HL Deb 28 May 1886 vol 306 cc299-304

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that the subject was not by any means new to their Lordships, nor was there any new principle in the measure he had to propose. Its principle, which was to give powers to the Privy Council to make regulations with regard to cattle diseases, had been accepted, he might say, by the Leaders of both Parties in both Houses of Parliament, and the Bill would only enlarge and make more perfect the scope of the several measures on the subject which had been passed. The principal measure to which it referred was the Act of 1878; and he was happy to say that, on the whole, that measure had worked very satisfactorily. Doubtless, at different times, there had been objections to it, on the score that it would limit the importation of live animals into this country, and would thus affect the food supply of the large centres of the population. That, however, had not been the case. If the figures in regard to importation were looked at, it would be found that, although they fluctuated, importa- tion had progressed in a natural and steady way since the Act had been in operation. In 1865, when the importation of cattle was not affected by the cattle plague, the number of cattle imported into this country was 283,271; it was 372,731 last year. The cattle plague, no doubt, affected the number of cattle imported to a considerable extent. The total number of live animals—cattle, sheep, and pigs—imported fell from 1,330,350 in 1865, to 508,802 in 1868. After that, the importation of cattle increased, until it rose from 252,201 in 1878 to 472,839 in 1883. The total importation of live animals in 1883 was 1,624,882; in 1884 it was 1,393,913, and in 1885 it was 1,141,534. Since 1883 there had been a diminution in the importation of cattle from 472,839 in that year to 372,731 in 1885; but there had besides been a large importation of dead meat, and he thought he might fairly say that the measure, which was intended to prevent the importation of disease into this country, had not had a bad effect on the amount of animal food introduced, a matter which was so important to the consumers in large towns. The Act of 1878 had been carried out in a very stringent way, and since then no cattle plague had been imported. If, unfortunately, that terrible disease were to be introduced, the regulations were so good that they might be confidently said that the disease would not spread beyond the limits of the wharf. With regard to pleuro-pneumonia, there had been since 1877 a very marked decline in that dangerous and very insidious disease, which had caused such great loss to our farmers at different periods. In 1877 there were 2,007 outbreaks of the disease, and 5,168 animals were attacked; whereas, in 1885, the number of outbreaks was only 404, and of animals attacked 1,511. That showed that the Act up to this time had worked tolerably satisfactorily; but there was no doubt that pleuro-pneumonia still existed to a dangerous extent in certain great towns such as Dublin, London, and other centres of population, and it was one of the objects of the present Bill to take further steps for checking the spread of the disease. The Act of 1878 required the Local Authorities to slaughter at once all animals affected with pleuro-pneumonia; but it was optional with them whether they would slaughter animals which had been in contact with the disease. Now, such was the insidious character of pleuro-pneumonia, and the period of incubation was so long, that they had found by experience that the disease might break out again in places where the diseased animals had been slaughtered and the premises declared free. The consequence was, that the remaining animals might be removed to any part of the country, probably carrying with them the seeds of a fresh outbreak. This Bill, therefore, proposed to give power to the Privy Council to order the Local Authority to slaughter and pay compensation for animals that had been in contact with the disease, and also, if they thought fit, to authorize the slaughter of a suspected animal with the view of ascertaining, in doubtful cases, whether the disease existed or not. He would give an example of how successful the principles of the Bill had been in other countries. Holland, a few years ago, was a hot-bed of pleuro-pneumonia, and the matter was taken up with great vigour by the Government of that country. In 1871, when the slaughter of diseased animals was first ordered, there were no less than 6,079 cases of disease; while, in 1877, the number had fallen to 951; and, in 1885, there were no living animals affected by the disease, and only 28 cases were discovered on postmortem examination. Foot-and-mouth disease first broke out in 1880, and up to 1884 that disease was very rife in all parts of Great Britain, and to some extent in Ireland. In 1883, the number of animals attacked in Great Britain was 461,145; and the effect of the Act was that in 1884–5 there were only 418 cases; while, in January last, there was not a single authenticated case in the Kingdom. He thought that those figures showed a very satisfactory result of the operation of the Act, and ought to be some consolation to the farmers who had suffered so much depression during the past few years. It was the first time there had been no case of this disease for 50 years. Though there had been no authenticated cases of foot-and-mouth disease, there had been several cases of reported foot-and-mouth disease; but, on the Inspector being sent down, they were found to be really not cases of that disease. When there were very few cases of disease in the country, the Privy Council were able to send down Inspectors to infected districts. But when the disease was very rife, that could not be done, and it was necessary that the Privy Council should be able to compel the Local Authority to obtain skilled advice before declaring their district free. Power to do so was sought for in the Bill, as many cases were known in which the Local Authority had declared a district free too soon. It was also desired to legalize a power which it was at present rather doubtful whether the Privy Council had power to adopt, although it had certainly been adopted under the general powers of that Body. He referred to the power of declaring what were called infected circles; and in order to make sure of the powers in that respect, the Bill proposed to confer on the Privy Council the power of putting the system of infected circles into operation whenever it might be thought necessary. There was another matter of considerable importance, and that was that the Local Authorities in counties—the Quarter Sessions—had power to delegate some of their powers, and in some counties these Local Authorities had delegated nearly all their powers to Committees. There were powers, however, which it was thought ought to be kept in the hands of the Central County Authority, and therefore it was proposed in the Bill to give the Privy Council power to govern the delegation of powers from the County Authorities to Sub-Committees. Another important point was, that the Privy Council had now authority to vary the definition of diseases coming under the Act, but they had no power to vary the definition of animals coming under the Act. It was thought very important in view of the amount of rabies at present in the country that that power should be given, and therefore it was sought by the Bill to confer that power on the Privy Council, in order to bring within their jurisdiction cases of dogs infected with rabies. It was also sought by the Bill to transfer from the Privy Council to the Local Government Board certain powers as to the regulation of dairies. There was nothing more important than that matter, and the Government believed that the powers now existing with reference to it would be much better exercised by the Local Government Board. He had a Return before him, which showed that the Local Authorities had not put that part of the Act of 1878 very much into force, and it was thought that the officers of the Local Government Board would be better able to see that the provisions of the Act were carried into effect. He thought it was not necessary to detain their Lordships any longer, and he hoped and felt that there would be very little opposition to the measure. He thought it would make the Act of 1878 more effectual; and if this country could emulate the example set by a country like Holland, it would confer a great benefit on the farmers of the country, as well as on all the consumers of meat in the large towns. He would move the second reading of the Bill.

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


said, he quite concurred in regarding this as a purely non-contentious measure. It would, therefore, receive no opposition from him as regarded its future progress; on the contrary, he would gladly do all in his power to assist the noble Earl in passing this very useful Bill, which, he believed, would bring about a valuable and useful change in the law. It was gratifying to know that previous legislation on the subject to which the Bill referred had resulted so satisfactorily, and that the dark prophecies which were made as to the working of the Act of 1878, and as to the probable failure of our supply of food, had not been fulfilled. It was also equally satisfactory that eight years' experience of the provisions of that Act suggested so few amendments as would be found to be embodied in the present Bill. Since the measure of 1878 there had not been a single case of cattle plague in this country. The slaughter of animals that had been in contact with beasts suffering from pleuro-pneumonia could not but have a salutary effect. He looked upon those clauses of the Bill which dealt with the subjects of the pollution of milk and the inspection of dairies as highly important. He trusted that there would be no conflict of Authorities in connection with the enforcement of those provisions. In conclusion, he would suggest to the noble Earl that Clauses 8 and 10 were rather clumsily constructed. The intention of the pro- moters of the measure in those clauses might be expressed in a simpler manner.


said, he considered the Bill a most valuable one, and would suggest that it should be left to the discretion of the Local Authorities to say for what period an area should be regarded as "an infected circle."


said, he did not think the Local Government Board could work the regulations with regard to dairies without a considerable increase in the number of Inspectors and of expense. He was of opinion that the Local Government Board should, as much as possible, exercise the powers which the Bill would confer upon it through the Local Executive Authorities. Such a course, he argued, would conduce to the readier acceptance of the regulations issued by the Board in respect of dairies. Without the cordial support of the Local Authorities it would be most difficult to carry out the provisions of the measure; and it was most desirable that they should be assisted as far as possible by the Central Authority in London; but any clashing of Government Departments was highly to be deprecated in these matters.


contended that the carrying out of the provisions of the Bill by local Subcommittees was essential to effectively checking the spread of contagious diseases. He thought those Sub-Committees were the backbone of the measure.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.