HL Deb 12 November 1919 vol 37 cc203-21

LORD STRACHIE rose to ask the President of the Board of Agriculture whether he has had before him any application from the Canadian Government for the admission of store cattle; and if so, if he will undertake before agreeing to such request to give an opportunity for the House to consider the whole question of admission of store cattle from abroad in view of the great danger to our own flocks and herds by such admission; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should not have raised this subject again so soon had there not been a change in the Presidency of the Board of Agriculture, and also had rumours not reached me that the Government are contemplating the admission of Canadian store cattle, if not of all other store cattle, into this country and the repeal of the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act, 1896. I should like to take the occasion to congratulate my noble friend Lord Lee on his appointment as President of the Board of Agriculture. Those who knew hint in the House of Commons, where as a great agriculturist he represented a county division, are delighted to know that he occupies this very responsible position.

My excuse for bringing this question once more before your Lordships is that there is undoubtedly a feeling of great unrest amongst the farmers upon this matter. Only last week at the Council meeting of the Royal Agricultural Society there was a report brought up by the Veterinary Committee of that important body, to which so many of your Lordships belong, which report said this— Foot-and-Mouth Disease.—During the same four weeks 21 outbreaks of the disease have been confirmed. These occurred in the counties of Warwick (2), Cambridge (3), Huntingdon (2), and the Isle of Wight (14). Since the beginning of the year 49 outbreaks have been reported, and in connection with these 1,762 animals have been slaughtered as diseased or exposed to infection. During the past week an additional outbreak has been confirmed in Lincolnshire.

I rather think there has been a further outbreak since then. A discussion upon that alarming report followed; and in view of this statement by the Veterinary Committee, the Council of the Royal Agricultural Society passed the following resolution— That in view of the alarming outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease, any relaxation of the law prohibiting the importation of store cattle from abroad is to be strongly deprecated, and the Council desire again to emphasise their support of the following resolution passed by the representatives of agricultural and breed societies in the Cardiff showyard.

The resolution there referred to is as follows— That having, regard to the great importance of protecting the live stock of this country from the introduction of contagious disease, this meeting of representatives of agricultural and breed societies deprecates in the strongest manner any proposals to repeal the Diseases of Animals Act, 1896.

I think those quotations show that the whole of the agriculturists not only in this country but in Ireland and Scotland are very nervous about the present state of things, and rightly so when we are suffering from this serious outbreak of foot-and- mouth disease. Most of the 1,700 animals slaughtered were cows in milk or in calf, and in these days of shortage of milk it is a serious matter that it should be necessary to slaughter them owing to disease.

It is rather unfortunate that when this question came up before the Imperial Conference in April, 1917, the then President of the Board of Agriculture, Lord Ernle (I do not see him in his place) treated it in a rather light manner. He said that in this country we were very "panicky" about outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease and pleuro-pneumonia; that the date on which our policy was founded with regard to that was 1892; that he had seen the papers of 1892 and there was not a case of pleuro-pneumonia at all. That seems to be a rather remarkable statement for the President to have made; he had only had the papers that morning, and had had apparently only one case before him in 1892, yet he says that the whole of our legislation was based upon that case which turned out to be not pleuro-pneumonia at all. But that is entirely contrary to the facts; because what really happened was this. The legislation was really founded upon the serious outbreaks of pleuro-pneumonia which occurred in 1890 when the figures for four months showed that pleuro-pneumonia existed in twenty counties in England, that there were about 190 outbreaks in all involving the immediate destruction of many infected cattle and of 5,389 healthy cattle because they had been exposed to contagion.

Not only did contagious pleuro-pneumonia exist in Canada, but I find the same thing happened as regards other countries in connection with the import of Canadian cattle. The Belgian Government in 1894 prohibited cattle from Canada being imported, and Germany did the same; so that besides this country, Belgium and Germany were satisfied that there was pleuro-pneumonia in Canada at that time. The Canadian Government said then, as they say now, that the disease did not exist. The experts of the Board of Agriculture in 1894, together with outside experts who were called in, pronounced the disease to be pleuro-pneumonia. Notwithstanding this, the Canadian Government sent a remonstrance to the Governor-General in 1895 saying— The conclusions of the Board of Agriculture in their minute that such disease exists in Canada and that it is contagious pleuro-pneumonia of a special type but not different in its 'contagious and fatal effects' from the commonly accepted type known in Europe and elsewhere is altogether irreconcilable with the fact that it cannot be at all found in Canada, and that it has never, in any part of the Dominion, ever been known; that no trace of it even has been nor can be discovered. This declaration is made after very earnest search by Veterinaries employed for that purpose by the Canadian Government.

This shows that in 1894, as at the present time, there was the same conflict of opinion between the people of this country and the people of Canada.

I admit that if the noble Lord is going to say that his advisers tell him things are now entirely different, then the President has other grounds to go upon; if he is able to say that now, contrary to what happened in 1894, in 1896, and up to the time when I left the Board of Agriculture in 1911—when all the experts at the Board were unanimous against admitting store cattle from Canada or any other country abroad because of contagious disease—then the case will be different. The advisers of the noble Lord are Sir Stuart Stockman and Mr. Anstruther, the latter of whom had charge of the particular section and has been through this business from the beginning. It will be interesting to hear from the noble Lord whether at the present moment there has been an absolute change of opinion on the part of the officials at the Board of Agriculture responsible for the care of our live-stock.

I may say that I think it is rather remarkable that Lord Ernle (he was Mr. Prothero at the time) should once have said that he had never consulted the Irish Department in this matter. What he said was this— I am afraid I ought to consult the Irish Department because they may make difficulties, but I do not think they will, because, as I say, the whole development of Irish farming is in favour of the break up of these great grass ranches on which the store cattle were grazed, and from which they were sent over.

That is a question with which I am not competent to deal, but there are many noble Lords present from Ireland who will be able to say whether that is the case, and whether matters have changed since the days when Ireland was certainly unanimous against the introduction of stores from Canada or elsewhere. I remember very well in a discussion which took place in 1906 on a private Member's Bill introduced in the House of Commons by Mr. Cairns in the first session of the Liberal Government—I am not sure whether my noble friend Lord Lee remembers it—that Mr. William O'Brien stated that if that Bill was passed it would render, at the very lowest, 200,000 holdings in Ireland absolutely unprofitable and unproductive. That is a very strong statement to make, and if the conditions in Ireland are to-day the same as they were then it would be very serious indeed to repeal this Act and allow stores to come into this country from abroad. I have taken this case, so far, down to 1894.

Then came the Act of 1896. Up till 1896 it was within the discretion of the President of the Board of Agriculture whether or not he would admit stores. It was thought by the then Government that it was very desirable to give absolute security to agriculturists and that there should be no change in the practice of the Board. Mr. Walter Long, in introducing the Bill of 1896, said that uncertainty prevented agriculturists from embarking their capital and skill in an industry of which the fruits were not quickly realised and which might, at any time, be destroyed, if, by the removal of the restrictions, disease was suddenly introduced. I believe these words are equally true to-day, as they were in 1896. If the Government are unable to give any assurance to agriculturists such as was given by Mr. Walter Long that the Act of 1896 will be continued and this country will be kept, so far as possible, immune from disease, there will be the greatest feeling of anxiety and a sense among agriculturists that their business is not secure. I have often read the noble Lord's speeches in which he said that the greatest boon at present is to make agriculturists feel perfectly secure in their business, so that they can go ahead and invest their capital in the most important industry in this country. Mr. Long further said that pleuro-pneumonia was difficult of detection owing to the fact that it might long be latent without declaring itself, and that sheep scab was also difficult to detect and had done great mischief among the flocks. We have to bear this point in mind—that pleuro-pneumonia is difficult to detect. The Canadian Government, in perfectly good faith, may examine all the stores before they are embarked, but the cattle may develop pleuro-pneumonia on the voyage and the disease might be discovered only after the stores had been scattered throughout the length and breadth of the land.

Again, I notice that Mr. Walter Long referred to a question which I am sorry to say was raised last July. He said it had been contended in some quarters that this measure—the Act of 1896—was an attempt to introduce the principle of protection in favour of our cattle owners, but he could assure the House that the Government had no such object in view. He should have thought that in those days no honourable Member would have regarded it as possible that the Government should take any steps that could be looked upon as protective in the ordinary sense of the word—that is to say, that they would exclude foreign and Colonial cattle in order to enhance the price of meat here. I am sorry to say that that attitude has been departed from by Lord Ernle, because by his direction the Earl of Crawford last July said— The position is this. The Board acknow-ledges in the fullest measure that the ground of the prohibition on which Canadian stores, born and reared in Canada, and leaving it for the first time, are now excluded is not justified, and that they are, and for many years have been, exceptionally free from disease. But the Board is equally strong in the opinion that no relaxation of the prohibition itself is possible in the interests of live stock at home. It follows that, if the present ground of the prohibition is removed as a matter of justice to Canada, the prohibition itself must remain as part of the domestic policy of the United Kingdom.

Clearly, if that is the attitude still of the Board, the meaning is that although Canada is perfectly free from disease we are going to exclude Canadian stores not on the ground of disease but on the ground that we desire to protect the British breeder as against the foreign breeder. The noble Lord shakes his head. Then there is no intention to do that, and we are not to have this fiscal policy revived in this way. If he had not shaken his head I should have asked how could he refuse to keep out Canadian cattle on protective grounds?

I have now brought the case up to 1896. As a matter of fact it goes on much later, because it was only in 1910 that this question again came up in the House of Commons. The noble Lord the President of the Board of Agriculture is perfectly aware that this is a question which has created a great deal of controversy in the Party to which I belong—the Liberal Party—which has continually opposed his Party on the question. There were only a certain number of county Liberals like myself who consistently supported Mr. Walter Long in the Act of 1896. When the Liberal Government came into power with their enormous majority in 1906, it was touch and go whether the Act would not have been repealed. The feeling was strong in the country, and was acknowledged by the Government to be strong, that it was not a protective measure except as against disease. If for one moment it had been based on the protection of the industry for the benefit of the English or Irish breeder of stock, then that Act would have been repealed immediately so far as the House of Commons was concerned.

I hope the noble Lord is going to tell us that it will be equally so in the future and that the Government will not base its action on anything but the question of disease and upon sanitary protection of herds and flocks. Otherwise I am afraid the time will come when the thorny question of Protection versus Free Trade will be raised as it has been raised in the past in the House of Commons. If that happens one cannot tell what will follow. Up to now, whether the Government has been Liberal or Conservative, agriculturists have been able to insist that it is not a question of protection in the fiscal sense, but entirely a question of the protection of our flocks and herds from disease. So far we have been successful. I venture to ask the noble Lord if he will give some specific assurance on this matter. I can assure him, and he must realise it, that agriculturists in this country, as represented by the Royal Agricultural Society and the great agricultural societies in Scotland and Ireland, feel very strongly on the matter and they are very nervous. It is not right to describe them as "panicky."

It is desirable that we should have some specific assurances. I therefore put these questions to the noble Lord. Does the President of the Board of Agriculture accept the position taken up by the late President in regard to the importation of Canadian cattle and justify it on the same grounds after having looked into the question himself? If so, does he now base the prohibition as long as it is continued on protection of the industry of breeding stores here and not on protection from disease? Will he undertake not to introduce legislation to repeal the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act, 1896, during the present Parliament? I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, may I, in the first instance, thank my noble friend Lord Strachie for his very kindly welcome to me in my new and exceedingly difficult position, and assure him that it is a very great encouragement to me to receive such expressions from one who is so much identified with agricultural interests in this House.

The question which the noble Lord raises is one admittedly of very great importance, and, as he rightly says, it has not been raised today for the first time. Indeed, it was raised in your Lordships' House only as recently as last July, and a reply was then given on behalf of the Government by my noble friend the Earl of Crawford, in which he stated the general conclusions to which the Government had come. I may say at once that there has been no change up to the present time. The considerations which influenced the Government then have only been emphasised by the events which have taken place since. I do not deduce from the reply of the noble Earl, Lord Crawford, on that occasion the conclusion that the Government were animated by a desire to institute protection in the fiscal sense for the flocks and herds in this country. That certainly was not their intention and the noble Lord has read into the answer something which was not really there.

I will put the noble Lord out of, I will not say his misery, but his anxiety at once by replying specifically to the Question on the Paper. I prefer to answer his Question rather than the somewhat controversial series of questions which he has put to me. I do not wish to be involved in any controversy with my predecessors, and I hope I shall be able to show that the policy of the Board has been consistent in this matter throughout. The noble Lord asks whether the President of the Board of Agriculture has had before him any application from the Canadian Government for the admission of store cattle. The reply to that is that the Canadian Government made strong representations at the time of the Imperial War Conference in 1917, and those representations have never been withdrawn. As to the second part of the Question, the existing embargo could not be withdrawn without fresh legislation, and therefore your Lordships' House, indeed both Houses of Parliament, would have the fullest opportunity of considering and discussing the whole matter before any change could be made. I will add a reply to a question which is not specifically on the Paper but which is undoubtedly implied—that is, that the Government do not propose to introduce legislation for the purpose of removing the embargo under present conditions, for reasons which I will give to your Lordships. That is the reply to the Question on the Paper.

Before giving the reasons to which I have just alluded I feel bound to say that I cannot endorse Lord Strachie's main argument that Canadian cattle ought to be excluded on the grounds of the existence, or suspicion of existence, of disease in Canada. On the contrary, I doubt if there is any country in the world which has a more blameless record with regard to cattle disease. Certainly the record is better than our own in this country. Canada is, and has been for a long period of years, exceptionally free from cattle disease. There has certainly been no foot-and-mouth disease or pleuro-pneumonia for many years. The official experts of the Board of Agriculture are in full agreement with that statement. That being the case, it is only natural that the Canadian Government should resent, and I think rightly resent, what they consider to be an implied stigma, or to use their own phrase "an undeserved slur," upon the Canadian herds. They speak of it as "an old sore," "a long-standing grievance"; it was not merely a "slur" in the sentimental sense, but it was very injurious to Canada in her business relations with other countries.

In that matter, therefore, I feel bound to re-echo what was said by my predecessor at the Imperial Conference, and endorsed by the present First Lord of the Admiralty, Mr. Long (then Colonial Secretary), and acquit Canada in the most explicit and unreserved way from the stigma to which they object, and to say that we recognise that the embargo could not be justified on the ground that Canadian cattle if imported were likely to infect our herds in this country. I will go further, and say that I think the Prime Minister of Canada, Sir Robert Borden, was fully justified in stating at the Imperial Conference that there would be far more reason to exclude British cattle from Canada on these grounds than there would be to exclude Canadian cattle from this country.

Lord Strachie was hardly fair, I think, to my predecessor (Lord Ernle) in stating that he treated this question in a light manner at the Conference. I am quite certain that he did not think of it lightly, and that he gave it the most serious consideration. It is admitted that under the then existing conditions—and that is really the important point—both Lord Ernle and the then Colonial Secretary agreed that the embargo might be removed. But the case to-day is that the conditions have changed in many material respects. I would remind your Lordships that the Prime Minister of Canada stated at that time in the most open way that, if the stigma and slur were removed, it was a matter entirely of domestic concern to this country to decide what action, if any, should be taken with regard to the exclusion of cattle from any part of the world.

I said that circumstances have changed. They have changed in one respect in a very unfortunate direction. There has been recently, no doubt as a result of the war, a very grave increase of cattle disease all over the world. The conditions are very alarming, and I feel bound to inform your Lordships of the extent of the peril with which we are threatened at the present time. I have here the latest figures available with regard to foot-and-mouth disease on the Continent of Europe. The last return from France, dated October 10, shows 46 Departments affected, 4,900 animals concerned, and there is an average of 400 new premises infected every ten days. In Belgium the position is worse. The latest returns show that there are 9 infected Provinces, 17,684 animals concerned, and new premises infected at the rate of over 300 per week. In Holland 11 Provinces are affected and 1,646 premises. That is a very serious and very near menace. With regard to other countries, practically all the countries in South America are more or less affected at the present time. There is disease in eleven districts of Argentina, and Paraguay reports disease throughout the whole country, while Brazil reports very few districts free from it. This shows that the world position has greatly changed for the worse, and we have unfortunately the repercussion of it at this moment in this country.


You are speaking entirely of foot-and-mouth disease?


Yes. We have a series of extremely serious and quite inexplicable outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in this country. They are widely separated, and in spite of the fullest investigation we are unable to find any clue whatever as to how the disease has been imported. Unusual precautions are being taken at all the Continental ports and at ports of entry in this country, but so far without stopping the apparent import of the disease; and I need hardly assure your Lordships that the Board of Agriculture, in conjunction with other Government Departments, are taking every precaution possible, and that there has been no relaxation whatsoever of the regulations. At the same time I should like to say that the amount of slaughtering has not been excessive as compared with previous outbreaks, and I venture to hope that there is no occasion for panic. At the same time we do deduce this, that in this world condition, which is bound to continue for many years, the only hope of safety lies in isolating the United Kingdom as far as possible, because we cannot afford in a matter which so gravely affects the whole of the agricultural industry to take any unnecessary risks.

Another condition which has changed greatly since the Imperial War Conference in 1917 is that the advantage to us of importing store cattle which existed then has largely disappeared. In 1917 we were confronted with the submarine menace, with all its infinite possibilities. There was an actual shortage of meat in this country. We were beginning deliberately to live on our herds for food purposes, and any inportation of cattle from overseas was a much-needed reinforcement of our food supplies. To-day there is no shortage of meat in this country. There is even a surplus. In fact, the markets are unable to absorb the amount of home-grown cattle which is offered. There is an almost embarrassing glut. This is due, apart from other considerations, to a curious and interesting fact. As the result of war rationing of meat the British people have learned to eat less meat. They find it agrees with them, and I have no doubt that if we continue in that course we shall be a better-looking and more healthy people in the future than we have been in the past. But however that may be, it is undoubtedly the fact that at the present time the demands upon butchers are not more than 75 per cent. of the normal demands. Therefore this rather embarrassing situation has resulted, that farmers are unable to dispose of their fat cattle and sheep owing to the falling off in the demand.

There is another consideration—namely, that owing to world difficulties there is an actual shortage of feeding stuffs available for the herds which we have already in this country. If we imported large numbers of additional cattle we should be unable to feed them, and a very serious position would result. Apart from that, there could be little advantage in importing stores from Canada or elsewhere unless they were cheap, and under the existing conditions of freight, which is as high as £15 or £18 per head from Canada at the present time, stores certainly could not be delivered here cheaply. Consequently from the point of view of the consumer they would only represent eventually very dear meat, and no benefit whatever in the shape of a fall of price to the consumer in this country would result.

For these and other reasons, my Lords, in the view of the Board of Agriculture it would be quite inopportune to consider removing the embargo or altering existing legislation. In any case there would be great difficulties. As pointed out by Lord Strachie, there would be very serious opposition from Ireland, and well justified and great objection would be taken by the whole agricultural community to any repeal of the Diseases of Animals Act, 1896. That Act applies to all countries alike, and if we repealed it we should have to institute a process of discrimination which would be difficult and invidious. Altogether, in view of the changed circumstances since the qualified undertaking was given by the Government in 1917, we are not prepared to introduce legislation to alter the existing law. At the same time I feel once more bound to dissociate the Government in the most formal way from the reflections upon Canada implied in Lord Strachie's speech, and to renew in the most formal way our withdrawal of the stigma to which the Canadian Government so rightly object. The matter has now become one simply of domestic concern, to use Sir Robert Borden's phrase, and a matter with regard to which the Government must consider and safeguard British interests to the exclusion of all other considerations.


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord opposite will allow me to join my noble friend Lord Strachie in the congratulations addressed to him on his undertaking his important office in this House. I can venture, I think, to assure the noble Lord that those in this House who are deeply interested in agricultural matters —and they are very numerous—will welcome the contributions which he will make to our debates, and that he will always receive the fairest treatment from members of this House.

We have all, I think, heard with great relief the announcement made by the noble Lord. As Lord Strachie stated, the agricultural world has been deeply moved over this matter of the possible importation of store cattle. My noble friend mentioned the Royal Society, from which I have no doubt many of your Lordships have received a circular on this subject. Two bodies with which I happen at this time to be officially connected as an officer—namely, the Central Chamber of Agriculture and the Shorthorn Society—have both expressed the deepest concern over the prospect of the unrestricted importation of Canadian cattle, which seemed likely from what, as we know, passed within the last two years. I cordially join in what fell from the noble Lord regarding the stigma which Sir Robert Borden and many other people in Canada conceived was unfairly laid upon that country in this matter of the importation of store cattle as it referred specially to Canada. There was, as has often been explained, a special risk in connection with Canada owing to the fact that the vastly long frontier between Canada and the United States could not be entirely guarded against the transit of cattle, possibly diseased; and therefore even though Canada itself might appear to be immune, it did not follow that imported cattle might not be diseased.

But I for one, have always desired to put this matter on far more general grounds. I believe it to be a mistake, owing to the offence which it gave, to pick out Canada as being a specially risky country in this respect, when we all know that there were other countries to which far more danger may have attached. But I should like to act on grounds of the broadest principle. I desire to see the importation of all cattle into this country in any circumstances made practically impossible, except in certain cases for breeding purposes under regulations of the strictest quarantine. We have to regard this country as being specially and primarily, for farming purposes, a stockbreeding country. As your Lordships know, there are five or six breeds of cattle in these islands differing from, and as we think superior to, any others which can be found either in Europe or any other part of the World, and of which the type (as can be very easily shown) changes when these breeds are imported to other countries, even though they may be exceedingly successful there and do well; so much so that perpetually from all parts of the World breeders have to come back here to get the best blood, and to import bulls in order to keep the type in its best form. As we all know, on a smaller scale with regard to the Channel Islands breeds, both the Jersey and Guernsey type changes even when it comes as far as this country, and those desiring to keep a real Channel Islands herd have from time to time to import an Island bull in order to maintain the character. This being so there is a complete answer to complaints, whether made by Canada or by any other country, regarding the importation of store cattle.

The noble Lord has been able to show that at this particular moment the dangers are extreme. The figures which he gave about foot-and-mouth disease on the Continent of Europe are positively terrifying, and it is quite clear that it must be a long time before an embargo could be removed, even if we desired to remove it. It is easy to understand the absolute confusion into which agricultural conditions have been thrown by the war. The irregular movements of forage and litter and the like must have made the conditions infinitely more dangerous than they would be in normal times, and it must be a long time before those dangers pass away; but I make bold to observe that, even if they do pass away, when they do pass away and even when the risk of foot-and-mouth disease and also of pleuro-pneumonia has returned to the normal scale, I trust that even then, and for the reasons which I have tried to explain, there will be no question of the introduction of store cattle into this country either from Canada or from anywhere else. By all means do not let us lay any special stigma on Canada, but let us take this opportunity of laying it down as a firm principle, not to be departed from, that cattle should not be imported into this country.


My Lords, it is with a sense of great relief that I heard the speech of the noble Lord the President of the Board of Agriculture upon a subject which appears to me to be vital to the continued prosperity of agriculture and its due output of food for the people of this country, and, if I may say so, I hope that the President of the Board is now impressed with the belief that this a matter upon which vacillation is unthinkable, and that, without any slur upon Canada or any other part of the Empire, the policy of this country as shown by the experience of the last forty years should undoubtedly be to exclude cattle—as the noble Marquess has suggested—and other domestic live stock of every description, subject to those exceptions which he himself has put forward.

I do not know what the exact nature of the undertaking was that appears to have been given by Ministers of the Crown in the year 1917, but I do know that it has led to the impression throughout the agricultural world here, and indeed in certain other parts of the Empire, that it was the intention of the Government of this country to discontinue the policy which it has maintained with great courage and determination for at least twenty-five or thirty years. As the noble Marquess has pointed out—and my noble friend Lord Strachie, I believe, also mentioned it—it is quite impossible in this matter to distinguish between Canada and other parts of the North American Continent. With the very long, tortuous frontier of several thousand miles you cannot have one law in this respect for Canada and another law for other parts of the American Continent. Foot-and-mouth disease is raging in certain parts of South America to-day. Importers into the Argentine and other countries of the best British stock are finding that, whereas the animals are quite free from all disease when they leave this country they become affected with disease even in the receiving stations and the quarantine stations before they enter the farms of those countries.

Before the war we were responsible for the supply from our own islands of no less than 65 per cent. of the meat that our population requires. That fact is due entirely to the past policy of the Government in keeping our flocks and herds immune from serious contagious diseases imported from abroad. I venture to go so far as to say with some knowledge of the food position during the war that immunity from serious live stock disease was more largely responsible than any other one factor for the avoidance of national starvation during that critical period. Thirty or forty years ago, as we all know, the livestock population of this country was seriously attenuated owing to the ravages of these contagious diseases—not only foot-and-mouth disease but pleuro-pneumonia and cattle plague and other alarming and devastating diseases. Under cover of continuous Government protection from that time till now against imported disease livestock husbandry has become the sheet anchor of British agriculture and has been built up to dimensions that could not possibly have been contemplated at the time the Board of Agriculture was set up.

May I, in passing, remind the House that the Board of Agriculture owes its origin to the prevalence of these seriously contagious diseases, and to the then universally felt necessity for adopting a strenuous Government policy against their importation? The very existence of the Board is due to the necessity of taking action against the importation of these serious diseases. The noble Marquess has not in any way over-estimated the importance of British livestock when he reminds us that this country is to-day the reservoir—and will continue to be the reservoir if adequate protection is afforded—of all the best farm stock in the world of every variety, and this for two main reasons. One reason he has mentioned— namely, that all importing countries have to come back to us in order to maintain the type of stock which they require. Another very good reason is that it is known all over the world that we have hitherto adopted this policy of protecting our livestock against these serious diseases.

It may be suggested that there is some sectional interest at work in this matter. There is no difference of opinion among leading agriculturists, whatever be the particular type of their husbandry. I had the honour some years before the war of sitting upon a Departmental Committee set up by the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, to consider the question of the causes and prevalence of foot-and-mouth disease. As your Lordships may remember, that Committee reported unanimously in favour of the maintenance of the existing Government precautions against the importation of disease. Unfortunately they could not trace with any certainty then what the origin of the disease was, and, as the President of the Board has pointed out to-day, although disease is prevalent in this country he himself and his advisers find it impossible to say where the disease comes from.

It is some source of satisfaction to us all to know that, for the present at least, no alteration of policy is intended. And I wish that the President of the Board could have gone further and have said on behalf of the Government that, whatever may be the condition for the time being in the matter of the prevalence of cattle disease in this country, it is the definite and continuous policy of the Board that there shall be no alteration as regards the importation of stock and that the embargo shall continue to be placed upon it not merely in the best interests of the agricultural community but in the interests of the continuance of the food supply of the nation.


My Lords, I should like to add one word of congratulation to the newly-appointed President of the Board of Agriculture. I can confirm from my own knowledge the welcome with which his announcement will be received by agriculturists in all parts of the country that he does not intend to introduce legislation for the withdrawal of the restrictions which make us practically safe in this country from pleuro-pneumonia. I think we shall all be grateful to the noble Lord for giving us unasked the information which he has done with regard to the strange and formidable progress of foot-and-mouth disease in this country, and, indeed, in many parts of the world. Foot-and-mouth disease and pleuro-pneumonia, however, are two things that are quite distinct from each other and it is to pleuro-pneumonia alone that the Motion on the Paper applies. There is so much ignorance on the subject of these contagious diseases in many quarters of England that I should like to draw as briefly as I can the distinctions between them. I have heard the strangest things said, even in this House, upon that point. Foot-and mouth disease is a disease by which the contagion can be conveyed in a hundred different ways. It is the easiest thing in the world to spread it; it is one of the most difficult to put a stop to it when it has spread very widely. It does not last very long—that is the only thing to be said in its favour. I have had considerable experience in coping with that disease when it was in existence in no less than sixteen different counties, and we were able to pronounce a clean bill of health, I think, within five months. I am not afraid, therefore, that with proper management and with the intelligence with which, I am sure, as long as the noble Lord is President of the Board, the crusade against it will be carried out, the country will suffer anything like permanently from foot-and-mouth disease, and I hope it may be extinguished again within a reasonable time.

I should like to ask one question which has occurred to me in consequence of the extraordinarily rapid rise of foot-and-mouth disease without any apparent reason. Is it possible that it may have been conveyed maliciously, and been done on purpose by foreign enemies? That has occurred to me, and when I remember the way in which wells used to be poisoned and other things of that kind done by emissaries of the country with which we have just been at war, it has occurred to me that that might be a subject well worth consideration by the Board of Agriculture.

Just one word about pleuro-pneumonia. Pleuro-pneumonia has this peculiarity, that it can only be conveyed by the immediate contact of one animal with another. That is why the law provides in the case of cattle who suffer from pleuro-pneumonia when they are imported into this country alive that they shall not leave the wharf alive. That is an absolute safeguard against the reintroduction of the disease, because no animal coming from any other country can have immediate contact with English cattle as long as that precaution continues—a precaution which I sincerely hope and trust will never be removed.

I entirely agree with what fell from the noble Marquess in his observations about Canada. It is no reflection upon Canada. It applies to animals from every other part of the world, and the only reason why Canada has been brought so much into this question is that she is the one country, I believe, that has asked and pressed for relief from this particular restriction. I am not here to say that there is any disease of that nature in Canada; no one can say that, though I am not quite sure that at the same time they can say there is not any. It is not denied, however, that pleuro-pneumonia exists to-day in the United States; and when we remember that between Canada and the United States there is a line of some 3,000 miles in length which can be crossed with great ease, it would be very difficult to guard against the importation of cattle from the United States into Canada which might possibly have within them the seeds of the disease. The difficulty of the whole position is that you cannot detect the disease nowadays in the living animal. I have never heard of a test that is efficient in the case of animals that have once been inoculated for the disease; they do not respond; but at the same time they have it in them and may convey it to animals with which they come into contact. In conclusion, I should like to express my thanks to the noble Lord for the manner in which he has met us in the course of this debate.


My Lords, I rise only to ask leave to withdraw the Motion standing in my name, and to assure the noble Lord that had such a statement been made on the previous occasion as he has now made, it would not have been necessary for me to put down my Question to-day.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.