HL Deb 27 February 1866 vol 181 cc1179-86

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I rise, in pursuance of an understanding come to last night, to move the second reading of this Bill. As I stated on that occasion, the Bill is not one which, while moving its second reading, I can treat in the ordinary way. It is usual, when the Government asks your Lordships to read a Bill a second time, for the Minister to defend its principle, and also to defend the details by which that principle is to be applied; but I cannot take that course on this occasion. As I understand it, the object of the Bill is to give effect to an opinion entertained by agriculturists and other persons that in regard to restrictions on the movement of cattle a uniform rule should be established all over the country, so as to avoid that confusion which it is supposed might arise from various regulations issued by local authorities by virtue of Orders of the Privy Council. I need scarcely observe that the subject is a very difficult one to deal with; and in any comments which I may offer on this Bill, I wish it to be understood that in no sort of way do I make any reflection on the hon. Gentleman the Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt), who in the preparation of the Bill and its carriage through the other House bestowed so much attention on a subject so difficult and at the same time so important. The principle of the Bill is to prevent the movement of cattle by highways, canals, or rivers from the 1st of March to the 24th of the same month; but so many exceptions were found necessary that, as I stated yesterday, no less than sixteen were formally introduced into the Bill; and there are some additions to even those sixteen exceptions. The first provides that within any district which the Privy Council may declare free from the disease nothing in the Act shall prevent the removal of live beasts. In the same clause certain powers are given to the local authorities of these same districts to impose restrictions or conditions on the introduction of live beasts into their districts, and on the removal of beasts from place to place within them. Then there is an exception, in accordance with which beasts may be moved from one building, yard, or field to another, in the same occupation, on the public highway, for a distance of 200 yards; and a further exception, by which the distance may be increased to two miles in cases where a licence shall have been procured for the purpose of the immediate slaughter of the beasts at a slaughterhouse. Your Lordships will find that Scotland has been more liberally dealt with than England in regard to exceptions, for while in this country the distance for which cattle can be moved on any highway for the purpose of slaughter is limited to six miles, in Scotland there is no limit to the distance for which beasts may be moved for that purpose—in fact, an animal may be brought through the most infected counties of Scotland. Another of the exceptions is one in favour of sound milch cows moved in a covered van for the purpose of being placed on a vessel outward bound. There are exceptions permitting the moving of animals for breeding purposes. Another exception enables persons to send sound calves not more than twenty-one days old on any highway, in a cart or other vehicle, for a distance of ten miles, and there is another exception with respect to beasts imported. My Lords, I do not mean to cavil with these exceptions; but the mere fact that they are to be found in the Bill shows how difficult a question this is to deal with in detail. Those who have supported the principle of the Bill insist on the necessity of uniformity in the regulations against the cattle plague; but when we find that to the one general and principal provision of the Bill there are these numerous exceptions, I submit we are much more likely to create confusion than to establish any clear rule, and I fear we may conclude it will be quite impossible to have the details of the measure generally understood within the short time during which they are to be in force. It would appear that three weeks would not be too long a time to allow the local authorities to master the provisions of the Bill and put them in operation; but by that time these provisions will have expired. It is quite true that the Privy Council are to have power in regard to a renewal of restrictions; but from the first it has been contemplated by every one that at an early date all restrictions on the movement of cattle must be put a stop to; because it would be impossible to keep them in operation at the period when there is a considerable change of tenancy, and I need hardly observe that if we allow such provisions as these to drop and afterwards take them up again, such a proceeding will lead to very great confusion. On the whole, my Lords, I cannot but think that though the principle of this Bill is one of uniform restriction, yet so limited is the operation of that principle, owing to these numerous exceptions, that the provisions of the Bill are not so stringent as those which are being carried out by the local authorities under the authority of the Orders in Council. From the information which we are receiving I learn that the system in operation under the local authorities is now working very well. I cannot ask your Lordships to pledge yourselves to any particular provisions of this Bill, some of which I do not myself approve. At the same time, there are some of its clauses which will be very valuable additions to the Cattle Diseases Bill; and therefore I think we should do well to read it a second time, with a view to its careful consideration in Committee. There are many clauses which it would be a pity not to pass, and there are others which, with slight modifications in Committee, can be rendered very useful. There is apparently no reason, for instance, in cases where cattle are being illegally removed, why it should require but one justice to deal with the offending driver, while it requires two to deal with the beast. Clauses relating to the removal of hides, and also to the point which the noble Earl opposite mentioned the other evening as to the difficulty in some cases of finding a sufficient quantity of earth to inter diseased animals, are also, I think, susceptible of useful handling in Committee. Upon the clauses relating to cattle-trucks, pens, and one very useful restriction upon dogs, your Lordships also will, no doubt, wish to bestow attention. There are several other clauses of a miscellaneous character; but having briefly sketched the character of the Bill, and explained to your Lordships how it is proposed to deal with it, I do not think that I need enter into details, which will be more fitly considered by the Select Committee. Being anxious not to lose any time, I at first consulted with sonic noble Lords of great influence in this House the propriety of sitting to-morrow, contrary to the usual practice. I found, however, that it was quite impossible for Her Majesty's Government to fulfil their pledge of considering in the meantime what Amendments they would introduce. The earliest moment at which I can pledge myself that these Amendments will be in your Lordships' hands will be at the meeting of the House on Thursday. This also will afford time to noble Lords individually to consider what improvements they would wish to see made in this Bill, with a view of making its provisions such as they ought to be. If the Motion be agreed to, and the Bill be referred to a Select Committee, then, as it is most important that clear views should prevail on the subject, I hope that noble Lords who intend to move Amendments will be good enough to give notice of their nature, so that we may be in possession of the general character of all the Amendments before entering upon the discussion.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord President.)


said, he should support the Motion for the second reading, regarding the measure as supplementary to that which had already passed. He would direct their Lordships special attention to the 28th clause, which related to the disinfecting the cattle pens and trucks by railway companies, which appeared to him to be very stringent. He was glad to observe that the powers of the inspectors had been to some extent restricted; but, on the part of a great body of the agriculturists of the kingdom, he felt bound to say that compensation to the amount of one-half was too little to induce farmers to come forward and give information as to the existence of the cattle plague, and he believed that in saying so he was but speaking the opinion of many Members of the other House as well as of a vast proportion of the agricultural body. The power which the Bill contained of preventing trespassers from entering upon the land was very salutary.


said, he agreed with almost everything which had fallen from the noble Earl the President of the Council, but differed from some of the conclusions drawn from those observations. A Bill of some sort was absolutely necessary; but if its duration were restricted to the 25th of March, it would be practically inoperative, because the shortest time in which it could pass would be about ten days, and between the passing of the Bill and the 25th of March it would be impossible for the country to become acquainted with its provisions and bring them into working order. The Government and the country must look upon this not as a temporary measure, but as a measure showing the way in which the cattle plague ought to be dealt with during the ensuing summer. He entirely agreed with the noble Earl that to include in the Bill detailed regulations and lists of exceptions on the subject of prohibition was most un-advisable. It was far better to prohibit the movement of cattle altogether, leaving a discretionary power in the hands of the local authorities. He regarded as a most valuable clause that which the Government originally proposed in the other House, empowering the local authority to decide upon the area to be treated as infected, for any rule laid down upon this point in an Act of Parliament was altogether deceptive. In some parts of England two miles, in others twenty miles, was not a long distance. As a rule the inspectors did not possess the confidence of the country, although no doubt many of them were persons of great merit. As to the question whether the proposed licences should be signed by one or more magistrates, he thought it desirable that more than one should sign them, but he must remind their Lordships that in many parts of England that was almost impossible. In conclusion, he would suggest that one of two courses should be adopted with a view to stop the movement of cattle. Either that Parliament, having prohibited cattle traffic, should leave it to the local authorities to say by what means the prohibition should be insisted upon; or else that the local authorities should be left to impose such restrictions as they thought fit upon the movement of cattle. He did not, however, think so well of the latter course as the former, because it would be throwing too much responsibility upon the local authorities.


thought the Bill had come before their Lordships a little too late; had it come earlier, however, it would have been most useful, for while the plague was within a small compass it might have been stamped out; but that could not be done now. With the solitary exception of the clause preventing the importation of live foreign cattle to renew the plague, he was of opinion that the provisions of the Bill, if they became law, would simply add annoyance to the injury caused by the plague. How could they expect the provisions of the Bill would put an end to the disease when it was increasing every day? The inspectors reported 13,000 cases a week. Most probably, if full returns had been made by all the inspectors, they would be told the number was 15,000, and, no doubt, in a short time it would be 20,000. It had been well said the disease was an infliction by Providence. He acknowledged it as such; and, at the same time, recognized it as a visitation of improvidence. Bad arrangements had created the disease, and the country must pay the penalty. He feared that the enactments of this Bill would not secure the end in view, and that a Bill containing better considered provisions would he found necessary.


was glad the noble Earl the President of the Council had taken the initiative in proposing that this Bill should be referred to a Select Committee; but the desired to make some observations upon the subject of the compulsory and indiscriminate slaughter ordered by the Bill which they had already passed. Public opinion was rapidly changing in respect to the advisability of adopting the principle of indiscriminate slaughter, and he thought that it would be found necessary to relax the severity of the rules now in operation. He would remind their Lordships that the first Report of the Commissioners was decidedly against the principle, and he should be glad to hear some account of the reasons which had since induced them to alter their opinion and report the very opposite. It had been said in support of the principle that it was adopted with much success upon the Continent; but he would remind their Lordships that in foreign countries the system was carried out under peculiar circumstances. When the disease broke out in an isolated district a military cordon was drawn around the place, and not only was it forbidden to remove the hides, hoofs, and other similar things, but even persons were not permitted to go out from the district; so that complete isolation was ensured. Under such circumstances, the system of indiscriminate slaughtering might he successfully carried out; but in England it was impossible to secure complete isolation, and his belief was that the Act would result in the needless destruction of a vast number of animals which would otherwise have recovered. In his part of the country the regulations as to slaughtering had come upon the farmers quite unawares. They had no notion of the severity of the measure which had been enacted until it came upon them with the force of law, and, of course, they were most unwilling to have their convalescent cattle destroyed. The feeling of dissatisfaction was therefore becoming very strong among the farmers, especially as the percentage of recoveries were daily increasing—for whereas formerly the proportion of cattle that recovered was 10 percent it was now, whatever the reason might be, 30 or 40 per cent. He therefore trusted their Lordships, who would consider the Bill in a Select Committee, would see the necessity of adopting some measures to modify the orders for indiscriminate slaughter contained in the Act which had been passed. He would also advert to another point of importance, It was most desirable that their Lordships should be put in possession of the number of cattle in this country, and compulsory powers to obtain it should be held by the Government. In conclusion, he joined with the noble Lord who had preceded him when he expressed a hope that out of a fair and impartial consideration of the provisions of the Bill before them some means might be adopted which, under the blessing of God, would tend to stop the fearful scourge now visiting the country.


desired to call to the attention of their Lordships that the time was approaching when every one of the Orders in Council relating to the movement of cattle would have to be revised. About the middle of next month, from change of tenancy and other causes, considerable movements of cattle must take place, and he feared that when these Orders came to be revised by the local authorities, they would get into great difficulties and trouble. He thought it would have been better for the country if the Government had availed themselves of this Bill to introduce clauses giving effect to some of the proposals of the measure brought in by the Government in the House of Commons at the meeting of Parliament. He thought also that the powers should be taken for a much longer period than three weeks—a period which he thought utterly useless, for it was impossible to suppose that the cattle plague would have been got rid of by the 25th of March. He thought, therefore, that some prospective restrictions should be enacted, and he believed these restrictions would be better carried out by Parliament than by allowing the local authorities latitude in dealing with the disease. If this Act were not passed it would be open to the local authorities to throw open markets and fairs throughout the country.


was understood to say, that if their Lordships had gone into Committee he should have proposed certain exceptions with regard to portions of Kent.

Motion agreed to: —Bill read 2a accordingly, and referred to a Select Committee.

The Lords following were named of the Committee; the Committee to meet on Friday next, at One o'Clock, and to appoint their own Chairman:

His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales E. Doncaster
E. Airlie
E. Cowper
Ld. President E. Spencer
Ld. Privy Seal E. Carnarvon
D. Richmond E. Grey
D. Marlborough L. Berners
D. Buckingham and Chandos L. Stanley of Alderley
L. Lyveden
M. Salisbury