HL Deb 24 February 1916 vol 21 cc189-92

LORD STRACHIE rose to ask the President of the Board of Agriculture whether there has been any extension of the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease on the farm of the Somerset County Lunatic Asylum at Wells; and further, if there has been none, when the area of restriction will be reduced.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in asking the President of the Board of Agriculture the Question standing in my name I desire to say that I should be the last person in the world to urge upon him to remove these restrictions until it is absolutely safe. At the same time he is, of course, aware that the sooner the area of restriction can be reduced the better it is for the agriculture of the area. I understand that up to the present moment there has been no further outbreak, and that all the animals affected or which had been in contact have been slaughtered for a week or more.


My Lords, I should like to take this opportunity of condoling, first of all, with the noble Lord, because I know that his own park has been affected by the order which the Department has had to make, although I am glad to say there has been no disease in connection with his stock. I should also like to take this opportunity of making a statement on the subject, because I think it is just as well that the farmers should know exactly the extent of the danger incurred by this second outbreak, which so far, I am thankful to say, is of a very different kind from the one with which we had to deal at the close of last year and the beginning of this, although in the same county.

This has been the second outbreak in the County of Somerset within the last few months, but it has been confined so far to the Somerset and Bath County Asylum Illness was first observed amongst a lot of nine cows ultimately affected on February 6. On the 10th a local veterinary surgeon was called in by the Asylum authorities who diagnosed foot-and-mouth disease, all the animals being affected. His diagnosis was confirmed by the Board on the following day. The disease spread to the cattle at the home farm premises and entailed the slaughter of one bull, nineteen cows, ten calves, and thirty fatting pigs there. Two sows and their litters on the adjoining farm in the occupation of the Asylum were also slaughtered on account of their having recently been moved from the home farm premises, also two other cattle, the property of another owner, on account of the fact that they had been moved along a road over which the diseased cattle were known to have passed. On the home farm six cows and seven heifers pastured in fields were left, as well as fourteen heifers on the adjoining farm premises. These animals and a small number of animals of adjoining owners in comparative proximity to the outbreak have been kept under observation and remained healthy up to the present time. Two calves were found to have been moved from the Asylum premises on January 25 and disposed of by a dealer to another dealer who conducts his operations both at Banbury in Oxfordshire, and at Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire. In connection with the tracing of these calves, two calves were found on February 13 on the home premises of the Warwickshire dealer which showed symptoms suspicious of foot-and-mouth disease. These were not the calves which had been moved from the Asylum, but had been disposed of at a later date (February 10). In consequence of this suspicion an order was made prohibiting the movement of animals out of, or the holding of markets within, a wide area round Banbury and Stratford, and the tracing of all calves sold by the dealer between January 27 and February 10 was undertaken. No fewer than 140 calves were concerned which had been sent by this dealer in Somersetshire to the dealers in Warwickshire and in Oxfordshire. The destinations of 131 of these 140 calves have been traced, but no suspicious symptoms, I am glad to say, have been found on the premises to which they had been taken. In the meantime the calves on the dealer's home premises had been kept under daily observation, and the Superintending Veterinary Inspector reported on the 22nd instant that he was now satisfied that foot-and-mouth disease was not present on those premises, or in a calf (one of the lots sold by this dealer) which had died on premises near Leamington. In consequence the precautionary restrictions imposed were removed on the 22nd instant. I want to call your Lordships' attention to this because it shows how complete is the machinery which my predecessors at the Board of Agriculture devised for dealing with this terrible disease so dreaded by farmers.

A number of other animals removed from Somersetshire have also been traced to their destinations in various parts of England, and no suspicious symptoms have been found. As regards the outbreak at the Asylum the fact that two sows had been moved from the Glastonbury district, where they had been during the recent outbreaks in October and November last, gave rise to a suspicion that they might have been the means of introducing infection into the Asylum. That would have meant, of course, that this second outbreak was the direct result of the first one which we thought had come to an end. Full investigation of the facts, together with an examination of all the animals on the premises at Butleigh from which the sows came, has disposed of this suspicion. No further report of suspected disease had been received up to the 22nd instant in respect of any premises within the Somersetshire scheduled district, and no further outbreak of the disease has been confirmed. The restrictions in Somersetshire imposed on account of this outbreak were modified as from the 21st instant in respect of that portion of the scheduled district distant more than approximately ten miles from the disease centre. In the ordinary course if no further outbreaks occur the restrictions will again be modified as from Monday next, the 28th instant. If the position appears entirely satisfactory it is proposed to remove all restrictions affecting those parts of the scheduled district more distant than ten miles from the Asylum, at the same time modifying the restrictions in respect of all the remaining portions of the district distant not more than approximately five miles from the Asylum. In spite of the most careful investigations, no origin can be assigned for this outbreak. It seems clearly unconnected with the previous outbreaks, and all that can be said is that infection must have been conveyed to the Asylum premises by some medium which it has not been possible to discover.