HC Deb 10 July 1925 vol 186 cc806-18

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 71A.

[Captain FITZROY in the Chair.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it is expedient to make provision for contributions, out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, towards the compensation payable by local authorities for the slaughter of cattle, in accordance with Orders made under the Diseases of Animals Act, 1894, in. case of the existence or suspected existence of tuberculosis, of sums equal to three-fourths of the amount of compensation so paid by them."—(King's Recommendation signified.)


I do not wish to say more than is necessary in explanation of this Financial Resolution, and I think very few words will suffice to make its main purpose plain. Hon. Members have the Resolution itself, and it is only necessary to add that Section 19 of the Diseases of Animals Act, 1894, to which reference is made, gave power to the Board of Agriculture to make Orders authorising the slaughter by local autho- rities of animals suffering from any disease other than cattle plague, and for that purpose, provided for the payment of compensation out of the local rates. The first Order, which dealt with tuberculosis, was made in the year 1909, when it was laid down that the compensation should be wholly provided out of the local rates. As might have been expected, while the general idea was approved, there was a considerable measure of opposition to the payment of full compensation out of the rates. That Order, therefore, was withdrawn. In 1913 another Order was made, and on that occasion provision was made for the paying of compensation, as to one-half, out of the Exchequer after the deduction of whatever receipts local authorities obtained by the sale of carcases. As a result, however, of the burden which still rested on the local rates, the Order was not put into operation in many parts of the country, and therefore did not achieve its purpose. The consequence of that was that in July, 1914, immediately before the. War, the Order was again amended, and the Treasury increased the Exchequer contribution to three-quarters of the gross compensation paid by the local authorities. The War stopped the operation of the Order, because the staff necessary to give effect to it was dissipated by the War. The next step was the Milk and Dairies Act, 1915, Section 5 of which prohibits the sale of tuberculous milk, and therefore indirectly compels the slaughter of tuberculous cattle. That Act has also been suspended, but it comes into force automatically on 1st September next, and evidently it is impossible for that Act to operate satisfactorily unless it is accompannied by a compensation Order of the kind with which this Financial Resolution deals.

It is for that purpose, therefore, that this Resolution is taken necessarily antecedent to the Order. The result of the Order, if made, and of the operation of the Milk and Dairies Act, 1915. is that the local authorities who will administer the Order, will pay compensation up to three-quarters of the value of these animals if they are not in advanced stages of tuberculosis, and up to one-quarter of their value if they are in advanced stages, and the Exchequer will repay the local authorities up to 75 per cent. of the gross compensation which they pay in connection with the action taken under this Order. It is estimated the total gross compensation will be about £67,500 a year, of which the Exchequer will pay £50,000. The local authorities, as was the case under the earlier Order, will bear the cost of administration, but that will be off-set by the proceeds of the salvage which they will make under the Order. In the draft Order we are taking power to exclude cattle from Ireland which are suffering from tuberculosis.

It is not necessary to emphasise the importance of making a start in this direction to combat tuberculosis. I do not give the Committee the figures, because they are easily accessible, of the toll which is taken year by year of all classes of our people by the Great White Scourge—by the scourge of tuberculosis. A good deal of the responsibility rests on the consumption of tuberculous milk, and the aim of the Resolution is to enable us to make a start in getting rid of the tuberculous milk at the source, by getting rid of the tuberculous cow. It is fair to point out that we have made great progress in the last few years in this direction. Something approaching 200 herds of dairy cattle in England are completely free of tuberculosis and a great many owners and farmers are making very laudable efforts in the direction of ridding their herds of tuberculosis, impressed as they are by the fact that tuberculosis in cattle has such a bearing upon the health of the people. There is a great deal more to be done, and I am satisfied and the Government are satisfied, as our predecessors were satisfied—for this is ground common to all parties—that if we are to tackle this problem, having regard to its national importance, we must tackle it upon national lines. In a matter which affects so vitally the health and physique and the lives of the future citizens of the country, it is time we made a forward movement in this direction, and I have no doubt it is for these reasons that a strong demand has been advanced from various authorities, rural not less than urban, that this action should be taken.

Many large municipalities spend large sums in combating tuberculosis in their areas, and in tracing tuberculosis among the dairy cows which supply those areas with milk. At the present moment, when a tuberculous cow has been traced, I am afraid the owner often sells the diseased animal, with the result that tuberculous meat may pass into human consumption, or else the animal is passed on to other dairy farmers, and all trace of it is lost. Therefore the expenditure of municipal authorities in that respect is largely wasted. On all that side of the question, compulsory slaughter, made possible by the accompanying compensation, will make that expenditure, of course, profitable. The present policy, as I have said, is no new policy. It is a revival of the pre-War policy, that had received full and careful consideration and, I think, universal support. A copy of the proposed Order has been placed in the library in draft for those hon. Members who are interested, and it has been considered and approved, on behalf of the agricultural interests, by the National Farmers Union and by the Advisory Committee of the Ministry. I have little doubt, therefore, that it will as a whole commend itself to the Committee, and that, although we may no doubt have to advance gradually towards the ideal that is in front of us of the total eradication of tuberculosis, the Committee is prepared to welcome this sum as a start towards the attainment of an object, of which, from the national health point of view, it is impossible to exaggerate the importance.


I am sure that all sections of the Committee will welcome any proposals which are made by the Government to try to reduce the ill effects which result to the community from tuberculosis in animals afterwards to be slaughtered for consumption. Anyone who has examined, even in the most cursory fashion, the records of the "white scourge," as the right hon. Gentleman called it, in this country must have been forced to trace a very considerable proportion of the origin of that scourge to bovine tuberculosis, and, whatever I may have to say to-day, the right hon. Gentleman may be assured that in any efforts to deal with tuberculosis in our herds he will nave not only my support but the support of hon. Members on this side of the House. In fact, if we criticise this Resolution at all, it is because some of us feel that the steps taken by the Government do not, on the face of them— there may be explanations—appear yet to be quite sufficient.

Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us on what basis the estimated expenditure, national and local combined, has been arrived at? I see it is estimated that that total will be about £67,500. How many animals is that supposed to represent in the Estimate for one financial year? I ask, because those of us who have examined the records of our herds believe that, in spite of the good work which, as the right hon. Gentleman said, is being carried out by some of our agriculturists, the percentage of tuberculosis in our herds is very large indeed, and constitutes a very severe menace to the people, both by way of the meat afterwards used and of the milk distributed for consumption. It seems to me, on a very brief examination, that if the total compensation is to be £67,500, you are not going to make a very large annual inroad upon the present very grave condition of tuberculosis in the herds of the country. Then, if the number of animals to be slaughtered under this Order is to be very considerable, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman what steps are being taken, on the other hand, to replenish the herds of the country.

Some of us believe—and we have examined the question for some years now at great length—that there is need for the introduction into this country of new and healthy stock from countries in which they are able to show a record of practical freedom from tuberculosis. We have had long and sometimes acrimonious discussions in this House in regard to the importation of cattle from Canada. We got a Bill through in 1923—I think it was the right hon. Gentleman's own Government which was responsible for it—but the number of head of stock coming in from Canada for the replenishment of herds is really very small indeed. It is practically confined to store cattle and fat cattle, and there is, probably within the knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman, a very strong move now, and a very real desire, that the terms of the 1923 Importation of Animals Act should be amended so as to include good healthy cows and heifers from Canada. Would he say whether, as a corollary to the reduction of our herds by slaughter for tuberculosis upon payment of compensation, there will be a consideration of the question of opening a wider door for the importation of healthy cows and heifers from Canada? The right hon. Gentleman knows, probably better than I do, that the class of beast most subject to tuberculosis is the cow, and we do want to be able to see our way to a replenishment of the herds of this country from that point of view.

Another point is raised which, I think, is of very considerable importance, and a point which is of very grave concern to the hon. Members with whom I am associated on these benches, and that is that the local authorities' expenditure under this head is to be governed, or the compensation they have to pay to the owners of condemned animals is to be governed, by what they obtain from the sale of the condemned carcases. Some of us are very concerned about the way in which use is made, for human consumption, of the remains of the carcases of animals which have been condemned for tuberculosis. I know there may be academic views upon that point, but I should be very loath myself, as an individual, to feed upon the remains of the carcase of an animal which had been condemned for slaughter because it was tubercular, yet the amount of compensation to be paid to the owners by local authorities is to be governed by what they obtain from the sale of the carcases. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will tell us that none of the meat in the carcase of a beast condemned for tuberculosis is used by the consumer. I think that is a very grave state of affairs, and I should be glad to know whether he is going to be able to see his way to get the Government to work to prevent, as far as possible, any part of the carcases condemned for tuberculosis being used afterwards for human consumption.

Then there is another point, an administrative point, which I want to make. The right hon. Gentleman very rightly said that this Financial Resolution and the Bill which will subsequently be introduced for discussion are a corollary to the development of legislation with regard to milk and dairies. We, on this side, welcome most cordially the decision to put into operation next September the Milk and Dairies (Scotland) Act, 1914, and the Milk and Dairies Act for England and Wales of 1915. I think it is perfectly obvious that, having regard to the terms of the Orders under the 1922 Act and the need for making Orders under the Milk and Dairies Act for other parts not yet operative, there will be proposals made for dealing with tuberculous matter in milk, and probably that will lead to the inspection of dairies, farms, herds and people connected with milking operations. What I would like to know is whether the Government have examined how far there are likely to be overlapping and undue establishment charges between the two Ministries in this regard. I think that, unless they are very careful, they will find that there will be, in a measure, almost too much interference, although it is with a good purpose, with the people engaged in the industry, unless we are going to get the two objects secured as far as possible by the performance of the functions by one Department. If you are going to have a completely duplicated set of inspectors dealing with tuberculosis from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, it seems to me that, not only will irritation arise, but undue expense will be incurred.

Next I want to raise a general question as to the percentage of Government grants in this case. It may be rather wide of this Financial Resolution, but in the Resolution is raised this point. Because of the representations which have been made in the past with regard to the share of the cost by the local authorities, it has become imperative that the percentage payable by the Government should be as high as 75 per cent. I think it is all to the good, and I welcome it. It is for a very important national purpose;. But I think we must warn the Government there are other national purposes for which State money is granted on a much smaller percentage, and those of us who are interested in getting for really good national purposes a larger share of responsibility undertaken by the State, and not forced upon local authorities, will have to use instances of this kind as a precedent, and as a lever for seeing that we get proper consideration of our case with regard to other important national services.

There is one other point on which I would like the right hon. Gentleman to answer a question. It is with regard to the butchers' case concerning tuberculous cattle. I understand that the butchers in the country are very much concerned because, as in the case of a previous Order which was made but was not operative, this Order does not include any arrangement for compensation to the butchers for animals which may be condemned after slaughter, but before being used for human consumption. They are afraid there may be heavy loss. So far as I am concerned, I am against the butchers' point of view. I am very anxious to avoid the expenditure of public money on anything which could possibly lead to a collusion between unscrupulous persons either in the farming industry or in the distributive industry for getting a higher percentage of compensation, and I welcome the proposal to make the amount of compensation payable under the Order smaller as the amount of disease is increased in the animal under examination, because that ought to be an incentive to the farmer to try to prevent and limit as far as possible tuberculosis. I therefore welcome it.

But I would ask, have the butchers through their association actually met the right hon. Gentleman in this matter, and has he given a final decision with regard to paying compensation? So far as I am concerned, I may tell him that at the Co-operative Annual Congress, at Whitsuntide, a very large number of delegates had this matter under discussion, and some of the butchers and farmers moved to get compensation, but some of us were able to persuade that very large and representative delegate conference that such a course would not be advisable in the best interests of the country. The right hon. Gentleman would probably welcome that decision of the Co-operative Congress, but I want to know, for the sake of clearness of understanding, whether the butchers have made direct representations to the Minister, and, if so, what has been his answer? I might also ask him whether, having regard to his reference to the fact that there is power to give compensation with regard to animals condemned for any disease other than cattle plague, his Department has under consideration the extension of Orders of this kind, or the revision of Orders of this kind, for other classes of cattle disease? The right hon. Gentleman said that they had power to give compensation under the Diseases of Animals' Act for any disease other than cattle plague. Some of us are not quite satisfied with the provisions for compensation in other cases, such as foot-and-mouth disease, and I would like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman has under consideration in his Department any revised proposals for dealing with compensation for any disease other than cattle plague?


I find little from which to dissent in the two speeches which we have heard on this very important subject, but the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down made some reference, which was extremely obscure, and which I did not at all understand, to the amount of assistance which was being given under this Financial Resolution to the local authorities. If the hon. Gentleman objects to the amount of assistance, then we will be able to meet him in debate, but if he only makes obscure references to the use he is going to make of this amount of assistance on future occasions, then I say, let each case be considered on its merits. It makes it a little hard for the agricultural community, whom the hon. Gentleman considers is entitled to assistance in this case, if he turns round on the Government and says, "You are doing right in giving assistance to the agricultural community, but I am going to use it against you on some future occasion."


If the hon. and gallant Member will allow me, I think I recollect many occasions when occupants of his benches, including himself, have not hesitated to use a debate on a question before the House to refer to the effect of the particular matter on other issues.


If in a particular case we have a proposal before us for a certain measure of assistance being given to the agricultural industry, those in favour of that assistance should not threaten the Government with using it against them on some future occasion. The only objection which I raise at all to this Financial Resolution is that it does not seem to go far enough, as I think the hon. Gentleman himself said. It is purely defensive. We are to sit down under the scourge, and then when the scourge afflicts the herd, the local authority will be given so much assistance in taking the necessary measures. I hope the right hon. Gentleman, will consider that the time has now come for making a further step forward, and I would venture to recommend to him that he should have some regard to the Report of the Scottish Agricultural Conference, which has just been published. It has what seems to me to be a very valuable section dealing with bovine tuberculosis, and in the appendix it goes into considerable detail of a scheme for the eradication of this plague. Broadly speaking, it is based upon a grant from the Government of 50 per cent. of the expenditure of local authorities in providing free tubercular tests and clinical examinations, and also in giving assistance in the provision of temporary dwellings necessary for carrying out the scheme. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider, before he brings in the Bill which will be based upon this Resolution we are discussing, if he could not include a scheme on these lines, introducing a, further Financial Resolution if necessary, so that we could take the whole thins at one gulp, and proceed with a scheme on what seems to me the excellent lines the Scottish Agricultural Conference has suggested for the eradication of bovine tuberculosis.


I am glad, if I may say so, that hon. Gentlemen opposite have put forward one or two points. I shall certainly consider the suggestion made by the hon. Baronet the Member for Sutherland and Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), but I am not sanguine in thinking that his suggestion, valuable as it is, would be susceptible of incorporation in the general process of administration. I think my hon. Friend himself recognises that this is trenching on rather wider ground than the Financial Resolution covers. However, I think I may say that the important views advanced by the Scottish Conference will, I am sure, be carefully considered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland, who will see that the whole question receives the most ample consideration from the wider standpoint. There is one other observation of the hon. Baronet to which I should like to make reference; that is, that under these proposals we are attempting to do what he described as sitting down under the scourge of tuberculosis. I should be very gravely mis- understood indeed by hon. Members if I led them to interpret this Measure as nothing more than a Measure of defence. Under this we shall be able to look forward to making a definite advance; to do much more than neutralising the effects of tuberculosis in the country.

2.0 P.M.

May I attempt, so far as I can, to give a short reply to the various points raised by the hon. Member for Hills-borough (Mr. A. V. Alexander). First of all, let me deal with the number of animals slaughtered. It is, of course, difficult to form a precise estimate, as the hon. Member will realise. Therefore, I do not give my estimate as in any way possessing authenticated authority, but it is estimated that something like 1,000 cattle per month will fall under the terms of the Order. That is 12,000 cattle a year. It is on that basis—admittedly a speculative basis—that the Financial Resolution is framed. The hon. Gentleman asked what my view was, and the view of the Ministry of Agriculture, with regard to the estimated effect of this Order on the cow population of the country and the replenishment of our herds. He asked whether or not, the Government would be prepared to admit the importation of certified healthy breeding animals into the country to replace those that were destroyed. On that matter I think that he perhaps is unnecessarily anxious. I do not know whether he has had the opportunity of refreshing his mind on the figures, but during the last four years there has been a steady increase of something like 100,000 per year in the number of heifers and cows in the country. That is a very satisfactory increase which has, no doubt, done much to replace the effects of the War.

With regard to the other point mentioned, may I remind the hon. Member that the House, at my suggestion, earlier in the Session, passed an Act allowing a regulated importation of pedigree animals from the Dominions which, I think, will effect perhaps what he desires. This arrangement was the result of very long deliberation and a reasonable compromise between the breeding interests in this country and the interests of the exporters overseas. On behalf of the Government, it will not be possible for me to hold out any further hope of action on these lines, having regard to the facts I have mentioned.


Is the Department keeping watch over this aspect of the case: that there is evidence that very often we have got a large amount of tuberculosis from cattle imported from Ireland as one of our Dominions, whereas the embargo against importation has worked against those countries where they had a clean record. Can the right hon. Gentleman say anything on that point?


I have not all the facts before me, and therefore I can only answer that question with some slight hesitation. I think, however, I am right in saying that the draft order prohibits the landing in Great Britain of any animals from Ireland which are found to be suffering from any of the forms of tuberculosis specified in the Order. On the general principle of keeping a watch over meat for human consumption the hon. Gentleman and I are in complete agreement. I think I may safely say that no meat liable to be prejudicial to the health of the consumer is allowed at the present time to be sold—at least, not knowingly. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it has to pass the gauntlet of medical and veterinary examination by inspectors of the local authorities. I would remind him further that consumption by human beings is not the only way by which salvage can be obtained. You have portions of the carcases that can be used for other purposes, hides, offal, and so on, all of which have their monetary value. I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having called attention to a matter which also I have had in mind, namely the overlapping of the various inspection functions of the two Ministries. That matter is at the present time the subject of consideration by the two offices. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have no greater love than he for duplicated inspection. I do not wish to take part in the controversy between the hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness and Sutherland, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough as to the potential use of the 75 per cent. principle on one side or the other, but I think the hon. Baronet agrees that if at any moment the hon. Member for Hillsborough seeks to use adversely the action we are taking here in the agricultural interest, we shall at least be able to command the support of the hon. Baronet. Therefore, I am not very apprehensive on that score.

With regard to butchers, I am informed on inquiries that I have made since the hon. Gentleman spoke that they have made no request for a conference or a deputation. I do not charge my memory with the fact whether they have forwarded to me a resolution or not, but they have made no request for a conference, and I am glad to know that the hon. Gentleman, like myself, and, I have no doubt, for the same reason, would be opposed, not to the butchers' general point of view, but to the point of view of some butchers. At all events, it is certain that this Order for the slaughter of tuberculous animals will pro tanto tend to reduce the ultimate difficulty in which some of the butchers may from time to time be placed by getting rid, obviously, of animals which might otherwise cause them trouble. With regard to the last question raised by the hon. Gentleman, I do not know whether that would be in order on this Resolution, and, indeed, I do not think that I could give him the full information which he wants without fuller knowledge of what he has in his mind. If he has any points in his mind which he would wish privately to put to me, I shall be very glad to go into the matter with him.


With regard to the position of the butchers, I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would consider whether he can do anything to assist the development of an alternative policy to the payment of compensation to butchers and whether he can do anything to promote two things: first, regular insurance against the risk to a butcher if no compensation is paid by the State, and, secondly, the question of a warranty.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported upon Monday next.