HC Deb 04 March 1924 vol 170 cc1225-7

Order for Second Reading read.

The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. William Graham)

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

I would ask the House to give us the Second Reading of this Bill almost without discussion, and I am sure that hon. Members opposite will agree when I describe in five or six sentences the purpose of the Measure. As hon. Members know, at the end of March in each year a Consolidated Fund Bill is introduced to cover the Supplementary Estimates of the year, and also Votes on Account for the ensuing year. This year, towards the end of the present month, the ordinary Consolidated Fund Bill will be introduced, and hon. Members will then have the opportunity for general discussion which is afforded on that occasion. This Consolidated Fund Bill is necessary in order to enable the Treasury to pay to the appropriate Department, namely, the Ministry of Agriculture, the sum mentioned in the Bill for compensation to farmers in respect of loss due to foot-and-mouth disease. Unless we take a special Bill in this way, that payment will be deferred. With this explanation, I hope the House will give us the Second Reading of this purely formal Bill.


I think that Members of this House who represent agricultural constituencies will all feel a debt of gratitude to the Government for having given us so many opportunities this Session for discussion of these matters, which, are of the deepest interest to agricultural Members. If, possibly, they do not accept that compliment of having so kindly given us these opportunities, we may turn to the Rules of Procedure and the Financial Rules of this House, and thank them for having enabled the agricultural Members just for once to get an opportunity of expressing in full their views upon these very important questions. I have only been in the House just over three years, but I have noticed that the opportunities for the discussion of agricultural questions have been few and very far between—possibly, one day on the Estimates in the summer; but, thanks to the kindness of the Government, or to the Rules of this House, we have been able this time to express our views at something like the length which the importance of the subject requires. I think that possibly some hon. Members may say or think that by now, after these somewhat lengthy discussions, the agricultural cow is about milked dry; but I would ask them to remember that by the providence of Nature, after each milking time, the cow is re-supplied, and so the agricultural Members of this House have been able to take this great opportunity which has been given them by the Government. I might vary the metaphor and remind hon. Members of the widow's cruse, which every morning was once more filled with oil. I think they will realise that there is behind the agricultural Members who are trying to put the views of their constituents before the House, the same regularity and the same persistency, if not quite the same miraculous intervention, which filled the widow's cruse with oil every morning.

I represent a constituency which, I think I may say—and I do not think that this will be challenged—is well known all over the world as producing the very best pedigree cattle for export purposes, and this breeding for export is one of the most valuable parts of the agricultural industry at the present time. Although, I am glad to say, up to the present there has been no outbreak in the constituency which I have the honour to represent, that does not mean that my constituents are not suffering loss, because, when these attacks of disease are on the country, it is either impossible or very difficult to export pedigree cattle to those parts of the world where they are required. The Hereford breed of cattle, as all hon. Members know, is one that is admired in every part of world. It has all the good qualities.


This is a good deal too general for the occasion. The reference to those cattle might wait until the end of the month.


I will leave the cattle and come to the question of compensation. Through this disease, the export of cattle, whether Hereford or other, is prevented. This has been going on for months, and no one knows how long it will continue; but, whatever compensation may be paid for slaughter, no compensation is being paid, or can be paid under the law, or should be paid, in regard to loss of trade or loss of opportunities for trade. We are up against a very baffling problem. We are fighting against something the nature of which we do not know. We do not know where it comes from or how it comes. The bacillus has not been isolated; it defies both the filter and the microscope. Therefore, there is the great danger, unless the Ministry of Agriculture and the country as a whole take this matter seriously, that the disease may become endemic in this country, as it has become in many other countries of the world.

Whatever difficulties we may have in considering what the disease is and how it can be dealt with, I think there is a concensus of opinion that it is spread by the movement of cattle about the country by road, by ship or by rail. I do not want to raise again the very controversial question as to whether Paddy is responsible for this outbreak, but Paddy is the most mobile animal at the present time, and he is suspect. Whatever hon. Members may say, there are large numbers of people in this country who do suspect Irish cattle as being responsible for the disease. Therefore, the Minister should most carefully watch all such movements. There is another danger which it seems to me should be considered—and I hope this may not be taken as a case of fools rushing in where experts ought to tread—and that is the question of animals being the carriers of disease without suffering from it. As everyone knows, in many human complaints people can carry diseases with out ever suffering from them. That is particularly so in the case of typhus and diphtheria. Is it not possible that it may also—


The only question here is whether we shall authorise the payment to the farmers of the money which has been voted by the House. We cannot go into these wide questions on this occasion.