HC Deb 11 November 1937 vol 328 cc1843-5
Major Dower

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries whether he has any statement to make in view of the grave situation in the agricultural areas caused by the further outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. W. S. Morrison)

Since 16th October, 43 cases of foot-and-mouth disease have occurred in the eastern and south-eastern counties of England, from Lincolnshire in the north to East Sussex in the south. The occurence of the disease at so many widely separated centres with no traceable evidence connecting them, and the fact that the type of disease appears to be very virulent in character, has created a situation which called for additional precautionary measures. A standstill Order has therefore been imposed over certain eastern and south-eastern counties of England, in order to minimise the danger of the westward spread of disease from the infected areas. Only two further outbreaks (and those in close proximity to existing cases) have been confirmed during the past 36 hours, and, while it is too early yet to form any definite conclusion as to whether the spread of the disease has been arrested, it is earnestly hoped that, with the continued co-operation of the farming community and local authorities, that result may be achieved. The House will be aware that during the past three months the disease has spread with great rapidity on the Continent. It is reported that during the six weeks ending 15th October there were 38,758 new outbreaks in France, and 1,129 Germany. In Belgium there were 4,090 outbreaks in September, and in Holland the number of communes affected on 31st October was 782.

Major Dower

Is it the intention of the Government to carry on with their present policy of slaughtering infected animals, with compensation to the farmer, in the event of any further increase in the outbreaks of this disease?

Mr. Morrison

That, of course, is a hypothetical question. In the meantime, it is the intention of the Government to proceed with the present policy.

Mr. Thorne

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that farmers should receive full compensation for the loss of their cattle?

Mr. Morrison

The terms of compensation are fixed by Statute, and I have no power to alter them.

Mr. De Chair

Has my right hon. Friend any reason to suppose that straw imported through the Harwich Ferry has had any effect in causing this outbreak?

Mr. Morrison

There is an Order, made in 1925, which prohibits the bringing of animals into contact with any imported straw or packing material. I have made inquiries into the matter, and, as a result, I have no reason to suppose that any of the present infection arises from disobedience of that Order. If my hon. Friend, or any hon. Member, has any case to report where the Order is being transgressed, I will, of course, examine it.

Sir Francis Fremantle

Does not the widespread nature of this present infection suggest the possibility of it being spread through birds? Is that matter being considered, and would it not have a considerable effect on the measures to be taken?

Mr. Morrison

Yes, Sir. The nature of this infection shows that it is undoubtedly a field infection, and it is supposed, from the evidence that has been collected, that it is imported into this country by migrant birds?

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

Will my right hon. Friend take into consideration the loss to dairy farmers of their milk trade through compulsory slaughter of their cows, and, as he has no power to give compensation for such loss, will be consider taking power to compensate for such consequential loss of profits?

Rear-Admiral Beamish

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the possibility of this disease being transported through the mud which is brought into this country on the wheels and chassis of motor cars?

Mr. Morrison

Yes, Sir, that possibility has not been lost sight of, but, as I have said, the nature of this outbreak shows that it is a field infection rather than a road infection, and has not in fact been carried either by motor cars or by human feet.