HL Deb 21 May 1906 vol 157 cc859-88

rose to move to resolve, "That in the opinion. of this House it is injurious to the agricultural interests of England and Ireland, as well as to the stability of the dead meat and live stock trade now carried on under the guarantee of the Diseases of Animals Act, 1896, in the interest of the consumers, that this country should be kept in doubt as to the future policy of His Majesty's Government on the question of retaining the restrictions prohibiting the importation of store cattle into this country from Canada, notwithstanding the decided opinion of the Minister of Agriculture and the experts of the Board of Agriculture against any repeal of the Diseases of Animals Act, 1896."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I believe that the Motion I have placed on the Paper will meet with the approval of all agriculturists in this country. There is a very strong desire to strengthen the hands of the noble Lord the President of the Board of Agriculture after his sympathetic speech the other day; but there has also been considerable anxiety caused by the "go-as-you-please" speech of the Prime Minister in another place. I do not, perhaps, take such a serious view of that speech as some of my noble friends. I am rather inclined, if I may use a racing expression, to say that it was a hedging transaction in view of certain liabilities that the Member for Stirling Burghs had incurred during his campaign in that county, and that he required time. I am very sorry the speech was made, because it has cast doubt over the intentions of the noble Lord the Minister for Agriculture; and I hope the debate which will take place on my Motion to-day will give the Prime Minister and the Government a gentle tonic.

I move this Resolution with the definite object of supporting the Minister for Agriculture, and I cannot think that a vote of confidence in the Minister who is responsible for the Department of Agriculture can be construed into a vote of censure on His Majesty's Government. This is not a political question, it is entirely a business question; and one-half of the present House of Commons and of the Irish Members are in favour of a continuity of policy in this matter. What is the position at the present moment? My noble friend Lord Carrington, at the end of his speech in reply to the Question put to him the other day by Lord Jersey, said that he was unable to state what the ultimate decision of the Government might be, but he could say that, so far as his own. personal conviction was concerned, having examined the whole case with an open mind, he thought it would be undertaking a grave responsibility if the restrictions at present in force were suddenly withdrawn.† I entirely agree with him. I also know that he took the greatest possible trouble to go into the case, and that he did so without any bias whatever.

But the next day, unfortunately, there was a Bill under discussion in another place. I know nothing of that Bill, but a Scottish Radical Member of Parliament said it was backed by professional gentlemen, by lawyers, by stockbrokers, and whatnots; it was backed neither by agriculturists nor farmers. I should think that, of all people in the world, the people who backed that Bill desired some information from the Board of Agriculture, but the representative of that Department sat silent. Not one word was said by him, and no reference was made in the debate to the decision which had been come to by my noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture. I think that is a serious matter, because, whilst the Prime Minister spoke at great length, he did not profess to represent the Government, but only his own views as Member for Stirling Burghs. I am not going to allude to that speech, which was a very lengthy one. I do not think there would be much advantage in referring to it, but I do wish to quote a few words which the Prime Minister used at the end of his speech.

Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman said that the Act of 1896 was a measure which they know to be distasteful to the majority of the people of Canada, and which really cast a stigma on the agriculture of Canada. I must say I think that is a most absurd statement. We had the day before a statement made to us in this House by the responsible Minister for the Department, who said that Canada was perfectly ready to accept any decision to which we came. Then the Prime Minister told his supporters to vote as they pleased. For the present I suppose the cattle in this country are † See (4) Debates, clv., 655 safe from disease, but we want something more definite than a go-as-you-please policy with regard to so vital a question. No one except a few graziers, butchers, and shipowners, and a certain whatnot association in Glasgow, desires to have the present Act repealed. It would be prejudicial to the farmers and injurious to a largo number of people who are shareholders in those concerns which now deal with the importation of dead meat and also of live cattle to be killed at the ports.

There has never been, I believe, during the last twenty years the slightest difference of opinion at the Board of Agriculture that the only way in which to keep disease from our shores is by putting restrictions on the importation of cattle, and I venture to say that ever since those restrictions were first imposed —I believe it was in 1892—there has been no difference of opinion whatever between any of the Ministers who have administered the Department of Agriculture. My noble friend the present Minister for Agriculture is also in agreement with them. It so happens that we have in this House two noble Lords who have held the position of President of the Board of Agriculture—my noble friends Lord Onslow and Lord Burghclere—and I challenge them to contradict what I have said on this matter. There has been absolute continuity of policy, no matter on which side of the House the President of that Department has sat. I venture to hope that some Member of the Front Opposition Bench will get up and state what wore the views of Mr. Walter Long and Mr. Ailwyn Fellows when they were at that office. I am quite certain that they would agree that the present situation of doubt is very detrimental to everyone concerned.

There may be some noble Lords present who are not aware how this question originated. This is not a new question. It was on April 17 last year that Lord Grey enclosed, without a word of advice on his part that they should be acted upon, some Resolutions on the subject from Canada; and Mr. Alfred Lyttelton, who was then Secretary of State for the Colonies, very wisely sent the letter to the Board of Agriculture with a request that they should write him a memorandum upon it. On August 17 Mr. Lyttelton, after having consulted the Board of Agri- culture and also his colleagues in the Cabinet, wrote to Lord Grey that— His Majesty's Government have given the fullest consideration to the representations made to them on the subject of the embargo on the importation of live cattle into this country, but much regret that they feel themselves unable to propose to Parliament any Amendment of the existing law. That was only nine months ago. Are we I now to go back upon a decision fairly taken at that time? I know it may be said that there has been a general election since, but surely we are not going to have a mushroom mandate brought forward now to say that this law is to be repealed. I believe there was no feeling in the country at the last election with regard to this question.

But even supposing Ministers say that they are not bound by what was done by a Minister in another Administration to which they wore politically opposed, at any rate we have this memorandum, and it is a memorandum that ought to be studied by every one who takes an interest in this question, and by no one more than by the present Prime Minister. I will quote a few lines only, but they are very pertinent to the present question. The Department said, at the very commencement of the memorandum— Experience has shown that the existing statutory requirement that all cattle imported into this country shall lie slaughtered at the port of landing is no obstacle to the development and maintenance of a large and valuable trade. But it is a great deal more. A large amount of capital has been invested in companies for the importation of dead meat into this country and for cattle to be slaughtered at the ports. It is a very extensive business, and at the present time there are millions of money invested in it. If the ports are to be opened and live cattle permitted to come in and to be sent all over the country, these investors must be very large sufferers and will lose considerably.

There is a very curious fact with regard to this question. When the restrictions were first made no country more than Argentina expressed strong annoyance at them, and they even went so far as to say that so long as the restrictions were maintained they would not buy any cattle or sheep from this country. But what is the case now? They now say that they are perfectly clear in their own minds that the restrictions were light, and they do not want this country to repeal them. That is not very surprising, because at the present moment Argentina has a very large trade in cattle, and it is also a large importer of pedigree stock from this country. As president of one of the large pedigree societies, I know myself that they have given us a direct warning that if this Act is repealed, we need not expect that they will buy any more of our red shorthorn bulls.

I will refer for a moment to the case of Canada. What has Canada to complain of? Before 1892, the year in which slaughtering at the ports was first required, the imports from Canada never exceeded 120,459, and that was in the year 1890, with a declared value of £1,892,298. In 1893, the first year after the restrictions had been ordered, the number of cattle increased to 190,812 with a declared value of £3,315,762. We imported, in 1904, 146,598 cattle with a declared value of £2,547,451, and in the following year 148,718 at a declared value of £2,491,150. This is very curious, because you will see that in the last year there was a large increase in the number of cattle imported, but the declared value was less. Why? Because under these restrictions meat had decreased in value in this country. Consumers, therefore, have nothing to complain of. The memorandum also stated—and I quote this on account of what was said by the Prime Minister—that the existing law does not cast any stigma on Canadian cattle. It goes on to point out that the same law holds good in our other Colonies, and in the United States, and also in foreign countries, and it warns us that the experience of Argentina in 1900, and more recently of the United States in 1902, has shown how suddenly and unexpectedly foot and mouth disease may make its appearance in a country, irrespective of the maintenance of effective veterinary organisation.

What would be the result of a recurrence of disease in this country? We can all remember the state of things that obtained when we had cattle disease throughout this country. Who were the greatest sufferers? Why, the farmers, and especially the small farmers in whom my noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture takes such great interest. They suffered not only as producers, but-as consumers and also as ratepayers. The consumers themselves, as a general body, suffered also. They suffered in their rates and also from the inconvenience of the necessary regulations. What have the consumers in this country to complain, of? Meat has decreased in price considerably. There is now a cheap and sufficient supply of store cattle as well as of fat stock slaughtered in the ports, and there is a large trade in dead meat carried on under the guarantee of the Act of 1896. You could buy as much store cattle as you liked this year at Lincoln fair for £16 and £16 10s. apiece, and as many yearlings as you liked from £10. I do not think anybody wants to get cattle much cheaper than that.

There is one other point to which I would allude. We hear people talk about veterinary certificates, In my opinion veterinary certificates neither on the other side of the water nor on this side are of the slightest use. Disease is germinated on the voyage owing to cattle being placed in unnatural positions on board ship, and it does not show itself at once. It may be weeks before it is observed, and the cattle may have been sent all over the country before it is realised that they are diseased I will leave other noble Lords to speak for Ireland and Scotland, and even for other parts of England. I can only speak definitely for my own county, and there is only one voice there, and that is for upholding the present restrictions. I beg to move the Motion standing in my name, and to ask His Majesty's Government to give renewed confidence to all classes concerned in agriculture and the existing, meat trade, by declaring their intention not to allow the restrictions to be rescinded, and not to yield to pressure either from within or from without this country, but loyally to support the Minister for Agriculture, and to preserve the United Kingdom from the recurrence of cattle disease.

Moved to resolve, "That in the opinion of this House, it is injurious to the agricultural interests of England and Ireland, as well as to. the stability of the dead meat and live stock trade now carried on under the guarantee of the Diseases of Animals Act, 1896, in the interest of the consumers, that this country should be kept in doubt as to the future policy of His Majesty's Government on the question of retaining the restrictions prohibiting the importation of store cattle into this country from Canada, notwithstanding the decided opinion of the Minister of Agriculture against any repeal of the Diseases of Animals Act, 1896."—(Lord Heneage.)


My Lords, whatever opinions we may hold on this important question we must all agree that my noble friend who has moved this Resolution has done so with a thoroughly practical knowledge of the subject. Representing as he does the views of agriculturists in this country, the noble Lord has appealed, I think very justly, to the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture to give us some definite statement as to what are the intentions of His Majesty's Government on the subject of the importation of foreign cattle into this country.

The noble Lord told the House that this question is being viewed with great anxiety by the agricultural community. I do not think any noble Lord on the Government Benches will deny that statement. What we agriculturists want His Majesty's Government to do is to give us some definite lead and not leave us absolutely in the dark, as we are at present, as to their policy and intention. My noble friend quoted from the speeches of the Prime Minister in another place and of the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture in your Lordships' House, and while I fully recognise that to a certain extent they sympathise with the views we hold, they absolutely decline to give us any specific reply as to the views of the Government. In this state of uncertainty it becomes necessary to press for a statement from a representative of the Cabinet. I trust that when the noble Earl replies to-day he will say something definite which we agriculturists can really understand, and which will enable us to make up our minds as to the course of action we shall pursue in the future.

I wish to say a few words on the very important position which the breeding and rearing of cattle holds in this country. I am told authoritatively that the value of the herds in this country at the present moment is no less a sum than £200,000,000. That sounds a gigantic figure, but the immunity from disease which the country has enjoyed for some years past owing to the prohibition of live imports has induced large investments in stock, and naturally there is great anxiety among those who have invested their capital as to their position in the future. My noble friend, in the course of his remarks, mentioned Argentina. I can speak from personal experience of the prices given in Argentina for pedigree cattle and stock of the highest kind. Perhaps I may be excused for mentioning that a three years old pedigree bull, winner of Royal and other prizes, which I sold to a Scottish breeder, went to Argentina last autumn at the record price of 3,600 guineas. With this and many other instances of cattle fetching very high prices, the anxiety of breeders is natural when they remember the ravages, of disease introduced by foreign importation and heavy losses and expense incurred in getting rid of the scourge.

We all regret the absence from the benches opposite of the noble Earl Lord Spencer, who was a member of the Commission appointed to inquire into the cattle plague which raged in 1865. I cannot but think that the noble Earl, if he were in your Lordships' House to-day, would agree with the views we hold on this subject. Those who can carry their minds back to 1865 will remember that the first case of cattle plague appeared at Lambeth in June of that year. By October it had spread over no fewer than twenty-nine counties in England, and there were 11,000 cases of foot-and-mouth disease. It was then that the Commission was appointed of which Lord Spencer was a prominent member, and that Commission declared that by the end of the following January there wore no less than 120,000 cases, while in Cheshire alone there were nearly 18,000 case. Ought this not to be a warning to us to exercise the most stringent measures in preventing the recurrence of such an outbreak? The Report of the Commission stated that the animals which were most liable to attack were the better-bred cattle, and consequently the more valuable.

The last outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease took place five years ago, and that was caused by infected cattle from Argentina consigned for slaughter at the port. I think there is frequently a misapprehension in the minds of people who are not thoroughly acquainted with agriculture as to the difference between pleuro-pneumonia and foot-and-mouth disease, the fact being that in the case of the former slaughter at the port is effective, whereas in the case of the latter it is no guarantee if persons have been in contact with the animals. If the animals of five years ago had had access to the country instead of being slaughtered at the ports the disease would have spread enormously. Even as it was, great expense was incurred in stopping the disease; and during that time the live stock trade of this country naturally received a considerable set back. I quote that more recent case as justifying the apprehension which is felt that if the present regulations are relaxed great danger will ensue.

Let me say a few words with regard to the policy of other countries in this matter. Every other country has found it necessary to exercise special care with regard to the importation of cattle from foreign countries, and their regulations are of a most stringent character. No animals are allowed to be landed at all until after they have been in quarantine for from six to ten weeks and have also stood the tubercular test. Let us take Canada. Not even the highest-bred pedigree cattle from Great Britain are allowed to be landed without a quarantine of forty days and also having to stand the tubercular test. Therefore, if Canada is so careful and makes such stringent laws with regard to the importation of cattle even of this character into that country, surely we ought not to be blamed for being equally careful with regard to the importation of cattle into this country. Canada, we know, is a huge country with vast tracts of grazing land for the feeding of flocks and herds, and I cannot but think that it is absolutely impossible, in a country of that size, for any number of veterinary surgeons to be absolutely responsible to the Canadian Government for the cattle being free from disease of any sort. We know that only four years ago foot-and-mouth disease was developed among cattle in some of the Eastern States of America, and with the tendency of farmers to migrate with their stock across the Canadian frontier it is almost impossible to allay all apprehension of infection.

I read with great interest a speech delivered a short time ago by a leading Scotsman at a meeting convened at Perth. Speaking in support of a resolution against the repealing or altering of the Act of 1896, he related a little incident that came within his own personal knowledge. He said that in 1899 there was a serious outbreak of pleuro-pneumonia in Kincardine, and the admission of cattle from that part was temporarily forbidden. But one little calf was smuggled into the county in a covered cart at night, and from that calf alone arose an outbreak which cost the local authorities of Aberdeen £10,000 to stamp out. The speaker put it to the meeting that if in the county of Aberdeen, with an efficient police force and with only one means of access to the district, and that over a small bridge, could not keep out disease, how could the Canadians, with such an enormous frontier, attempt to do so? This shows how careful we should be with regard to the admission of cattle into this country from Canada.

The Irish point of view must also be remembered, for Ireland depends to a very great extent on cattle rearing and breeding. I believe there are several hundred thousand holdings in Ireland which are devoted to the, cultivation of Cattle stock, and which would be absolutely devastated if anything like disease were allowed to enter the country. Let me read a statement made by Mr. O'Brien in the House of Lords.


In the House of Commons.


Well, perhaps some day he will be here. Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr. O'Brien drew attention to the fact that a great number of tenants in Ireland relied for their subsistence more or less on the breeding and rearing of cattle. He said— Every judicial rent fixed since 1894 had been based on this legislative security from disease." † Under the recent legislation passed by the Party to which I have the honour to † See (4) Debates clv., 927 belong, the late occupiers of holdings are now their owners, and there is, therefore, no question of the landlord coming down and helping the tenant in the event of serious loss occurring. To a large owner the loss of one or two cows may not be a serious matter, but it would be of very vital and serious moment to a small holder.

I have ventured to put forward, to the best of my ability, the reasons why, in my opinion, it is absolutely necessary for His Majesty's Government to speak in no uncertain terms. As has been pointed out by the noble Lord who moved the Resolution now before the House, there are a certain number of agriculturists and others who wish to see the present state of affairs altered, but I think that the number is small and consists of breeders who buy and fatten stock and who do not rely on the rearing and breeding of cattle for their livelihood. My noble friend pointed out, by the figures he quoted, that they are at the present moment suffering no hardship. They can buy cheaply and feed cheaply, and, from the point of view of the feeder who buys only to fatten, I cannot see how he will be injured by the maintenance of the present system. I go still further, and say that if you yield to the wishes of these men, and if by any unforeseen calamity you have a recurrence of disease, you will have again to impose the burden of a huge expenditure of money on the taxpayers and ratepayers of the country to wipe it out.

This question is not a political one. We all wish to benefit the agricultural community; we all wish to avoid disease find to be guided by our experience in the past. No question of protection in the fiscal sense is involved; it is the protection of our flocks and herds from danger that is at stake. I therefore urge the noble Earl, in the interets of this great industry, to state that the Government intend to continue in force the present regulations. I do not wish to put courage into His Majesty's Government, but I do appeal to them to recognise that this go-as-you-please policy, this leave-it-to-you policy, is not conducive to the dignity of any Government responsible for the administration of the affairs of this country. Let them have the courage of their convictions.

I will give the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture an instance which I think should come home to him. I remember that, when six years ago my right hon. friend Mr. Walter Long was President of the Department of which the noble Earl is now the head, he considered that the country was in danger of hydrophobia. Without a moment's hesitation he, with the sanction of the Government of which he was a member, introduced the muzzling order. The denunciations that were heaped upon Mr. Long and the attacks that were made upon him, will be remembered by your Lordships, but I venture to say that there is no conscientious man who does not realise that by his determination Mr. Walter Long eventually succeeded in I stamping out hydrophobia. Let me commend that policy to the noble Earl Let him take his courage in his hand like Mr. Walter Long, and, defying unpopularity among a certain section of his party, act in the interests of the community as a whole.


My Lords we have listened to two very interesting speeches from noble Lords who are themselves practical agriculturists and well qualified to speak on this particular subject, and they have impressed upon your Lordships in strong terms both the importance and the value of our great agricultural industry, and also the necessity of keeping that industry free from the danger of contagious disease. I am certain that that is the unanimous feeling in all parts of the House, and no less so among members of His Majesty's Government. I do not wish to enter into any controversial subject, but I would point out to my noble friend who has just sat down that when he quoted the great outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 1865 as an instance why the present restrictions in the case of Canadian cattle should be retained he took an instance which is in no way relevant to the subject under discussion, because the Act of 1896 was aimed at pleuro-pneumonia and pleuro-pneumonia alone. My noble friend in a subsequent portion of his speech illustrated that by pointing out that only five years ago, under this very Act which, according to him, is to keep out every sort of disease from this country, foot-and-mouth disease was still introduced, notwithstanding that slaughter at the ports took place. As I have said, the Act requiring slaughter at the ports was directed against pleuro-pneumonia and pleuro-pneumonia alone, I and it is still possible for such ravaging diseases as rinderpest and foot-and-mouth disease to be introduced under the present regulations.

On a previous occasion when we were discussing this somewhat vexed question your Lordships were good enough to allow me to express my views at some length upon it, and I had hoped that I should not have been called upon to address the House this afternoon; but there are a few further points to which I should like to be allowed to refer. In the first place, I should like to point out that there is no intimation of any proposal on the part of His Majesty's Government to repeal the Act of 1896. On the contrary, my noble friend Lord Carrington, who is responsible for the great Department of Agriculture, has on several occasions given us hopes, if not absolute assurances, that the present, at any rate, is not, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, an opportune moment for repealing that Act. But when noble Lords opposite assert that this Act is to be as unalterable as the laws of the Medes and Persians and that not a word of it must be changed, that is going too far.

The Act of 1896 was, if I may call it so, an administrative Act; that is to say, it stereotyped an Order of the Board of Agriculture which had been made in 1892 ordering the slaughter at! the ports of Canadian cattle. That Order was made because there seemed a reasonable fear of the introduction of pleuro-pneumonia' into this country at that moment, and, incidentally, by stereotyping that Order, it has been brought about by the Act of 1896 that no further supply of store cattle from any part of the world at any time can be brought into this country. But it is quite conceivable—I hope it is quite improbable—that it might in the future be necessary, in the interests, not only of agriculturists, but of the country, that some accidentally diminished stock of cattle in this country should be replenished from abroad. Another occasion might occur. We might be on the eve of a great maritime war, rendering it necessary to import into the country immense quantities of store cattle in order to secure the food supply of the people, and there are, doubtless, other reasons which might render the repeal or modification of this Act necessary in the opinion of the Government; therefore to ask His Majesty's Government to give an unqualified pledge that under no circumstances will they touch the Act of 1896 is, I venture to think, to ask them to do something beyond the bounds of reason or necessity.

The apprehension in the minds of the noble Lord who moved the Motion now before the House and of the noble Marquess opposite—an apprehension which, to a certain degree, I myself have shared—seems to have arisen from the introduction of a Bill by a private Member in the House of Commons with the object of reintroducing into this country store cattle from Canada; but, though that Bill is still technically before the House of Commons, I think I may say that there is no chance whatever of its passing into law. I may at once add that had I been a Member of the House of Commons when that Bill was brought forward I should have voted against it, and I will tell your Lordships why. That Bill contains, it is true, a clause restoring to the Minister of Agriculture the power he had before the Act of 1896, namely, of admitting store cattle or ordering them to be slaughtered at the ports; but everybody knows that the intention of the promoters of that Bill is to procure the instant admission to this country of Canadian stores; they have always held that Canada is free from disease, and the country generally would expect admission of Canadian stores to follow the passing of the Bill; and therefore you are practically imposing on the House of Commons an administrative and executive act which should be left entirely to the Minister of Agriculture. Parliament is of course supreme and if the Minister of Agriculture is wrong, if he is inefficient or weak, Parliament can call upon him to resign or defeat the Government of which he is a prominent Member: but I think Parliament is the worst body to be entrusted with the performance of such executive acts as these.

Anyone who has had to administer the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act, or similar Acts, knows perfectly well that everybody is united in a general desire that our country should be free from cattle disease. But when you go down to a special locality and impose the restrictions necessary to keep disease out, it is marvellous how in that locality reasons are found for contending that the disease is not quite so bad as it might be, and that the regulations are more drastic than the occasion requires. In the House of Commons the localities which are anxious to import Canadian store cattle are very efficiently and even illustriously represented. The Members who represent those localities very properly voice the feelings of their constituents that these restrictions should be taken off, and therefore, with all submission, I hold that the House of Commons is not the proper body to which these delicate and judicial duties should be entrusted. They should be left to the Minister for Agriculture, whose business it is to protect the general interests of the country. That is the main reason why I objected to the Act of 1896, and the Bill now brought in to admit Canadian cattle is, I venture to think, the direct outcome of that Act. For it was obvious, and I pointed it out it the time, that when reaction set in and the opportunity arrived, those who desired the admission of Canadian stores would endeavour to legislate for their admission in as wholesale a fashion as you had legislated for their exclusion; and that the Government of the day might be forced to take off the embargo on possibly insufficient grounds. That danger was one of my principal objections to Mr. Long's Act.

Now I will give another reason why I should vote against the Bill at present before the House of Commons. Suppose that Bill became law, it is possible that the next day my noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture might find it absolutely necessary to put on the restrictions which the Act of Parliament had practically taken off. For although Canada may be free from pleuro-pneumonia at the present moment, it might yet be the means of introducing disease from other countries which are contiguous. I remember that when I was responsible for the administration of the Board of Agriculture we had a similar case in Norway. A country may be free from disease, and yet, with a large and extended frontier, it may become the funnel by which disease is introduced into this country.

If the present Bill were to pass and arrangements were in consequence made for the bringing over and reception of Canadian store cattle, and afterwards my noble friend the Minister for Agriculture was obliged to prohibit those store cattle coming in, so as. to keep out disease, the result would be to make confusion worse confounded and incidentally might bring financial loss upon farmers in Canada and at home who had on the faith of this Bill made arrangements for exporting or purchasing Canadian stores. But as I have said, we have had no intimation of any intention on the part of His Majesty's Government of repealing the Act of 1896. I am not a prophet, but I venture to think there is but a small chance of that ever taking place. I am perfectly certain, however, that the Bill to which I have alluded will not become law, and I have very considerable doubts whether any similar Bill is likely to pass the Legislature in years to come. On the other hand, I do not think you can ask His Majesty's Government to give an unqualified pledge that under no circumstances will they contemplate any alteration of any particular Act. I therefore venture to hope that my noble friend Lord Heneage will be satisfied when the President of the Board of Agriculture makes his statement; but if, unfortunately, he goes to a division I shall not be able to support him.


My Lords, I did not take part in the debate on the former occasion when this subject was under discussion in your Lordships' House, because I thought we had received an assurance from the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture that might set at rest the doubts which then existed in the minds of some of your Lordships. If I remember aright, the noble Marquess the Leader of this House concluded his remarks, in replying to my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, by saying that if he was not satisfied with what the Government had said on that occasion he would be satisfied in a very short time. I venture to think that my noble friend and those who sit on this side of the House have not been satisfied.

I was extremely glad to hear the statement by the noble Lord opposite who at one time occupied the position of President of the Board of Agriculture that he for one would not have supported the measure which was introduced in another place. But what fills the minds of agriculturists with alarm is the difficulty of ascertaining what exactly is the attitude of His Majesty's Government towards that Bill. My noble friend Lord Burghclere said that in every case of this kind each locality wanted to have exceptional treatment meted out to them. Unfortunately there are in the Cabinet at this moment three Ministers—the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Secretary of State for War— who represent constituencies which are in the condition to which my noble friend alluded, for they want exceptional legislation for themselves in the way of the removal of the embargo on Canadian stores. It is this fact which has produced in the minds of some of us who sit on this side of the House a fear lost the views of the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture should not be shared by his colleagues in the Cabinet.

The Prime Minister said ho thought we ought to have much sympathy with what he called the nervousness expressed in some quarters as to the possibility of the introduction of disease. The "nervousness" to which the Prime Minister referred is not the nervousness of old ladies who see a mouse and run away. It is a very real and genuine nervousness which is felt by agriculturists as to the introduction, even by a pure accident, of disease among the herds of this country. I was President of the Board of Agriculture at the time when the Argentine Government gave the most complete assurance that there was no such thing as foot-and-mouth disease in Argentina; yet one of the first things I had to do, as President of that Department, was to order the destruction of a large number of cattle infected with foot-and-mouth disease on their voyage from Argentina to this country. There were thirty-one ships with cargoes of animals on board. Special precautions were exercised, and they were placed in a part of the wharf specially reserved for that purpose. The slaughtermen and all employed wore provided with overall clothing, and each man on leaving was thoroughly fumigated. The hides and skins of the animals were treated in a similar manner, and the offal, heads, feet, and other portions were destroyed by fire. The vessels, before going into dock, were taken seven miles out to sea, where their temporary fittings were destroyed by fire and such portions of the ships as had been in contact with the animals were disinfected. Those were the precautions which it was necessary to adopt. I ask your Lordships to consider whether, if those precautions were necessary, it might not happen that by the pure accident of somebody escaping disinfection an extremely infectious disease might be carried to the flocks and herds of this country. I ask your Lordships whether it is safe to allow the slightest risk of the introduction of disease into this country. I have heard it said that there is a doubt whether there is any disease among the animals in Canada. I do not know whether or not there is disease among them, but I would point out that not longer ago than 1902 there was an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the New England States of America, from which, in the winter-time, animals from Canada have to pass. Between November, 1902, and May, 1903, 4,712 cattle in 244 herds in the New England States were found to be infected with foot and mouth disease. Therefore, I say there is a real and practical danger, when cattle from Canada have to come through these States to be shipped to this country, of disease being introduced here.

The whole of the agitation for the repeal of the existing restrictions is based on very slender grounds indeed. It proceeds from a small number of feeders in Norfolk and in the Eastern counties of Scotland, who undoubtedly purchased their stores in the years preceding 1891 at a very cheap rate. It does not at all follow that because they bought them cheap in those years they would buy them cheap to-day. There was a prejudice then against Canadian stores, and they were sold at a cheap rate; but if they came in now the price would soon approximate to that paid for stores in this country. It would, therefore, be of little advantage to them.

What would be the advantage to the consumer? An animal two or three years old landing here would be fattened in six months or so and, instead of the consumer being sold 10 cwt. of Canadian beef, he would be sold 12 cwt. of what would be called "prime Scotch." The animals would be finished off in Scotland, and the meat would be sold as prime Scotch. I presided over a Committee which was appointed to inquire into the question of the marking of foreign meat, and we had many cases of fraud brought to our notice. We were told of the case of a man who kept a famous Welsh mutton shop in the Strand. This trader sold some mutton to a gentleman who gave evidence before the Committee. He persisted that it was Welsh mutton until the purchaser proved that he knew better, and then he replied, "Oh, well, it's New South Welsh mutton." That is very much what would happen if these stores were allowed to come into this country. The Committee I have referred to recommended that no steps should be taken for marking foreign moat, because a large quantity of meat is imported into this country and sold at a cheap rate. If all that moat were marked and were known by the consumer to be obtainable at a very cheap rate the consumer would say he would have no more prime Scotch, but would have foreign meat at the price of foreign meat. Therefore the farmer would not have benefited by the marking of foreign meat.

But I want your Lordships to consider what a very small proportion these Canadian stores bear to the whole cattle trade of the country. There were never more than 50,000 or 60,000 imported into the country, and that is only 2 per cent. of the stores sold here in one year, and I ask your Lordships whether it is reasonable that in the interests of these few feeders we should run the risk of importing disease into the country. I hope the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture will assure us that the Government have no intention, notwithstanding what may have been said in another place, of giving countenance or support to such a Bill as has been introduced into the House of Commons, but that, on the other hand, they endorse the prayer which I hope they say every day of their lives, "Lead us not into temptation."


My Lords, as I came down, to the House to-night I met a gentleman who described himself as a candid friend, by which is meant a man who takes every opportunity of saying disagreeable things. He said he was glad to tell me that when I came down to your Lordships' House to-night I and the Government to which I belonged, would get about the best dressing we had ever had in the course of our lives. I am bound to say that I have been most agreeably disappointed. There has not been one word in all the temperate speeches which the House has listened to to which I can take any possible exception; nor is there anything in the Motion that has been moved by the noble Lord below the gangway, save perhaps one or two words towards the end, to which I can take exception. The words I allude to are those referring to the experts of the Board of Agriculture as having expressed a decided opinion on this subject.


If my noble friend thinks those words ought not to be in, I will gladly omit them; but I referred, not to what has been said now, but to the memorandum to which I alluded and which has been published as a Parliamentary Paper.


All I have to take exception to is the insinuation that any members of the Civil Service have expressed any opinion one way or the other.


Then I withdraw the words.


My candid friend next asked me if I had read the Motion. I replied that I had, and he said "Don't you see that it is a vote of censure on you and the Front Bench?" A vote of censure is a disagreeable thing, and it often has somewhat troublesome and expensive consequences. I was therefore very glad that in almost his first words the noble Lord who moved the Motion told the House that it was not a vote of censure. In fact, my noble- friend Lord Heneage wrote to me to the effect that the Motion was not in any way to be considered a Party one. That was very reassuring and comforting, and I thank him very much for that statement. I read a speech made on April 28th last by the noble Lord who moved this Motion, in which he is reported to have said that he did not intend to consult the Leaders on the Front Opposition Bench, but would propose the Motion himself without consulting anybody except perhaps his friends on the private Benches whom he would get to support him. I thought, under those circumstances, that it would not be a very formidable Motion, and I was alarmed when I saw the noble Marquess get up from the Front Opposition Bench to support it. But the noble Marquess's speech was on all fours with that of the noble Lord who preceded him, and so we breathed again.

But what I had the greatest confidence in was the fact that this question, debateable as it is, is one neither of policy nor of principle. It is a question of industrial expediency, a sort of national insurance, and the point, so far as I understand it, is whether it is necessary, in the national interests, that this system of national insurance should or should not be continued. I have a strong personal opinion on that subject myself. I have expressed it once or twice, and need not trouble the House again with regard to it. But even if this were a Vote of Censure it would only be a Vote of Censure on a question of expediency, and not on one of principle or policy. One Vote of Censure differs from another in importance just as one star we are told differs from another in glory.

What is the real state of the case? The question of Canadian cattle was not even mentioned in the King's Speech; the Government do not intend to bring in a Bill to repeal the Act of 1896 in the present session; and there is not the slightest possibility that the private Bill to which reference has been made, and upon which there has been such a hubbub, will proceed any further this session. Therefore I hope I may be permitted to say that we have not been in a hurry to make a change. We have recognised the magnitude of the interests involved, and it is my firm conviction that those interests will best be served by the adoption of a course which will allow Parliamentary and public opinion to mature and ripen.

That being so, are we very much to blame? What do the Opposition really wish us to do? It is well known that there is a great diversity of opinion upon this subject. Even people in the same family do not agree one with another; the members of His Majesty's Cabinet have different opinions, us is well known; counties have different opinions; I believe Scotland—I have been corrected in this House for the statement, but I believe it is true—Scotland also is divided, in fact I believe a majority of Scotsmen are against any alteration in the law. And as regards England, I think Lord Desborough, who spoke in this House in the debate initiated by Lord Jersey some time ago, said that ninety-nine out of every 100 ordinary agriculturists of England were in favour of the status quo.† Perhaps that may be a high figure, but there is no doubt whatever—everybody must see from the great deputation which did me the honour to come and see me on the subject—that the great weight of English agricultural opinion is certainly against any change at present. My candid friend told me, "Oh, that is all very well, but there are two ways of doing it." I suppose there are. There is the right way and there is the wrong way. But it struck me that I might go a little bit further, and there came across my mind a very wise saying that was put into the mouth of one of the cleverest and most fascinating primus donnas that delighted all Paris just before the Franco-Prussian war of 1870—I mean Hortense Schneider—and Mr. Offenbach, in his opera La Belle Hélène, has put into her mouth these words:— It y a trois moyens d' arriver au cœur d'une. femme—l'amour, la violence, et la ruse. I think I might go on with that simile by saying that there are three ways in which a British Prime Minister can touch the heart of the British House of Commons. There is the affectionate way; he can go to the House of Commons and say, "This is a debateable point on which there is a great diversity of opinion, and I would like to get your opinion on the subject; I should like it debated so that I may know what the opinion of the country, through the House of Commons, is." Then there would be the violent, or the autocratic way of treating the subject † See (4) Debates, clv., 649. —the way that would have boon adopted by the younger Pitt. He might say— Sic volo sic jubeo: I don't care what your opinions are, you will have to toe the line. He would have brought the House of Commons, and the Cabinet, and the nation, together in a way which reminds me of a sentence used in your Lordships' House by the late.Marquess of Salisbury himself, when he practically told a recalcitrant Archbishop of Canterbury:— I don't care three straws what you think; what I mind is what you do. Then there is the third way of treating the subject, and that would be the diplomatic or the Balfourian way. He would say: "A disagreeable man has brought a disagreeable question before the House of Commons; it is a difficult thing to face, but there is one way of getting out of the difficulty; let us all stay away and let not us go near the place until the storm has blown over." The Prime Minister chose the first of these methods, and I believe that by showing his trust and his confidence in the House of Commons he has to so great an extent deservedly obtained the reciprocal trust and confidence and affection of that great body.

Now, as regards this attitude, what reasonable cause of complaint is there? The noble Lord, Lord Heneage reminded us that there had been an election. We on this side of the House are not likely to forget that election for some considerable time. But we must also not forget that this is a self-governing country; the Ministry accepts office on that footing, and it is the business of the Ministry to give effect to the wishes of the country, the people of which have put that Ministry in power, and they ought not to take office unless they are prepared to do so. Where can we find a proper expression of the country's wishes except in the House of Commons, the Members of which—whatever other people may say— are the direct representatives of the country at large? So, my Lords, this is the way in which a question, not of principle, not of policy, but of expediency, has been treated.

I have but very little more to say. My noble friend Lord Burghclere, in the speech which he made to-night, anticipated a great deal of what I should have said had he not made that speech.

I do not wish to delay the House by going over the whole ground again. The subject was debated at very great length when, a few weeks ago, Lord Jersey brought the question before your Lordships, † But I am grateful to Lord Heneage for having brought the subject forward again, because it gives me an opportunity of bringing before the House of Lords—and, through the House of Lords, before the nation—the chivalrous way in which the great Dominion of Canada has behaved in this matter. Canada has shown this country a great example by her attitude. This Act is of just as great importance to the Dominion of Canada as it is to ourselves. They look upon it as a matter—I will not say of injustice, but they think it would be just if the embargo was removed; and Mr. Fisher, the Minister for Agriculture, has gone so far as to say that he looked upon it as an unfriendly act. That is perfectly true, but I am informed by one who is best qualified to speak, and who has the confidence not only of this country, but also of the great Dominion of Canada—I have his direct statement that whatever may be the decision of your Lordships' House and of the House of Commons and of this country, it will cause no feeling of resentment in Canada whatever, and it will be loyally accepted: it may be a disappointment, but it will be received with feelings entirely friendly, and will make no bad blood whatever between the two countries. That brings me to the last words that I have to say, namely, that the British Empire can surely be in no peril when such messages as these are flashed across the seas from the sons of that empire of which we are so proud to the mother country which they love so well.


May I ask the noble Earl whether he referred in his remarks to Lord Strathcona?




The noble Lord who has just sat down did not impart to us the name of that candid friend to whom he owes so much of the inspiration of his speech, and I am tempted to hope that that anonymity † See (4) Debates. clv., 632 et seq. will be preserved, for anything more imperfect than his appreciation of the situation in the House this evening I can scarcely imagine. I do not think it ever entered into any of our heads, when we saw the notice which my noble friend had put upon the Paper, that it was intended as a vote of censure upon His Majesty's Government. What I conceived that that Motion was intended to afford was an opportunity to His Majesty's Ministers of making their attitude, with regard to this important question, a little clearer than it has hitherto been. I am bound to say that up to a certain point the noble Lord the President of the Board of Agriculture has thrown a little mote light upon the intentions of His Majesty's Government, for he has told us to-night distinctly that we need have no apprehension whatever that His Majesty's Ministers will legislate upon this subject during the present session, and that the Private Bill, to which reference has been made, is not likely to be further proceeded with. No doubt that statement applies to any Private Bill or proposal that may proceed from other sources. Therefore, I have to thank the noble Lord for having, to some extent, given us a little comfort. I was rather amused— if he will forgive my saying so—at the ingenious defence of His Majesty's Government offered to the House by my noble friend Lord Burghclere. He suggested that we had been demanding of His Majesty's Government that they should regard the Act of 1896 as a law of the Medes and Persians, and that they should give a formal undertaking to Parliament that under no circumstances should that Act be ever altered or amended. None of my noble friends who have spoken on the subject have taken up that attitude for a moment. But we were seriously alarmed at the manner in which the question was dealt with in speeches delivered both in this House and elsewhere—not in the speeches delivered by the representatives of the Board of Agriculture, because the noble President showed by his language that his personal inclinations, at all events, were in what we conceive to be the right direction, and I believe that in the other House of. Parliament, the representative of the Board of Agriculture, although loudly called for, was not allowed to take part in the debate. But, my Lords, when we come 10 the more prominent members of the Government, I have to say a word as to what fell from the noble Marquess the Leader of the House. He will recollect that last time this question was discussed he closed the debate, and in his concluding remarks he asked for time, upon the ground that His Majesty's Government wore carefully considering the "crosscurrents" of public opinion, both in. Great Britain and in Ireland, and he promised me that if I was not satisfied with his answer, I should be satisfied, in a very short time. That satisfaction, has not been afforded to us—certainly not until tonight, and to-night only to a limited extent. The day after our debate, however, we had a statement from the Prime Minister, and I gather from the manner in which that statement has been received out of doors that it was universally interpreted as an announcement that the Act of 1896 ought to go, but that the-time had not quite come for repealing it. There was an expression to this effect— that the first blast of the trumpet could not be expected to bring down the walls, or something of that kind, and we naturally drew the inference that an attack in force upon the Act of 1896 was fully intended by His Majesty's advisers, and in all that he has said in Parliament and out of Parliament the Prime Minister has made it apparent that the particular crosscurrent which he has been navigating has been drifting him towards the East Coast of Scotland and nowhere else.

In these circumstances I think that my noble friends who have brought this subject forward are amply justified in pro testing against an indefinite prolongation of the suspense in which the agricultural community of these islands have been kept with regard to a question which in their eyes is of absolutely vital importance to their profession. The great majority of the farmers of the United Kingdom are strongly in favour of the maintenance of the Act of 1896, and the reason may be expressed in two or three words which I take from a speech of my noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture, who told, I think, a deputation that undoubtedly the farmers of this country regarded with "overwhelming terror "the prospect of the introduction of disease. That is the feeling of the agricultural community. If there was any reason for supposing that the restrictions imposed by the Act of 1896 had really seriously injured anyone, I could much more conceive that His Majesty's Government should desire to repeal it. But all the evidence is the other way. I am not going to trouble your Lordships with statistics, but if you will look at the statements which have been made on behalf of the Department concerned—the Board of Agriculture—you will see that since 1896 there has been substantially no increase in the price either of store cattle or of meat. Of course there have been fluctuations; the price of store cattle obviously varies according to the amount of keep in the country, but taking one period of years with another, if you will compare the five years that preceded the passing of the Act of 1896 with any subsequent term of years, you will find that prices, far from having been driven up by this legislation, have remained upon the whole fairly constant. I dwell upon that point because it is idle to pretend that this is a consumers' question. The consumer does not suffer for a moment by what you have done.

Then there is another thing to be considered. Do not forget that the result of this legislation has been to bring into existence a very extensive business in dead moat, or in cattle imported for slaughtering at the port of debarkation. Surely you ought to think twice before, in your endeavour to placate what I believe is a small section of the agricultural community, you disorganise and break up the whole of those trade arrangements. One word more. The suggestion has been made that the Act of 1896 might be repealed, and that instead of it you should allow the Government of the day to deal with this question from time to time. I want your Lordships to consider for one moment what that means. It means that you will substitute for a statute of which everyone is aware the action of a Government Department. If I was sure that in all cases the judgment of the Board of Agriculture—by which I mean the Board consisting of the President and his expert advisers—would prevail, I should not be so much alarmed at the change. But what we all know, and what we have been taught by recent events, is that it is not the experts at the Board of Agriculture, or the Minister for Agriculture,—for there is no difference in the views of one Minister for Agriculture and another on this question— but it is the Government of the day, influenced by those cross-currents and political influences of which we are all aware, and the prevalence of which was admitted by the President of the Board of Agriculture, when he gave us his views on the constitutional relations between the Prime Minister and the House of Commons—it is those influences which will prevail, and not the real necessities of the farmers of the country.

I will refer to only one other point, namely, that which was dealt with in his closing sentences by my noble friend Lord Carrington. He spoke of the attitude of the Canadian Government. I feel sure that he described that attitude with absolute correctness. I, for one, doubt extremely whether the Act of 1896 has really inflicted any very great injury upon the farmers of Canada. My impression is that they send their cattle to us, in spite of the Act of 1896, not as stores but in the shape of beef or in the shape of fat cattle for slaughter. But be that as it may, I am firmly convinced that any measures which the Government of this country may deem necessary for the protection of our own farmers will be loyally acquiesced in by the Canadian Government and the Canadian people.


My Lords, I addressed your Lordships so recently upon this subject that it is not necessary that I should detain you for any length of time. I told your Lordships on a former occasion what my views on this question were generally—namely, that I had been an opponent of the Act of 1896 in this House. I told your Lordships then, and I must say it again now, that looking at the question as an abstract question, I prefer the arrangements which obtained before the Act of 1896 was passed to the arrangements made by that Act. The arrangements which existed before 1896, and were administered with so much ability by my noble friend Lord Burghclere, kept out disease from this country. My noble friend took upon himself the great responsibility—I am sure he will agree that it was a great responsibility—of ex-eluding Canadian cattle altogether. He excluded them successfully, and therefore I thought in 1896 that there was no necessity for a change in the law. But as I said upon a former occasion, the change may have been inadvisable—I think it was—but it having been made, it is a very different thing to propose to alter the law which was then passed, and which I admit has worked successfully for its purpose since that time. With regard to the intentions of His Majesty's Government, I have only to repeat what was said by my noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture. His Majesty's Government have no present intentions of proposing to repeal or to alter the Act of 1896. That, I hope, is a clear and explicit declaration. With regard to the Bill which is still technically before the House of Commons, I think it is admitted by all those who know the mode of procedure in that House that that Bill has practically no chance of getting any further. When I last addressed your Lordships on this subject, it was on the eve of the discussion upon that Bill, and I think that it was correct of me not to express a more definite opinion than I did, seeing that the whole subject was about to be discussed in the House of Commons. That discussion is past; it is not likely to be renewed; and I have stated the views of His Majesty's Government explicitly, I hope. My noble friend who has just sat down, and the noble Lord who introduced the discussion, say that this Motion is not intended as a vote of censure. Of course I accept that declaration. I think the Motion might have been worded in a different manner, and then it never would have created the suspicion, which I confess I had in my mind, that it was so intended. But when my noble friend says it is not so intended, it would be very foolish and absurd for me to suppose that it is. At the same time there is no necessity for passing this Resolution at all, and I am glad to see that my noble friend admits that to be so, and, therefore, I do not know that I need detain your Lordships any longer, because all that I desired to do was to repeat the opinion expressed by my noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture in respect to the intentions of the Government in the matter.


My Lords, as far as I personally am concerned, I am perfectly satisfied with the result of the debate, and therefore I shall be only too glad to ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave of the House, withdrawn.

House adjourned at half-past Six o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.