HL Deb 20 March 1866 vol 182 cc569-75

asked the intentions of the Government in respect of the Transport of Cattle by Railway after the 25th of March. The noble Duke said, that by the Act recently passed the prohibition of railway transport extended only to the day named, but the Government had power to continue it by an Order in Council. As the time was so near it really was incumbent on the Government to give some notice to the public of the course it was intended to pursue. Incidentally the question was raised last night in the other House of Parliament, and it appeared that the Government had not then made up their minds with respect to the continuance of the prohibition. Tonight, however, he had heard that the question had been again raised, and the Government had announced their determination to continue the prohibition until they were able to issue Orders in Council, which would also regulate many other points connected with restrictions on the movement of cattle. It was most important that the prohibitive Order should be continued. When the prohibition was first proposed it was objected that there would be many difficulties attending the prohibition of the transport of cattle, and that it would be impossible to supply large towns with meat. However, it had been found in practice that there were no difficulties in carrying on the trade under the enforced prohibition. The meat trade had been carried on without interruption, the towns had been well supplied, and in reality no inconvenience had been occasioned. In fact, although prices rose in some places for a week or two after the prohibition took effect, since then they had been falling, and last week the return of prices in London showed that they were absolutely not only lower than they were a week or two ago, but that they were lower than they had been since the 1st of January. That showed that no harm had resulted from prohibition. He believed, moreover, that the prohibition had had a most salutary influence in checking the disease, and that if it were removed we should at once lose whatever benefit it had conferred. The Return showed that the numbers of cattle attacked in the last four weeks respectively had been 10,300, 8,000, 6,300, and 5,800, the last number showing a diminution upon the first of nearly one-half. He thought that it was the restriction upon removal that had caused this reduction, and that slaughtering, although it might have had some effect, had not been in operation sufficiently long to affect the Returns appreciably. He wished also to know what were the intentions of the Government with respect to foreign cattle? According to the Act, foreign cattle must be slaughtered at the port of landing; but the operation of that provision would cease on the 15th of April, a day or two after the termination of the Easter recess; and if this restriction, as well as that on railway transport, ceased to operate, the disease would be disseminated throughout the country. He desired that the prohibitions should be continued until the Government could issue further Orders in Council; but uncertainty as to what was going to be done would cause great inconvenience and injury to the public.


said, he desired to call the attention of the Government to a practice said to be resorted to, and which was an evasion of the law. He was informed that a considerable number of cows had been imported weekly into London; they were landed on the river bank, and thence they were conducted to metropolitan dairies and shippons, without being exhibited in any fair or market. In all probability many of the cows would shortly calve, and the calves would be dispersed through the country, unless the prohibition of railway transport were renewed. Independently of that, they might be sent over the large area of the metropolitan district, and in this way great danger would be incurred. He believed that the practice, if not actually illegal, was an evasion of the law, and was fraught with much danger.


was understood to reply that it was perfectly legal to remove cattle with a licence to any part of the metropolitan district under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Board of Works, but he had no information as to the number of licences which had been given. He could not agree with the statement that no inconvenience had arisen from the prohibition of the transport of cattle by railway. In the face of overwhelming complaints of inconvenience, the Government were of opinion that absolute prohibition should not be continued any length of time, and that it would be better to substitute for it a permission to remove cattle on railways under certain restrictions and precautions. It was not so easy as the noble Duke seemed to imagine to draw up Orders on this complicated question, and it might be doubtful whether one could be issued before the 25th of March; and even could one be issued it was better that it should not come into operation simultaneously with its issue, but that some time should elapse to allow the public to familiarize themselves with its provisions. In the meanwhile, the Government thought it desirable that the prohibition of the traffic on railways should continue until such Order came into effect. It was impossible to say how far the reduction in the number of animals attacked was to be attributed to the prohibition of railway transport, and how far it was due to the slaughtering of diseased cattle. It was the intention of the Government to introduce a Bill in the other House tomorrow for amending the Act 11 & 12 Vict. c. 107, in order to give fuller powers to the Privy Council.


should have supposed that, after all the trouble which had been taken, both by their Lordships' House and the House of Commons, with respect to the Cattle Plague Bill, the Government had by this time made up their minds on this important subject. In three days the Select Committee of their Lordships' House had made the Bill into what he considered a very good measure; but now he understood that after all the trouble that had been expended upon it, the Bill had been withdrawn in the other House. To him it was a matter of the greatest astonishment that they had not been put in possession several days ago of the measure which the Government intended to introduce. For the last seven days Her Majesty's Ministers had been employed in doing nothing. Now, the inconvenience of this was infinite, because during this particular week, and especially yesterday and to-day, most of the Quarter Sessions had met, and he apprehended that nearly all of them would be in a state of uncertainty as to what Her Majesty's Ministers intended to do. At present everything was in a state of confusion, because the Quarter Sessions and other local authorities required some guiding principle, and yet had no indication given to them of the final and permanent intentions of the Government.


thought, that the statement of the noble Earl was rather an extraordinary one. He concurred with the noble Duke who had spoken from that side of the House (the Duke of Montrose), that absolute prohibition of cattle traffic on railways would be the best provision, at all events for the present, because it appeared that there had been already a diminution in the amount of disease, and it was much to be feared that it would revive in all its intensity unless the Government laid down some very stringent rules with respect to the removal of cattle. The essence of the whole matter, however, was, that the licences should be granted upon conditions of such a nature as to place the movement of cattle on a proper footing. If they were allowed to be issued carelessly, loosely, and without sufficient restrictions being imposed upon the parties empowered to issue them, nothing but abuse could follow. It appeared to him that effectual precautions ought to be taken for cleaning the cattle trucks on the different lines of railway; and this would be rendered all the more necessary if the removal of cattle by railway were to be again authorized. The cleansing of these cattle trucks ought, in his judgment, to be inspected by a Government official; indeed, the Home Secretary had drawn up a clause providing that this should be done under the superintendence of persons appointed by the Board of Trade, or by the local authorities. Some such provision ought to form part of any Government scheme. A week ago he complained that the Return issued by the Veterinary Department were very inaccurate. It was stated by the noble Earl (Earl Granville) in the answer which he volunteered that some new arrangements would be made in regard to them. The last Returns, however, which had been placed in his hands on the previous day, showed that no fewer than 255 inspectors had failed to send in their Returns. Now, it was need less to point out that statistical Returns were valueless if they were incorrect, as no useful inference could in that case be drawn from them. He would suggest that if the Privy Council could not get all the Returns weekly, it would be desirable to delay their publication until the expiration of a fortnight, as they might then appear in a perfect form. His noble Friend (the Duke of Marlborough) had drawn attention to the smuggling of cattle into this country, and it was certainly desirable that such a system should be put down by a proper system of inspection.


said, he hardly understood what the noble Earl meant The importation of cattle was free, and animals being landed might, under an Order in Council, be taken to the market and there branded for slaughter. It was impossible for the Government to undertake the responsibility of superintending that operation. With regard to the complaint which had been made as to the Returns, he believed that there would be cause for great dissatisfaction on the part of the public if their publication were to be delayed. The noble Earl had stated that he could draw no inference from the Returns in their present form; but certainly the noble Duke had contrived to draw some inferences from them, and it should be borne in mind that if a certain number of inspectors did omit to send in their Returns in time, they were, nevertheless, included in the next week's publication, so that the information given was sufficient to enable any one to ascertain the real progress of the disease. The inspectors who chiefly failed in sending their reports in time were those who were resident in districts where the cattle plague was raging fiercely.


said, it was clearly intended that no animals should be imported from abroad, except for the purpose of being exhibited in the market, where they were to be branded, to indicate that they were destined for immediate slaughter. But what was the case? Animals were imported which were not exhibited in the market, but were smuggled to the premises of the dairymen. These beasts did not come within the rule applying to animals which were permitted to be moved under a permit from the police authorities, and he was afraid that under the existing Orders there was no mode of dealing with them. The point was one deserving of the attention of the Privy Council.


said, he had given notice to ask, whether the Government intend to bring in any further measure for the purpose of checking the Spread of Contagious Diseases among Cattle? An announcement just made by the President of the Council, if he understood it rightly, made that Question unnecessary. He wished, however, to know what steps were to be taken with the view of securing the due cleansing of trucks in accordance with the regulations on that head? Were railway companies to be required to produce a certificate, or was the penalty for noncompliance with the regulations to depend upon information coming from any person who might choose to become an informer?


said, that the noble Earl (the Earl of Airlie) had understood him correctly. It was the intention of the Government to introduce a Bill to-morrow to amend the 11 & 12 Vict. c. 107, with the view of giving much greater powers to the Privy Council. He was glad the noble Earl had put a Question on the subject of the cleansing and disinfecting of trucks. It was quite impossible for the Government to take upon themselves the whole responsibility connected with this matter. They could only do so either by employing a whole army of inspectors, who should be spread throughout the country, or by directing that all the trucks should be brought to London or some other centre. He believed it was better to leave the railway authorities to carry out the regulations, subject to the penalty imposed for non-compliance. As soon as the Privy Council passed the Order on the previous day, a communication was sent from the Privy Council Office to the railway companies; and the companies returned an assurance on the subject, which, as far as assurances went, was satisfactory. The Board of Trade would appoint an officer to go to the offices of the various companies in order to see what steps had been taken to carry out the regulations. It was open to any one to give information on the subject.


said, that the noble Earl had said the prohibition as to the removal of live cattle by railways would be extended until the new Order in Council was issued. From that statement he was afraid there was a probability of delay in issuing the Order; and he wished to impress on the noble Earl the President of the Council the necessity which existed for some Order in Council to be issued as soon as possible, inasmuch as the time was approaching when it would be absolutely necessary for parties who wanted to procure live stock for their farms to have permission to bring stock from other counties.

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