HL Deb 27 February 1866 vol 181 cc1188-93

, in rising to move for a copy of a Memorial to the Privy Council from the Proprietors and Tenant Farmers of Kincardineshire, praying for the suspension of that part of the Act of 29 Vict. c. 2, Clause 15, which relates to the slaughter of cattle, and for a Copy of the answer to that Memorial, said: The memorial for which I move is one which I am told had been signed by a large number of men of the highest standing in the county of Kincardine, and by many of the most respectable tenant-farmers of that county. I have not seen the memorial; but I understand that the memorialists state that, under a system of cure which they have recently adopted, they have succeeded in saving 90 per cent of the cases submitted to that treatment. The memorial is signed, amongst others, by Sir Thomas Gladstone; and it is possible that your Lordships may have observed a letter from that gentleman in the morning papers of to-day, in which he states that out of fifty-three cases submitted to a particular mode of treatment, no less than forty-seven are doing well. Now, I think it is very desirable at this time that cases of this kind should be brought under your Lordships' consideration. You have recently passed an Act authorizing the indiscriminate slaughter of cattle; and I think it is right, if that Act is to be continued in operation without any modification whatever, that you should be made aware of what it is you are doing, so that if this principle of indiscriminate slaughter is to be persisted in, it will at least not be carried out in ignorance of the consequences. Now, my Lords, I observe that Her Majesty's Commissioners, in their second Report of the cattle plague, after giving the number of diseased animals which were killed, what died, what recovered, and what were unaccounted for out of 120,740 cases down to the 27th January, go on to say— From the above figures it will have been observed that as the number of diseased animals killed has diminished, the percentage of attacks among the animals exposed to infection has increased, whilst the percentage of deaths from disease among the animals attacked has risen still more steadily and in a greater proportion. Were slaughtering entirely abandoned the recoveries would probably not exceed 15 per cent. I think that the recent Returns bear out the results of that observation. According to the last Return, if you take throughout the whole country, the average number of recoveries as compared with the total number of cases does not amount to more than 12 per cent. But there is nothing more remarkable than the amount to which the death-rate varies in different localities. I am afraid, in order to make myself fully understood, that I shall have to trouble your Lordships with some figures; but a matter of this kind is one which turns almost entirely upon figures and statistics. I take it that your object is to save as large a number of cattle as possible; and it he-comes a question of figures whether it is desirable to slaughter a certain number, and what percentage of the animals attacked recover. Turning to the last Report which has been issued by the Veterinary Department of the Privy Council, I find that in the English counties the percentage of recoveries to cases has been rather more than 10 per cent—about 10½ per cent. In the Metropolitan Police district the percentage of recoveries has been 4, and in Wales 12; while in Scotland it has been 20 per cent, so that hero you have a margin of nearly 16 per cent between the greatest proportion and the smallest proportion of the recoveries in different districts. But the discrepancy, I say, is still more remarkable in the percentage of recoveries if you take particular districts. To show this, I will take four counties in England and four counties in Scotland. I will take in England the counties of Cambridge, Chester, York, and Kent. In those counties I find that from the first outbreak of the disease down to the 19th of February, there have died from the disease, and been killed as diseased animals, 51,863; 7,392 have recovered, so that the average of recoveries to deaths has been 1 to 7. In Cambridgeshire, 4,656 died and were killed; 356 recovered, and the proportion of recoveries to deaths was 1 to 13. In Cheshire, 28,480 died; 7,506 recovered—the proportion of recoveries being 1 to 11. In Yorkshire, 17,365 died, and 4,445 recovered—the proportion being 1 to 4; and in Kent, 1,362 died, 85 recovered—the proportion being 1 to 16. I will now take four Scotch counties—Forfarshire, Perthshire, Kincardineshire, and Clackmannanshire. In those counties the total number of deaths has been 12,945, and of recoveries, 4,819—showing an average of about 1 recovery to 3 deaths. In Forfarshire, 8,292 died, and 2,971 recovered—the proportion being about 1 to 3; in Perthshire, 3,424 died, and 1,336 recovered—the proportion being 1 to 3; in Kincardineshire, 983 died, and 323 recovered—the proportion being still 1 to 3; and Clackmannanshire, 246 died, and 189 recovered—the proportion of recoveries being 2 to 3. That Report is from the commencement of the disease down to the 17th February; but if you simply look at the return for the week ending February 17 last, the discrepancy is still greater. In the four English counties I have already referred to, 4,800 died, 733 recovered —the proportion of recoveries to deaths being a little more than 1 to 7, or nearly the same as during the whole continuance of the disease. But in the four Scotch counties of Forfar, Perth, Kincardine, and Clackmannan the total deaths were 797 to 422 recoveries—the proportion of recoveries having risen from 1 to 3 to rather more than 1 to 2; and these figures include also many of the old cases. In Forfarshire, 408 died and 206 recovered—the proportion of recoveries being 1 in 2. In Perthshire, 276 died and 136 recovered— the proportion being 1 in 2. In Kiucardineshire, 104 died and 69 recovered—the proportion being 3 in 5; and in Clackmannanshire the deaths were 7 against 11 recoveries—the proportion of recoveries being 11 to 7. In the English counties the average has not changed; but in the Scotch counties, while the average during the whole period was three deaths to each recovery, during the week ending the 17th February there were only two deaths to each recovery. I said the other day that in the county of Forfar the percentage of recoveries now amounts to nearly 50 per cent. I believe that I was within the mark in making that statement, for my hon. Friend the Member for the county of Forfar, who is himself a practical agriculturist and is thoroughly conversant with that part of the country, informs me that in the case of milch cows the farmers in Forfarshire now succeed in saving two out of every three. One of them writes as follows:— In fact, deaths are becoming the exception wherever the owners are watchful and discover the first symptoms in time. He adds— The farmers here are almost panic-struck by the strangeness of the Bill. They were in hopes of a large number of recoveries. In a letter from another farmer in the same county, the writer states that if the Act is put in force 2,000 cattle will be slaughtered, with regard to which at present there is a fair chance that from 1,800 to 1,900 might be saved. It is not only in Kincardineshire that the provisions of this Act are looked upon with consternation, but in Forfarshire, Aberdeenshire, and all the adjoining counties the greatest alarm and terror have been spread. And who can wonder at it? It is not the mere value of the animals destroyed, but the whole machinery of farming will be thrown out of gear. If the animals were destroyed where is the manure to come from? And, if the farmer cannot get manure, how is he to go on cultivating the land at all? I have never opposed the principle of extirpating the disease by slaughter when it can be done at a proper time and in a proper way. When the disease first breaks out, and you have only ten or fifteen centres of infection to deal with, by all means do all you can to extirpate the disease; but when it has ravaged a county from end to end—and in some counties at this moment there is hardly a single sound beast—it is the height of folly to apply the same iron rule as in cases in which the disease is only just appearing. And let me remind your Lordships that it is not only the animals affected by the disease that you run the risk of extirpating by this summary proceeding. Let me call your attention to what occurred the other day at Montrose. Professor Simonds, the Government inspector, went down there to report upon certain cures which were alleged to have been effected by Mr. Worms. Mr. Simonds reported that many of the cases were not cases of cattle plague at all. Now, if they were cases of cattle plague, Mr. Worms has succeeded in curing them; and if they were not cases of cattle plague the local inspector had certified them as such, and under this Act they must have been slaughtered. Surely, if the Government are to tie up the hands of the local anthorities by stringent rules, they are hound to furnish officers who can tell when an animal is suffering from the cattle plague and when it is not. When I turn to another section of the Act which you have passed, I find that you have made the inspectors absolute in this matter. It is provided in that section that the certificate of an inspector to the local authorities declaring that an animal is infected shall be conclusive evidence in all Courts of Justice and Law that the animal has been so infected; so that by that means you leave it in the hands of these ignorant inspectors appointed by the local authorities to slaughter wherever they think proper. We have heard a good deal about the recommendations of the Royal Commission; but I do not recollect that the Royal Commissioners distinctly in so many words do recommend the slaughter of animals. On the contrary, I find in the evidence given before the Commission a great deal that goes against the indiscriminate slaughter of cattle. I find that Professor Gertach, who was examined in Austria, only recommended slaughtering when the disease is confined to a small space. In France, a discretionary power is given to the prefects to slaughter. In Austria slaughter is only resorted to while the plague is confined within narrow limits. After it has spread beyond a certain range, it is considered that all attempts to extirpate the disease by destroying the animals is hopeless, and that the only remedy is rigid isolation. Under all these circumstances, I think it very difficult to acquit the Government of blame for the course they have taken in regard to the Bill that was passed the other day. We were told by Members of the Government again and again that the Sill had been hastily drawn up, and that it had been prepared in a great hurry. But I want to know why it was prepared in a hurry? The cattle plague was nothing new. We had had the cattle plague in the country for seven months; and the evidence given to the Royal Commissioners bad been before us for three months. Surely in the time that had happened since then the Government might have framed a measure worthy of being presented to Parliament when it met. I do hope that the Government will, at all events, consider it their duty to institute an inquiry in those districts where the disease appears to be just making its appearance. They ought to send persons down to ascertain first if the cases reported as cases of disease are really cases of cattle plague; and they should not allow this indiscriminate slaughter to go on without at all events giving us good reason to hope that it is absolutely required. The noble Earl concluded by moving an Address for— Copy of a Memorial to the Privy Council from the Proprietors and Tenant Farmers of Kincardineshire, praying for the Suspension of that Part of the Act of 29th Vict. Cap. 2. Clause 15, which relates to the Slaughter of Cattle; and for a Copy of the Answer to that Memorial."— (The Earl of Airlie.)


said, he did not think it necessary that he should now enter into discussion on a point which had been decided only a few days ago by a very large majority of their Lordships. He did not think it would lead to any practical purpose to go into the question, but he had no objection whatever to the production of the correspondence for which the noble Earl had moved.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at a quarter before Seven o'clock, till Thursday next, half past Ten o'clock.