HL Deb 10 February 1908 vol 183 cc1303-5

My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government whether the Board of Agriculture is taking any, and, if so, what steps to prevent, under the Destructive Insects and Pests Act, 1907, the spread of the new and destructive potato disease known as black scab. I hope the President of the Board will be able to assure me that he is prepared to take drastic action in the case of this vegetable pest.

Last year I asked the noble Earl a question upon another important matter to agriculturists—I refer to the disease called gooseberry mildew. At that time he did not seem to think the matter of very great importance, and was not prepared to take legislative power. But in the course of the year I think he must have found that my information was superior to that of his Department, for he did take steps to pass, and succeeded in passing, the Act to which I refer in my Question. Unfortunately, however, the executive action under that measure has not been successful. The Department has been far too tender, and I am informed, on excellent authority, that the pest is spreading in the most alarming way. I am told that there are now 1,000 consecutive acres affected in Cambridgeshire alone. The measures that the noble Earl has taken have failed in this way. The Government give no assistance towards compensation for destruction, which is the only possible way of getting rid of the pest. The county councils, I suppose, think it is not fair to the ratepayers that they should find the whole of the compensation, and the cultivator naturally defers destruction until the very last moment, when probably it is too late.

The pest to which I refer to-night—that known as black scab—is just as dangerous, if not more so; and the danger is imminent for this reason, that I am informed it has spread at last to Scotland, from which the best seed is usually obtained. If seed is to be disseminated all over the country with this pest in it, the risk of spreading the disease is very serious. I understand that, in the case of cattle diseases, such as the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Scotland, the Agricultural Department does contribute towards the compensation for destruction. If that is the case in connection with animal pests, why should it not be done in the case of vegetable pests? I am certain that, unless the noble Earl takes drastic action, this vegetable pest to which I am now directing his attention will spread all over the country. Already the English black-currant has almost disappeared from England altogether, the present variety being a French variety. We have had the gooseberry attacked and now the potato, and in view of the present policy of small holdings the importance of these matters is very great. Therefore, I suggest that it is as reasonable for the Department to give assistance towards compensation to small farmers for the destruction of these pests, as it is for them to give assistance to the larger farmers when their cattle have to be destroyed.


My Lords, it is the case that the potato disease called the black scab, to which attention has been called by the noble Lord, is in existence. It was first observed in 1901, and was imported, I believe, from the Continent. It has since spread over the whole of the North-west of England and the North of Wales; it is prevalent in Lancashire, and cases have been reported from Scotland and the Midlands; but, so far, it has not appeared in the South and the East of England. Your Lordships were good enough to give me very drastic powers under the Destructive Insects and Pests Act of last year, and I can assure the House that my Department are fully sensible of the danger of this new potato disease and will do the best they can to stop it. We have been considering whether it would not be right to issue immediately an order giving power to deal with this pest. These diseases are not very much understood as yet, but we shall at once introduce black scab into the Order. I do not think I need follow the noble Lord into the question he raised about compensation. If he will bring it up on some future occasion, I shall be very glad to argue it out with him. As he also mentioned the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, perhaps I may be permitted to assure the House that, so far as we know, the disease has been entirely confined to the area where it broke out. Almost all the cattle have been already slaughtered, and there are great hopes, owing to the promptness with which the officials of the Board have tackled this serious outbreak, that it will not be extended.


My Lords, I am sure the statement of the noble Earl that active steps have been taken to confine the foot and mouth disease to the part of the country in which it broke out is most gratifying; but I should like to ask him, in the interests of agriculture as a whole, if he can give the House any idea as to how the disease first originated, and whether the origin has been traced to any other part of the country.


I think its origin has been traced, but we are not absolutely certain. In these circumstances, I hope the noble Marquess will forgive me if I do not make any further statement to-day.