HL Deb 10 November 1920 vol 42 cc233-6

LORD HINDLIP rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they have any information concerning the reported existence of rinderpest in Belgium and in France; whether in the event of an outbreak of rinderpest in Great Britain they have adequate preparations for inoculation or other methods for the prevention or cure of this disease; whether also, if these reports are correct, they have in view the provision of further legislation to insure the immediate destruction by fire of packing straw coming from infected countries.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have put down this Question because a considerable amount of anxiety has been expressed by breeders in this country, and persons engaged in the export of live stock from this country abroad, owing to rumours that rinderpest has broken out both in Belgium and in France and is understood to have come across from Russia I sincerely hope that the noble Lord the Minister for Agriculture will be able to tell your Lordships that there are few, if any, grounds for this anxiety. I have not looked up when the last out break of rinderepst occurred in this country, but if I remember rightly it was somewhere about the year 1865, and it was brought over by hides landed in Birkenhead.

As to the second part of my Question, whether His Majesty's Government have taken adequate precautions for inoculation or other methods for the prevention or care of this disease, a good many years ago rinderpest in South Africa and Rhodesia was, as far as I remember, clearly and adequately dealt with by means of simple inoculation, and if there is anything in these rumours, I would be glad to know whether the Ministry of Agriculture have made any preparations of this kind.

The third and last part of my Question is whether it is possible to issue Orders to enforce the destruction by fire of straw and such materials coming in packing cases, etc., from these infected countries. I know that it is a subject of extreme difficulty, but in view of the danger of an outbreak of rinderpest and the very serious losses which have already occurred from foot-and-mouth disease brought over, I suppose, by some of these means, it is well worth considering whether it is possible to introduce any legislation of this kind. I am not at all sure that it is possible to make our country absolutely free from these diseases as long as hay, straw, and those classes of material which carry infection can come over from infected countries.


My Lords, I hope that generally speaking there is no acute cause for anxiety at the present time with regard to the possibility of the spread of rinderpest to this country. The existence of the disease was first reported to us by the Belgian authorities on August 11, and general and very rigid precautions were at once taken by my Ministry to prevent its introduction into this country. My noble friend asks me about France. There was a report, I know, to the effect that the disease had also appeared in France, but that has been contradicted by the French authorities and I believe there is no foundation for it.

My noble friend mentioned the possibility of the disease having come from Russia. That is the first suggestion of the kind that I have heard, and I do not know that there is any information which would lead one to suppose that it came from that direction. It is something of a mystery as to how it came to Belgium. The original theory was that it was owing to the importation of a certain number of zebu cattle which had touched at Antwerp and had brought it with them either as disease-carriers—in fact, I think as disease-carriers—rather than as being directly and obviously infected. The whole matter is somewhat shrouded in mystery, owing to the fact that it is now being made the subject of a very strong political attack upon the Catholic Minister of Agriculture in Belgium by the extreme Socialistic Press; and really the issue is so much confused as between theology and politics that I rather hesitate to express any confident opinion as to what the real source of the infection may have been. After all, that is less my business than it is to see that it does not spread to this country, and the most energetic action that we can think of has been and will continue to be taken.

It is reassuring to know that the disease has died down very rapidly in Belgium. The latest communication from the Belgian authorities through the Foreign Office shows this. We had a telegram only yesterday or the day before in which our Minister said— The Department of Agriculture yesterday stated that only one new case has occurred in the last five days; that the cattle plague is considered to be vanquished, and the Belgian Government hopes shortly to be able to permit the export of animals and manure. The question as to when we decide to admit animals and manure or anything else in these circumstances is one which will be most carefully and anxiously considered.

My noble friend's second Question is with regard to the preparations for inoculation. I can assure him that the moment we received information that rinderpest existed in Belgium arrangements were made to obtain a supply of anti-rinderpest serum from Egypt, which is the nearest source of supply. It was ordered by cable. The serum was at once despatched by express, and there is now an ample supply of it in cold storage in the Ministry's laboratory in case it should be needed. Undoubtedly it will be used at once if the necessity should arise though I am fairly confident that it will not be required.

With regard to the third part of my noble friend's Question, as to further legislation, I may remind him that the landing in Great Britain of cattle, sheep, goats, and all other ruminants and swine from the Continent is prohibited under the Diseases of Animals Act, 1896, and the Foreign Animals Orders issued by the Ministry; and the landing of hay or straw from any Continental country, with the one exception of Norway, otherwise than when in actual use as packing for merchandise, is also prohibited. We have considered this matter very carefully with regard to the hay and straw used in packing, and have come to the conclusion that it would not be justifiable to introduce fresh legislation to prohibit the importation of packing of this kind or to provide for its immediate destruction by fire on coming from the Continent. So far as our knowledge goes, rinderpest is spread exclusively either by the infected animals themselves or by fresh portions of their carcases. I really would not be practicable to ensure the immediate destruction of packing straw and hay which is used for an immense variety of imports, particularly having regard to the almost infinitesimal risk, as I am advised, that there would be infection from any such material.

I need hardly say that we are very keenly alive to the importance of this matter, but after most careful consideration we do not believe that the position would be materially safeguarded, if at all, by the introduction of fresh legislation to deal with packing materials. To sum up, I believe the situation is now thoroughly in hand, not only here but in Belgium, and I have every ground for hoping that there is no reasonable probability of the disease coming to this country.


I beg to thank the noble Lord for his very reassuring statement.