HL Deb 21 July 1884 vol 290 cc1710-6

in rising to ask the Lord President of the Council, Whether foot-and-mouth disease was making any progress in the country; and whether he had reason to suppose that Local Authorities generally had made such regulations as would place them in a favourable position to prevent an extensive outbreak of disease? said, he asked this Question as to the progress of foot-and-mouth disease in the country as it was said that there had been some fresh outbreaks of disease lately. On such occasions he thought it of much consequence that those chiefly concerned should know the exact state of the case from an authentic source. It gave those who had to deal with the disease an opportunity of knowing how best to meet it, and it made owners and buyers of stock careful not to have any communication with infected districts. However, the second part of his Question was the most important. A great deal had been said about the importation of disease; and Parliament had passed an Act to deal with this. It would not, of course, be right for him to go into that part of the question, as it had been settled; but he referred to it because, although there was a great deal to be said in favour of keeping out disease, there was a great deal, too, to be said in favour of the use of the powers of the Act by Local Authorities. It would never do for Local Authorities to fancy that they were protected now that the Act was passed, and to relax their Orders and Regulations. He had now had a good deal of experience, as Chairman of the Local Authority in his own district for some years; and he had found the powers given to Local Authorities ample to deal with an outbreak of disease when put into full force. When the disease broke out on the last two occasions, directly the county was closed, and all the powers were put in force, the disease had disappeared in a very short time. Their Lordships would recollect that the last outbreak came so quickly upon them that it was impossible to deal with it at once; the remedy would have been worse than the disease; but directly it became manageable the powers put in force had the desired effect, and the disease entirely disappeared. He should be glad to mention here that he was strongly of opinion that it was of the greatest possible assistance to the Local Authorities to have the markets closed by the Privy Council as soon as possible. When some of the markets were open it was very difficult to carry out regulations. Of course, it was very difficult to secure absolute obedience to regulations; but he was glad to hear from an experienced farmer in his district the other day that the regulations had never been so strictly carried out as they had been this year. He had said so much in order to prove to their Lordships the great importance of the carrying out of the Act by Local Authorities; and he might further refer to the great importance of Local Authorities being prepared to act at once when disease appeared. Prompt and vigorous action was always the best. It might seem hard to put everyone to incon- venience for a few cases; but, as a matter of fact, if nothing was done till the disease spread the inconvenience was ten times worse. He hoped the noble Lord would be able to tell the House that he believed Local Authorities were prepared to act promptly, and that they had done so generally speaking. He hoped, too, that they would hear that the machinery necessary for prompt action was in good working order. If not, he hoped that his Question might call the attention of Local Authorities to the importance of being ready, and that his remarks had so far met with the approval of the House as to be a means of urging them to act. Before he sat down he should like to refer to the importance of adjoining counties acting together. It was most important to mention this in good time, for an agreement could not well be come to at the last moment. Last year the Suffolk Local Authority, over which he presided, had invited, at his instance, the Authorities in adjoining counties to meet in conference and discuss some joint line of action. He was sorry to say that only one county (Norfolk) had agreed to the proposal. It was true that one of these counties (Essex) was differently situated to Suffolk, as it was a Metropolitan county; but the agreement they had come to with Norfolk avoided any difficulty. It was this—that neither county should make fresh regulations without notice to the other, and that, as far as possible, the regulations should be the same. Their Lordships would see the importance of this agreement, for nothing made it so easy to avoid regulations: particularly on the borders, as that they should be different. In fact, he would go further, and say that such a state of things was most puzzling to those who did their best to obey the law. He hoped such agreements as he had mentioned might be encouraged by the Privy Council; but he by no means wished to hamper the discretion of Local Authorities. He had mentioned this as he thought it an important point to discuss when the subject of being ready to meet an outbreak of disease was before the House. In conclusion, he begged to ask the Question of which he had given Notice.


who had given Notice of the following Question:—To ask the Lord President of the Council, Whe- ther he would consider the desirability of making some arrangement by which Local Authorities should have the earliest possible notification of fresh outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in other counties, especially in those counties which were immediately adjacent to their own? said, that he would put his Question now, so that an answer could be given at the same time. He cordially agreed with the remarks that had fallen from the noble Lord who had just sat down, especially as to the necessity for prompt and concerted action on the part of the Local Authorities. The Privy Council was the only reliable authority from whom such information as he (Lord Belper) desired could be gained; and as Local Authorities could not prohibit the import of cattle into their districts or counties until they could declare that these counties were infected or contained infected areas, it was of the greatest importance that the Local Authorities should have the earliest possible notification of fresh outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in other counties. He suggested that the Privy Council, on the receipt of a notification of an outbreak, should immediately communicate the information to such counties as they thought might be likely to have importations of cattle from the infected areas.


in answer to the noble Lord who had spoken last, said, that the Privy Council had not hitherto undertaken to give information of outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease to the various Local Authorities in the country. That was a point which he did not think had come before him until now, and he thought there would be very considerable difficulty in the Privy Council undertaking that duty. Certainly it would be very difficult to undertake it on a large scale, and if foot-and-mouth disease were widely prevalent. But the case seemed to be one in which they might fairly expect the Local Authority in whose district the disease had appeared to give notice to their next door neighbours. It would be naturally a case for joint action. It would be very natural that adjoining counties should agree among themselves that each one should give notice to its neighbour of any outbreak. The noble Lord suggested that Local Authorities might be required by order of the Privy Council to do so. That was a point worthy of, and it would receive, his careful consideration. In answer to the Question of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Henniker), the fact was that about a month ago foot-and-mouth disease, they had reason to hope and believe, was all but extinct in the country. But since then there had been a slight revival, but not of a very serious character. At that moment there were six centres, one in each of the counties of Cheshire, Leicestershire, Worcestershire, the West Riding, and two in the county of Norfolk. But although the centres were few, the disease was there; and he entirely agreed with the noble Lord that without prompt action on the part of the Local Authorities they were in danger of having a fresh extension of the disease. He could not say—he wished that he could—that Local Authorities generally had put themselves in a position to be prepared for the appearance of the disease in their respective districts. He would state what had been done. In March last, when the general stoppage of fairs and markets was coming to a close, the Privy Council passed a temporary Order giving very large powers to Local Authorities, particularly of slaughtering animals infected, or supposed to be infected, and what was most important, very extensive powers for the purpose of securing absolute isolation of the infected places. He meant an isolation in respect of persons and of every means of conveying the disease as distinct from the mere isolation of the infected animals from other animals. By that Order the Local Authorities were empowered to make stringent regulations for preventing the access of anyone to the animals affected except those who had charge of them, and to disinfect the clothes of all persons who had been in contact with them, and generally to secure the complete isolation of the infected place. At the same time, a Circular was issued in order to impress on Local Authorities the necessity of adopting special precautionary measures, and representing that if they were duly taken there was a reasonable probability of the complete suppression of the disease. In the case of the Local Authorities deciding not to have recourse to the extreme measure of slaughtering the animals, then they strongly recommended them to do the next best thing—to adopt complete isolation. He was sorry to say that that Order had not had all the effects they had hoped from it. In every case in which foot-and-mouth disease had appeared since then they had at once, on obtaining knowledge of the circumstance, sent an Inspector from the Privy Council to the place to ascertain the facts, and still more to confer with the Local Authorities and with the owners of the animals, with a view to seeing that all possible precautions should be taken. That course of proceeding had been of very great use; but, evidently, it could only be adopted by the Privy Council on a small scale, and in regard to a few centres. It would obviously become impossible if the disease were to spread over the country. As a result of the inquiries of the Inspectors, it appeared generally that there had been no organization formed beforehand by the greater number of Local Authorities in the country for the purpose of being prepared against the appearance of disease in the districts—he meant organization for the special purpose of isolating infected places, and of preventing the extension of the disease from any centre. In the great majority of cases the Local Authorities were content with declaring an infected circle or area, and with preventing any movement of animals into or out of that area. That was not sufficient for the purpose of securing the county or the country against a further extension of disease. He was not surprised to hear the noble Lord, in connection with this subject, refer to the Foreign Animals Wharves. Certainly when one thought of the excitement that would at once be caused if a case of foot-and-mouth disease were reported in any of those places, the disease having come from abroad, it did seem somewhat astonishing to find the amount of apathy which was exhibited as to the appearance of the disease in any fresh centre. He hoped the Local Authorities would not fail to see that one centre of disease was as dangerous as another, and that they might be induced to imitate the precautions taken in the Foreign Animals Wharves. The animals there were slaughtered; but besides that, the most careful system of isolation was maintained for the purpose of making it as nearly impossible as might be that in- fection should escape. That was the course they were earnestly desirous that the Local Authorities should pursue. The system was well known. It had been tried with the best effects by several Local Authorities in Scotland, England, and Wales, and in almost every case it had had the effect of isolating the disease in the places where it had shown itself. He did not mean to imply by these remarks that a great deal had not been done by the Local Authorities for the purpose of preventing the spread of the disease. Generally speaking the Inspectors of the Privy Council had been well received, their advice had been taken, and a great deal was being done in the counties he had mentioned for the purpose of preventing the disease spreading. The desirable thing was, and the urgent duty of the Local Authorities was, to make use of the ample powers conferred upon them, and of the experience which had been gained in other districts, in preparing themselves at once against the possible appearance of the disease in their own. If they were so prepared measures might be taken with promptness, and a vast amount of subsequent trouble and loss might be avoided. He hoped the discussion would call the attention of Local Authorities to the necessity of the case, and the critical nature of the present moment, when the disease might either be entirely stamped out, or might be allowed to spread once more over the country.


said, he would not have suggested the arrangement he mentioned had there been any other means of conveying the information.


asked whether the noble Lord approved the joint action in regard to counties?


said, he was not aware that that could be provided for by the Privy Council; but he had no doubt it would be a most beneficial course to take.