HL Deb 23 July 1908 vol 193 cc292-4

rose to call attention to the report of a deputation which waited upon the Prime Minister to invite him to repeal the Diseases of Animals Act, 1896, which prevents the importation alive of cattle into this country from abroad; and to ask what is the attitude of His Majesty's Government on the subject. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I observed in the usual channels of information a short time ago that a deputation had waited on the Prime Minister with respect to the state of the law affecting the introduction of live cattle from abroad. No very lengthy report of that deputation, or of the answer which was made to it, was given; but so far as I could gather, the right hon. Gentleman said that he came from a constituency interested in this question, and that he was prepared to give very favourable consideration to the introduction of live cattle into this country if he could be satisfied that they came from countries where there was no disease. But we also were informed that the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture took a very different line, and was not at all sympathetic to the objects of the deputation. I confess that that is entirely in accord with everything we have heard from the noble Earl either in this House or elsewhere. The question was raised last session or the session before, and the noble Earl, with no uncertain voice, said he had no intention of departing from the policy of his predecessors. There has been some agitation in this matter, and it has been chiefly based on the idea that there is a scarcity—I believe it has been put as high as a famine—in the meat markets; but if your Lordships will look at the prices of recent months and of recent years you will see that meat is not really any dearer now than it has been on frequent occasions, due to temporary causes, in recent years. There have been some fluctuations, consequent, I believe, on a shortage of maize in America. As a result, the price of cattle went up in May and June, but I see from the official reports of the Board of Agriculture that it has gone back again. In the report dated July 2nd, I noticed that there was a marked fall in the price of beef, and that all the dead meat markets, especially American and Argentine chilled, were dull. The following week all kinds were more or less down, and then on July 16th it is reported that, while Scottish and English beef remained firm, there were heavier supplies and prices were lower. I venture to think that there is no ground for the assertion that there is a marked scarcity in the supply of meat in this country, and that there is no difference between the present position and the position in recent years. Then it has been alleged that there is a feeling of grievance on the part of our Canadian brethren on this question. I should like to ask whether any, and if so, what representations have been made by the Government of Canada to this country as to the state of the law which prevents the importation alive of Canadian cattle. My own belief is that there is no feeling at all in Canada on the subject. I have heard it said by Canadians that at the time they were sending over store cattle to this country they were not alive to the fact that they were sending us the raw material and that this country was making the profit after fattening the cattle and turning out the finished article, but they now preferred to do the finishing off of the raw material at home and get the profit from both rearing and fattening the stock as well. I assume that there has been no great agitation on the part of our Canadian cousins to have cattle admitted alive into this country, and I venture to think that the recent rise in price is only one of those fluctuations in the market which we must anticipate. I hope to hear from the noble Earl opposite that he, at any rate, has not departed from the policy he has announced to Parliament, and that that policy is endorsed by his colleagues in the Cabinet.


My Lords, the Act of 1896, as your Lordships are aware, prohibits the importation of cattle unless they are slaughtered at ports of landing, such as Deptford, Liverpool, Bristol, and Glasgow. I have to say that the Government do not propose, in existing circumstances, to initiate any legislation on the subject. I may, perhaps, be permitted to add that the President of the Board of Trade intends to appoint a Departmental Committee to inquire how far, and in what mariner, the general supply, distribution, and price of meat in the United Kingdom are controlled or affected by any combination of firms or companies. I have had no representations lately from the Canadian Government on the subject, and I am informed on very high authority indeed, that whatever restrictions we are obliged to put on the importation of Canadian cattle will be loyally accepted.