HL Deb 29 June 1896 vol 42 cc238-49

rose to move the Second Reading of this Bill. He explained that it had come up from the House of Commons and was entitled a Bill to amend the Diseases of Animals Act, 1894. Their Lordships were aware that under the existing law it was in the power of the Agricultural Department to allow live animals to come into Great Britain from other countries. It was proposed by this Bill to take away that power and to make slaughter compulsory in all except very special cases. Under the Bill, practically all animals would be slaughtered at the port of debarkation. That was the simple proposal of the Bill. It would really make no alteration in the practice at the present time, because the Board of Agriculture, when the noble Lord opposite (Lord Burghclere) so ably presided over it, prohibited the importation of live cattle, and that prohibition had been in force for several years. What the Government now proposed was to give a permanent character to the regulations laid down by the noble Lord himself, and to take away the discretion of the Board of Agriculture in this matter. Upon this question there was undoubtedly a great feeling among all agriculturists in this country. A large deputation waited upon the noble Lord opposite when he was at the Board of Agriculture, but he did not see his way to grant their request that an Act of this kind should be passed. After the change of Government a still more important deputation waited upon the present President of the Board of Agriculture. The Royal Agricultural Society of England and the Highland Agricultural Society joined together and made representations to the President of the Board. They said that in the interests of the producers and consumers of meat in the United Kingdom it was essential that as a safeguard against the introduction of contagious diseases, all cattle, sheep and swine imported into the Kingdom from foreign countries, which were not for the time being prohibited countries, should be slaughtered at the port of debarkation. That covered all cases except the few to which he had alluded. The representations of these societies were entitled to the greatest consideration. This was not a small matter, as the number of cattle and store stock in this country was very large. The President of the Board of Agriculture computed the number of cattle in this country in 1895 at nearly 11 millions, and the value of that stock at £96,750,000. He computed the number of sheep at 30 millions, and their value at £29,750,000. Agriculturists, their interest being so large, felt strongly that they were entitled to look to Parliament for protection against preventible disease. If the cattle were slaughtered at the port of debarkation the security which they wanted and to which they were entitled would be given. In the last four months of 1890 pleuro-pneumonia existed in 20 counties; 119 outbreaks were confirmed, 591 cattle were found to be diseased, and of cattle slaughtered as having been exposed to infection the number was 5,389. The result of putting in force the Act of Parliament was that in 1895 there was only one county infected, one outbreak confirmed, one animal found diseased, and only 43 slaughtered. By putting in force the Act, therefore, the disease had been reduced to a minimum; in fact, this country was now free from disease; and the agriculturists who spent their money on stock now came to Parliament asking that they should be left in this happy position of security. It was said that this legislation would disturb the amount of imports, and the cattle trade especially with Canada. At the time when the restrictions were put in force no doubt the Canadian trade was a falling one. In 1890 the imports were 121,836 animals; in 1891, 108,000; in 1892, 98,000; in 1893, 82,000; in 1894, 82,000; but in 1895, in spite of the restrictions, the trade rose to 96,000. In 1891 the imports from the Argentine Republic were 4,000; in 1892, 3,500; in 1893, 6,800; in 1894, 9,500; and in 1895, in spite of the restrictions, 38,000. The fact was that the trade was adapting itself to new conditions, and therefore the meat was being sent in another form. The sheep imported from Canada in 1894 were 7,900; in 1895, 4,500; and up to June, 1896, 12,500. There had thus been neither a limitation of market, as had been predicted, nor had the trade suffered from the restrictions, though the character of it had changed. Rash statements had also been made as to the raising of prices to the famine point. The price of meat in the Metropolitan Cattle Market per stone of 8 lb., sinking the offal, in 1878 was—British inferior, 4s. 6d.; in 1884, 4s. 1d.; in 1895, 2s. 8d.; second class, 5s. 6d., 5s. 4d., and 3s. 11d.; first class, 6s., 5s. 9d., and 4s. 6d. Statistics as to sheep told precisely the same story, so that the quantity of moat which had come in by the changed conditions of the trade had reduced the price of moat instead of raising it. He said that agriculturists had a right to come to Parliament and to ask that the introduction of cattle disease should be prevented by statute, so that it could not be changed. It might be asked, "Cannot you trust the Board of Agriculture?" He could trust the Board to do its best in the matter, but it did not give absolute security. There were two reasons which seemed to him to be conclusive on this point. The first was the great difficulty which the Agricultural Department had in finding out what was the sanitary state of the stocks of cattle in foreign countries. In the second place, pleuro-pneumonia and sheep scab were extremely difficult to detect in the living animal; and if the Board of Agriculture had the duty of finding out whether a cargo of animals were diseased or not, it was almost impossible for it to do so with absolute certainty. It might be urged that there was an objection on the part of Canada, but he believed that there was less likelihood of a quarrel with Canada if prohibition was imposed instead of continuing the existing order of things under the discretion of the Department. Agriculturists had a right to demand, that now the country had been cleared of the disease at a cost to the Exchequer of no less a sum than £272,000, all possibility of the disease being reimported into the country should be taken away. That could only be done by the passing of an Act of Parliament. He had shown that the Bill could not possibly do any one any harm, and he hoped their Lordships would give it a Second Reading.


said he would not have ventured to have intervened in the Debate, being so recent a Member of the House, did not the Bill deal with a subject with which he had had some intimate acquaintance and seek to affect and modify an Act of Parliament which it was his duty for a considerable period to administer. The noble Viscount had quoted figures to prove the success of the action which had been taken by the Government of the country to suppress the various cattle diseases which formerly existed. From what the noble Viscount said it was clear that the existing law was of so admirable a nature that it certainly did not require any alteration at all. ["Hear, hear!"] The noble Viscount spoke of the trade having gone into other channels. What trade did he mean? [VISCOUNT CROSS: "I meant the dead-meat trade."] He did not see what the dead-meat trade had to do with the exclusion of store cattle, and that was the only object the Bill appeared to have. The noble Viscount went on to say that this was not a question affecting prices, and he quoted figures to show that prices had probably gone down rather than up. He quite agreed with the noble Lord; but the question was whether, if they did not stop this trade prices would not fall and the consumer be benefited. It was undoubtedly a fact that if they stopped this trade permanently they would do serious injury to those who bought cattle for fattening and for the market. Before he dealt with some of the arguments he had heard advanced in support of the Bill, he wished to make it perfectly clear that he and those with whom he acted were entirely in favour of every possible and reasonable precaution being taken to prevent the introduction of disease among our flocks and herds. That was a policy which had their warmest approval and one which they did not wish to see in any way diminished or endangered. But the object of the Bill was to repeal Clause 26 of the Animals' Diseases Act of 1894. That was a section which allowed the Board of Agriculture to make orders from time to time admitting live animals into this country. Of course, if all the rest of the world were suffering from cattle disease and were permeated with pleuro-pneumonia, it might be wise to prohibit animals quitting the port of debarkation alive. Such a condition of affairs would inevitably, in his opinion, be brought about under the existing law. But the promoters of this Bill were not content with the power, which was now possessed, to close our ports against infected countries and infected animals, but they proposed to close our ports for all time, and without any appeal, against healthy animals and against countries that were free from infection. ["Hear, hear!"] That seemed to him a very drastic measure, one which required very convincing arguments before it could commend itself to the inhabitants of a Free Trade country like this. Two principal arguments had been advanced why the law should be altered from its present permissive character and converted into one for perpetually excluding live store cattle. It was said a Government might arise and a Minister of Agriculture be appointed who would so fail in their duty, either for political or other unworthy motives—he supposed either from the weakness of the majority of the Government or from the weakness of the Minister himself—as to open our ports, let in infected animals, and so recklessly endanger the health of our home-bred stock. He could not believe that such a thing would ever happen. The responsibility would be so great as to make a Minister rather err on the side of exclusion than of free entry. The late Government were not afflicted with a plethora of supporters—[a laugh]—it had amongst its adherents very influential opponents of the exclusion of Canadian cattle, and yet neither the pressure of their friends, nor the action of their opponents at an important by-election in Scotland, made them waver for a minute in their proper policy. Besides, to use the argument he had quoted was really to cast a reflection upon the expert permanent officials of the Board of Agriculture. If any danger were to be apprehended they would not sit idly by. They would not see the great work of extinguishing cattle disease in this country imperilled without putting before their chief such excellent reasons and admirable representations that would cause him to adopt the safer methods. It was further said that the cattle breeders of the United Kingdom lived in such constant fear of their herds being decimated by disease that they were deterred from developing their industry. That might have been a valid argument 20 or 30 years ago, when farmers lost large sums of money through disease amongst their flocks and herds, but it could not be regarded as such now, when practically cattle disease had been exterminated under the existing law, and through the action of the Board of Agriculture. Security from disease was by no means solely due to the exclusion of foreign cattle. It was due also to the increased efficiency and skill of the experts in dealing with the outbreaks. When he was at the Agricultural Office he had no hesitation in saying that the outbreaks were suppressed at a tithe of the cost and a tithe of the time which had been necessary in previous years, and that was owing to the increased experience of the officers of the Board of Agriculture; and he was not afraid to repeat what he had said elsewhere, that there never was a time when breeders might put capital into their business with greater confidence than now. The only justification for this Bill would be to show that the original Act had failed. ["Hear, hear!"] There was practically only one disease affected by the Bill, and that was pleuro-pneumonia. The noble Lord spoke about sheep scab. It was not a pretty disease; but it was not—and he quoted the opinion of Professor Brown to this effect—a disease which required stamping out. Had they not been able to deal with pleuro-pneumonia under the existing Act? Figures showed that they had actually exterminated it. The outbreaks, which formerly could be numbered by thousands, were, after the passing of the Act, reduced to 191 in 1891, in 1892 to 35, in 1893 to nine, and in 1894 to two, at which figure, he believed, the outbreaks now stood. These figures amply demonstrated that the Act had been a success, and that the proposed change was absolutely and entirely unnecessary. Then if increased security would not be the result of this Bill, what was the use of passing it, and whom would it please? It was not likely to please the colonies—Canada, for instance. Canada naturally viewed with regret the prohibition of her store cattle which the late Government were obliged to impose; that was a temporary measure enforced for hygienic reasons; but what would she say to a Bill which would exclude Canadian cattle for all time, though the country might be free from disease. There were other colonies also seeking to set up a profitable trade with this country in the matter of store cattle. That hope would be extinguished by this Bill. Surely this question of the colonies was one which should have their grave attention; any way the Bill was a strange precursor of that Imperial Zollverein which was to link all the Colonies by the bonds of Free Trade, and which they had lately heard adumbrated in so important a quarter. ["Hear, hear!"] Those who had anything to do with the administration of these Acts knew that suspicions were aroused that Protectionist tendencies were being brought about under the veil of protection from disease. Again, in the enforcement of restrictions when an outbreak occurred, they had often heard farmers say that the regulations were worse than the disease; could they be certain that under this new and extreme Act all the existing discontent might not combine together and produce an agitation dangerous, if not fatal, to the excellent policy which the existing law embodies? He had, he thought, shown four things—first, that the Bill would give no greater security against cattle disease than was given under the existing Acts; second, that as far as disease was concerned it offered no additional impulse to cattle-breeding; third, that it must offend the colonies; and, fourth, that it might endanger the very policy it was supposed to strengthen. What was the real reason why the supporters of the Bill were so anxious that it should become law? He believed it was one thing only, and that was the uncertainty of the maintenance of the present restrictions. That was the root of the agitation against this Bill. The fact was the cattle breeders were afraid that some day Canada, the United States, Argentina, and other countries would be able to show a clean bill of health, and that "prices would fall to a ruinous level," as was stated recently in a letter in the Standard. What was desired was to give a monopoly in store cattle to the breeders in this country, and to protect them for all time against competition in the open markets of the world. He was not accusing the Government of bringing in veiled Protection; he was not even saying then whether the effect of this Bill was good or bad; he was only stating what the inevitable result of it would be. He knew the Measure had been pressed on the Government by agricultural societies of the highest authority, but it was legislation for one class and one trade; and it was essential that such legislation should not injure other great principles which were beneficial alike to that class and the nation as a whole. The Bill in no way fulfilled these elementary conditions, and he therefore felt it his duty to oppose it as a Measure absolutely unnecessary, and possibly dangerous to the very interests it professed to safeguard.


said the great majority of the agriculturists of the country had come to the conclusion that the time had arrived when permanency should be given to these Acts. He admitted that the disease had diminished year by year, but, surely, it was right that they should take care that the country was not subjected to the risk of having in the future to go to the expense of dealing with fresh outbreaks. They would find that nine-tenths of the farmers were in favour of the Acts being made permanent. He sympathised very much with those who were affected by this Bill, and who thought that the price of store cattle would be raised and that farming pursuits would be more difficult for them in the future. He sympathised with the large farmers in Aberdeenshire, Forfarshire, and Norfolk, who never bred their own animals and trusted to buy cheap store cattle to fatten on turnips; but they should not say that there was a danger of their raising the price of meat by this Bill. Since store cattle had been prohibited altogether from landing the price of meat had gradually fallen. The fact was that the dead meat trade was now increasing—[Opposition cheers]—and that Canada was not losing in any way by not importing stores for feeding in this country, but was really making a better profit by sending dead meat. They had proved in the last four years that prohibition certainly did not raise the price of meat, but what it did was to prevent about one-tenth of the farmers of this country from being able to go to ports like Aberdeen, Dundee, or Glasgow, and buy what they thought were cheap stores—[Opposition cheers]—as against the interests of nine-tenths of the other agriculturists in the country. He believed there was pleuro-pneumonia in Canada, and they must remember that there were 3,000 miles of frontier between Canada and the United Stales, over which the cattle could pass and re-pass with the greatest freedom, and that disease might be communicated in that way. They believed that if they once let in stores indiscriminately from foreign countries they would not be able to check disease. The evidence adduced before the Board of Agriculture was conclusive to the minds of most agriculturists, when the experiment was made in two cargoes that came over, there were animals infected with pleuro-pneumonia. The most prudent course was that there should be a total prohibition of live animals at the port of landing, and that it should be made permanent.


said he would give place to no one in his desire to prevent the introduction of disease among the flocks and herds of the United Kingdom. He had had considerable experience of the subject as far back as the year 1865, and had been chairman of a Commission of which the Prime Minister and Lord Playfair were also members. He had had also very considerable experience in the administration of the Acts, both in Ireland, at the Privy Council here, and in his own country, and he had always advocated the strongest possible enforcement of the laws which existed for the prevention of disease among cattle. Feeling so strongly as he did as to the necessity of preventing disease in this country, he did not approve of the present Measure, which was altogether unnecessary. He did not want to labour this argument, because his noble Friend, who not long ago was Minister of Agriculture, had put the case so admirably. It had been said that if, cattle disease again appeared without an alteration of the law we might again incur a heavy expenditure; but he did not believe that for a moment. The heavy expenditure which the noble Viscount had quoted was an expenditure when there were practically no effective means of dealing with disease in the country. His belief was that no Government would venture to admit cattle into this country if there was the slightest evidence that disease existed in the country from which those cattle came. He maintained that this was absolutely a matter for the Executive Government to deal with, and that Parliament was not the proper body to deal with it. If cattle were permanently prevented from being introduced into this country it would be a very serious thing for a large part of the agricultural community. The noble Marquess who last spoke had said that the Bill would only affect one-tenth of the agriculturists; but why should they pass an Act which put a great hardship upon one-tenth of the agriculturists when it was not necessary at all? ["Hear, hear!"] With regard to the position of the graziers and feeders, he had consulted a good many of the farmers who were very largely interested, and they had the strongest objection to this Measure, stating that it would deal a most serious blow to the occupiers and owners of the best grazing lands of this country. From his own personal experience he should certainly say that was the case. The graziers and feeders bought in a market which under this Bill would be an absolutely closed market—he would not use the word protection, but it really did come to that—and when they sold they sold in a market which was perfectly open to the whole world. ["Hear, hear!"] He altogether denied that all agriculturists were in favour of making the prevention of the introduction of cattle permanent, and adduced, as a case in point, the evidence of Mr. Clare Sewell Read to the effect that— as a grazier, if he was exposed to all the benefits, or rather all the evils of Free Trade, by having the meat hero from every country under Heaven, if he could by any possibility obtain these healthy stores from our own dominions, he did not think they ought to be excluded. Our cattle would not be fed as cheaply as the Canadians supplied them at present. They were good well fed cattle, better bred than the Irish as a rule; they were older and they were cheaper. That was a high authority on this subject. ["Hear, hear!"] Of course he could quote several other authorities with regard to it, but he had no desire to weary their Lordships by doing so, and therefore he would only add that a well-known agriculturist in Norfolk had stated that the loss per bullock caused by the absence of store cattle in one year from Canada had amounted to about £2. He would not labour the subject further, but would merely state that the question, in his view, was not so much that the price of meat would be raised as that the distribution of profits would be largely interfered with to the injury of the feeders and graziers throughout the country. He need say no more on the subject because his noble Friend who sat beside him had spoken so well with regard to it. Before he sat down he should like to say a word with regard to the way in which this Bill would affect Canada. He must say that he had been somewhat surprised at the way in which it was proposed to permanently exclude Canadian cattle from our ports. We were using fair words of conciliation towards Canada when we referred to the possibilities of the establishment of a Zollverein, and at the same time we were about permanently to exclude her cattle from our markets. He thought that that was a very serious step to take, and he desired to enter his strong protest against this Measure, which he thought was perfectly unnecessary, and which, if passed, would deal a very heavy blow at one of the most important interests in our agricultural community, and would be a most unfriendly act towards Canada and others whose interests we were bound to do our best to promote. ["Hear, hear!"]

The House divided on the Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time":—


Resolved in the affirmative.

Halsbury, L. (L. Chancellor.) Colville of Culross, L.
Crawshaw, L.
Devonshire, D. (L. President.) Crofton, L.
De Saumarez, L.
Cross, V. (L. Privy Seal.) Douglas, L. (E. Home.)
Egerton, L.
Foxford, L. (E. Limerick.) [TELLER.]
Grafton, D.
Marlborough, D. Glenesk, L.
Portland, D. Granard, L. (E. Granard.)
Bristol, M. Heneage, L.
Lansdowne, M. Hillingdon, L.
Salisbury, M. Hopetoun, L. (E. Hopetoun.)
Bathurst, E. Howard de Walden, L.
Belmore, E. Kelvin, L.
Carnwath, E. Kenmare, L. (E. Kenmare.)
Clarendon, E.
Cranbrook, E. Kenry, L. (E. Dunraven and Mount Earl.)
de Montalt, E.
Dudley, E.
Hardwicke, E. Ker, L. [M. Lothian.]
Harewood, E. Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)
Malmesbury, E.
Mayo, E. Lawrence, L.
Morley, E. Lovaine, L. (E. Percy.)
Nelson, E. Manners of Haddon, L.
Onslow, E. Meldrum, L. (M.) Huntly.)
Romney, E.
Rosse, E. Middleton, L.
Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.) Monck, L. (V. Monck.)
Monckton, L. (V. Galway.)
Waldegrave, E. [TELLER.]
Morris, L.
Yarborough, E. Northington, L. (L. Henley.)
Bangor, V. Norton, L.
Falkland, V. Pirbright, L.
Knutsford, V. Poltimore, L.
Llandaff, V. Sackville, L.
Saltersford, L. (E. Courtown.)
Ashbourne, L.
Balfour, L. Shute, L. (V. Barrington.)
Bateman, L.
Blythswood, L. Sinclair, L.
Boston, L. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Stewart of Garlies, L. (E. Galloway.)
Carysfort, L. (E. Carysfort.)
Templemore, L.
Cheylesmore, L. Tollemache, L.
Clinton, L. Ventry, L.
Clonbrock, L. Wenlock, L.
Colchester, L.
Ripon, M. Kensington, L.
Leigh, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Monk-Bretton, L.
Chesterfield, E. [TELLER.] Monkswell, L.
Playfair, L.
Crewe, E. Reay, L.
Granville, E. Rendel, L.
Kimberley, E. Ribblesdale, L. [TELLER.]
Spencer, E.
Rosebery, L. (E. Rosebery.)
Oxenbridge, V.
Portman, V. Russell of Killowen, L.
St. Levan, L.
Burghclere, L. Stuart of Castle Stuart, L. (E. Moray.)
Camoys, L.
Coleridge, L. Suffield, L.
Davey, L. Thring, L.
Farrer, L. Tweedmouth, L.
Hawkesbury, L. Wandsworth, L.
Herschell, L. Welby, L.
Hobhouse, L.

Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.