were delivered, one by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. F. Martin) and the other by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock Burghs (Mr. Climie). My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen, as the House will recollect, was pleading for compensation for the destruction of certain cattle in this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock Burghs followed him, 539 and bluntly told the Minister of Agriculture that he thought no such compensation should be paid, and the reason which he gave for his statement was that these cattle were slaughtered two months after they were completely healed. I followed, in the course of the Debate, and, my information being the same as that of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen, I ventured to contradict the statement which my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock Burghs had made to the Committee. Since then, I have had the advantage of conversation with the hon. Member, and he has shown me information which justified the statement which he then made. In view of that fact, I feel bound, at the first available opportunity, to stand and express my regret to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock Burghs.
§ Major WHELER
I would like to join in the congratulations which have been offered to the Government on the passing of this Bill. I am sure the agricultural community will welcome the Bill, and as far as we, on this side, are concerned, whatever money is wanted in future to help make good the losses which the farmers are suffering owing to this terrible scourge will be willingly voted from this side. I want to ask a few questions bearing on the situation to-day, with a view to eliciting information, which, I hope, will minimise to some extent the feeling which people have as regards this Bill, and as regards the scourge itself and the dangers we are in, and which will also, perhaps, reduce the expenditure. Bearing in mind that we are told in the papers to-day there are twenty outbreaks notified, and that amongst those outbreaks there is a new area in Lancashire, we would like to know whether, in the case of Lancashire or elsewhere, where new outbreaks have occurred, the Ministry have information which leads them confidently to say how the outbreaks arose. It is most extraordinary how some outbreaks have arisen, but there are other cases in which, although they may appear isolated, cattle have been removed or something of that sort has occurred to furnish an explanation. Such explanations are very valuable to the agricultural industry as a whole, because many of these cases have occurred from carelessness, or something of that sort. There is some consolation in knowing that the 540 cause of the infection has been traced. On the other hand, there are some cases where, so far as I know, no explanation can be given of the outbreaks, and I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, whether he has any information in his Department to show how the outbreaks which have occurred in Lancashire, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire have come about. If we could get that information, it would, at any rate, help to assuage the alarm which is inclined to be felt from the fact, already mentioned in this Debate, that there seems to be no real knowledge as to the germ, how it gets about the country, and what is the cause of this very serious epidemic. If on this point something can be said, I am certain it will be a great help to us.
The next point is with reference to the re-stocking of farms, because there again we might be able to save expense. I believe there is a case near Doncaster now, and there are several other cases, where foot-and-mouth disease has broken out for the second time on the same farm. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Lieut.-Colonel Lane-Fox) has been dealing with this matter, but we would like to know in the case of a second outbreak on a farm, what was the actual period between the first and second outbreaks, and whether, before re-stocking was permitted, the Ministry were absolutely satisfied, so far as they could be, that every reasonable precaution had been taken. Nobody wants to blame any member of the staff for carelessness in any way, but when we do find these outbreaks occurring a second time, it means a very serious state of affairs. It means a second expenditure on the same unit, and we do want to be assured in these cases—there are not many—that every precaution has been taken, and a really thorough investigation made of the farm before any re-stocking is allowed. One fully realises the anxiety of a farmer to get stock back on his farm, because of the loss that must ensue owing to the derelict state of the farm, but, in the general interest of agriculture as a whole, we would like to be clearly assured on this point as to the re-stocking of farms, especially in cases where infection has broken out a second time.
With reference to the point we hear still raised, that Irish cattle have got something 541 to do with this, that infection does in some cases come from Ireland, what I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman is, whether, as he undoubtedly has to get information from officials on the other side, there is any possibility of getting any further information as to whether foot-and-mouth disease does exist in Ireland? I see mentioned in the papers again to-day reference to Irish cattle that were landed at Bristol. I presume they had a clean bill of health there, but when they got to Nottingham, these cattle developed the disease. I do not know whether there is any certain information as to the length of time the germ takes to make itself known, if I may use that expression, but that is the point about which we should like information. We remember that at Newcastle a few years ago, questions were raised as to cattle coming from Ireland, and whether some further investigation ought not to have been made in the matter. I hope the hon. Gentleman will be able to satisfy us that every part of Ireland is free from this disease at the present time. I have one more question to raise. If there are to be further Members appointed on the Committee, I do hope there will be appointed a veterinary surgeon of great experience, because that type of man would be of great advantage to the Committee. If the Parliamentary Secretary could give us some information on these points, which I have only raised so as to put as much confidence as possible in our agricultural community, I am sure it will help the industry.
§ Mr. CLAYTON
I have listened to the Debate on this Bill with great interest, but I have heard very little reference to a subject which, I consider, of very great importance, namely, the protecting of healthy cattle by careful methods of disinfection. I myself am under a certain disadvantage in raising this question, because I am associated with a firm manufacturing a certain disinfectant. For that reason, I do not propose to compare the relative values of different disinfectants, but to treat the matter from the general point of view. I am in no way opposed to the policy of the Ministry with regard to slaughter, but I should like to add to that policy a policy of protecting cattle from infection by disinfecting the farms that adjoin farms on which there have been outbreaks. I speak from considerable personal experience 542 in this matter, because I have personal knowledge of a matter of 500 farms, all of them situated in districts where there are very serious outbreaks—Cheshire, Staffordshire, the neighbourhood of Preston, Northumberland and Durham—and these 500 farms, disinfected carefully, have, I am glad to say, kept free from the disease altogether, with the exception of two, and, in the case of these two, the regulations laid down were not carried out. They used disinfectants, but not according to the regulations. The others, following our instructions, are at present immune. I therefore consider it is worth the while of the Ministry to follow up very carefully the question of disinfecting farms adjoining those on which there are outbreaks, with a view to stopping, the spread of the contagion.
There is another matter which, I think, has been overlooked. Take the case, of a farm where there has been infection, and the cattle have been slaughtered. After the cattle have been slaughtered, the officials of the Ministry very carefully disinfect that farm. The result is that any rats on that farm leave, and pass to the nearest available farm in the district. If that farm has not been using disinfectants, the rats lodge there, carrying the infection with them. I should like the Ministry to have the power to utilise a portion of this grant that they have to help the farmers in adjoining farms to disinfect their farms. They should use this money in helping those farmers, rather than wait until the cattle have become infected, and pay for the slaughter. There is also the question of disinfecting railway trucks, docks, stations and markets. At present the principle in most cases is simply to whitewash, which is absolutely useless for the purpose. I would suggest that the Ministry look into the question of seriously disinfecting. With these remarks, I will conclude by expressing the hope that this matter is now going to be seriously considered from a scientific point of view.
§ Mr. SHEPPERSON
I would like to join with others in congratulating the Minister of Agriculture and the Parliamentary Secretary upon retaining the position that they retain in this House to-day. I recognise that that position is only held by means of support, and that support has been a little weak-kneed 543 and wobbly. It was only last night that we were thinking we might possibly not get the Third Reading of this Bill to-day. I want to congratulate the Government on the adhesive plaster they have been able to use to retain the support that is necessary. But how long will that adhesive plaster hold?
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SHEPPERSON
I desire to congratulate the Ministry upon bringing forward this Bill. I am going frankly to say—and I think I say it for all Members on this side of the House—that we are going to support the Ministry in regard to this Bill. Being the official Opposition, we might be told that our attitude to the present Government is that of opposition. Upon general principles we may be in opposition, but, I submit, in particulars it is not essential that we should be in opposition, and in any Measures that are brought before this House about which we are agreed, we are going to support the Government. The Ministry of Agriculture have brought forward this Bill which we are going to support. May I take it that this is an omen of the good intentions of the Ministry of Agriculture to do what they can to help the Ministry of Agriculture. Owing to the patching-up of their support, the present Minister is still the Minister of Agriculture. Speaking from these benches one can candidly say that as representing agriculture I intend to get as much as I possibly can for this industry. I think we can rightly assume that the Minister has one intention, which is to do the best he can to make the agricultural industry and all those engaged in it prosperous.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member must confine himself to what is in the Bill. The general policy of the Government is not involved.
§ Mr. SHEPPERSON
The reason why I am desirous, as representing agriculture, to support this Bill is that it enables the Ministry of Agriculture to assist the agricultural community generally. The Bill provides that a certain sum of money is to be given and that the former limitation should no 544 longer apply. We welcome the Bill for this reason, that we accept it as something that the Ministry of Agriculture is prepared to do for agriculture. I want to say that when these Measures are brought forward by the Government with the intention of doing something for agriculture, we on these benches who represent that industry are going to support the Government in that matter.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member has already said that same thing three times, and I must ask him now to resume his seat.
§ Viscount WOLMER
There are one or two questions I desire to ask the Minister before he replies. May I take this opportunity of saying how sorry I am that the Minister of Agriculture is not in his place on this occasion?
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of AGRICULTURE (Mr. W. R. Smith)
May I explain that the reason for his absence is that the Minister of Agriculture is meantime engaged with his Majesty?
§ Viscount WOLMER
I am obliged to the Under-Secretary for his kindness in informing me of that fact I was sure there was some reason for the Minister's absence from this Debate, and I am quite sure that the Under-Secretary will be able to answer the questions put this afternoon. I understood the Minister to say that he had actually appointed the two Committees, but it was said by one of my hon. Friends this afternoon that the Committees are not complete. It is desirable that other names, besides those mentioned by the Minister on the Second Reading, should be appointed. I will tell the Parliamentary Secretary frankly what I have in mind. There is a feeling, which has been mentioned to me by agriculturists outside this House, that some of the names mentioned are excellent, but that others are associated too much with the previous Committee, and that there was too much representation in the previous Committee, to use a slang phrase employed outside, which "whitewashed" the Ministry of Agriculture in 1922. I think it will increase the confidence of the agricultural community if there is plenty of new blood, besides the necessary old blood, on the Committee to ensure continuity of research. In that connection 545 I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether the National Farmers' Union had been consulted as to the personnel of this Committee. The National Farmers' Union should always, as far as possible, be taken into the confidence of the Ministry of Agriculture and that men who have the confidence of the elected representatives of the farmers should be employed on these purposes. It is one of the most hopeful signs for agriculture that farmers are far better organised than they used to be, and I hope the Ministry will always take that into account.
I should like to support very strongly the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Lieut.-Colonel Lane-Fox) that the military might be employed in this slaughtering policy rather than civilians. In a matter of this sort where the minutæ of disinfection have to be carried out and the slightest mistake or carelessness on the part of a single individual may have the most terrible results, it appears to me to be exceedingly important that the men employed should as far as possible be under discipline. I think the suggestion of my hon. Friend is worthy of very careful consideration. I will give an instance of the sort of way in which a single individual through carelessness can do untold damage. This occurred in Hampshire, within two or three miles of my own farm. In July foot-and-mouth disease broke out in a herd on one farm. Another farmer about three miles away had written to a veterinary surgeon asking him to come and see one of his cows which was calving and about which there was some difficulty. There was no case of foot-and-mouth disease here and that was not in question. When the farmer I am speaking about heard that foot-and-mouth disease had broken out in the other farm, he telephoned to the vet. telling him not to come to his farm because he knew the vet. would have been to the farm where foot-and-mouth disease had broken out and he was afraid of the infection being carried. Unfortunately, the vet. had started on his rounds earlier than usual and the telephone message did not reach him, and while the farmer was away in one part of his farm the vet. walked straight from where foot-and-mouth disease had broken out to this farm where there was no infection. Within the exactly correct time foot-and-mouth 546 disease duly appeared on the farm of this second farmer, and there can be no possibility of doubt that it was carried by the vet. himself.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to realise what must have been the feelings of that second farmer, especially when I mention that he is a man who by thrift and ability had worked himself up from the position of an agricultural labourer to that of a small dairy farmer. He was completely ruined by this outbreak, because, as I have pointed out already in the debate on this Bill, the compensation paid to dairy farmers is completely inadequate, as they are only compensated for the market value of their cows and receive nothing for the loss of the good-will of the dairy business. This is one of the hardest cases of which I have heard—a man who has been ruined by the carelessness of a veterinary surgeon. Such cases are exceedingly rare, but a circumstance like that does show to the House that it is impossible to be too careful or circumspect in dealing with this disease. Therefore the suggestion my hon. Friend has made is worthy of the very greatest and most careful consideration. No doubt there will be practical difficulties in carrying it out. There are practical difficulties in carrying out every practical policy, but I think it is a matter which should be considered. I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether instructions or warnings have been broadcasted to veterinary surgeons throughout the country on this subject by the Ministry of Agriculture. If they have not, they ought to be. I think the Ministry should take steps to impress the gravity of the situation on some of those veterinary surgeons, because there are a great many veterinary surgeons in this country who, to say the least of it, are very lukewarm in their support of this particular policy. One veterinary surgeon told me himself that he thoroughly disbelieved in the whole policy of slaughter that the Ministry was pursuing. When you have men in that frame of mind they require a little gingering up. If they are to be employed, as they must be employed, on the spur of the moment when an outbreak occurs, the Ministry ought to take steps to ensure that the veterinary surgeons fall into line and do everything they can to carry out the policy of the Ministry. There is no use 547 of the Ministry of Agriculture deciding upon a policy, whether it is good or bad, unless everyone combines to try to carry it out. When you have instances of two different veterinary surgeons of the sort I have mentioned, a certain amount of broadcast instructions from the Ministry of Agriculture is necessary.
The Minister told us in the earlier stages of the Bill that he hoped the outbreak of the disease was now in hand. Unfortunately, the events of the last few days have proved how ill-founded that optimistic hope was. As far as we can make out, there is at present no sign of this disease being in hand at all. Therefore I want the Minister to leave no stone unturned to do everything he can to mitigate the infection and the spread of the disease. It may cost money. It does cost money. But it will be a penny-wise policy to make any economies at a moment like this.
There is one further point to which I should like a statement from the Parliamentary Secretary. That is in regard to insurance. During the early stages of this Bill I raised the question to which I have just alluded of the compensation payable to dairy farmers. I asked whether they could not be compensated on a basis commensurate with their losses as were the stock-breeders. The reply of the Minister was, in short, that it would cost too much money to pay the dairy farmers for their losses, the good-will of their business, and so on. My only comment on that is this: That if the State cannot afford the money, how does the Ministry of Agriculture suppose that the dairy farmers can afford it? The farming industry at the present time is probably in the most distressed condition of all, and your scheme of compensation is arranged in such a way that, while fair compensation is given to the men who are fatting store-cattle, the man who is carrying on a dairy business is not compensated by any manner of means for the loss he sustains by the slaughtering of his herd. That appears to me to be unjust, unfair, and unreasonable. After I had brought it to the notice of the Minister—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted; and 40 Members being present—548
§ Viscount WOLMER
I am very glad to see so many Members of the Socialist party have now returned to the House. Agricultural matters do not generally find favour with them, and I am very glad to get their assistance and co-operation in this matter.
§ Mr. A. SHORT
Is it in Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for the hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division (Mr. Maxton) to call attention to the fact that there are not 40 Members present, and, during the interval allocated by yourself to make the Count, to see whether there are 40 Members present, for that Member to retire? Is it right?
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Is it in Order for an hon. Member, in addressing the House, to say that as a result of the Count that these benches are filled up, when, as a matter of fact, it is his own benches that have filled up as there were only five Members present when the Count was called?
§ Viscount WOLMER
I beg the hon. Member's pardon if I have offended him, but I was merely congratulating him and the hon. Members of the Socialist party upon having filled up the House. Of course, if I am accurate in that statement there were, I am afraid, a great many absent. However, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Penistone no doubt is always concerned in defending his Socialist friends. I noticed the hon. and learned Gentleman did his best last night. We all know how the Socialist Government is kept in power, namely, by the adherents of the hon. and learned Member for Penistone. No doubt they are exceedingly grateful to him.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
On a point of Order. I should like to ask how the Noble Lord 549 connects the Socialist party with foot-and-mouth, disease, or how he connects the diseases of animals with the Liberals; and whether there is any connection between the diseases of animals and the votes of the Tories that kept the Labour Government in power the other night?
§ Viscount WOLMER
I was only replying to the questions of hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member who has just spoken desires to know what is in order in discussing this Measure before us. I can tell him. The first Clause of this Bill removes the limitation which Section 18 of the Diseases of Animals Act, 1894, imposes on the moneys which may be provided by Parliament towards defraying the costs in the Sub-section mentioned, and be paid to the cattle pleuro-pneumonia account of Great Britain. Section 17 of the Diseases of Animals Act, 1894, says this:The Board of Agriculture may, for the purposes of the execution of the Sections of this Act relating to the slaughter by the Board of cattle, animals, or swine on account of pleuro-pneumonia, foot-and-mouth disease, or swine fever, employ such additional inspectors, valuers, and other persons at such remuneration as they may incur, and such expenses subject to the sanction that the Board think necessary ….That is the subject which we are discussing, and which hon. Members are entitled to discuss. I was speaking on one of the most important features of this Bill when I was interrupted, first by the hon. Member for Glasgow on his own account, and, secondly, by the other interruptions which have since taken place. I was speaking of the position in which dairy farmers have been placed by this outbreak, that they had had their herds slaughtered wholesale to a degree which herds have never been slaughtered before, and that they have been paid totally inadequate compensation, whereas those farmers who were fatting cattle for markets are paid the full value of their cattle.
When I brought this matter to the attention of the Ministry of Agriculture on the Second Reading of the Bill, the Minister of Agriculture did not in the least deny the force of my contention, in 550 fact he admitted it to the full. But his only defence for the policy of the Government was that it would cost too much money to compensate dairy farmers for all their slaughtered herds, and the full losses which they had incurred. My comment upon that is that if it is too much money for a Government, it is certainly too much money for the dairy farmers. It is the last straw, or rather, the last sheaf, to break their backs. In the course of his remarks the Minister—I must apologise to the Parliamentary Secretary for the length of time it has taken me to reach this point, but I have been really subject to considerable interruption. The Minister held out the hope of enabling dairy farmers to ensure their milk businesses against the losses to which in the event of their compulsory slaughter from foot-and-mouth disease they might be subject. I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he would be kind enough to tell me how that matter stands. I am aware that a farmer can take out a policy with an ordinary insurance, company, but it is a very difficult policy, I should think, to take out, and I should imagine—I have not inquired into the subject closely—that the rate of premiums which the farmer would have to pay would be exceedingly high, especially if he lived anywhere near an outbreak. I understood from the Minister that steps were being taken by the Ministry to facilitate the insurance of herds, of dairy herds in particular, against all compulsory slaughtering. Can the hon. Gentleman tell me how that matter stands? What is being done? What form is Government action going to take, and whether or not it is going to give some financial assistance in the reduction of premiums? In what way is it possible for the Government to facilitate the insurance of dairy herds against compulsory slaughtering? We shall be very grateful to the Financial Secretary if he will be good enough to give a reply on these one or two matters, for I think that every section of the House desires to support this Bill to the utmost of their power.
§ Mr. W. R. SMITH
I am sorry that the Minister of Agriculture is not able to be here. I am sure the House will readily agree that his absence arises from no fault of his. I should like also to say that I make no complaint whatever against the time that has been taken up 551 in discussing this question, because the magnitude of this disease at home is of such great importance to the industry of agriculture that it is not possible to assume that any time will be wasted that will, in any way, help the Ministry concerned in dealing with this question. So far as the general position goes, the present Ministry, that is the present Government, have little chance of viewing this question from the standpoint of anything in the nature of an alternative policy. The policy of slaughter has been in existence now for a great number of years. Every Committee that has investigated this question, has, in its Report, endorsed that policy, I believe, and I think it is also true to say, that there is scarcely any representative of the agriculture interest but what is in favour of it. That being the case, and the further fact that at the moment there is no real alternative policy to the one now in operation, has made it impossible for the Ministry to do otherwise than carry out the course pursued by the last Government. I agree with hon. Members who have expressed their views in the House to-day that the time is not far distant when, as a result of a more close and detailed examination of this question, we may arrive at a happier condition of things than that which exists at present. I think the attitude of the present Government on this subject can easily be ascertained by the readiness with which we have put into operation certain policies in regard to this matter. One hon. Member expressed regret that from the time when he served on the Committee in 1909 practically nothing had been done so far as scientific research is concerned in connection with this dreadful disease. I think that fifteen years having elapsed, as has been already indicated, and the further fact that the present Government within a few weeks of taking office have taken the necessary steps to establish a very competent and we hope a successful Committee to engage in research work, that must be taken as an indication that the present Government is desirous of doing everything possible to remove this disease from our midst, and help the industry in regard to the burdens that fall upon it as a result of this disease.
§ Mr. HARCOURT JOHNSTONE
Has the hon. Gentleman considered offering a reward for a solution of this problem?
§ Mr. SMITH
That is the advice which has been tendered to us. I am afraid I cannot enter into the question of what happens in other countries, but in that regard the Ministry keep in the closest touch possible with all other countries conducting investigations and research work so as to utilise any discovery that might take place in those countries immediately.
§ Lieut.-Colonel LANE-FOX
Research work was gone into by the recent Government, and the present Government is only carrying on what we started.
§ Mr. SMITH
I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman will agree with me when I say that we have no desire to prejudice the position of the last Government, and I think that is substantiated by the fact that when I was speaking on the Financial Resolution I specifically stated that they did commence these proceedings by calling in Sir Walter Fletcher and asking him to make a recommendation and advise the Ministry in this respect. We are following on from that point, and I hope we shall be able to establish a Committee which will be of great advantage to the country. With regard to the steps taken to deal with the outbreak, unfortunately, they have not yet succeeded in bringing it to an end. Several speakers have asked whether the Ministry is satisfied that everything possible has been done to prevent the spread of the disease taking place. My answer is that everything that can be conceivably thought of by way of disseminating information and taking precautions to see that movements do not take place, has been done to prevent the disease spreading.
But as I stated before, where you are asked to deal with and control the movements of human beings, it is a very difficult thing to be able to say that some circumstance has not occurred here and there which in itself has somewhat added to the difficulty. I can assure the House 553 that on every occasion everything possible is done to prevent the disease being carried from one farm to another, and everything by way of publicity and calling to our aid the services of the police and the local authorities generally is done to stop the spreading of the disease. A further question was asked with regard to the limited staff dealing with this question and how it manages to deal with such an enormous outbreak as the present one. I can only say in that regard that the staff have placed their services at the disposal of the Ministry in a manner that commands the greatest amount of thanks from this House and from the country generally. They have spared themselves in no shape or form, and the hours they have been working are astounding. They do their best to get on the spot as quickly as possible, and enlist the services of local agencies to help them to stamp out the diease as quickly as possible.
With regard to the question of proper disinfection, there again every possible step is taken to see that it is carried out as successfully as possible. I think I am correct in saying that the Ministry provide the disinfectants on farms where slaughter takes place in order that it shall not be indifferently done by people who are perhaps not so fully qualified to know what is needed as the representatives of the Ministry. I would like to suggest here that any question of neglect or carelessness or indifference that may have taken place will be the subject of investigation by the Committee which has been set up to ascertain whether any of the spreading of the disease which has taken place is due, firstly, to the inadequacy of the Regulations, or, secondly, to the non-observance of the Regulations that have been made. I can assure hon. Gentlemen who have spoken that the Ministry is hopeful that this Committee which has been appointed will be able to investigate very closely this problem, and as a result of their experience I hope we shall be able to use the information they will give us with advantage in future years.
One hon. Member asked me a question about the freeing of infected areas and the difficulty so far as the sale of shorthorns is concerned. This is not a very easy question to answer, but I can assure the House that every case is very carefully examined, and if, in the light of 554 all circumstances, it is possible to declare an area free, the Ministry will not keep enforcing the Regulations for one moment longer than is absolutely necessary, having regard to the danger that exists. With regard to the specific question put to me on this point, if such an application is made with regard to the freeing of a particular district, the Ministry will give it the most careful consideration. I cannot say that they will remove any restrictive Order that is now in existence, because it may be dangerous to do so, and if the Ministry were in a generous mood and responded to an appeal of this description and the disease broke out on the same ground again and all the stock became infected, they would be held to have neglected their duty by so readily consenting to this course.
This is a most unfortunate position, because in many cases appeals are made which in themselves seem to be perfectly fair and reasonable, but yet, if they were responded to, undoubtedly they would add to the danger of the situation, and in the end do far more harm than good. In considering any application for the removal of a restrictive Order, the Ministry must have regard to all the circumstances, and only agree to take that course if they are fully satisfied in their own mind that there is no danger arising from any removal of orders now in operation. I have been asked to state the view of the Ministry as to the cause of these outbreaks. I may say that every outbreak is examined to find out the cause, and I am advised that some of them had been traced to market infection and the distribution of stock, which has a very important bearing on the point which I have just dealt with. I cannot say that the exact facts and particulars have been discovered in all cases as to the cause, but I can assure hon. Members that every case has been investigated as far as possible with a view to ascertaining exactly the cause of the outbreak taking place in any given area. I can speak with some knowledge on this question as a member of the last Committee, which found that the cause of the outbreak was the distribution of stock from an infected area before the infection was known at that particular spot, and the result was that it got into the cattle trucks and loading docks, and everything that passed that way took the disease along. Every 555 care is taken as soon as possible to ascertain the cause at the initial stages of the outbreak, and any information so gained is used in the best possible way to prevent the disease spreading.
With reference to Irish cattle, this point has been raised on many occasions, but undoubtedly in the minds of many people a great deal of suspicion still exists that Irish cattle are a source of infection to this country. This matter has been very closely investigated on many occasions. The Committee which investigated the 1922 outbreak went into that question very thoroughly, and we were forced to the conclusion that we could find no evidence which would justify the assumption that the disease had been brought into this country from Ireland. The officials of the Ministry who are responsible for dealing with this matter do as frequently as is possible, test and examine all the facts and information at their disposal in order to satisfy themselves in that respect, and, if the slightest suspicion exists, or if they consider that there is any possibility of danger, the ports are closed. I do not think it is possible to say that the disease, during these recent outbreaks, has come to this country from Ireland.
Another question which the hon. and gallant Gentleman mentioned was that of the disinfection of adjoining farms, and whether rats driven from one farm to another might be carriers of the disease. Those are points on which, it is, of course, impossible for me to say very much in this Debate. All I can say is that the matter is one which can be properly investigated by the Committee that has been set up, and it will really be part of their duty to investigate it. I should like to say, further, that, if any hon. Members of this House have in their possession any information which they think will be of any value to the Committee, I am sure the Committee would welcome it, and would, if necessary, afford them opportunities for giving evidence.
With regard to the question of the two Committees, which was raised by the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer), it is not correct to say that both those Committees have been appointed. The Medical Research Committee has not yet been 556 appointed. Its composition will have to be a matter of very careful selection, and the Ministry will be advised by those qualified to give advice, in order that the Committee may be as effective as possible for its work. As I stated during the Debate on the Money Resolution, the other Committee was appointed from Members who were members of the previous Committee, because it was felt that the inquiry need hardly be so exhaustive as the last one, but could be, as it were, a continuation by a Subcommittee from the point to which the previous investigations were carried. As to the adequacy of that Committee for its purpose, that question is still under the consideration of the Minister. I think I am entitled to say that we want the investigation to be as thorough and as useful as it is possible for it to be, and if the usefulness and thoroughness of the Committee's work can be added to, I am sure the Minister will favourably consider any points in that direction. The fact that the retiring President of the Farmers' Union is a member of the Committee is, I think, in itself evidence that the Farmers' Union is more or less in accord with the Ministry as regards the steps that have been taken.
The Noble Lord also mentioned the question of broadcasting information in order to warn people of the dangers arising in connection with the disease. One would hardly have thought it necessary to do a lot of broadcasting or disseminating information to warn veterinary surgeons. One would have thought that the mere fact of their being veterinary surgeons would in itself be sufficient to ensure that they understood the dangers of the situation. If, however, anything more can be done in that respect, I am certain that the Minister will be very ready to do whatever is possible to put the fullest information into the possession of those who in any way come in contact with this disease.
§ Viscount WOLMER
If I may interrupt the hon. Gentleman on than point, what I had in mind was that the experience of the last few months has brought to light a number of mistakes and, possibly, acts of carelessness, on the part of local veterinary surgeons, and I thought it would be useful to have a leaflet issued warning veterinary surgeons in parts of 557 the country where outbreaks have not yet occurred, so that they may be alive to the mistakes which have already been made elsewhere.
§ Mr. SMITH
As soon as an outbreak occurs, notices are issued and published warning all concerned, but, if that can be extended in the way suggested, I am sure it is a point that the Minister will consider, because, with the Noble Lord, we are very anxious to do all that is possible to stop the spread of this disease, on account of its importance, and also on account of the inroads it makes upon the industry of agriculture, which does not want any more burdens than it has at present. A suggestion was also made as to the use of disciplined men, for example, soldiers. It is necessary, however, to get to work as quickly as possible, and the policy has been at once to obtain the services of butchers qualified to destroy the animals. I think that if we had to get in touch with the military authorities, we should only have more delay, and, possibly, would not be able to deal with the situation from the point of view from which we have to look at it.
So far as insurance is concerned, that matter has been referred to the Committee, and, that being so, it would be unwise and improper of me at this moment to express any opinion upon it. My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards) raised the question whether it would be fair to take the burden from the general taxpayer and put it upon the backs of the agricultural community, which, I suppose, would happen if the policy of insurance were adopted. That is a matter which the Committee will undoubtedly investigate and include in its Report, and if there is anything in the Committee's Report which the Ministry can usefully adopt as a better and more useful method of meeting the burden, I am sure it will be very ready to do so. It is not very easy to handle a big question like this. In the Debates that have taken place some hon. Members have said we are spending too much, and an attempt was even made to limit the amount. Others say that we are not spending enough.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not wish to be 558 unfair to hon. Members. He knows quite well that the proposed limitation was for the purpose of retaining Parliamentary control over the sums expended, and not because any hon. Member, either on this or on that side of the House, thinks that we ought to economise in fighting this outbreak.
§ Mr. SMITH
I do not think I am going beyond the limits of fair debate when I say that there was an expression of opinion that this was a very costly matter, and that a point of doubt arose as to whether we were not spending too much. All I can say with regard to that is that the Ministry, in dealing with this disease, is endeavouring to deal with it as effectively and efficiently as it can within the policy that is laid down. Expedition is one of the essentials of that policy. Unfortunately, the magnitude of the outbreak has not permitted of the expedition that otherwise would have been possible, but, at the same time, I can assure the House that the Ministry will not be lacking in dealing with the disease efficiently and effectively within the policy that is laid down at the present moment, and in any other direction if any alternative policy to the present one can be found.
Before I sit down, I may, perhaps, say a word on a point that has been raised with regard to finance. I think the fact that the Government is asking the House for this sum of money is evidence that we do not wish to put too great a burden on the local taxation of the country. The amount that will be taken from the Local Taxation Account for this purpose is specifically limited to £250,000, because we do not want to make unfair encroachments upon it. If it turns out that a smaller amount is required, then the £250,000 will not be taken, while if the amount required exceeds £250,000, then no more than £250,000 can be taken from this fund. I think that that provision is in itself a guarantee that we are not making undue encroachments so far as the Local Taxation Fund is concerned. I shall be glad if the House will now allow me to have the Third Heading of the Bill, because, on the Money Resolution, on the Committee stage, and now on the Third Reading, there has been a very ample Debate, although I fully recognise the great importance of the matter.
§ Mr. GWYNNE
I do not want to delay the Third Reading of the Bill, but there are one or two points with which the Parliamentary Secretary has not dealt quite satisfactorily so far as I am concerned. Firstly, there is the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Lieut.-Colonel Lane-Fox) as to the effect of casual labour that is called in to help. We are not satisfied on this side that every precaution is taken in regard to those cases, and I shall be glad to have from the Parliamentary Secretary an assurance that he will bring that before the Minister with a view to the taking of some more effective steps. Then I should like to ask if any further information is available as to the origin of the recent outbreak in Northampton market, and another point with which I do not think the hon. Gentleman dealt satisfactorily, so far as I am concerned, was with regard to insurance. This outbreak is raging all over the country, and nothing is more important than that farmers who have not yet been smitten should take precautions to insure themselves against it. That is necessary both from the point of view of the country and of farmers generally. The premiums charged by insurance companies against risk of foot-and-mouth disease are prohibitive. The hon. Gentleman says that the matter has been referred to the Committee, but I would press him to see that this Committee reports forthwith, and to see whether some scheme of insurance cannot be produced by the Government. During the War the Government had a scheme of insurance against air raids at moderate premiums, and, as a matter of fact, a very large revenue was produced from that scheme. I do not see why some similar scheme should not now be brought forward whereby farmers could be invited to pay a moderate premium, which would go to the Government and help to raise a fund which would pay for the cost of the outbreak. That would not necessarily be putting the whole burden upon the farmers, but it would give them an opportunity of insuring and getting full compensation if their farms were visited by the disease. In view of the fact that this disease is spreading all over the country, the sooner some such scheme is got on foot the better, and I would ask the hon. 560 Gentleman to see whether he cannot expedite the inquiry and report on these matters.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.