§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF ANCASTER)
My Lords, I hope I shall be interpreting your wishes and doing that which you desire it, in the short speech that I intend to make in introducing this Bill for your favourable consideration, I deal briefly with its provisions rather than indulge in a long speech on the merits or demerits of admitting Canadian cattle into this country. That question has been debated many times. It is one which is familiar, I think, to almost all your Lordships, as most of you are interested in agriculture, and it is not in the least probable that anything I could say for or against that subject from an agricultural point of view would be in the least likely at this late hour to influence your vote or decision one way or the other. With your Lordships' permission I shall abstain, therefore, from entering into the merits or demerits of the question of admitting Canadian cattle.
I might be allowed, however, to refer somewhat briefly to the circumstances which led His Majesty's Government to introduce this Bill in this session of Parliament. Your Lordships are aware that in August, 1921, the Commission appointed to deal with this matter reported in favour of the admission of Canadian cattle. On some points that Commission did not speak with any very certain voice, but that, after all, was only natural because several of the matters which they had in hand were problematical. They had only to give their opinion upon what they heard and 411 they could in certain circumstances only prophesy as to what the result would be. I think I am right in saving, and your Lordships will admit, that their Report was distinctly in favour of the admission of Canadian cattle.
After the publication of the Report, debates on this question were held not only in this House but in another place. I believe I am right in saving that what weighed more with your Lordships than even the Report of the Commission itself was a speech delivered only a few months ago by the noble Viscount, Lord Long of Wraxall—who presided, I believe, over the Colonial Conference of 1917—in the course of which he declared in your Lordships' House that, in his opinion, a distinct pledge was given that these cattle should be allowed to come in. If I may say so, I think that statement had greater weight with your Lordships than almost any other argument and that you practically decided it was the right course to pursue to deal with the matter and to lift what was known as the embargo. Since the coming into office of the present Government, I understand that representations have been received from the Canadians pressing for the immediate passing of legislation.
It is certain that if this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament a certain time will elapse before the cattle can be admitted, because arrangements will have to be made to provide proper lairages, and so on. It will, in consequence, be some few months before the Act can come into operation. For all those reasons, I understand that the Cabinet decided that this Bill should be introduced in this session, and that is why I am asking your Lordships in, I am afraid, a rather hurried manner at the end of this short session, to deal with this important matter.
Having said so much, I think I had better run through the clauses of the Bill and briefly explain their provisions. Clause 1 deals with the importation of Canadian stores and the conditions under which they may be imported. These conditions have been agreed by the Canadian Ministers and by the Ministers of the late Government who represented the Colonial Office and the Ministry of Agriculture. They are considered by both Governments to be fair and reasonable both to Canada and to this country. May I ask your Lordships to note that Clause 1 deals only with the admission of Canadian store cattle.
412 Clause 2 gives power to the Minister of Agriculture to make Orders authorising the importation, under certain conditions, of Canadian cattle other than store cattle; that is to say, breeding cattle. This is not strictly within the terms of the Resolution passed by your Lordships' House, but I may point out that Orders made under this clause must be laid on the Table of the House and, if objected to within twenty-one days, are invalid. That is to say, that any Order made by the Minister of Agriculture must be laid on the Table for twenty-one days, and it will be open to any member of either House to object to that Order.
Clause 3 has the effect of bringing Irish cattle within the Regulations in the Schedule to the Bill relating to imported animals, and thereby makes permanent the present temporary Regulations affecting the movement of Irish cattle, which were imposed in consequence of the very severe outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease some months ago. These Regulations are made permanent on the recommendation of a Committee, under the chairmanship of Captain Pretyman, which was appointed to consider the recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. The Committee, while not suggesting that Irish cattle brought over infection, felt that the principal cause of a widespread outbreak was to be found in the practice of moving large numbers of Irish cattle about the country.
Clause 5 provides that compensation shall not be payable out of public funds in respect of any imported animal slaughtered at the port of landing in consequence of disease. I think it is only fair that if any animal, when landed and inspected by a veterinary officer, is found to be suffering from disease, and if that animal and other animals that have been brought into contact with it are slaughtered, the British Government should not have to pay compensation to the owners of the cattle. Clause 6 enables a charge not exceeding sixpence per animal to be made on each imported animal to cover the expenses of veterinary examination. I think that, too, is quite fair. It is not imposing a hostile tariff on these animals, but is merely a charge made in order to cover the expenses of examination. Clause 8 enables a Minister to alter the Regulations respecting the movements of imported cattle, but not to reduce the period of detention. I hope I have interpreted your Lordships' wishes by dwelling only briefly on these matters, but 413 if any noble Lords desire to raise questions I will do my best to answer them. It is for that reason that I have not dealt at greater length with the Bill.
I may say that I believe that the future for agriculture in this country lies rather in the breeding and the fattening of stock than in growing wheat for the population. This country is perhaps second to none as a country for breeding and fattening stock, whereas it can be surpassed by many other countries in facilities and in climate for the growing of wheat as food for the people. I believe, therefore, that the future of agriculture must lie mainly in the direction of milk and stock. I also think that if we could largely increase the amount of stock in this country it would not have the effect, as many think, of reducing the agricultural population. On the contrary, I. am inclined to think that a greater head of stock in this country would give employment to just as many men in looking after that stock and in growing food for it as would be employed if we devoted more attention to wheat. But I do not wish to dwell longer on that subject. I can only say, in conclusion, that I hope your Lordships will give a Second Reading to this Bill and that the prophecies of those who anticipate that it will do injury to agriculture may not be fulfilled, but rather that the passage of the Bill will remove a grievance between ourselves and one of our greatest Dominions. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill he now read 2a.—(The Earl of Ancaster.)
§ VISCOUNT LONG OF WRAXALL
My Lords, I desire in the first place to thank His Majesty's Government not only for introducing this Bill but for introducing it during the present short session. It appears to me to carry out completely and fully the Resolution which your Lordships were pleased to pass last session, and, as the noble Earl who has just spoken has pointed out, it goes even further than your Lordships' Resolution, which dealt only with stores, because this Bill covers breeding cattle, too. Therefore, so far as the Bill is concerned, I thank the Government for bringing it in, and I wish it a speedy passage. I need hardly say that I shall do nothing to check its career.
But I observe, with profound regret, that the Bill differs, as it reaches your Lordships' House, from the Bill as it was 414 introduced by the Minister of Agriculture in another place the other day. The original Bill contained Clause 4, which gave permissive powers to the Minister of Agriculture of the day, under certain limitations and restrictions, to sanction the introduction into this country of cattle from the other Dominions. A debate took place in the other House upon this clause, and, to my great regret, the Government accepted a Motion for its rejection, so that it is no longer to be found in the Bill. I do not pretend for a moment that the omission of this clause raises practical difficulties. I do not think that it is likely for some considerable time, if ever, that the other great Dominions of the Crown will be in a position to send any considerable quantity of cattle here beyond those which they now send for breeding purposes. Therefore, it is not because it is going to interfere with the breeding trade in the Dominions that I regret the omission, but because I am convinced—indeed, I have already some reason to know—that this Act of the British Parliament will cause considerable annoyance and disappointment in our other Dominions.
I believe that, so far as we can do so without sacrificing the legitimate interests and rights of the people of our own land here, we are bound, by a force which grows in strength every day, to take any and every opportunity that presents itself, whether it be in legislation or in administration or in any other way, to recognise the claims of the Dominions as a part of the Empire, and to put an end, so far as is possible, to those enactments or customs of administration which tend to check and interfere with trade between the overseas Dominions and ourselves. So strongly do I feel upon this subject that my first inclination was to move in Committee of your Lordships' House the re-insertion of Clause 4. Indeed, I had drawn an Amendment for that purpose, but, on consideration, I do not propose to take that course, or to submit an Amendment to your Lordships for reasons which I will, very briefly, give. I have said that I, at all events, am profoundly grateful to the Government for having found it possible to introduce this Bill in the very short session of Parliament, which was summoned for other and very different purposes, and I recognise that we are coming to the end of this short session. It is, I believe, for the convenience of everybody that it should be terminated at the end of this week, and if an Amendment 415 were introduced here by your Lordships it might delay the passage of the Bill. Negotiations would have to be entered upon between the two Houses, and it is possible that it might, as has happened before, even risk the passage of the Bill, and that is the very last result for which I should like in any way to be responsible.
There are other considerations which govern my decision in this matter. As the Government have already told us, there is to be an Imperial Conference next year in London. It will be attended by the Prime Ministers, and no doubt other Ministers, of the various Dominions, and that fact puts this particular question of Clause 4 of this Bill in a different light. That Conference next spring will afford an admirable opportunity for the noble Duke, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Prime Minister and other Ministers, to confer with the different Dominion Ministers, and possibly it would be better, if a change is to be made, that it should take effect after such a Conference and after His Majesty's Government have satisfied themselves as to the precise forms and conditions our Dominions would like to have if a Bill of the kind is to be introduced.
There is no immediate pressure. It is, really, a question of sentiment, not of actual injury to any prospective trade. But that sentiment is strong, and one which I hope will continue to govern your Lordships' House and affect legislation in this country with increasing force. If I thought a postponement of this alteration would have an adverse effect upon the feelings of people in our Dominions, I would run the risk of some disagreement with the other House rather than what I regard as a much graver risk, giving offence to those to whom we owe so much. But I do not think that will be the case. The distinguished statesmen who represent our Dominions here as High Commissioners will realise the difficulties of the situation, the practical Parliamentary difficulties, and they will also realise that it will be possible to discuss the question at the Imperial Conference, where it can be much better dealt with than it can be to-day. Therefore I do not propose to move the Amendment of which I have spoken—namely, the re-insertion of what was Clause 4.
I do, however, propose to appeal to the Government to give us a definite assurance 416 that they will make it their business to raise this particular question at the Conference next spring, and see that it is fully discussed, and that they will do all they can to arrive at a satisfactory arrangement and introduce legislation, if necessary, in order to give effect to the arrangement. If the Government are good enough to give me an assurance to that effect I shall not think it necessary or desirable to move the Amendment.
The noble Earl who moved the Second Reading of the Bill wound up by expressing his hope as to the future of agriculture. I am one of those who have never believed that the introduction of cattle from overseas, Canada or elsewhere, is going to interfere materially with the raising of store cattle in this country. I do not think that time will ever come, and for this reason. In the days when we had previous experience of the importation of store cattle from Canada, farming in Canada was confined almost exclusively to two forms—immense ranches where the cattle were raised, and large territories of virgin soil producing corn. The face of the Canadian agricultural world has been altered, the whole system of farming has changed, and to-day you have in Canada mixed farming as successful as it is in this country. I think the Canadian store raiser and farmer will find that it is far more advantageous to raise his own stores than to send them here and sacrifice his profits.
Remember what is going on at this very moment. There are in England to-day surplus store cattle which are being taken into the markets and not sold. If there are more store cattle than are wanted, for which purchasers cannot be found, then, surely, there will be no temptation to the Canadian breeder to send store cattle here which might meet the same fate. I have no fears on that point. I introduced my Bill in 1896 not because of any fear of legitimate competition on the part of the Canadian store breeder. I introduced it purely to make certain that the health of our cattle was secured, and if I thought this Bill was going to endanger the health of our flocks and herds I should be the last person to support it. I agree that the raising and fattening of store cattle offers probably one of the best, if not the best, prospect for the British farmer. We are singularly blessed in our soil and climate, and in the conditions under which we carry on this branch of 417 the industry. It will not be possible for those who carry it on thousands of miles from here to make a profit out of that industry when they have to cover all those thousands of miles and are faced with the same difficulties as we are when their cattle land in this country.
The only question that remains is that of disease. As regards Canada, we have abundant proof that she has a clean bill of health, and has had it now for more than thirty years. There is in this Bill ample powers to enable the Ministry of Agriculture to protect the health of our herds and flocks, and my appeal to the Ministry is to devote more time, attention and energy to the work of protecting our cattle than they have done just recently, and to realise that it rests with them to see that no harm follows from this legislation. I hope the noble Duke, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, will be able to give me an assurance as to the omission of what was Clause 4. I thank the Government for bringing in the Bill and including it in their programme for this session. Most heartily do I rejoice that it has fallen to our lot to remove one of the causes of dissatisfaction which has existed far too long. Legislation of this character will strengthen our Empire materially and bind still closer to us those great Dominions to which we owe so much.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
My Lords, I desire to associate myself with the thanks accorded the Government for their prompt recognition of the pledge and the manner in which they have carried it out. I do not intend to trespass on the time of the House in expressing my opinion as to what effect this removal will have on English agriculture. That is a very open question. There seems to be, however, a little misunderstanding still. Perhaps in introducing this hasty legislation at the end of the session this could not be avoided, but I should like to have some explanation on what was Clause 4. Was Clause 4 put into the Bill as the recognition of a pledge, or was it not? Clause 4, as I understand it, admitted cattle from other Dominions, and there was considerable hubbub in another place when it was announced that Clause 4 was going to be omitted.
I may particularly call attention to a speech that was made by Major-General Sir Newton Moore, who is the Member for one 418 of the Metropolitan constituencies, and a former Premier of the great Dominion of Australia. He spoke—and I think this matter ought to be cleared up—in severe criticism of the deletion of Clause 4, in which he was joined by other Members. He criticised it in view of the promises made—and I should like to know whether any promises really were made—that the same conditions should apply to the other Dominions. If promises were made and they are not going to be carried out, this is another unfortunate incident. If that is so, I am sorry to hear that the noble Viscount, Lord Long of Wraxall, does not propose to move the Amendment which he informed us he was going to put on the Paper. If a promise was made, I am afraid it will be my duty to put the noble Viscount's Amendment on the Paper, in view of a promise having been made and once more not having been carried out by His Majesty's Government.
§ THE EARL OF DENBIGH
My Lords, I wish to say only one or two words, and will not delay matters very long. Last year I expressed myself rather strongly in the Press with regard to the action which led to this agitation being raised for the importation of Canadian cattle. I did so mainly on the ground that it might do considerable harm to the policy pursued by the agricultural authorities of doing everything possible to improve the milking breed of cattle, to induce farmers to get a larger yield of milk from a given acreage of land by improving their milking breed and giving all possible encouragement to the new system of milk recording. I felt that considerable harm might be done if breeding stock were imported in this rather indiscriminate way, and I was glad to see that, in an Amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Long, which was accepted by the House in the debate of last July, it was proposed that steers only should be admitted under this Bill.
The noble Earl who introduced the Bill referred to Clause 4, which, I see, provides the Minister of Agriculture with permissive powers of admitting breeding cattle.
§ THE EARL OF DENBIGH
Is it under that clause that Orders will lie upon the Table of the House for twenty-one days?
§ THE EARL OF DENBIGH
I presume, then, that no Order will be made in that way except when the House is sitting.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
Yes, it gives both your Lordships' House and the other House an opportunity to take exception to such Orders.
§ THE EARL OF DENBIGH
I only hope that, in carrying out this policy, the Ministry of Agriculture will pay every possible regard to the movement now in progress for improving the milking properties of our cattle, and that this Bill may in no way detract from its effectiveness.
THE EARL OF JERSEY
My Lords, I do not propose to detain your Lordships more than a very few minutes, but I cannot refrain from expressing my regret that, thus early in the life of a new Parliament, the practice to which exception has so often been taken of asking your Lordships to pass important measures in a very inadequate space of time at the end of a session, should so soon have been renewed. I am still rather at a loss to discern the reason for this very great haste, for surely, on this matter, if on any, your Lordships should be entitled to express an opinion after adequate consideration of the proposals laid before you. But we have really had very little time to study the Bill as it now reaches your Lordships' House, and to digest the course of events in another place.
I do not propose, however, to go over all the old ground again. I rise mainly for the purpose of asking the noble Earl in charge of the measure for an assurance on one specific point. I am bound to say I am one of those who are sorry that this Government should have taken over this legacy from their predecessors, and I am particularly sorry that it should have been brought forward now, at a time when agriculture is passing through a very grave crisis and needs all the encouragement and the support which it can possibly receive. Yet this measure is brought forward in the face of innumerable resolutions, passed by various bodies very well qualified to speak on behalf of the agricultural interest. I cannot but fear that it will increase that feeling, I might almost say of despair, which now obtains in agricultural circles, 420 and that it will tend to shake whatever confidence may still be left in the protestations which have been so freely made of late, that in future agriculture will be recognised at its proper worth to the State.
What is the real reason for the introduction of this measure? I do not suppose that any one seriously believes that it will reduce the price of meat. As the noble Earl himself said, the Report of the Royal Commission was not very convincing, and I think one may say without any disrespect that the members of that Commission themselves did not seem to be quite convinced as to the merits of that particular aspect of the case. The real reason, of course, why this measure is introduced is, as we are told, that this country must honour its pledges. On that proposition there can be no dispute. Of course this country must honour its pledges; but we have been reminded more than once recently that the freedom with which commitments have lately been made has rendered this a somewhat complex matter, and I think we may well ask how far this is to be a precedent, and how far this country is to be bound by promises which have been given without the express sanction of Parliament.
It has always been a mystery to me why, since Providence has endowed us with an island home, successive Governments should strive to throw away the advantages of that priceless heritage. We have had many previous instances, and now we are to have overseas cattle coming here to imperil the safety of our own incomparable herds. We certainly shall not designate these cattle as alien cattle, inasmuch as they have come from our Dominions. If that were the only consideration, we should welcome them, though I am afraid the poor animals themselves will be somewhat unwilling guests; but they are strangers to our shores, and, speaking with all deference, I fear that it is idle to deny that there is some risk attached to their admission.
It is an unfortunate thing that once more agriculture should be mixed up with polities. That has been the obstacle with which agriculture has always had to contend, and I am afraid it is evident that it is still not yet freed from that handicap. And till agriculture is left to work out its own salvation free from politics the outlook will continue to be rather gloomy. 421 It is useless to discuss this measure now. The Government have evidently made up their minds, and no doubt this Bill will pass. If I understand aright, we are still to a large degree at the mercy of the Ministry. At first sight, no doubt, there are safeguards, and we shall be told that these safeguards have been inserted in accordance with the Resolutions arrived at a few months ago. But when I look at Clause 8 I see that to a very large extent the Minister can over-ride the safeguards, and can do almost anything that may seem good to him and to his advisers. I suppose that in this respect the Bill does not go much further than the Act of 1894, but I cannot think that when those Resolutions were adopted a few months ago it was intended that the enforcement of the safeguards should be at the discretion of the Minister.
I said just now that I wished to have some assurance upon one specific question. Is there any intention to carry out the provisions of this Bill with any real regard for humanity, and, if so, in what form? And what penalties will be attached to any attempt to evade those provisions? I notice in the Bill that a veterinary surgeon is to travel on the boats and to report on the health of the animals, but I see nothing to impose upon that veterinary surgeon any obligation to report on the conditions of travel. I observed with the greatest delight an Amendment which was recently adopted in another place, and accepted by the Government, to make some provision for the adequacy of the vessels. I am afraid I am a little sceptical as to how far those provisions will really be carried out. We all know of the cruelty which was formerly attached to this trade, and that it was very largely on account of the revulsion of feeling against that cruelty that the embargo was put on; at any rate, that was one of the causes. It is now clearly laid down that the vessels must be adapted to the purpose, and certain objectionable features are, as far as possible, to be eliminated.
The Minister of Agriculture, speaking in another place before the introduction of the Amendment to which I am referring, said that he had ample powers under the Act of 1894, and, on referring to that Act, there can be no possible question that he has those powers. But what guarantee have we that the officials will use them, and will use the additional powers now conferred 422 upon them? I have no doubt that the noble Earl in charge of the Bill will assure us of his own personal sympathy, just as the Minister did in another place, and I have no doubt that the sympathy in both cases is genuine. But we shall probably be told also that the Ministry are likewise sympathetic. As to that, I am afraid I have rather less confidence. Many efforts have been made in the past to restrict the cruelties of the export trade from this country, and the obstacle has always been officialdom. No doubt, the permanent officials individually are most humane, but as a corporate body they are callous in the extreme. And we know that the Minister has to rely very largely on his permanent officials for information and advice on these subjects. What hope have we that they will be more humane in dealing with this import trade?
I read with great interest what the Minister said, I think the night before last, on this subject. He used almost the identical words that the late Minister used with regard to the export trade. He said that as far as he possibly could he would do all in his power to prevent cruelty. We were told that with regard to the export of horses; and yet, I am afraid, there is only too good reason to believe that the same cruelties go on now, and that they are practised almost to the same extent as they were before the passage of the recent measure. I very much hope that the noble Earl will give us a definite, assurance that real regard will be paid to humanity in dealing with the import of these cattle. The former conditions were a disgrace to all concerned. If this Bill passes, as no doubt it will, I shall be one of those who will regret it, but it will be some slight consolation to know that, whatever fears one may have as to the evils which may result from it, at any rate the conditions of cruelty will not be one of the added objections.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, this highly controversial question, which has now come before us in the form of a Bill, has been discussed up and down the country for the last year or more, in some cases with a warmth which one might almost call ferocious. But when the subject came before your Lordships' House last summer the merits of the case were overshadowed completely by other questions, and I was alone, or nearly alone, in endeavouring to draw your Lordships' 423 attention to the aspect of the case as it presented itself to British agriculturists. It has been agreed now, as the result of votes in both Houses of Parliament, that this Bill shall go through as practically an unopposed measure. But it will be well to recognise that the reason why it does so is not that the arguments of those who object to the lifting of the embargo have been defeated, but that the sense of the country has declared that a pledge given by a British Government must be honoured. With that, of course, I entirely agree. Clearly the pledge was given. Whether it ought to have been given is a matter on which I and many others hold our private opinions.
I should very much like to know where these pledges begin and where they end. The huge preponderance of British agricultural opinion has declared its opinion with no uncertain voice that the lifting of this embargo is inimical to the industry's interests. On the face of it, it must be inimical to its interests. We know that there is a considerable minority who hold a contrary opinion, but they have been rather in the position of a man who clutches at a straw when he is drowning. They expressed that opinion because they hoped that, in their grave anxiety, the lifting of the embargo might perhaps come to their assistance. I think that is the reason why they hold that opinion. But, in any case, it cannot be denied that the great preponderance of agricultural opinion is against the lifting of the embargo.
We know that in passing this Bill we are running the risk of doing ourselves grave hurt. We cannot conceivably be doing ourselves the slightest good. In this matter of pledges look at what agriculture is faced with. In the country districts one of the chief difficulties that agriculture has to contend with is the enormous incidence of the rates. What causes the rates to be so high? Surely, the charges incurred for education are one of the principal reasons. We are not allowed to touch those costs because we are faced with pledges made to those concerned in giving education. Again, agriculturists are suffering very heavily indeed by reason of the high freights on the railways, which, in their turn, are due to the pledges given to the railwaymen's unions. I am not complaining of these things, but here are three instances of pledges which operate against the interests of British agriculture.
424 And when it comes to pledges given to British agriculture itself, what happened to them? It is fresh in the memory of all your Lordships that Parliament, in its discretion, did not then consider it necessary that its honour should be upheld. At every turn agriculture is made to give way to other interests, and the result is that now it is no exaggeration to say that agriculturists as a whole stand on the edge of the precipice. Some few have slipped over already. This Bill, when it passes, will push over a few more. When the edge of the precipice crumbles the whole of us will be thrown into the abyss, and that debacle will not be long in coming. The Prime Minister has given abundant evidence of his desire to get a grasp of the subject, but, important though the questions are which the Committees that have been set up are going to discuss, they really are only important side issues, and, however favourably to agriculture those Committees may report, they cannot but be palliatives; they will not get to the root of the trouble from which we suffer.
I am not here, any more than any one of your Lordships, to plead the cause of the interest with which we happen to be intimately connected. We are here to contribute what we can to the good government of Great Britain and the Empire, and I would like, if I may, to divert your attention for a moment away from the consideration of the plight which agriculturists as individuals or a class are in, to a consideration of what would happen to the nation if agriculture were allowed to be ruined, and if the sort of policy is to be continued which we find in this Bill—namely, the policy of sacrificing British agriculture to other interests.
There is not a State in the civilised world which finds it possible to continue its existence except when based upon sound and profitable agriculture. Is it possible that this country of ours will be able to do what all other States find impossible? To me it seems that with a demoralised agriculture industrial England is as a god of brass, standing upon feet of clay. What we want to maintain that enormous superstructure are foundations, solid, broad-based and ever spreading, and we can only secure those foundations by restoring confidence to British agriculture. We have got to make it worth while for the man who works upon the land to continue to do so, and to make it possible for the 425 man who puts his brains and capital into the land to get a reasonable living out of what he is doing. Until confidence is restored to British agriculture those things will remain impossible, and, in fact, matters will go from bad to worse.
There are members of this House who are far more conversant than I am with the conditions of agriculture. Those conditions alarm me, and they must alarm your Lordships. I beg the Government, knowing their good will towards the subject, to try to get down to fundamentals and to discover some policy which will make it possible for British agriculture to thrive in the future as it has thriven in the past. Something has got to be done, and I hope it will be done quickly. I have been tempted to digress from the immediate subject of the Bill for a moment, because this Bill, small matter, comparatively speaking, as it is, is in the wrong direction. It cuts across the interests of British agriculture and does not help them. I hope that it is the last we shall see, during what I may hope will be the long-continued term of office of the present Government, of any sort of legislation brought in which does not on the face of it carry with it the assistance of British agriculture.
§ LORD ASKWITH
My Lords, as a member of the Royal Commission which sat upon this matter I welcome this Bill as a just and sensible measure. The noble Lord has made a moving appeal on behalf of agriculture generally. I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Long, is once more accurate in the estimate he gave, and that this Bill which is now introduced into this House will not have any harmful effect upon agriculture, but, on the other hand, may assist a great many portions of agriculture and also other industries besides that of agriculture. With regard to Clause 4, which was deleted in the House of Commons, the noble Marquess has talked about the pledge. I do not know whether any pledge has been recently given. Pledges seem to be floating about this country, and it is difficult to keep pace with them; but at the time the Commission was sitting no such pledge was brought forward or spoken of, although the Canadian pledge was freely spoken of, and the Commission itself dealt with the question of importation from other countries than Canada in its Report.
The lines are very few and I think I may read them. The Commission said— 426It was urged by way of objection to the Canadian application that it would be impossible, in practice, to discriminate and that diplomatic difficulties might arise with foreign countries it Canadian stores alone were admitted. We do not think that this objection is of weight. Canada is an integral part of the British Empire, and if Canada makes out a case for admission, no complaint could be made by a foreign country that it would be unfair to admit the cattle of Canada alone. Considerations of a similar kind would apply as regards parts of the Empire other than Canada if any of them were to claim that admission should be granted to their cattle. No such claim has, so far, been made except on behalf of Canada and no such claim seems probable, but if it were made it would have to be determined according to the circumstances of each case.Therefore, I would support the suggestion of the noble Viscount, Lord Long, that the matter should be brought up at the Conference which is sitting next year, rather than that a clause should be put in which might have a hasty and detrimental effect.
Quite sufficient was said before the Commission to indicate that in parts of His Majesty's Dominions, particularly in the Tropics, very serious diseases did exist, of which little was known in this country, and other diseases were alluded to as existing in South America, which have really not been examined properly with a view to estimating what their danger might be to cattle in this country. With regard to Canadian cattle enough was said before the Commission to lead me to believe that there was a clear case. The Commission had before it primarily the question of disease. It was proved up to the hilt that since the year 1896, and for even a longer period than that, there had been no really serious diseases existing in Canada, and that the claim for keeping Canadian cattle out was not a good one.
The Commission alluded to other reasons, but, as the noble Earl who introduced the Bill very properly remarked, the Commission was hampered by the question of policy which arose, and they said at the end of their Report—We have not thought it within the terms of reference to enter into questions of Imperial policy, as regards the food supply of the country in time of war, protection of home industries, or the effect of possible political changes in the Constitution of the United Kingdom.Some of those "possible political changes" have since taken place, and may considerably alter the question of whether we shall or shall not depend upon one portion of the United Kingdom for our entire supply of store cattle in the future. I support the Bill.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
My Lords, I should not like this debate to close without my having said a word or two about one clause in the Bill which has not been referred to by any previous speaker except my noble friend who moved the Second Reading. It is Clause 3 which alters the law as regards the admission of Irish cattle into this country. In referring to that clause I do not, of course, question the right of this country to take every step which is necessary in their view to safeguard their herds. As a farmer in Ireland I should resent any suggestion that we had not that right in Ireland now, and, of Course, I would not make any claim controverting that in dealing with our relations with England. But there is a strong feeling in both parts of Ireland about the insertion of this clause in the Bill. We believe it to be unwise. We believe that it is unfair as drafted, and also that it is particularly unfair to take this opportunity when you are legislating for Canada to pass what we believe to be a very harmful provision as regards ourselves.
My task is easier than it might have been for two reasons, and I need not detain your Lordships at any length. It is easier, firstly, because the case has been splendidly fought in another place by honourable friends of mine, some of them representing Northern Ireland and some of them closely in touch with Southern Ireland. They did their best but were overwhelmed. If I may express my own opinion, I do not think they were overwhelmed on the merits; they were overwhelmed for other reasons to which I shall refer. My task is also easier because I know that in saying what I want to say I am not attacking His Majesty's Government. They are doing nothing to do us any harm. I am attacking their predecessors.
The word "pledge" has been more extensively used in this debate than any other word in the English language, and I shall continue the use of it. We are confronted, first of all, with the fact that there is a pledge to Canada. A pledge was given in October last, I think, by two Ministers to the effect that the new arrangements under which Canadian cattle would be imported into this country would also apply to Ireland. We are informed that that pledge was given by Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen and Mr. Winston Churchill; two gentlemen, we may note 428 in passing, who, by the wisdom of the electors, are not at the moment included in the counsels of the nation. But that pledge was given, and it was given, so far as we know, after no consultation with Ireland at all. I do not think the Ulster Government was consulted, and I do not think the Southern Irish Government was consulted. There was, after all, a Provisional Government existing in Southern Ireland which ought, surely, to have been consulted. So far as I know, neither of them was consulted.
Further than that, it is our belief that the pledge was concealed from them. Of course, no Papers have been laid, and they have not informed us of their ever having had any knowledge that this pledge was given with a view to a subsequent proposal. Moreover, though I do not think I can say there is a pledge, there is an engagement to the contrary with Ireland. We understand that in the autumn of last year the Irish Board of Agriculture approached the English Ministry of Agriculture and offered to help in the drafting of this Bill. But the Irish Board was told: "Oh no, we do not want you; this Bill is not going to affect Ireland in any way." That statement has been made in the House of Commons and has not been contradicted, and I think I am entitled to repeat it here. I do not think that a message from one Department to another can be called a pledge; but the fact that there had been such a message reached Ireland and leaked out there, and one may claim, I think, solely for the sake of argument, that it was in the nature of a pledge. Our sympathies remain, of course, with His Majesty's Government. We note with pleasure that they are being meticulously careful in carrying out the pledges of their predecessors; but it will be difficult for them to carry out those pledges when they find that pledges have been given by their predecessors, not for the first time, and to both parties—pledges which are mutually contradictory.
All that I desire to say on this proposal is that this Bill alters the conditions under which Irish cattle may reach this country. You are giving to those conditions a rigidity which does not exist at present. By so doing you are bound, slightly perhaps but none the less certainly, to affect the price of Irish cattle in this country, and, by so affecting it, to raise it and eventually to increase the price of meat. I am also 429 entitled to say, I think, that you may encourage the Irish cattle breeder to send his cattle somewhere else. It is common form, of course, in our debates in this House to say that the whole of the trade of Ireland is with England and that she cannot hurt us because she so greatly depends on us. But this cattle trade is a very big thing from your point of view. From the point of view of your meat supply, it is a far greater thing than anything that anybody suggests may come from Canada, and you must not grumble if the Irish cattle breeder does what I hear privately from Ireland that he is beginning to consider—begins to look for another market, with the result of decreasing what he sends here and increasing what he sends elsewhere. The subject is very much in an incipient stage and I will not say anything further about it at the moment. If I did, I might possibly be giving away secrets. But if anything does happen in that direction, do not forget that the initiative came from you and not front Ireland.
§ EARL STANHOPE
My Lords, it would be much more interesting to your Lordships, I imagine, if the noble Earl told us where Irish cattle will go if they do not come to England; and it would be much more interesting to us as English farmers, in view of the fact that many of us feel that numerous outbreaks of foot and mouth disease have had some considerable connection with Ireland, though in many cases it is not easy to prove that.
§ EARL STANHOPE
The disease appeared to come either directly or indirectly from Ireland, or arose among cattle which had arrived only a very short period previously from Ireland. That being the case, I very strongly hope that the noble Duke, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, will not give Ireland a pledge in this connection without the fullest inquiry. I agree that Ireland must not be forgotten, but having regard to the legisla- 430 tion which has recently passed through this House, I imagine that Southern Ireland stands in the same position as the Dominion of Canada. Ulster, of course, is in a different position and has to suffer in consequence, and I think that everyone engaged in farming in England, sympathises most deeply with her. After all, charity, does begin at home.
As my noble friend Lord Hastings said, we have to safeguard British agriculture and to do every-thing possible to preserve it from collapse. The security of our herds in this country is one of the things on which the farmer places more reliance now than he does on anything else. His wheat prices have fallen, and many other markets have fallen, and if you are going to bring disease into this country agriculture must inevitably collapse. There is no question, I think, of disease being brought into this country under this Bill, because, as the noble Lord opposite has said, Canada has produced an absolutely clean bill of health. I hope, however, that before any other Dominion is allowed to import cattle into this country an equally careful inquiry will be made.
§ THE EARL OF CLANWILLIAM
My Lords, I wish to say only one word in answer to the allegation of my noble friend Lord Stanhope. He, I think, cast a terrible aspersion on our unfortunate country by saying that it was supposed that the last outbreak of foot and mouth disease in this country had come from Ireland. I saw the other day that it was officially reported that after a very thorough and careful examination of the subject it was proved conclusively that Ireland was in no way the cause of the introduction of the disease into this country.
THE EARL OF DESART
My Lords, I also should not have got up to speak but for what Lord Stanhope has said. I followed the proceedings in another place very carefully, and really, whatever we may feel about it, after much discussion the whole thing comes down to the words in Clause 8. It comes to this, that instead of putting in statutory form hat the cattle should be under detention for a further period of six days, we think it should be in the discretion of the Minister to vary the period. This measure was introduced to satisfy Canada. A pledge was given at a time when Southern Ireland was not a Dominion 431 and when her interests were in the hands of the Government here. No person then foresaw that the importation of Canadian cattle could affect injuriously the position of the Irish breeders. So far as I could I followed everything that was said in another place, and it appears to me to have been admitted that, whatever consideration there was for the pledge which was given, there was no consultation with the representatives either of Southern Ireland or Northern Ireland. The difficulty might have been met by merely leaving it in the hands of the Minister to prescribe what was necessary in the interests of this country. No one denies that this country is entitled to take measures to protect itself. But to put it in statutory form was outside the purpose of the Bill. It was done, I understand, without consultation with Ireland, or consideration of any reasons which might have been given against that course being adopted.
In regard to the prejudice which my noble friend Lord Stanhope has introduced by making a general statement that it was always suspected foot-and-mouth disease came from Ireland, I can only say that that has been refuted over and over again. It is always said; in this country it seems to be a matter of prejudice. I do not see, however, how it can come into this discussion at all. What we want now is that the Minister should have the discretion in this country of imposing such delay as he thinks necessary, but that the period should not be put in permanent and statutory form. I think that is a reasonable request, and I am sorry it was not granted in another place. I recognise the futility of pressing it here, and I shall not put down an Amendment, because to do so would merely be occupying the time of the House unnecessarily.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE)
My Lords, may I deal first with the last point raised? It has nothing whatever to do with the question of Canadian cattle coming in. I have to remind your Lordships that in the very uncertain, confused and difficult position in which we were in this country owing to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease of great magnitude in the last few months, it was necessary that steps should be taken to stamp out that disease. It is difficult to find, and I do not think we have yet found, any particular solution of the problem as to where the disease comes from. I myself am 432 convinced that Ireland has got a very clear and a very clean record. Whether it is brought by birds or in crates of straw, or however it is brought, there is no doubt whatever that a large number of animals moving about from market to market were the means of causing a considerable spread of foot and mouth disease. Under powers which the Board of Agriculture could exercise they were able to prohibit the moving of cattle front market to market. The period was fixed at fourteen Clays in June, but in August it was reduced to thirteen days, and in October, I think, to six days.
I do not wish to threaten—it would be a futile task on my part—my friends from Ireland, but I have already received an intimation that there is an objection on the other side to fixing the statutory time at six days. A great many people think the time ought to be touch longer. They think that instead of it being fixed at six days it is desirable that it should be left in the discretion of the Minister of Agriculture to make the period still longer, and, if necessary, go back to the time originally fixed, which was fourteen days. I agree that the Ministry has the power of enforcing that period. I know that it is not any comfort to my noble friends from Ireland, but I cannot imagine a Minister of Agriculture in this country for a great number of years to come who would even contemplate the reduction of that period of six days which the Ministry now have the option of fixing. Practically no difference would be made if it were statutory, That opinion would be strong if any alteration were made in the number of days one can well imagine after the speeches we have heard this afternoon, notably, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hastings. We would not be able to stand for a day before the agricultural community if we were to reduce the period. Although I can hold out very little hope to my friends from Ireland, I do assure them that there would not have been the slightest chance, if this Bill had never been introduced, of there being any abandonment of the exercise of the option possessed by the Minister of Agriculture.
May I now turn to a point of very great importance, and one to which it is a matter of deep regret to me to have to refer—namely, the disappearance from the Bill of the original Clause 4. I most deeply regret that that clause was rejected in the House of Commons. I do not wish to go into the 433 question of pledges. I do not know why this question seems invariably to have involved pledges. Whether there was an absolute pledge or not I am not sufficiently discriminating to judge, but I have no doubt whatever that the clearest possible undertakings were given, both in the course of the debates in this House and elsewhere, that the removal of these restrictions on Canadian cattle was intended to apply equally to cattle from the other Dominions. The Resolution passed by your Lordships' House on July 26 referred to "stores from the Dominions," and as a result of the Conference between members of the late Government and Canadian Ministers it was publicly stated that—the Conference assented to the view that legislation on this subject cannot be limited to Canada but must be capable of adaptation to the requirements of other parts of the British Empire.That is perfectly clear language.
The Bill as originally drafted, containing what was Clause 4, made it clear that it was the intention of the Government and Parliament that the removal of these restrictions should apply to Dominions other than Canada. I deeply regret that this clause has been deleted in the House of Commons. On my own responsibility I telegraphed my regret to the representatives of the Dominions, and I am fully prepared to give the undertaking asked for by my noble friend Viscount Long of Wraxall, that, if at the Conference, which we hope will meet in London next year, this point is raised and a mutually satisfactory arrangement reached, the Government will bring in legislation to give it effect. I do not know whether I shall be accused of having given another pledge, but it will only be carrying out the undoubted intention of the late Government, undoubtedly our own intention, and undoubtedly the intention of Parliament when it passed the Resolution last summer.
My noble friend Lord Jersey asked what was the reason for this hurry. The reason is that we have given a pledge and are anxious to implement it at the earliest possible moment. No practical purpose is achieved by delay. On the other hand, a considerable amount of work is necessary to prepare for the arrival of these animals from Canada, if they come, and it is obviously necessary to get the Bill passed as early as possible. There would, I believe, ha ye been great disappointment in Canada if the Bill had not been introduced in the 434 present session, and I have evidence that there is considerable satisfaction at the fact that the British Parliament took the earliest opportunity of redeeming the obligations to which they were committed.
The noble Lord also referred to the question of cruelty. A large number of animals have been shipped from Canada to various ports in this country, where they are killed on landing, and if there is any cruelty it is possible for any one to make inquiry and obtain information. I believe the passage is made easy for these animals. The Ministry of Agriculture possess ample powers for dealing with the question. So far as I am aware no case of cruelty has been proved, and I am sure that the Ministry of Agriculture would be most willing and anxious to make every inquiry in order to put an end to any abuse that may exist.
My noble friend Lord Hastings took a very sad view as to the future prospects of agriculture. I should not like to pit my knowledge and experience against his, but I am confident that far from being a danger to agriculture this measure will be of considerable help. Breeders of British stock have nothing to fear from Canada or anywhere else in the world. They are able to produce as good a quality of beef as can be found anywhere. 'What British agriculturists have to fear is, I think, the growing competition in chilled and frozen meat. That is a far greater danger than anything that is to be feared from Canada. One of the greatest problems we have to face at the moment is in connection with the food of the community. The more home-grown meat is used in this country instead of chilled and frozen meat the better. It is not possible, of course, for this country to depend entirely on fresh-killed beef, but the more we can encourage it the better for agriculturists and the consuming public.
I am not going to refer to one other subject at any length. I referred to it when I was a private member of this House, and I have reason still to believe that the passage of this Bill will tend towards an increase in cattle raising in Canada. That will entail an increased demand on our pure-bred stock here. Canada is looking to this country not merely for its foundation stock but for its renewal stock and we shall see a great and growing demand for both. That will be a considerable help to what may be but a small section of the community.
435 I trust we shall now bring this controversy, which has raged far too long, to a satisfactory conclusion. My regret is that we have not been able to make it such a complete piece of work as we had hoped to do when the Bill was first brought in. The small defect, due to a misunderstanding in the other House, will, if necessary, be remedied. I am confident that all who are connected with the agricultural industry in this country have nothing whatever to fear from the passage of this Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ [From, Minutes of December 12.]
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR acquainted the House that the Clerk of the Parliaments 436 had received (by post) from the Lord Clerk Register of Scotland, Minutes of the meeting held on the 16th of November last of the Peers of Scotland for the election of their representatives to sit and vote in the ensuing Parliament of the United Kingdom; and also, Return by the Lord Clerk Register of Scotland concerning titles of peerages called at the said meeting, in right of which respectively no vote had been received and counted for fifty years last past as at the date of the said meeting: Ordered that the said Minutes of Election, &c., be printed.
§ The Earl Cawdor—Sat first in Parliament after the death of his grandfather.
§ House adjourned at twenty minutes past seven o'clock.