HC Deb 17 November 1969 vol 791 cc857-61
Mr. Godber

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement about the further case of rabies reported over the weekend and what new action he is taking in regard to this matter.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes)

On 13th November a dog at Folkestone—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are still on very serious business.

Mr. Hughes

On 13th November a dog at Folkestone kennels showed symptoms suspicious of rabies. It was destroyed at the owner's request. Laboratory examination revealed the presence of rabies.

The dog is known to have been in an area of West Germany where rabies is prevalent. However, as a precaution I have placed restrictions on all the 15 dogs which have been released from this block of these kennels since the first case was reported there in July. These dogs have been placed under house arrest. They may only be exercised on a leash and wearing a muzzle. Their owners have been asked to report any suspicious symptoms. In addition, these dogs are being regularly inspected by my veterinary staff.

I have also placed a temporary ban on any further releases from this block of kennels pending receipt of the report of the inquiry which I announced in the House on 29th October. I hope to receive this report within a few days.

Mr. Godber

We are, of course, awaiting that report. I am glad to know that it is coming soon. In the meantime, may I ask one or two questions arising from the Minister's statement? Could he tell us, now that these three cases have been confirmed, arising from the same kennels, whether there is not, at least in his view, strong circumstantial evidence that cross-infection could have taken place there?

Secondly, while we were glad to hear what he had to say about further release, is he taking that to the extent of restraining further releases for a period of up to six months from the last infection with which they have been in contact or could have been in contact with infected animals?

Thirdly, with regard to the 15 dogs already released, which he tells us are now under house arrest, is he really satisfied that a precaution of this nature is adequate? Ought not these dogs be put back into quarantine until he is satisfied?

Mr. Hughes

On the question of cross-infection, it is impossible to say at this stage whether that took place. We should await the results of the inquiry to see whether it will have any information.

The 15 dogs which have been released are under restraint and veterinary surveillance. This method is accepted by veterinary authorities throughout the world as an effective control for this small number of animals. The dogs who are at present in this block are not to be released, certainly until we have received the report of the inquiry.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the whole House will be relieved that this further case of rabies affected a dog already in quarantine? Is he also aware that what has happened now puts into perspective some of the criticisms levelled against him on the previous occasion?

Mr. Hughes

I am obliged. Certainly, the outbreak which has occurred has fully justified the quarantine period which we have insisted upon.

Sir Richard Glyn

Will the Minister say a little more about the risks and dangers of cross-infection occurring in these quarantine kennels? Will he tell us whether it is correct that all three of these dogs were in the same compound in the kennels? Is it correct that they were all exercised in the same exercising area?

Would he agree that an infected dog can transmit rabies through its saliva, and possibly its excrement? Since the animals are infected for an appreciable time before the dog in question shows symptoms of rabies, could he help the House on this point?

Mr. Hughes

The regulations on this question are strict. Dogs must be exercised quite separately, and on the evidence which I have before me at present it is quite clear that this was so. This is a matter into which the inquiry will look and we should await its report. As for contagion, rabies is passed by saliva being placed on an open wound, not by saliva in the ordinary way.

Mr. Roebuck

Would my right hon. Friend confirm that this infection came from a Common Market country where the regulations for keeping animals in quarantine are much more lax than they are here? Can he say that the Government, in pursuit of their application to join the Common Market, will ensure that we have a safeguard with respect to our quarantine arrangements, so that we can remain one of the few countries in Europe which does not have this scourge?

Mr. Hughes

I would be grateful if my hon. Friend would put that question down to the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Amery

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what the implications of his statement are in the light of the Prime Minister's policy statement that every dog is allowed one bite?

Mr. Arthur Lewis

My right hon. Friend has said something about imposing restrictions at the kennels and about the various steps that have been taken. He has told us that these dogs come from an area in West Germany where rabies is prevalent. He has not said anything about placing a restriction on dogs coming from West Germany while this danger remains. Could he not put a restriction on any dogs coming from West Germany until this matter is cleared up?

Mr. Hughes

It is important for the House to remember that rabies is endemic in many countries in Europe and Asia quite apart from West Germany. I am reviewing our safeguards against the introduction of this disease from any country in the light of the report which I expect to receive in a few days' time.

Sir B. Craddock

Having had the appalling experience of once seeing a human being suffering from rabies—and everyone realises what that means—may I ask the Minister whether he has considered the possibility of extending the quarantine period—say, from six to 12 months?

Mr. Hughes

As I said in the House a fortnight ago, the period of six months is the longest period imposed by any country. The World Health Organisation recommends four months. But the question whether the period should be extended beyond six months is clearly one which I shall have to consider in the light of the report.

Mr. Onslow

This is a serious matter and the House will be glad that the Minister is taking it as such. Would he consider whether it would be in the wider public interest that dogs which possibly have been exposed to infection should be taken back into quarantine kennels where they are released to their owners' custody?

Mr. Hughes

I have dealt with that question. I have considered it very carefully. It is one of the questions which I shall have to consider in the light of the report which I shall be receiving and which I shall be making available to the House in a few days.

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