HC Deb 17 November 1944 vol 404 cc2266-85

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. James Stuart.]

11.31 a.m.

Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

Much anxiety has been caused in rural districts by the recent outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease and their effect on the future of the agricultural industry. I asked the Minister of Agriculture a few weeks ago how many outbreaks had taken place this year up to the end of October, and he gave me figures which I should like to recall to the House. No doubt, later on the Parliamentary Secretary will give us up-to-date figures covering the whole period, including November. In the first 10 months of the year, there were 126 outbreaks, and exactly half of that number had occurred in the city and county of York. Of the 126 outbreaks 59, nearly half, had originated in pigs, 15 of these being on the premises of those carrying on the trade of butchers.

I know the House dislikes exaggeration but this discloses a grave situation—grave not because of the losses occurring in the destruction of infected animals, but grave in the dislocation which the outbreaks have caused and are causing in rural areas. Markets have been closed, and in Yorkshire have remained closed during a great part of the Summer and Autumn. It has been impossible to dispose of freshly-calved cows; many breeders of rams have not been able to dispose of their ram lambs. Most serious of all, it has stopped the transfer of sheep from Highland areas and the total loss in pounds, shillings and pence if it were evaluated would be considerable. That being the position, is the House satisfied that every step has been taken to prevent this disease occurring? I believe the whole country is grateful to the Ministry of Agriculture for the success of their efforts to prevent outbreaks spreading, by their orders restricting movement, and the other steps that they have taken. With the exception of two outbreaks, to the best of my knowledge, there has not been a large number of secondary cases after the initial outbreak.

What is the origin of this new attack of foot-and-mouth disease? I challenge either the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food or the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture to deny that the only cause of these outbreaks is the importation of foreign meat into this country. I am ready to give way at once if either of these Ministers or any hon. Member will deny that that is the fact. Let us work on that basis and see, if that is the fact, how we can avoid it. It is clear from the figures that I have given, that 50 per cent. of the outbreaks have occurred in Yorkshire, that a large quantity of imported foreign meat must have been allocated to rural areas in Yorkshire during the 10 months of this year. That is not only an unfortunate occurrence, but one for which the House would like to have reasons given by the responsible Ministers. You do not get one county having 50 per cent. of the outbreaks without large quantities of this dangerous substance having been poured into it. I hope that the Minister will give a reply to that point.

The second point I wish to make is that, of the outbreaks occurring in pigs, 25 per cent.—a very high proportion—have occurred in butchers' pigs. I want to ask the Government why a butcher is allowed to keep pigs on his premises if he is handling, at the same time, this imported foreign meat, which carries the virus of foot-and-mouth disease. I am told that local authorities prior to the war, in many cases prevented butchers who had slaughter houses from keeping pigs on their premises because of the danger of infection. The danger of infection is far greater when foreign imported meat is being handled by the butcher on the premises where he keeps pigs. It is so easy for a man incautiously to throw a little bit of offal or bone to the pigs on his premises, and I invite the Government to prohibit the keeping of pigs by butchers, so long as they are handling imported foreign meat.

Thirdly, I have been told by good authority, my authority being a man who is well known and respected in the veterinary profession, that cases are constantly occurring of vehicles normally used for the carriage of livestock carrying carcases of imported foreign meat. I have looked through the orders and regulations issued by the Government, but I can find nothing which prevents that happening. If there is nothing to prevent it happening, it will happen. It is not only a question of livestock being carried. All over the country, vehicles are carrying one day this highly dangerous substance, imported foreign meat, and next day carrying foodstuffs, swill or any requirement for use on the farm. I ask the Government to reconsider the regulations and to treat this imported foreign meat as a virulent danger to agriculture, and to revise the regulations to see that these things do not happen. So long as we have not got the regulations we shall constantly be having these outbreaks.

Let me say a word about swill. I do not want to labour this point, because in my view, the first three items I have mentioned are greater causes of these outbreaks than swill. By the Foot-and-Mouth Disease Order of 1932, all meat, bone, offal or swill must be boiled before it is fed to livestock. I ask the Government whether this order is being observed. In a reply on 19th October, my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture told me that letters had been sent to all local authorities asking them to enforce the regulations more strictly. I give full credit to him for that action, but I am afraid that we want more than letters in this matter. The fact is that I do not think the country appreciates the danger there is to the community from this imported foreign meat. There is, for some reason, a certain amount of hush and secrecy about this matter. I think it a great pity. Farmers should be told constantly of the danger they run and the danger they are inflicting on their neighbours if they do not boil swill. The Government Departments, especially the War Office, should show the country how they appreciate the danger by securing that all swill from military establishments is processed before it leaves the camp. I am sure that other hon. Members with a greater knowledge of swill will touch on the subject at greater length, but let me not finish without touching on what is a delicate, but, at the same time, a necessary subject to raise.

I admit at once that, in war, we must take this great risk of importing large quantities of meat from South America, for we cannot get meat from anywhere else. We must take that risk in the interests of maintaining our meat ration. We cannot afford to let the people of this country have less meat, but let us see that the risk is minimised as greatly as possible. What steps are the Government taking to secure that infected animals are not entering the freezing plants of the Argentine and Uruguay? Some years ago we sent out a number of inspectors who prevailed upon the then Argentine Government to such an extent, that foot-and-mouth disease from that source was considerably reduced. We are in a strong position in this matter. It is true that now, in the middle of our war difficulties, we are in the weak position of having to accept meat from the Argentine and Uruguay but after the war we shall no longer have those difficulties, and the Argentine and Uruguay Governments would do well to bear in mind that if they do not help us in this matter to-day, we shall remember that failure in the future, and our attitude after the war towards the importation of Argentine and Uruguayan meat may be definite and severe. I ask the Government to see that a sufficient number of qualified inspectors is sent out immediately to these countries, to stop diseased animals entering the freezing plants and coming to this country.

Let us not be fobbed off by any comparisons of the present outbreaks with previous outbreaks. The position is a grave one, but I do not exaggerate it. There have been occasions in previous years when there have been even more outbreaks. We have been very fortunate up to now. With the difficulties under which the agricultural industry labours, the possibility of these outbreaks spreading seems rather greater now than in the past. We may be told that it is only Yorkshire and the Forest of Dean that are suffering, but that is not an answer. What we are suffering in Yorkshire and the Forest of Dean to-day, any agricultural district may he suffering to-morrow, if they have imported foreign meat as we have. I ask the Government to tell the people the truth about this matter, and and not to be frightened, because of our relations with any foreign countries, into keeping the news out of the papers. I know that is the policy. I have met people who have written letters to newspapers on this subject but, for some reason, their letters were not published. There is a certain amount of hush and secrecy about this matter, and because of that policy these outbreaks have occurred. People do not realise that imported foreign meat is a virulent substance, dangerous to the agricultural industry. I ask the Government to take adequate steps to deal with this situation.

11.47 a.m.

Major York (Ripon)

Once again, the agricultural industry, and in particular the industry in Yorkshire, has to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) for bringing to the notice of the House and the country a most dangerous and serious situation. I know that what he said about the seriousness of the situation may be taken with a degree of lightness in some quarters. He referred to the fact that the situation had been worse in other years, but an interesting comparison can he made with the outbreaks which took place during the last war. In the period from 1916 until 1920, a comparable period to the present, there were only 170 outbreaks in England. There must have been very nearly that number during the present year. That comparison alone shows that there is a very serious situation.

Mr. R. C. Morrison (Tottenham, North)

Does the figure just given by the hon. and gallant Member refer to primary outbreaks?

Major York

Yes, as far as I am aware. The figure I took from a statement made by the then Vice-President of the Board of Agriculture—I forget his title in those days—in an answer to a Parliamentary Question in 1921. The present necessary restrictions which farmers are having to undergo, come on top of one of the worst seasons in my memory. These conditions interfere considerably with- the normal course of production on the farm, and particularly on those farms which carry out intensive production. If they have to hold up two or three newly-calved cows, or two or three fat bullocks, that upsets the whole economy of the farm.

It appears that the policing of the scheme is the real difficulty. Although the Government's methods are excellent in their way, it appears that a great deal can be done outside the regulations, without Government inspectors being able to find out about it. I think it is acknowledged on all sides that the primary outbreak is caused by kitchen waste and swill containing foreign imported meat and bones. It is right that attention should be focussed on this matter, but it is not only those sources of infection which should be watched. I believe it ought to be made absolutely clear to every farmer in the country that, if his wife receives a piece of imported meat in the ration, she should make absolutely certain that the bones and any remaining particles are put straight into the boiling pot, and boiled until there is no longer a chance of the virus being present when the bones or swill are allowed to go out of the kitchen of the farm. It is in those particular cases that the disease can get on to the farm. In this connection it is vitally important that the farm dogs should be considered. We all know that in these days if we have a bone—and we usually keep a dog or so—as soon as we can get the bone ready for the dogs to consume, it is given to the dogs. I feel that we must impress upon everybody concerned that the bone is a potential source of foot-and-mouth disease and access to it should not be allowed until it has been properly boiled.

There is one other point I wish to make, concerning the demand which has come from the branches of the National Farmers' Union in the West Riding and greater publicity should be given to outbreaks of disease. I feel that the B.B.C. could give great assistance if, after the 6 o'clock or 9 o'clock news, they gave prominence to a short announcement, as to where any outbreak of disease had occurred. Farmers, being busy men, do not always have time to read newspapers, but they generally listen to one of the news bulletins. If that point were conveyed by my right hon. Friend to the B.B.C., I feel that they would co-operate. The local Press is absolutely first-rate and I believe that the national Press could help in the present emergency if they gave prominence to outbreaks as and when they occurred. Every outbreak means a loss of production, and a fraction off the meat ration. It means extra shipping space. Anything that this House and the Ministries of Agriculture and Food can do to segregate an outbreak and to prevent it spreading must be done.

11.53 a.m.

Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)

I support very strongly what has been said on this subject. There is great anxiety throughout the whole country as a result of the widespread outbreaks of this fell disease, and nowhere greater than in Scotland, where we have had a very large number of outbreaks, many of them in my own constituency. I have been inundated with demands for more drastic measures in order to prevent the already serious position from developing into a national menace to our livestock industry. I think it was the day before yesterday that my right hon. Friend drew attention to the four-year plan of guaranteed prices for livestock. Anyone who is interested in these things must have reflected that 80 per cent. in Scotland and 70 per cent. in England of our entire output in agriculture comes from livestock. Foot-and-mouth disease is a dagger pointing at the heart of our post-war agricultural policy.

I do not want to enlarge upon what happens when there is an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, other than to say that there is a serious loss in the first place to the owner. He, of course, gets compensation but it is often small and he cannot re-stock his farm until a number of weeks have elapsed. All movement of livestock is stopped for ten days within a 15 miles radius of the infection, with widespread dislocation of all markets in the area. So great was the dislocation in my constituency in the recent outbreak that lambs could not be taken from their ewes in the hills. This is a loss of food and a loss to potential buyers; it also means that many ewes may go geld because they have had their lambs with them too long. There are a large number of factors to take into account. The loss to the buyer is important but worst of all is the danger the incidence of this disease represents to our great No. 1 priority of agriculture, the milk industry. In 1942 one of our best herds of pedigree cattle in Scotland was slaughtered wholesale. In 1924 there was a terrific outbreak in Cheshire when nearly 100,000 animals were slaughtered.

The previous speakers have spoken for England. I can only speak of Scotland. The original outbreak in each locality, I am informed, has been traced to swill. I may say here that the present outbreak is spreading in a very disquieting way, not through the usual method of contact but through fresh infections. Hence the danger is greater, and swill feeding is the source of that infection. It is also known that the disease finds its way into swill through imported meat from the Argentine. I recognise that the Minister of Food is in a difficulty here. I do not want to embarrass him in any way with regard to this question, but he will be aware that the new quick-freeze method of that country tends very greatly to aggravate the danger of foot-and-mouth disease, because the virus is not killed in the process. Hence we should tighten up our regulations, not only at home but abroad.

What are the present methods of dealing with the disease, in addition to the slaughtering policy? The Argentine has a gentleman's agreement with us that they will not export any animals affected with foot-and-mouth disease, but it is very doubtful whether that has been enforced. In any case, the Argentine Government cannot tell when an animal is incubating foot-and-mouth disease, and I do not think that agreement is worth the paper it is written on, if it is written on any paper at all. Then there is the question of inspection. My information is that the Minister of Agriculture has only one veterinary expert in the Argentine. If that is so it is an absurd position, because that inspector cannot possibly carry out the inspection of all the meat sent over here. Two things seem obvious. The Government should approach the Argentine with a view to enforcing the gentleman's agreement and we should send over more Ministry officials to make sure that no meat infected with foot-and-mouth disease is coming to this country.

To turn to the home position we have two regulations. There is the Foot-and-Mouth (Boiling of Animal Foodstuffs) Order, 1932, which requires persons using swill to boil it for an hour. But there are many ways in which unboiled swill can come into contact with animals after arriving at the premises. We have also the Packing of Materials Orders of 1925 dealing with the destruction of hay, straw, packing material and so on. But the mere fact that 126 outbreaks have taken place since the year began is itself sufficient proof that these regulations are quite inadequate. I think we have to consider some tightening up both at home and abroad. The only real solution to this problem is a most unpopular one, and I shall bring down the wrath of many people on my head for it, but we will never remedy the situation in my opinion until there is universal centralised processing of swill. To-day any person who has a boiling plant can get an exemption, and when a local authority considers the provision of a central plant they say that it is not worth while in view of all the exemptions that are being issued. In the case of Aberdeen and Edinburgh I am informed such projects were abandoned, for that reason.

Even if plant were set up at all the important centres, there is still the question of the remaining swill. I know perfectly well that swill is of great value to the small pig producer, and I do not want to see him go under, but there is another factor which has to be taken into account. Is the economic value of the swill that goes to these people greater than the threat to our national milk and livestock industry? If we cannot have centralised processing of all swill, which to me is the proper solution to this problem, I cannot see why, as a temporary alternative, the Ministry cannot serve an Order on the swill producer. It is not much good putting all the responsibility on the pig feeder. That is why we have the trouble. Why cannot there be served on the swill producer an order which would apply to those camps, institutions and so forth or where, in the opinion of an inspector of the Ministry of Agriculture, raw meat was being used in the swill? Household swill as collected by local authorities seldom contains raw meat. The trouble is further afield, in the big camps and such like. I agree with what my hon. Friend has said about butchers and I will not attempt to reinforce his statement.

The argument that compulsory Orders on swill producers will lessen the amount of swill available was put to me by the Minister of Agriculture in reply to a Question which I put on this subject. Here again I would like to draw attention to the fact that the question involved is the balance between the economic value of the swill set against the threat to our national milk industry and pedigree herds. One must take account of that. It is not much good saying—and I hope my right hon. Friend will not tell us—that the compensation has been very small in terms of cash and that food losses are very light in terms of tonnage, because there is the immeasurable loss which is caused by the dislocation of markets throughout the country. Behind it all there is the perpetual nightmare hanging round the attested herd owner and the tuberculin tested herd owner and all our pedigree livestock industry all the time. Something must be done to improve the present position. The loss to the country cannot be measured in terms of cash at all. We are densely populated, not only as to people but as to animals, and it would be disastrous if our milk supply was endangered because swill has to go to the small pig feeder.

I had intended to say something on another point, but my hon. Friend has gone into it very thoroughly. I hope the Minister will announce that drastic steps are being taken, not only here but in the Argentine; because it is most important to do what we can at the source. That would give us some encouragement. I cannot help feeling that the owners of our great dairy and pedigree herds are living on the edge of a volcano. They would welcome an announcement that something is being done to protect their interests.

12.6 p.m.

Mr. R. C. Morrison (Tottenham, North)

I hope that the speech of the hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) will receive the very widest publicity in Scotland. During the time I have been associated with this question, I have found that the task that was set me, of trying to organise the collection of waste food around the industrial centres, was comparatively easy throughout England and Wales, but tremendously difficult in Scotland. When the scheme was first decided upon, between the Ministry of Food, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Supply, the obvious method was to take a large industrial centre, where there were proper sterilisation plants installed, and then to draw a circle around that area, wide enough to embrace a sufficiently large population to keep that plant going to full capacity. In my own district we embraced a population of about 1,000,000, and we keep a plant going. The same thing applies to 40 or 50 industrial districts throughout the country. I think I am safe in saying that not a single outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease has been even suspected in the areas where the food has been sterilised in this way. Therefore, the remedy would seem to be sterilisation of swill as near the point of collection as possible.

I have found, in my various meanderings about the country in connection with this question, that the biggest danger comes from the farmyards, but I agree with my hon. Friend about the danger that must arise where butchers keep pigs around their premises, and sell imported meat at the same time. It is true that there is an order that the farmer must not feed swill to animals until it has been boiled for a certain time, but that is one of those orders, which this House so often makes, and which it is quite impossible to enforce. It is unthinkable that there should be an inspector on every farm to see that every gallon of swill is properly boiled, particularly when the farmers are so hard-pressed, and often have to leave the job to a boy or an old woman. Sometimes the tank is boiled at one end, while the other end is cold. But more often it is not so much a matter of inadequate boiling, as of the time during which the swill is left lying about at the farm before it is boiled. There is no order to prevent swill, when it is brought to the farm, being dumped down anywhere pending the time when somebody is in a position to boil it; and it is quite impossible to make any such order which could be enforced.

When we started this work we received the most enthusiastic support from many of the local authorities in this country, and the collection of waste food for sterilisation by this means went up by leaps and bounds. At the same time, whenever I went to Scotland to address local authorities on the subject they ridiculed the whole idea. I find that, when one Scotsman speaks to another, there is an increasing habit of using American words; and the word that was used to me in this connection was "hooey." I was told that this was a whole lot of "hooey." I know that my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth is in close touch with the agricultural community in Scotland; I wish he had as much influence with the local authorities in Scotland. We have one of these concentration plants in Scot- land, and we are still finding difficulty in getting the Scottish local authorities, and particularly the pig-breeders of Scotland, to realise that it is in their own interest to use it.

Mr. Snadden

There is a reason why centralised processing should not be done to a great extent in Scotland. That reason is the number of exemptions for people who have private boiling plants. The local authorities felt that, as a result, it was not worth while getting centralised plants.

Mr. Morrison

I know there are difficulties. One difficulty is that the Ministry of Agriculture, which in the opinion of Scottish people is an English Department, has some powers in this matter; and they do not like taking orders from the English Department of Agriculture. I will only say that I hope that the remarks of the hon. Member for West Perth will be noted in Scottish local government circles, and that we shall have a more helpful attitude from them than we have had so far. I agree that there should be a great deal more publicity, but I cannot see that you could afford to do it at present. We do not want to give too much information to the enemy about the incidence of foot-and-mouth disease in this country. But I hope that as soon as the war is over there will be an entire change of attitude by the Government Departments concerned in regard to this troublesome matter. I welcome this short discussion, and I would only add that I think we are going to get the best results by an extension of the system that we have been applying throughout the war, of collecting the material and sterilising it as near the points of collection as possible, so that only sterilised material will reach the farmyard.

12.14 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. Tom Williams)

Foot-and-mouth disease may not be a very exciting subject, but it is certainly a very important one, from an agricultural point of view. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) expressed the concern felt by every Member when there is an outbreak in any part of the country. My hon. Friend also raised several specific questions, to many of which I hope to reply. Foot-and-mouth disease is always a matter of concern to the Ministry of Agriculture. If the disease is present, we are concerned to prevent it from spreading and to eradicate it. If we are free from the disease, we are concerned to prevent an outbreak. The Department's activities over a number of years will, I think, bear the closest examation. I might almost say that the veterinary inspectors of the Department have almost solved the problem of perpetual motion in their attempt to prevent the disease from spreading over the farms of Great Britain.

The problem is twofold. First the Department is responsible for controlling imported animals or products which might bring infection from abroad. Steps have been taken, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) said. Hay and straw may not be imported from countries where the disease happen to be endemic; uncooked meat may not be brought from Europe. Second, the Department attempts to prevent the outbreak or the spread of the disease in this country; there is a stringent control over the movement of animals and vehicles from any infected place, and there are rigid controls over the movement of animals over a very wide area surrounding an infected place. There is also control requiring the disinfection of all road and rail vehicles which carry animals from point to point and of loading docks and markets, wherever animals congregate.

At present waste foodstuffs are possibly, as my hon. Friend said, the greatest risk. There is, however, an Order under which any swill taken to a farm should be boiled for a minimum of one hour before it is used, but as has already been said it is almost impossible to enforce rigidly such an Order. Every effort towards doing so has been made by propaganda and education and by the prosecution and fining of offenders. I hope that hon. Members, particularly those representing agricultural areas, will help us in this by impressing upon everyone the need for extreme care if we are to keep this disease within measurable limits. Central processing has done much to reduce the danger. All vehicles carrying swill must be disinfected before carrying other feeding-stuffs. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton said vehicles were performing the dual func- tion of conveying livestock and, on the next journey, conveying, perhaps, meat. I have made inquiries and find that the Ministry of War Transport, who are responsible for the transport of livestock and meat, have heard of only one case where the same vehicle has been used for the dual purpose. In such a case it is the duty of the individual to see that that conveyance is sterilised before it is used for a second purpose.

Mr. Turton

Will my right hon. Friend help us by asking the Ministry of Transport to extend their inspections and to take note of the many cases which are occurring up and down the country?

Mr. Williams

My hon. Friend may know of more cases than those that have been brought to the notice of the Ministry of War Transport, and if either he or any other hon. Member knows of a case and will bring it to our notice we will see that the Ministry of War Transport are moved to take action on the right lines. Although there have been large numbers of outbreaks in this country during the past 10 or 11 months, and indeed, for many years, I think I can say that as a result of the action taken by the inspectors of the Ministry the disease has never got completely out of hand.

I will deal one by one with the specific questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Mahon. He referred to recent outbreaks, and I have no hesitation in saying that those outbreaks have been largely traced to imported South American meat. Neither the Ministry of Food, as far as I can recollect, nor the Ministry of Agriculture have endeavoured to suppress any information that may have come to light as a result of tracing these original outbreaks to their source. To trace the origin one must distinguish between initial outbreaks and the spreading of the disease, but one feature about these recent outbreaks is that in only a small number of cases have there been initial outbreaks following the bringing of large quantities of raw swill to farms. That indicates that reasonable care must have been taken in those cases.

In recent weeks it is the small piggeries which have been chiefly involved. As my hon. Friend said, a good number of outbreaks have been traced to butchers' premises. There is therefore another factor besides swill to be taken into account. Cases of pigs being given bones or scraps of meat will probably be known to every Member in this House. It is a very wicked thing for anybody to do that with their eyes wide open if they really understand the dangers arising from it. The same danger arises where pigs have access to unsterilised meat wrappers, because the pigs ought never to be allowed to come within measurable distance of anything with which the meat has come into contact. These various dangers are greater than those arising from swill. The courts have power to inflict severe penalties for feeding unboiled meat, bones, etc., to pigs. Feeding unboiled meat or bones to pigs, or allowing them to come into contact with the pigs, frequently leads to the spread of the disease, and all steps, whether by word of mouth, by leaflets or the use of the B.B.C. ought to be taken to educate farmers and everyone concerned in this matter.

My hon. Friend suggested that we ought to exercise more rigid control over butchers' premises and certain other matters. I am bound to confess that that is infinitely more difficult than it might seem to be. There is nothing to prevent anyone, with the most kindly intentions, throwing a bone to a dog or throwing raw waste to pigs and no Regulation will prevent the dog taking the bone to the pasture. On many occasions such kindly actions have resulted in an initial outbreak of disease. To prohibit pigs being fed on butchers' premises would not be effective, I am afraid, for if the butcher were not allowed to have pigs on his premises he would almost certainly have them not far away, and the same danger would still exist.

Mr. Turton

Surely there would be less danger. If the pigs were further away people could note whether the pieces of meat had been properly boiled before they were given to the pigs. The difficulty arises from pigs and these imported meats being on the same premises, the butchers' premises. If we separate them the danger becomes less.

Mr. Williams

I certainly do not deny that the nearer the pigs are to the butcher's shop the greater is the danger. What I said was that if we prevented a butcher from keeping pigs on his premises that would not necessarily be effective, since he could keep the pigs a few score yards away. He would keep pigs all the same, and I am afraid those pigs would be exposed to almost the same risks. I doubt whether the hon. Member would suggest that a butcher should be prohibited from keeping pigs on any premises at all, and without such a prohibition I doubt whether we could prevent contamination in these cases. In any case the butcher would be dealing with imported meat, and if the pigs were kept 250 yards away from his shop there would be the risk of his carrying the disease on his smock or on the rest of his clothing.

A good deal of progress has been made in the treatment of swill, which is another important factor in connection with this disease, and large quantities are passing through concentrator plants, but it is also the case that much swill is being sent raw to the farms. The Order compelling a farmer to undertake the boiling process is one that it is very difficult to enforce—I do not think there are enough inspectors in the land—and in the last resort we have to rely on the good sense of farmers. Even with proper boiling there still remain grave risks, because after the swill has been boiled there is nothing to prevent waste food from the farm household coming into contact with it. In any case we could not enforce an Order that a household should never allow household waste to come into contact with swill that had been boiled. I do not think that either the average farmer or the average policeman who is called upon to enforce these Orders really appreciate all these dangers. Where centrally-treated swill has been obtained and where boiling has been done carefully and thoroughly we have definite proof that the number of outbreaks has been reduced to an absolute minimum. It has been suggested that we ought either to prohibit the use of swill—an order which no one could possibly enforce—or see that all the swill goes through a concentrator plant. I doubt if either of those two suggestions is practicable. There is no point in making an order and creating the impression that it will produce spectacular results only to find in the end that everyone has been disappointed.

I have one further observation with respect to the farmer himself and his personal responsibility not only for his own herds but for those of his neighbours. It is a common phrase among veterinary inspectors that "bones are found in every pasture." Those bones may have been brought there by the farmer's own dogs or by neighbours' dogs, but so long as imported meat must be purchased and distributed it is certainly the duty of all to pay more attention to this danger than they give to it at present.

I think the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Agriculture can minimise the risks but they cannot completely abolish them. There are cases, of course, that finally reach the courts. What are the fines inflicted? During the last two years, the fines have been from shillings to £40, but the average has been round about £10. It is not for me to say that the courts have been too lenient or too harsh, but, in view of the danger of this disease, where an offence is actually found, I think the bench are quite entitled to remind the offender that he is a danger both to himself and to the members of the community.

As to the control of the disease in the Argentine, trials are at present being made with a vaccine produced in this country, and first reports appear to be satisfactory, but, unless regular use of protective vaccines is made at any rate on the large estates from which we draw most of our food, I am afraid it is not going to be as effective as we would like it to be.

Major York

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain what the vaccine is supposed to do?

Mr. Williams

I am not a veterinary surgeon; I understand that the hope is to render cattle immune from foot-and-mouth disease, but that may not perhaps be the scientific reply. With regard to the one inspector in the Argentine, who was referred to by my hon. Friends, it is perfectly obvious that he could not examine all the cattle exported to this country, but he did not go there for that purpose. He has been there 18 months, advising the people there on what methods to adopt, in the hope that they may reduce the incidence of foot-and-mouth disease there and the risk of infection being sent over to this country. I understand that his activities are welcomed and that he is at liberty to make whatever suggestions he can to im- prove the existing arrangements. May I also say that, quite recently, the Ministry of Food has been made aware of the fact that the staff in that country exercising control over foot-and-mouth disease have been increased by between 400 and S00 people, and I am sure the House will be pleased to know that the Argentine Ambassador in this country is displaying considerable interest in this problem, and, I am perfectly certain, will render all the assistance he can in helping his own country to help this country to avoid both initial and subsequent outbreaks of the disease.

At the moment, it certainly is not possible to completely dispense with the use of South American meat. Home-produced meat, as every hon. Member knows, has declined during the war, particularly sheep and pigs, because of the shortage of feeding stuffs, and the need for the production of maximum quantities of wheat and potatoes and foods for direct human consumption, which was done, of necessity, at the expense of some of our livestock. Therefore, foreign meat is a necessity if we are going to maintain the modest ration we enjoy to-day. As to the distribution of imported meat in rural areas, I am assured by the Ministry of Food that they exercise all the discretion they can, bearing in mind transport problems, in the distribution of South American meat. I know that there have been large agricultural areas where no imported meat was seen for very many months, because of preparations for D-Day. Road and rail dislocations have caused some rural areas to have more South American meat than they would otherwise have received, but the fact is that, because of transport and other difficulties, a very high proportion of imported meat has reached the urban areas, and, particularly, those areas which have sterilization plants for swill.

Mr. R. C. Morrison

Will the Minister give an assurance that the Ministry of Food intends to continue that policy, now that the dislocation which was caused by D-Day has largely passed, and that they will reinforce that policy?

Mr. Williams

I can assure my hon. Friend and the House that the Ministry of Food is exercising the utmost discretion in the distribution of South American meat. They take very great care where our best herds of dairy cattle are, and they avoid those areas for that purpose. They are fully aware of the danger to the nation of the loss of beef. I could, had I the time, give a whole list of towns in agricultural areas which get no imported meat at all, and the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major York) will be delighted to know that no Argentine meat has been going to his area for quite a long time.

With regard to the question of lorries used for meat transport, it is, I repeat, the normal practice to have special lorries for livestock and a special type of lorry for meat, and there has been only one case brought to the notice of the Ministry of War Transport where the same vehicle has been used for the two purposes. I repeat my request to hon. Members that, if they know of any case where the regulations are being infringed and will let the Ministry of War Transport or the Ministry of Agriculture know, we will not hesitate to look into it at once.

Mr. Turton

Is it an offence to carry imported meat in a lorry that is going to be used for livestock, because, if so, nobody knows about it?

Mr. Williams

It is certainly an offence to carry livestock and meat in the same vehicle without having sterilized the vehicle after it has been used for one of the two purposes. Regarding the number of concentrator plants in Great Britain at the moment, there are 173 collecting swill from the areas of 414 urban local authorities, covering approximately 44 per cent. of the population, There are 78 authorities collecting Service swill under special arrangements, not only from their own areas but also from wide areas round their own towns and cities. A large central plant has been established at Aldershot exclusively to deal with Service swill, and there are 11 private firms operating central plants and collecting from a wide area around where the plants are established. These are all designed to help to avoid either initial outbreaks or the spread of the disease. It is not, however, practicable to insist upon all swill from the small military camps being processed on the spot. The Army cannot take soldiers away from military duty to be used for the purpose of boiling swill, and, secondly, some camps are very small, with a constantly changing personnel. On the other hand, you have a case like Plymouth, where almost all the naval swill is disposed of by the corporation.

I should like to emphasise that orders and regulations can only lessen the risk of the disease breaking out. The real responsibility in the last analysis, falls upon the farmer and the butcher and all those who are in any way associated in using or distributing the meat, and we have got to rely to a large extent upon education and propaganda, and this Debate cannot fail to have been of some real value in the way of both education and propaganda. The only thing I can say in conclusion is that I do not think the Ministry of Agriculture or the Ministry of Food can be charged with having been lax in this matter. Whatever Regulations or Orders they may produce, they cannot abolish all the risks. The average farm house, the average kindly person who gives a bone to a dog—all are bound to increase the risk of outbreaks. These problems are continually in the minds of the Minister and myself, and our minds are wide open for any new ideas or suggestions that may be made.

Mr. Turton

How many cases have there been?

Mr. Williams

I thought it better not to deal with statistics but rather with the steps taken to try to avoid initial outbreaks and the spreading of the disease when outbreaks have taken place. Any new idea or scheme will be borne in mind by the Minister, and may I say to the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon that the B.B.C. do announce outbreaks after the 6 o'clock news, stating the place and also the area cut off for the movement of cattle. If, however, the B.B.C. can be used to greater advantage than at present, we will be very happy to intervene with them.

Mr. David Eccles (Chippenham)

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question? I think he will find that some farmers are short of fuel with which to boil their swill. Could the right hon. Gentleman consult with his colleagues to see that coke is delivered to all those who have individual plants, and that there is no shortage of fuel?

Mr. Williams

If any case is brought to the notice of the Ministry of Fuel and Power, or of myself, that problem could very well be solved.