§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Timothy Kitson (Richmond, Yorks)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the continued existence of the condition known as brucellosis in cattle in this country, takes note of Her Majesty's Government's efforts to reduce the incidence of the disease through the calfhood vaccination scheme and the free calf vaccination scheme, and hopes that, in view of the transmissibility of the disease to man, Her Majesty's Government will consider introducing further measures designed to eradicate the disease in cattle.I make no apology for raising once again the problem of brucellosis and its dangers. I understand from several of my colleagues that the word "brucellosis" does not appear in the Oxford Dictionary, although it is the accepted term used by the World Health Organisation to describe contagious abortion in cattle and undulant fever in man.
We in this country can take credit for a vast amount of work that has been done to eradicate animal disease, of which, obviously, bovine tuberculosis comes first to mind. We have programmes in operation at present time to deal with swine fever and fowl pest, but we appear to have been left behind in getting to grips with the problem of brucellosis.
There can be few more striking instances of action trailing behind knowledge in the failure to introduce an eradication programme in the United Kingdom. Since 1895, it has been known that the organism now known as brucella abortus is a cause of contagious abortion in cattle. Since 1924, it has been known that man can contract undulant fever by consuming untreated milk from cows suffering from contagious abortion.
Since 1929, it has been known that in this country the incidence of human 1702 infection is very considerable. It would be dangerous to produce figures that were not right, but this incidence of brucella abortus, taken from several sources is estimated to be between 500 and 1,000 annually, while the Public Health Laboratory Service states that 132 chronic cases were reported last year.
Since 1944, we have had an effective vaccine for the protection of cattle which is now supplied free by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the form of the calf vaccination service and it is well known that the standard pasteurisation of milk kills brucella with ease. A working party of veterinary and medical personnel was set up to review the incidence of the disease, its control and eradication. This was known as the Oxford Working Group and its comments and proposals were published in May, 1962.
As the group pointed out, it took 26 years to eradicate bovine tuberculosis and yet, if a campaign for the eradication of brucellosis could be completed in five years—which, I think, most would agree is rather an optimistic—at the lowest about 2,500 people in England and Wales would have been ill with undulant fever—indeed, some might have died—and the cost to the farming community would be many millions of pounds.
Since I began raising the problem of brucellosis in the House, I have had letters from many people who have suffered from undulant fever. There is little doubt that it is a most unpleasant disease which can recur from time to time in a way similar to malaria and that often, when people have had the chronic disease, they can be seriously handicapped for life. The condition of slipped disc or lower lumbar pain, about which we hear so much, can sometimes be attributed to brucellosis. It also affects the joints, such as the knee, tending to create arthritis, and it can also severely affect internal organs such as the liver and the spleen.
When we consider the national interest shown in some diseases, it is clear that it is only because of the lack of public knowledge that more interest is not shown in the 500 to 1,000 cases of brucellosis which we will have in this country this year. England, Scotland and 1703 Wales are now about the only remaining countries in Europe in which brucellosis is not a notifiable disease. One of the objects of notification is that while it does not necessarily give a complete picture and does not increase recognition, there is little doubt that if this were a notifiable disease, a good deal of work could be done to clear up infected herds, and many subsequent human cases would not occur. An interesting example of this was the case of a doctor who contracted undulant fever by drinking raw milk from a farm in his village. When he recovered, he persuaded 134 of his patients who were drinking milk from the same infected herd to undergo blood tests to see whether they had acquired brucellosis through drinking milk from the same infected herd. Of those who underwent the blood test, 76 showed positive signs of brucellosis infection in their blood.
I have mentioned the many millions of pounds the farming community will lose over the next five years from contagious abortion in the national herd, and I should like to try to clarify this, although I must admit that there is a shortage of information on this point. Dr. McDiarmid, of the Agricultural Research Council's Institute for Research on Animal Diseases at Compton, has probably done more work in the last 20 years on this disease than anybody else in the country. In a paper recently given to the Irish Veterinary Association he pointed out that herd incidence ranged from 11 per cent. to 30 per cent. from one area to another.
There has been a dramatic drop in the number of actual abortions, from 8 per cent. to 2 per cent., in infected dairy herds since 1938. This, of course, is due to the vaccination of calves with Strain 19, although even today only about 50 per cent. of calves are innoculated, which is a lamentably low figure, particularly as this service is given free by the Ministry of Agriculture. Those of us in farming will recognise that when a farmer gets something for nothing, he often thinks that it is worth very little, but I am sure that this is to be regretted and that it is only lack of knowledge which is the reason why this free service has not been used more thoroughly.
Coming back to the figure that at least 2 per cent. of our dairy cows abort and 1704 that many more are infected, it can be assumed that every infected cow gives as much as 20 per cent. less milk. Moreover, in infected herds there is nearly always some evidence of infertility. In terms of hard cash, the market value of an infected animal diminishes and will diminish still further in direct proportion to the interest taken in eradication. It it significant that this amount can be as much as£25 in the United States of America, and I understand that in brucella-free herds in Northern Ireland the increased value of the cattle is around£25.
The beef herds must not be forgotten, although this aspect of the subject is often forgotten by the farmer. The incidence in some areas is very high. Many farmers do not take the trouble to vaccinate beef cattle, even when they are running on the same farm as a vaccinated dairy herd. It will be remembered that in beef herds the loss of the calf is all important, as it represents the year's income from one cow and also the loss of one year's keep, unless another calf can be fostered.
I think that I have dealt with the present position in this country. Most countries in Western Europe today have either completed or started an eradication programme. Even Northern Ireland has an eradication programme and such a programme will shortly be launched in Eire. Unless we try to deal with this problem in the very near future, there is very little doubt that we shall run into many problems in the exporting of pedigree cattle to other countries which are free from brucellosis.
Many of our difficulties would be overcome if the free vaccination service were used more fully. It is essential that calves should be innoculated before they reach the age of eight months. If they are left after that age, it is extremely difficult when blood tests are taken to tell whether the animal has the infection, or is reacting because of the vaccination. When an eradication programme is put into operation, this will present many difficulties.
It would be quite wrong to give the impression that people run the risk of contracting undulant fever through drinking milk. Of the milk drunk in this country, 97 per cent. is pasteurised, and pasteurisation eliminates any possible risk 1705 of contracting the disease. Nevertheless, on many farms, the farmers, their employees and, in some cases, producer-retailers, do not take the trouble to ensure that their milk is free from infection. This can be fairly simply done by taking a ring test of the milk in the churns and I recommend every member of the farming community who has not taken this precaution to do just that. The Public Health Laboratory Service will do this free of charge. In the interests of public health, the Government should ensure without delay that milk for human consumption is tested. Possibly some form of certificate should be issued to producer-retailers who do not pasteurise their milk.
It would have been difficult to introduce an eradication scheme at the same time as the bovine T.B. programme was in operation, because it would have thrown too much work on the shoulders of the Ministry of Agriculture "vets", but now that this programme has been completed, it would be possible for us to start on the eradication scheme. I understand that there is a possibility of the interval between tuberculin tests being extended to two years. I deprecate this, because I believe that it will create difficulties for the dairy industry, because if the period is as long as that and there is infection in a herd, it could spread considerably in the period of two years. However, if this were done more veterinary manpower would be available to tackle brucellosis. I know that the National Farmers' Union, the British Veterinary Association, the Royal Association of Dairy Farmers and the County Councils' Association are all keen that a scheme should be put in hand to eradicate brucellosis in the very near future, and there has also been considerable support from the British Medical Association.
We must recognise that an eradication programme will be expensive I do not suppose that it would be necessary to introduce compulsory slaughter of infected animals at the initial stages of an eradication programme, but it is difficult to see how it could be completed without a compulsory slaughter policy at some stage, and that, of course, would be expensive. I appreciate how difficult it is to get money out of the Treasury on some occasions, but, recognising the public health risk involved, and considering the 1706 substantial annual loss to the agricultural community, and the cost to the National Health Service of treating patients with undulant fever, to delay any longer is false economy.
Finally, I should stress once again that nearly all the milk produced and drunk in this country is pasteurised and that a good deal of untreated milk is tested by producer-retailers to ensure that there is no health risk in the commodity which they are selling. I only hope that when my right hon. Friend replies he will be able to accept the Motion.
§ 11.20 a.m.
§ Dr. A. D. D. Broughton (Batley and Morley)
I should like to begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Richmond. Yorks (Mr. Kitson) not only on an erudite, interesting, and in my opinion important speech, but also on the vigour with which he is waging his campaign aimed at the eradication of brucellosis from this country. The hon. Gentleman has allies on both sides of the House who are prepared to help him, and I hope that our joint effort will meet with success.
The Motion makes reference to the disease in man, and it is with some professional knowledge of that that I wish to speak in support of the Motion. As the House is aware, brucellosis is of world-wide distribution, and animals, with negligible exceptions, form the sole reservoir of infection. I intend to deal with it only as it occurs in this country.
The causative organism is called brucella abortus, and, as the hon. Gentleman has explained, it gives rise to the disease in cattle known as contagious abortion. There is undisputed proof that it can be transmitted in milk from infected cows to man, causing the disease known as brucellosis or undulant fever. The organism has been isolated from milk and we know that pasturisation of milk destroys the organism.
To try to make the problems for which this organism is responsible more clearly understood by the House, I think that I should describe very briefly the clinical features of this disease in man.
When a person succumbs to this disease, there is usually a period of vague ill-health preceding the onset of fever, and preceding resort to the doctor. There may be some weeks, and even months, of ill-health followed by the onset of fever, 1707 sweating and headache. Often patients who are still ambulant and at work complain to their doctors of feeling "out of sorts", or of being unusually tired. Physical examination may or may not show a rise in temperature. These symptoms are similar to those occurring in other illnesses, and a firm diagnosis cannot be made on purely clinical grounds.
The duration and severity of the disease vary greatly. It is possible that the illness may last no longer than a matter of weeks. On the other hand, one case is reported to have lasted 5½ years. Few diseases can present a greater variety of clinical manifestations, and the diagnosis can be extremely difficult.
In my opinion, the majority of cases in this country go unrecognised. It is probable that some cases suffer no more than vague ill-health, with fatigue and malaise, for short or long periods of time without consulting a doctor. Of those who do see a doctor, far from all are recognised as suffering from brucellosis. Usually, only if the illness is of long duration, or the symptoms severe, or if there is an intermittent or undulant fever, is the patient subjected to a blood test. A blood test is the only way of determining infection of brucella abortus in man.
I have tried to condense the clinical picture, but I hope that I have said enough to show that this illness can be unpleasant, debilitating, incapacitating, and even dangerous. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, there is a mortality rate, although, fortunately, not a very high one.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the question of compulsory notification. If compulsory notification were introduced, not all cases would be notified, as I have explained. In fact, the only cases which could be notified are those in which bacteriological examination had established that the patient was suffering from brucellosis. But if those cases were notified, the local health authority could more easily track down the herds in which the infection lay.
By way of illustration, I should like to turn now to a particular case which occurred in my constituency. In 1961, a 12-year old boy living in Morley suffered 1708 from brucellosis. His illness was protracted, and he spent many weeks in hospital and many months off school. I am told that he was away from school for more than a year, and that, of course, is a very serious interruption in a boy's education. When the diagnosis was made, although notification is not compulsory, the medical officer of health was informed.
The chief public health inspector then took samples of the milk going into the boy's home. He had those samples tested, and the organism brucella abortus was found in the milk. This was raw, tuberculin-tested milk, produced on a farm within the borough. A pasteurisation order was then issued in respect of milk from suspected animals, and samples of milk were taken separately from each of the cows for bacteriological examination.
The examination showed that six cows were excreting brucella abortus in their milk. Those six cows were then isolated from the remainder of the herd, instructions were given that their milk must continue to be sent for pasteurisation, and the pasteurisation order was withdrawn for the remainder of the herd.
That action was taken by the local health authority under Regulation 20 of the Milk and Dairy Regulations, 1959.
But the Morley Council was still very uneasy about this case. First, the medical officer of health knew that infected cows could excrete the organisms intermittently, and his suspicions that some cows released from the pasteurisation order might be carriers of the disease were well founded, as future events were to show.
Secondly, the dairy farmer was very unco-operative, and the health department could not be sure that all the milk from the infected cows went for pasteurisation. Nor could it be sure that the milking apparatus was thoroughly cleaned after having been used for milking infected cows before it was used at the next milking time for milking cows which were apparently not infected.
The Town Clerk of Morley reported all this, as I have described it to the House, in a letter to me dated 17th March, 1962, in which he said:There appears to be a defect in present-day legislation in that the Ministry lack the power 1709 to requine the infected cows to be slaughtered with payment of compensation. In practice, it is very difficult to ensure that the infected milk docs go for pasteurisation.Some weeks later I received another letter, from which I should like to quote. It said:The milk from the six infected cows has continued to be pasteurised by private arrangement with the farmer. But recently a bulk sample from the supposedly non-infected cows was positive, and individual samples were again taken from the whole herd. This revealed further cases of infected cattle, and the present total of infected cows is now no less than fourteen out of a herd of thirty-five.All the milk from the infected cows will be pasteurised, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to ensure complete separation of the infected milk from the total output of the farm. The Morley Health Committee are so concerned with this problem that they are arranging for a sub-Committee to meet the farmer. The lack of legislation, however, means that the sub-Committee can do little except advise the farmer and rely on his good will.…If you think it would be helpful, the Medical Officer of Health and the Chief Public Health Inspector would be willing to come to London to discuss the matter with you and with representatives of the two Ministries concerned.I arranged a meeting, which was held on 25th July, 1962, almost two years ago. I took along with me two Morley councillors, one of whom was the chairman of the public health committee, the medical officer of health, and the senior public health inspector. Present at the meeting were representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health. The meeting was presided over by the noble Lord, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I take the opportunity of expressing my gratitude and the gratitude of Morley Council to him for the interest he has shown in this problem throughout.
When we had this meeting the deputation from Morley made it clear, first, that it hoped that in the not too far distant future there would be legislation giving power to require the slaughter of infected cattle and the payment of compensation. Secondly, it wanted power to enforce pasteurisation of all milk coming from any farm on which there is any infection with brucella abortus. It asked for precise interpretation of Regulation 20 of the Milk and Dairy Regulations, 1959. It was evident from the discussions that took place at that meeting that there was 1710 some doubt as to the full extent of powers available under Regulation 20. The Parliamentary Secretary promised to refer the matter to his legal advisers and to keep in touch with me.
The next we heard was by a letter dated 5th October 1962, from the Ministry of Health to the Town Clerk of Morley. It is headed:Milk and Dairies (General) Regulations, 1959,Regulation 20.The letter reads:At the meeting which took place between Lord St. Oswald and a deputation from your authority on 25th July about the interpretation of the above Regulation it was arranged that the Ministry of Health would write to you.I regret that it has not yet been possible to reach a conclusion on this matter. It has been undergoing thorough consideration in the two departments concerned but there are still points to settle which require further consideration by legal, medical and veterinary officers. We hope that it will be possible to clear the matter very shortly now, and will write to you again as soon as possible.The next letter came from the Ministry of Health, addressed to the Town Clerk of Morley, on 24th October, 1962. It is a lengthy letter, with which I shall not weary the House. It gave the Ministry's interpretation of Regulation 20 and the interpretation was precisely the same as the manner in which it had been interpreted by Morley Council, which regarded the powers as insufficient. The letter even suggestsd that if further action were taken than would appear permissible under Regulation 20, this would be open to challenge in the courts.
That letter concluded:Regulation 20 covers a number of different diseases where the danger to health is variable, and the Regulation must, therefore, be fairly flexible. We have not, as yet, found any reason to think that it needs strengthening, but we are considering the issue of a circular for the guidance of medical officers of health on the point raised by the deputation.That was towards the end of October, 1962. On 7th January, 1963, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture sent me a letter which makes it quite clear that he understands the problem. He concluded by saying:As you know, a circular is being prepared for the assistance of medical officers of health in the exercise of their discretion. We are trying to make this as helpful as we can, and it will be issued as soon as possible.1711 Nothing more was heard until 21st November, 1963, when I received a letter from the Ministry of Agriculture in which it was stated:I have been in touch with the officials responsible at the Ministry of Health and they tell me that this circular is under preparation. It does, however, deal with complicated technical subjects, and there are still one or two points on which they have not yet been able to obtain clearance, but they hope that they will be able to issue it shortly.Meanwhile, the worst fears of Morley Council had been realised, for it was found that the dairy farmer had sold raw milk from infected cows. Court proceedings were taken against him and he was heavily fined, after which he went out of business as a dairy farmer, so the source of that danger was in that way removed.
The next we heard from the Ministry of Health was a letter addressed to the Town Clerk of Morley on 24th April this year, which said:I apologise for the delay in replying to your letter of 20th March, 1964, inquiring about the circular in preparation on procedure for dealing with the hazard of brucellosis from infected milk.The draft circular is being considered interdepartmentally and it is hoped that it will soon be ready for issue.We are still waiting for that and have been waiting for nearly two years. I am pleased to see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health is present. I hope that I can be informed when this important circular is to be issued. It seems that insufficient interest has been shown in this very serious problem, particularly by the Ministry of Health.
The hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, has spoken most ably about the animal health side of this problem and the harm which is being done to the agriculture industry. I have spoken of the effect on humans and of the difficulties in controlling the sale of infected raw milk. I believe that the present regulations are inadequate.
In addition to the problem that has troubled Morley Council, so far as I know there is nothing to prevent a farmer on whom a pasteurisation order has been served selling infected cows to a neighbouring farm. I understand that legislation prevents him from sell- 1712 ing such cows in the open market, but he can sell them privately and he need not inform the local health authority about to whom they have been sold. The person buying them can milk them and sell raw milk from them. If the cows are sold to a neighbouring farmer living in another borough, the local authority which has been dealing with the problem loses touch with the infected cattle.
I would like to endorse something that was said by the hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks., which is that I hope that nothing that has been said in this debate will deter people from drinking milk. Milk is very good food for humans. Unfortunately, it is also very good food for germs. Ninety-seven per cent. of it today is heat-treated. The danger lies in the consumption of the 3 per cent. of raw milk.
I hope that the House will approve the Motion and that steps will soon be taken to eradicate brucellosis from this country as has been done in the case of bovine tuberculosis.
§ 11.40 a.m.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour (Norfolk, Central)
The hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton) has given us a most interesting speech in which he used his expert knowledge to very considerable advantage. I agree so much with what he said and, more particularly, with what my hon. Friend the Member for Rich-mind, Yorks. (Mr. Kitson) said, that I am afraid, unlike Senator Goldwater, I cannot offer the House a choice, only an echo. And it will be a brief echo.
The only thing I found to disagree with in what my hon. Friend for Richmond, Yorks said was when he pointed out the spectacular decrease in the number of abortions due to brucellosis and said that they had declined to 2 per cent. I think he implied that the 2 per cent. were due to brucellosis, whereas I believe that only one-fifth of the abortions are due to brucellosis. I am not sure that the hon. Member for Batley and Morley was right in saying that it is illegal to sell an infected cow in the public market. I have a feeling that that is only so within two months of the actual abortion taking place.
§ Dr. Broughton
I said that I understand that it is illegal to sell in the open 1713 market an infected cow on which a pasteurisation order has been placed.
§ Mr. Gilmour
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon.
In Norfolk this is not such a problem as in some other parts of the country, but, nevertheless, it is a problem. If I may, I will give the House just a few figures. In 1961, out of 1,180 individual samples taken after a series of bulk samples 22 cows were found to be excreting the organism in the milk. In 1962, after individual samples from 188 cows had been taken 24 were found to be positive, and in 1963 after individual samples had been obtained from 422 cows, 45 were found to be positive. That certainly shows that the problem is not on the decrease. In fact, there is evidence that it is increasing.
Of course, as my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks said, it causes considerable financial distress to the industry and, in particular, to those farmers who sell their milk raw and who subsequently find their herds infected, as happened in a case in my constituency which I took up with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary last year. At the moment, these people are subject to very considerable financial loss.
On the human side, as the hon. Member for Batley and Morley pointed out, we do not know how bad it is. It is obviously quite bad. We have had a lot of cases and, of course, veterinary surgeons are particularly vulnerable to this disease. In one very distinguished partnership of veterinary surgeons in Norfolk, during the last five or six years six of the partners have had undulant fever and one meningitis. Also, of course, there is the very considerable danger of self-vaccination by mistake, which is likely to lead to very nasty side-effects indeed.
Therefore, the problem is obvious, and, with respect, it seems to me that the solution is also fairly obvious. I would have thought that the Ministry should now start making vaccination of all female calves compulsory and, at the same time, that it should prohibit vaccination of all older animals, because, as my hon. Friend said, this leads to confusion as to whether a cow has the disease or is merely showing the 1714 results of the vaccination. If these two things were done I should think that after about five years the problem of the older animals vaccinated would have been solved or at any rate would no longer be so intractable. The Ministry could then start designating eradication areas.
I do not think that we can go on as we are at present. The problem is likely to get worse if we do not deal with it now. We shall run into problems with Europe. It does not seem to me to be at all difficult to do what I suggest. So many other countries have done it and the advantages seem to be obvious. Therefore, I very much hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will not only accept my hon. Friend's Motion but will also set about initiating a programme on the lines which I have suggested.
§ 11.46 a.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
I wish to join with other hon. Members in thanking the hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Kitson) for the competent and comprehensive speech which he has made, and also, if I may, I should like to congratulate him on his public spirit in using his good fortune in the Ballot to raise a matter which I do not think is one that will influence votes very much one way or the other. I am sure that this disinterested approach of the hon. Gentleman is something that we would all wish to commend.
My own intervention will be brief, partly because of the excellent speech to which we have listened from the hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks. This is a subject which has given a great deal of concern to some of the health authorities in my constituency as well as to organisations like the District Councils Association and the Association of Municipal Corporations. It has also given me personally a good deal of anxiety since I first took an interest in it two or three years ago. I am forced to the conclusion that as a nation we seem to have dragged our feet somewhat on the issue in a way which, to say the least, is surprising.
The hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks quoted figures of the incidence of brucellosis and my hon. Friend the 1715 Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton) suggested that if there was more adequate diagnosis perhaps the figures which we have been given would prove to be an under-estimate. My hon. Friend referred to the fact that this disease is world-wide in incidence. That, of course, is true, but there are certain countries which have, I understand, succeeded in eradicating it completely.
When I was in Denmark last week I was informed that the disease has been eradicated there and when I referred today to the report of the Oxford Working Group on the disease I found that it attributed the eradication of it in Denmark to the fact that attention had been paid to the epidemiological study carried out in 1930 and that in the intervening years Denmark had succeeded in eradicating it. It seems a pity that we should be taking up the time of the House in discussing the matter in 1964.
In August, 1962, I wrote to the Minister of Agriculture on this subject and on 21st August I received from him a courteous and helpful letter which, nevertheless, seemed to be lacking in a sense of urgency. Perhaps I could take up the time of the House for a few moments by reading extracts from that letter. The right hon. Gentleman said:There is, unfortunately, no short cut to the eradication of this widespread and insidious disease, and we must plan on a long-term basis. I concluded, therefore, that the only practical approach was by way of calf vaccination with S.19 vaccine.Later he said:… it may be possible in, say, four or five years to consider eradication measures".Even later he said:In theory it would be possible to deal with brucellosis by testing for the presence of the disease and destroying all infected animals. This would be an extremely uneconomic undertaking both in terms of money and veterinary staff. Moreover, since the incidence of brucellosis is widespread, such action would disrupt the whole dairy industry and might even have a serious effect on milk supplies. Free vaccination of female calves is, therefore, the only course open to us at present.My interest has been aroused by a report which was sent to me by the Clerk to the Ramsbottom Urban District Council. He enclosed a report made by the medical officer of health who in turn quoted a report which had been pre- 1716 pared by Dr. Robertson, the Director of the Public Health Laboratory at Preston. Dr. Robertson reported that in North Lancashire during 1959 milk from 158 out of 842 dairy herds was found to be infected with brucella organisms. That was an incidence of 18.7 per cent. The figures were broken down, and they showed that, in Ulverston, out of 134 herds examined, the number positive for brucella organisms was 12, or 9 per cent. In Fylde the incidence was 30.9 per cent., in Preston, 28.4 per cent., and in the urban areas north of Bury, which are of particular interest to me, 13.2 per cent.
Dr. Robertson attributed the differences partly to the fact that in the Ulverston area the herds are self-contained herds whereas in other parts of Lancashire many of them are flying herds particularly liable to be infected by the introduction of infected cattle. It seemed clear therefore that people in some areas of Lancashire were at very special risk of infection from brucellosis. The risk was made greater by the fact that there is in parts of the county a very high proportion of milk sold raw. This is accounted for by the fact that the herds are some distance from pasteurisation plants. It is clear that the provision for pasteurisation must be improved.
I should not for a moment want to underestimate the importance of pasteurisation, to which I think every hon. Member who has spoken has referred this morning. We should bear in mind, however, the comment of the Oxford Working Group thatNo country which has eliminated brucellosis has ever done so simply by pasteurising milk".I think that there is therefore added point in the other suggestions which have been made by all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate.
I should particularly like to stress my support for two of the suggestions. The first is that there should be notification of both animal and human disease for the reasons which have been given by the hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks and my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley. It is a lamentable state of affairs that we seem to be almost the only country in Europe where brucellosis is not a compulsorily notifiable disease. I 1717 am sure that, apart from the arguments put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley, the psychological effects of making it a notifiable disease and stressing the importance of it to the public would be very considerable.
Secondly, I support very strongly the suggestion that there should be compulsory slaughter of infected beasts and that the Government should be prepared to accept the financial responsibility for this.
I join hon. Members in hoping that the Government will accept the Motion.
§ 11.55 a.m.
§ Lord Robert Grosvenor (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
I support the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Kitson), notwithstanding his remark that "even" Northern Ireland had started an eradication scheme. Not only have we started a brucellosis eradication scheme, but we are also free of foot-and-mouth disease.
The Northern Ireland Ministry of Agriculture started the scheme about a year ago. First, it concentrated, very naturally, on the milking herds. When those had been dealt with, its attention was turned to the beef herds. I do not think that I need weary hon. Members by going into the difficulties which attach to any form of eradication scheme. We have had casualities, with numbers of cattle going down. One of the great difficulties is the replacement of those cattle when one does not know, when buying in the open market, whether the animals are clean or not.
I agree with hon. Members who have said that there is a great deal more brucellosis about than is generally thought. I have had experience of this in my constituency, particularly among my neighbours. One farmer had 22 milking cows. On testing, it was found that 15 reacted. A beef farmer who had a voluntary test carried out because there was so much abortion going on in his herd now has only 20 cows left out of 120. Another beef farmer who had a voluntary test carried out had approximately 80 cows. Now he has none. I do not think that my constituency is any more prone to disease than any other. This reinforces my belief that there is a great deal more brucellosis about than most people think.
Mention has been made of S.19. The trouble about S.19 is that when an 1718 animal which has had S.19 during its life is tested it reacts immediately. Then one is put in the difficult position of trying to convince the authorities that the reaction is due to the injection and not to the disease. One remains in a state of suspended anxiety as a farmer until the problem can be solved.
S.19 is being injected—and I am doing it myself—into heifer calves between the ages of four and eight months. After the injection the vet makes an entry or countersigns the entry in the herd book. Although the heifer calf, when it grows up, may react, one has proof that the reaction is probably due to the injection and not to the disease.
Reference has been made to compensation. There must be compensation if any eradication scheme is to be carried out effectively. Compensation was paid when the tuberculin test was enforced in my country and here. I think that compensation is essential because animals which are found to have this disease can be sold only for slaughter and for no other purpose. A proper and true valuation should be put on those animals and the farmer should be compensated. The farmer would not be completely compensated, because he has, perhaps, lost a breeding cow which he will find it very difficult to replace. Compensation very often sounds good, but in fact is not as generous as it might be.
I do not think there is anything more I can add except to tell the House that our scheme is working. Brucellosis gives us great anxiety, particularly among the smaller farmers, but we realise that it is one of those diseases which must be faced and eventually eradicated.
§ 12 noon.
§ Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)
I am glad to be able to intervene briefly in the debate and to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks. (Mr. Kitson) on having chosen this subject, which he has so rightly pressed in the House and outside. He is very knowledgeable about animal diseases and has put forward detailed arguments today. If I do not go into the important public health aspects of this subject it is only because it has been done so well and much more adequately than I could do it by the 1719 hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton). I wish to concentrate on the particular problem which brucellosis poses to the export of pedigree stock.
The speech which we have just heard from my noble Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Lord Robert Grosvenor) underlines very much the appreciation which many of us in this country have of the fact that Northern Ireland's efforts to eradicate animal diseases, and there have been several occasions when we have successfully used the quarantine facilities in Northern Ireland which are so important to our export drive.
Many organisations have written to the Ministry of Agriculture about this subject. One of them is the Livestock Export Council, of which I have the honour to be chairman. The figures of affected animals given by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, cannot be exactly accurate, because if a scheme were started I firmly believe that we should be certainly surprised if not horrified at the extent to which brucellosis is today affecting our herds. Anybody who has ever been on a farm which has had a herd affected by brucellosis, and has seen a farmer lose 15 cows, one after another, will realise what this disease can mean not only from the public health point of view, but in£s. d. out of the pocket may be of a small stock farmer.
I believe, therefore, that the Ministry should take action, and soon. The efforts of the Ministry to eliminate bovine tuberculosis have been very successful and, as hon. Members have said, the Ministry and its veterinary surgeons are to be congratulated on the way in which that was carried out.
I cannot see anything to prevent brucellosis being tackled now. Although the bovine tuberculosis problem is over and done with, testing continues and it is in the hands of private veterinary surgeons. I would still leave it there. It has now become very much part of the bread and butter of the private veterinary service. This will leave Ministry veterinary surgeons to carry on with the problems of tackling fowl pest, swine fever and brucellosis, which we are now urging the Minister to tackle. Hon. 1720 Members will remember how clean areas were started in the tuberculosis eradication scheme. Wales was one of the first areas to be clean, and I suggest that in places like the Isle of Wight a start could be made on tackling brucellosis straight away. Education must play a large part in this. If all stock farmers could understand how big the problem is they would co-operative with the Ministry in dealing with it.
In exports our greatest competitors are Holland and, as the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) said, Denmark, and there are also Canada and the United States. All these countries, and Finland, too, are either clean, or nearly clean, or have schemes for eradication. When I was in the United States, in 1947, people were talking then about brucellosis. This was a new word to me. I had always referred to the disease as contagious abortion. The Americans put it very high on their list of animal health projects and they have had a scheme going for a long time.
It is a comparison between what various countries are doing to eradicate brucellosis that possibly deters some of our customers and leads them to buy elsewhere. A few weeks ago we took a highly successful agricultural exhibition to Moscow. Among other stock we took 60 cattle. The Russians came here beforehand and toured the farms, in a fortnight's hard work and hard bargaining, and about 100 cattle were chosen, subject to test. When it came to testing, 17 of the animals were seen to react to brucellosis. Although that seems to be a large percentage it does not necessarily mean, as hon. Members have said, that all the animals had brucellosis. In many cases they were reacting owing to the fact that they had been innoculated with S.19. There was, however, a positive reaction on test in a great number of the cattle and this, among other factors, reduced the number taken to Moscow. The Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries are extremely particular about this. Their representatives take a great deal of convincing on the subject of positive brucellosis reaction.
I believe, therefore, that it is time that the Ministry took up this matter. It should delay no further. As has been said, delay would also be bad economy. If the disease can be tackled 1721 and eradicated it will eventually not be necessary to vaccinate at all. When that time comes we shall not have the problem which we have now in the reaction to the test because Section 19 will not show in the reaction and this will help with the export problem. I have added my few words to stress the importance of tackling this problem before it becomes any worse, and I hope that we shall have a helpful answer from my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture.
§ 12.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
It is a change from yesterday to have a debate of this kind. Today, there has been unanimity on both sides of the House on this non-controversial proposal.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Yorks (Mr. Kitson) on his eloquent and informative speech and, above all, on introducing a Motion of this importance. The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) speaks with knowledge as chairman of the Livestock Export Council and, as he has said, he has recently been to the Soviet Union. I saw him there trying to build up our prestige and negotiate with the Russians. I hope that he has achieved success. He deserves our congratulations. He has shown how important this matter is to our agricultural exports and how vital it is to remove disease where possible from our stock because of the great effect of this on our agricultural export industry.
The hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, gave us a great deal of information. Like other hon. Members, I have tried from time to time to acquaint myself with some knowledge of this disease. As a lay member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons it is, naturally, my duty to acquaint myself with what is happening. I am glad that hon. Members have paid tribute to members of the veterinary profession. I think that we have the finest veterinary surgeons in the world and that given opportunities, whether privately or under the Ministry, they will respond. I believe that they are anxious to do something to tackle this problem.
There is no question that we have the knowledge and the skill. We merely want the will from the administrative point of view. I hope, therefore, that 1722 hon. Members will forgive me if later I introduce a more controversial note when I consider the lack of co-operation between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health.
The disease was discovered by Sir David Bruce. There are three kinds of this disease. There is not just brucella abortus. If I may be pedantic, there are brucella suis, which came from swine, and also brucella melitensis. However, we are primarily considering brucella abortus, which leads to contagious abortion. We are concerned with this disease because it affects man, and we have had expert evidence from my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton), who in an excellent speech illustrated the hazards to health.
I do not intend to make a long speech, but I feel that the Ministry must have known of this disease for a long time. We have had from my hon. Friend an account of the discussions that took place between his. local authority and the joint Ministries in London. A committee was presided over by the noble Lord the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and negotiations have continued.
We have also had the benefit of the work by people concerned with the Oxford Working Group, and I am glad that the group has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) and by the hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks. All the information is available. I have details of it here, and, obviously, the Ministry has received the reports from the distinguished scientists who have made recommendations. I have a copy of the "Veterinary Record" of 13th October, 1962, giving in detail an account of this important part of their work and their recommendations to the Ministry. We know what these recommendations are. The Ministry has received them. All the scientists connected with the eradication of this disease, both veterinary and medical, have stressed the need for action.
As hon. Members have said, Britain is probably the only country in Europe which has not really tackled the problem, and this is a bad state of affairs. I should like to know from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food why there has been this long delay in taking 1723 action. Is it because of the burden that might be placed upon our veterinary practitioners, many of whom have been occupied with the eradication of bovine tuberculosis? There may be a reason, and I may possibly be able to understand it, though I do not think that it would be an adequate reason. It would be only an excuse. If there is a shortage of veterinary surgeons, let us be told. A committee has been set up to look into this matter and it may be that a report has already been received by the Ministry. If so, I hope that Parliament will be informed of the committee's findings.
Is the delay really due to a shortage of skilled practitioners, or is it due to some other reason? Have we an adequate supply of vaccine for compulsory vaccination? S.19 has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Lord Robert Grosvenor) as having been used in Northern Ireland. As he said, Northern Ireland is ahead of England and Wales. The hon. Member certainly need not apologise for intervening in a debate of this kind. Indeed, I am glad to know that Northern Ireland is leading and has taken the initiative.
Sometimes I think that Northern Ireland does not take initiative in other matters, but I do not wish to be controversial today. I am glad that Northern Ireland is doing so well in this respect, and I am glad to be able to pay tribute to that part of the country, for I always regard Northern Ireland as being with us. I certainly do not regard the hon. Member as an alien who has come here to lecture us. Why are we lagging behind? Surely the Minister of Agriculture, who is responsible for England and Wales, has contacts with Northern Ireland. Are we using Northern Ireland as a kind of pilot scheme?
The "Veterinary Record" and other magazines which I possess give detailed accounts of what has been done in other countries. The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) has said that some of our main export competitors—Holland, Denmark, Canada, the United States and Finland—have schemes for the eradication of this disease and, if they have not already eradicated it, are well on the way to doing so. I have an American journal 1724 produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association which contains an extremely interesting and detailed account of how bovine brucellosis was eradicated in Sweden. They had the will to do it, and, with the co-operation of the medical and veterinary professions, they have been successful. If Sweden can do it, surely England and Wales can.
I should like to know what the situation is in Scotland. As there is no Scottish Minister here today, perhaps the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture can give us some information. I do not want to exaggerate, but I think that we may well be surprised to find how extensive is this disease in our dairy industry. I do not wish to embarrass any Department. I merely wish the Government to get on with the job. I want no lethargy.
My hon. Friends the Members for Batley and Morley and for Rossendale have illustrated the experience of certain local authorities. We had an account of the activities of the Morley Borough Council, of the work and initiative of its medical officer of health and the attempts to prod the Ministries to do something. We have had reference to the experience in North Lancashire and an account of the work of Dr. Robinson at the Public Health Laboratory in Preston. We have heard about the problem of the "flying herd." I am glad to know that initiative is being taken by local authorities.
This is not just a matter of compulsory pasteurisation; it is a question also of eradicating completely the disease from our herds. I should like to know from the Ministry of Health why there was such a long delay in taking a decision on Regulation 20 of the Milk and Dairy Regulations, 1959. This delay has been going on for two years. Time after time we have had promises. My hon. Friend has read extracts from letters, and I do not think that he pitched his case too high. I should like a reply from the Minister, because I think that the situation is shocking.
In view of the menace to health and the effect of the disease on our agriculture, the Ministry must do something about it. We cannot afford a delay of this kind. If the Ministry had said to the Morley Borough Council, "We will 1725 take two years to do this", I am certain that the council would have reacted strongly. I am surprised that the council has been so patient, and I am glad that my hon. Friend has had an opportunity to raise the matter. Is there a lack of joint consultation between the two Ministries?
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Bernard Braine)
If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the circular not yet issued by my Department, to which his hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton) referred, I should like to say at once that there is no question of lack of interest in my Department or my hon. Friend's Department. The trouble is that science is advancing all the time and we still have to resolve the question of what is the best way to tackle the problem.
I am in this difficulty, that the hon. Gentleman, in an otherwise most generous speech, is challenging me although he knows very well that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture is to reply. I wish to make quite clear that there is no question of lack of coordination or of lack of interest. The matter is, in fact, nothing like as simple as he has suggested. I hope that he will be happy if his points are left to be answered by my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Peart
I am quite happy to leave the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture to reply. However, all that the hon. Gentleman is saying on behalf of the Ministry of Health is that they have information, it is a difficult scientific problem, but they lack the necessary decision. That is what it comes to, and I am criticising those who are responsible for the long delay in dealing with problems such as those in the specific case raised by the Morley Borough Council. I think that all hon. Members will agree that two years is too long to have to wait, and even now no decision has been reached. We have the knowledge.
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene again, I shall be glad to give way. Surely, he accepts that it is the job of Opposition spokesmen to probe these matters.
§ Mr. Braine
The hon. Gentleman is confusing the issue. The hon. Member for Batley and Morley referred to the fact that a circular which, it is known, has been in our minds for some time, has not yet been issued. But the hon. Member for Workington is now talking about the regulations, and the responsibility for those regulations rests with my hon. Friend's Department, the Ministry of Agriculture. He will answer about that.
In our view, those regulations are adequate, but, as regards the sending out of a circular to local authorities, this is a question of interpreting scientific information and data as it comes along. It is no use sending out a circular until we can be absolutely sure what is the right advice to give.
§ Mr. Peart
I am in no way confused. The circular will interpret the regulations. In a sense, there is a joint responsibility here. The Ministry of Health is responsible for public health and the Ministry of Agriculture deals specifically with disease affecting cattle. There is an overlap which is demonstrated by the very fact that a joint meeting was held of representatives of the Morley Borough Council, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health. I am not confused about it. All I know is that we are the only country in Western Europe which is doing nothing about it. This is a fact which has already been stressed.
In speaking of the Morley Borough Council, I am only giving an example of a local authority which has felt frustrated, to put it no higher, by the dilatoriness of a Government Department. I should have thought that the Minister would welcome my intervention. He must accept that is the business of an Opposition to prod lethargic Departments. If my words filter down through the Parliamentary Secretary to his staff—I am not criticising them as individuals, of course—they may have an effect in getting them to move more quickly on the job. This is really the message from all hon. Members this morning.
This is not a party matter. The hon. Gentleman need not be worried if I am saying this from the Opposition Front Bench. He will probably be saying similar things to me very soon, the other way round. I shall not fight the election on brucellosis, but I have no doubt that, 1727 when there is a change of Government, the hon. Gentleman will remind me of my speech this morning.
From all their varying points of view, hon. Members have pressed for action. The hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) told us how the disease is increasing in his own county. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale has told us about what has been happening in North Lancashire. The hon. Member for Hereford, the chairman of our Livestock Export Council, who represents a very important agricultural area, has told us about affairs there. We have heard from the hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, who is a practical farmer, and we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley who is a doctor. From Northern Ireland, too, information has been brought by the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, who is a farmer in his county. Everyone has pleaded with the Government to do something.
The hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, can take pride in the fact that he has introduced this Motion and united all parties behind him in the House to make the Government get on with the job.
§ 12.26 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Scott-Hopkins)
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Kitson) for tabling his Motion, and I say at once that I am happy to accept it on behalf of the Government. As a matter of policy, my right hon. Friends are anxious to eradicate any disease of livestock which lends itself to such a course and which has either an economic or public health significance. This is what they have been doing, and this is what they intend to do—I say this for the benefit of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart)—when they are returned to power at the next election.
As the House knows, this country has already achieved a great deal in animal health, though we recognise that there is a great deal still to be done. As the hon. Member for Workington himself said, we are fortunate in having a really 1728 first-class State veterinary service, and the private veterinary profession, equally first-class, is a great help to us. Moreover, our farming community has demonstrated its willingness to co-operate in the eradication of all diseases where it is possible to do so. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will join me in that.
I welcome the unanimity of view expressed in the House today, but, before I go on to talk about eradication schemes for contagious abortion, I shall try to explain exactly what is involved. A great deal of work has been done on this disease and on others as well. In some diseases, such as swine fever, there is only one way to wipe out the infection, that is, to destroy every animal in the herd in which the disease is found. In other diseases, of which brucellosis is one, the spread of infection is slow and the proportion of animals infected in any one herd will generally be relatively small. I am speaking of the proportion of animals now, not of the milk. Thus, it would be an extremely wasteful operation to wipe out a whole herd because of a few reactors. Instead, we should have to proceed—I am sure that my hon. Friends will agree—in much the same way as we did for the eradication of bovine tuberculosis. This means that we should have to test all animals, eliminate reactors, and then keep on testing again and again until we were satisfied that the disease had been removed.
It will be realised that the blood test reaction introduced by the vaccination of animals later than the eighth month of life tends to persist indefinitely. My hon. Friends the Members for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) and for Richmond, Yorks mentioned this point. Many such animals would have to be classified as reactors and removed from the herd even though they were not actually infected. This is one of the matters which has not been fully appreciated, I think, in some of the discussions which have gone on, and it has not been fully taken into account in some of the figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks and the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton) when speaking about milk which had been tested and the amount of it which had reacted positively to the test for brucellosis.
1729 The House will realise that if a cow or a heifer is vaccinated with Strain 19 after the age of eight months it will react to the brucellosis blood test and the milk will react to the ring test. As my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central said, if heifers are inoculated with Strain 19 between five and eight months of age, the blood test reaction disappears in a short time and does not show in the milk. Although the animal will be given immunity for at least five pregnancies if not more, the milk from the animal will not show a positive reaction. I say this to explain why there is a discrepancy between some of the figures used by my hon. Friend and the figures which I shall mention.
Obviously, to carry out an eradication scheme would be a major operation, and occupy a great deal of the time of members of the veterinary service both public and private. Special movement controls would have to be set up to keep brucellosis-free herds of cattle away from infected herds. Special sections of cattle markets would have to be set aside for this purpose. The hon. Member for Batley and Morley referred to the sale of animals suffering from brucellosis. There are no regulations which prevent the sale of such animals unless the animal has recently aborted.
An eradication scheme would be extremely costly. There would have to be inspection and supervision, and particularly would it be costly in terms of the compensation which would have to be paid. It could, of course, be done and, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Lord Robert Grosvenor), in Northern Ireland it is being done. There the problem is different. About 6 or 7 per cent. of the herds were infected before the eradication scheme was started. This meant that about 1½per cent. of the animals were infected. At the same time, the resources of veterinary surgeons, both public and private, were not over-strained by schemes to eradicate other diseases such as we have in this country. I am delighted that this eradication work is being carried out in Northern Ireland. We shall learn from its operation which we are watching with great interest.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) referred to the 1730 importance of the export trade and mentioned various countries in Europe and elsewhere where there were eradication schemes. My hon. Friend will know that when we export our cattle we apply the tests which are insisted upon by the countries concerned, for example, Russia, and my hon. Friend mentioned the recent Moscow exhibition. I agree that brucellosis does not help our export trade but we must not exaggerate the matter. The loss is not that great and as the Strain 19 vaccination programme progresses I hope that we shall be able to move further and faster. The House will agree that we must do everything possible to assist the export trade in pedigree livestock.
From what I said about the cost and the difficulty of introducing an eradication scheme it follows that we must move with discretion. We ought not to embark on any disease eradication programme if there is a measurable risk of endangering what has been achieved in the eradication of other animal diseases in this country. We must accept the fact that our veterinary manpower and laboratory facilities—this second factor was not dwelt upon by the hon. Member for Workington—are not limitless, and neither are the financial resources which it would be necessary to devote to this sort of work.
We still carry out tuberculosis testing on about 8 million cattle a year. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks asked what was being done about tuberculosis testing. It has always been the intention since the tuberculosis eradication scheme was introduced that at the proper time there would be a decrease in the amount of testing which would be carried out. About 20 per cent. of the cattle in the country are now to be tested once every two years. The remainder are tested yearly. An assessment has to be made of what areas are essentially free and I can assure hon. Members that where there is any question of tuberculosis in the milking herds, or in any herd, the test will continue at least once every year and if necessary more frequently. A scheme to eradicate brucellosis cannot be embarked upon unless we are sure that we can carry it on with sufficient momentum and at the same time meet the needs of 1731 the tuberculosis programme. It would be wrong to hide the fact that this programme does stretch our resources. I hope that as the burden of tuberculosis testing moderates we shall be left with a little more capacity in the veterinary services.
I do not want to minimise the economic importance of the livestock industry, not only in respect of the export trade, in which my hon. Friend is so interested, but also in relation to the agriculture industry generally. Nor do I wish to minimise the health hazards which we have discussed. This matter is of particular concern to those who consume raw milk and to those who have to work with infected animals. As hon. Members will know, that is one way in which the disease can be transferred. Nevertheless brucellosis cannot be regarded in the same way as bovine tuberculosis which in the mid-1930s was estimated to be present in at least 40 per cent. of the dairy cattle and to cause 2,500 deaths among humans each year. At that time it represented a major health hazard. This disease is not of the same proportion. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks emphasised that we must not exaggerate the hazard to human health, but I accept that we must not minimise the dangers or difficulties which arise from time to time in various places.
We have recently carried out a survey on dairy herds, and we shall publish it later this year. The survey leads us to believe that about 2 per cent. of the dairy cows are infected. Only about 0.4 per cent. of all pregnancies end in abortion due to brucellosis, not the 2 per cent. which was mentioned by my hon. Friend. At least 96 per cent. or a little more, of the milk sold by retail is heat treated, and the hon. Member for Batley and Morley rightly said that heat-treated milk is completely safe in this respect. The risk of infection being transmitted to humans through drinking raw milk is thus quite small in relation to the population as a whole. We must keep this in proper proportion.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks mentioned the figure of 130-odd confirmed cases 1732 of human brucellosis. My hon. Friend said that he was given a figure of 500 to 1,000 suspected cases. The hon. Member for Batley and Morley suggested that there might be cases which had not been reported and were not known because the disease was difficult to diagnose, and I accept this. The hon. Member also knows, however, that the only way of ascertaining whether a person has this disease is by a blood test. I am advised that the figure is not in the region of 500 or 1,000, but is about 130.
§ Mr. Kitson
I feel that we are guessing on this one and I should like to explain where my figures came from. Sir Graham Wilson, head of the Public Health Laboratory Service, estimated that there were two and a half times more cases of brucellosis than were reported annually. In addition, one of the most knowledgeable people on human brucellosis, Sir Weldron Dalrymple-Champneys, a former Deputy-Chief Medical Officer to the Ministry of Health, gave a figure of 1,300 cases a year. I stressed that I did not want to exaggerate. We can only take the figures from people who are extremely knowledgeable in the disease, and that is what I was attempting to do.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
My hon. Friend will, I hope, realise that the Government have to take the figures as they are known and proved.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
If the hon. Member had not been quite as impetuous in leaping to his feet, I was explaining that those are the cases that we know of and which are reported and that the only certain way of knowing whether a person has the disease is by the taking of a blood test, which is reported upon by the laboratory, which passes the information back to us, so that we know how many tests are taken and how many instances of the disease occur. This is the way of knowing for certain the number of people—currently about 130—who have contracted the disease.
There is, of course, the possibility of understatement—though this is guesswork—due to the fact that the disease is difficult to diagnose and that there may 1733 be people who have it without realising it. Indeed, some of the medical profession may not be certain about it.
§ Mr. Kitson
We could overcome the whole problem if only the Minister of Health made the disease notifiable. Then, we would not have to argue about it further.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
I shall mention notifiable diseases presently. The point of making a disease notifiable is to be able to trace its source and to deal with it.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
I am glad that the hon. Member agrees with me. He also knows that although the disease is not at present notifiable, it is traced as quickly as possible by the public health authorities going around and testing untreated milk. Local authorities have an obligation to do this. In this way they find out where raw or untreated milk is infected with brucellosis just as quickly as they would do if it became a notifiable disease, the testing for which would take a long time.
I do not want to leave any confusion about the figures or to get the matter out of proportion. I accept that there are approximately 141 confirmed cases of which we know. Because of the difficulties which have been described, there may be undiagnosed cases, but one cannot base statistics on speculation, neither can the action which has been asked for be taken on that basis. Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health regularly advises that if only raw milk can be bought in an area, it should be heated before drinking because of the danger of contracting undulant fever. In addition, medical officers of health have the power to require that milk which contains, or is suspected of containing, organisms harmful to man is heat treated before being sold for human consumption.
It has been suggested that the problem could be solved from the public health angle by the simple expedient of requiring that all milk should be heat treated before sale, but this is not as easy as it sounds. I am glad that the hon. Member for Batley and Morley was so courteous about his meeting with my noble Friend concerning the problems in his constituency. The point has been mainly answered by my hon. Friend 1734 the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, who cleared up the difficulties which seem to exist in the mind of the hon. Member for Workington about Regulation No. 20. As the hon. Member knows, the Regulations are in operation. The circular to which the hon. Member for Batley and Morley referred is a matter of interpretation. What struck me about the hon. Member's speech was his statement that the Morley local authority took action under Regulation No. 20 and secured a conviction of the farmer who sold the milk.
§ Dr. Broughton
The local authority could take action and secure a conviction only after the farmer had contravened the instructions which had been given to him. The trouble was that the powers given to the local authority under Regulation No. 20 were considered by the Morley Council to be insufficient. If they had been sufficient—if all the milk could always have been pasteurised—the trouble would not have arisen.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
I do not want to carry the point too far. At a given moment of time, the council took action. The fact that it took action after a rather long interval is not the point which we are debating now. When, however, action was taken under Regulation No. 20, a conviction was secured against the person who was selling the raw, untreated milk which contained the brucellosis organism. Perhaps we may leave it at that.
The hon. Member for Workington became excited concerning the guidance circular and chided me with his usual political point about what we were doing. The hon. Member must not get too excited. The facts do not bear out his contention. There is continuous scientific advance in this matter. Consultations are continuing interdepartmentally in the light of scientific knowledge, which is progressing all the time. I hope that the circular will be sent out before long.
I have referred to the difficulties which undoubtedly would arise if new regulations were to require all milk to be heat treated. Some consumers in remote areas already find it difficult enough to get milk supplies, but those difficulties would be greatly increased and become much more widespread if heat 1735 treatment were made compulsory. Few producers would find it economic to install facilities, and transport and other costs would make it expensive for urban dairies to distribute treated milk in these areas. Furthermore, there is always the risk that farmers and their families who consume raw milk would get the infection, and there are also people who insist upon drinking untreated, raw milk. It is a matter of personal prejudice and there is no reason why they should not do so.
It is important to remember that that is one of the reasons why my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has insisted that milk which has not been heat treated should be sold under the name "untreated." "Untreated" will be the designated name. My right hon. Friend did not succumb to the many suggestions put forward, some of which were glamorous and fancy names which people wanted to call this 3.per cent. of raw milk which our fellow countrymen drink. Therefore, untreated milk really is untreated milk, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend was right to stick to this.
The main attack of the hon. Member for Workington was that we were doing nothing. That is not true. Our main attack on brucellosis at the moment is through the calf vaccination service which from May 1962 to this 'year has been completely free to the farmer. An hon. Member said that perhaps farmers who get something for nothing rather tend to despise it because of that, and one of my hon. Friends wanted us, therefore, to make it compulsory. I do not believe that this is so. I believe that farmers are the most hardheaded and reasonable people whom one could meet. The fact that this service is free in no way deters the increased use of it, and neither would our making it compulsory change the farmer's attitude to it.
But we do not pretend that the response has been as great as we would wish. On the face of it, it is difficult to understand why the farmers—I do not believe that it is because it is free—have not taken up the valuable benefit which this service offers. I think that one of the reasons given as to why this may be is because some farmers have probably never seen an "abortion storm." I have not myself, but I went to a farm a short 1736 time after it had happened, and I was absolutely horrified by what I heard and by what I saw from what was left around. The herd was completely desolated. It is a terrifying experience.
It has also been said that the method of identifying vaccinated animals is difficult. We accept this and we shall be going over to the use of distinctive ear tags, I hope on 1st October this year. At the same time, we intend to increase publicity for the service in an endeavour to increase participation.
The object of calfhood vaccination which would normally protect an animal against abortion for at least five pregnancies is to reduce actual abortions and therefore the weight of infection to which the national herd is exposed. Vaccination at the correct age—I cannot too strongly emphasise this point—will also build up a herd highly protected against the disease and could also produce the conditions favourable to freeing the country from brucellosis altogether.
I think that I have covered the point why the disease should not be made notifiable. We have often been asked why brucellosis is not notifiable in cattle and why we allow infected cattle to be sold in the open market and so possibly disseminate the disease further. I can understand the concern about this, but both requirements must, I am afraid, wait until we can embark on a formal eradication scheme.
One of the greatest difficulties with this disease, is that, in perhaps the majority of cases, infected animals which do not abort, show no clinical signs of the disease, and it would be quite useless, in the context of eradication, to remove a few identifiable infected cows or heifers whilst leaving the many numerous carriers untouched.
This goes back to the point which I made earlier that cows that have been vaccinated over the age of 8 months react to the blood test right through their lives. This difficulty of identifying the disease means that an eradication scheme would have to be based on serological tests on milk and blood. A Departmental study group of experts has been set up to look into and report on the future control of brucellosis in cattle in this country. The recommendations of this group will be considered with the results of the survey and of the 1737 report and also the reports which we get from other animal health departments, concerning swine fever and so on.
As my right hon. Friend said in reply to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, on 11th May, he intends to review the whole position along with the full text of the survey and the reports. Until it has been carried out, my right hon. Friend naturally cannot give any undertaking that he will, in fact, be able to initiate a formal brucellosis eradication scheme
I can assure hon. Members that everything that has been said in this debate will be closely studied by both my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I am sure that the House will agree that the measures we have hitherto taken to control and eradicate other diseases such as tuberculosis, sheep scab and foot-and-mouth disease have been most successful, and we are now engaged in a campaign for the eradication of swine fever. It is particularly gratifying for me to say that there has been no foot-and-mouth disease in Britain or in Northern Ireland since June, 1962. This is the longest period of freedom we have had since 1907.
I am sorry that I cannot give my hon. Friend the categorical assurance which he and other hon. Members want that an eradication scheme will be introduced immediately. I hope that the House will agree that we are not unmindful of this disease. We realise the problems and we have taken the sense of the House this morning. I hope that the House will realise how deeply we feel about this matter and that we are not unmindful of all the hazards, not only to farmers, but to human health as well, which this disease in cattle presents. We recognise, particularly, the importance of eradication of brucellosis from the national herd. Finally, may I repeat to my hon. Friend and to the House that we accept my hon. Friend's Motion.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the continued existence of the condition known as brucellosis in cattle in this country, takes note of Her Majesty's Government's efforts to reduce the incidence of the disease through the calfhood
vaccination scheme and the free calf vaccination scheme and hopes that, in view of the transmissibility of the disease to man, Her Majesty's Government will consider introducing further measures designed to eradicate the disease in cattle.