§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (LORD BLEDISLOE)
My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill. It is a small Bill, it is wholly uncontroversial, but it is not unimportant to the agricultural and horticultural community. It has passed the House of Commons without any criticism. One of the most serious sources of loss with which farmers and gardeners have to contend is the toll which is levied to an ever-increasing extent by insects and pests upon their crops. It is estimated that they cost the agricultural community annually something like £12,000,00—considerably more than is caused, for instance, by such diseases as foot-and-mouth disease and diseases about which we in Parliament speak and hear much more than we do of insects and pests.
Under the existing Statutes relating to destructive insects and pests—namely, the Act of 1877 and the Act of 1907—the Minister of Agriculture may require local authorities to carry out orders issued 1057 under those Acts for the prevention of the introduction and the spread of destructive insects and pests, and may order them to pay compensation for any crops destroyed under such an order. But the system of administration by local authorities has not been a success, and mainly it has failed because where you have one county running into another it is quite easy for the spores of a post such as American gooseberry mildew to pass over the county boundary, and one county authority may be keen and eager and active to work under the Acts, and another may be indolent and slack in the matter, and the pest consequently tends to spread. As a result of that, in 1914 the Department of Agriculture took over the administration of these Acts, and worked them through their own inspectors. But the appearance of any new and dangerous pests—and the word "pest" includes fungoid diseases, and a good many of those rather inscrutable diseases which are due to what is sometimes described as an ultra-microscopic and filterable virus such as mosaic disease—would necessitate very urgent and drastic action if they are to be suppressed.
This action may involve the destruction of crops by the officers of the Ministry of Agriculture, but at the present time the Minister has no power to pay compensation for such destruction. Such compensation is payable by local authorities, but only if they agree to pay. The Government Department has, however, no power to pay. This Bill accordingly provides that an inspector of the Ministry may by order be empowered to remove or destroy any crop infected with what I may call a non-indigenous insect, or any crop to which such insect is likely to spread, and to enter upon any lands and take any necessary steps in connection with any crop for preventing the spread of any such insect. I may incidentally say perhaps—there is a rather humorous element about it—that an insect is defined as including not merely bacteria but vegetable microorganisms and these various viruses of which we hear so much at present. It includes, therefore, every sort of pest, whether of animal or vegetable origin, which is calculated to cause disease to our economic plants in this country.
By subsection (2)—it is only a one-clause Bill—the Minister may pay compensation 1058 for any crop so removed or destroyed. It is hoped that the need for the exercise of these powers and the consequent payment of compensation will not often arise, but in any case there is a safeguard in the Bill against any undue expenditure under this head, the total expenditure being limited to £2,000 in any one year, unless the Treasury consents to any larger expenditure. We hope and believe that this provision will enable us to deal drastically with any pest coming into this country from other countries immediately upon its arrival. Subsection (1) (c) provides that an order under the Acts may impose a maximum penalty for a second or subsequent offence of £50. The maximum penalty previously under the old Act was no more than £10, and it is noticeable that in the case of wart disease in potatoes, which is a very serious disease, for which no cure has yet been discovered, it is well worth while for a dealer in potatoes to disobey the order and risk the penalty of £10. That penalty in such a case would not be a sufficient deterrent if a grower or dealer thought it worth while to ignore the order.
Subsection (3) provides that proceedings for an offence against the order may in the case of an offence in connection with the movement, sale, consignment or planting of potatoes, be instituted within twelve months from the date of the alleged offence. The existing law necessitates the proceedings being brought within six months, but it may take some time to detect some of these modern diseases, and it is thought not unreasonable to ask that the period should be extended to twelve months. Subsection (4) amends the previous Acts by removing the limitation on compensation. The compensation was limited under the original Act, which was not altered by the subsequent Act, to three-quarters of the value of the produce destroyed, and, if the produce was actually infected with a destructive insect or pest, to one-half only. It is thought only fair, as these Acts cover cases where a plant may be the carrier of disease, that the full market value of the crop should be recovered by way of compensation.
Subsection (5) is important. It enables the Minister to deal with bacteria and virus diseases, and it is proposed to do that by the extension of the definition of "insect." Perhaps I 1059 may indicate why it is particularly important at the present time that this extension of the definition should be allowed—because one of the most serious diseases in this country to-day is what is called the mosaic disease, a serious disease which is very prevalent in North America, and affects a very large number of economic plants in this country, particularly potatoes and tomatoes (which of course are allied to potatoes); others are leaf-roll in potatoes and reversion in black currants. I suppose there has been more loss from reversion and its allied trouble, the black currant mite, in respect of black currants than from any other fruit disease that we have known in recent years. This Bill applies to Scotland, but not to Northern Ireland, because this would be regarded under the Government of Ireland Act as a non-reserved service in respect of which the North of Ireland Parliament can itself legislate. I have only to add that this Bill has been approved by the Horticultural Advisory Council of the Ministry of Agriculture, upon which all branches of the industry are represented, and I therefore ask your Lordships to be good enough to allow this Bill to be read a second time. I beg to move.
Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Bledisloe.)
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Lord for his clear exposition of the Bill and to express my regret that the Bill was not introduced at an earlier stage of our proceedings when it would have been possible for us to have heard in greater detail the very valuable and interesting information which the noble Lord possesses upon this topic. My purpose is not to make any criticism upon the Bill, but I desire to ask a question and to make a request. Everyone knows that among the insect pests that are destructive of crops the wire-worm is one of the most effective. Indeed, in the course of this year a Bill has been introduced to amend the Poisons Act in order that poisons might be spread for the destruction of the wire-worm. In February of this year your Lordships passed without a Division a Bill for the protection of plovers who live almost exclusively upon wire-worms. If you desire to fight the evils of nature you can never do it more 1060 effectively than by using the weapons which nature herself provides. The question I want to ask is why a Government who profess themselves to be so interested in agriculture have declined to give the faintest chance of success to that Bill in another place when it could by no conceivable possibility have taken more than a few hours for its fullest consideration.
I have been, I still am, most anxious to credit the Government with the sincerity of their good intentions; but it seems impossible to comprehend why such a Bill could not have had an opportunity in another place. The very thing that the noble Lord himself referred to with regard to the Bill that is now before us applies equally there. It is of no use having local protection of a bird like the plover; you must have it universally or it is useless. Therefore it is of no effective use to leave it in the power of the local councils, and in the same way as this Bill appears to put the whole protection in the hands of the Government, which they ought to have, so does the Lapwings Bill protect the plover universally throughout the kingdom. That is the question I ask. I might add I am not quite sure that I expect an answer. I do not suppose the noble Lord will be able to give it. As he will not be able to give it and as I will try not to be unpleasant if he refuses, may that give some added strength to the request I wish to make. I wish to ask the noble Lord and the noble Marquess the Leader of the House whether they will represent to the Government in strong terms that a Bill such as the Lapwings Bill, which was passed with the support and at the request of the agricultural societies of this kingdom, should, when it has once been through this House without a Division as an unopposed Bill, and once through this House without a Division as a section in a Government Bill, have some chance of success next Session when I will promise that I will introduce it at the very earliest time possible.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I certainly engage to convey the noble and learned Lord's wishes to my colleagues. He probably knows the situation in another place better than I do in regard to this Bill. The noble and learned Lord said quite truly that the 1061 Bill passed your Lordships' House with general assent. Very few Bills pass the House of Commons with general assent, and I should think, although I have not had an opportunity of obtaining any accurate information, that it probably will be found that objection was felt in certain quarters in another place to the Bill. If that was the case, of course the Government have to economise the very little time that is at their command, and I imagine that what happened was that when the Bill was threatened with opposition it was necessary that it should not interfere with other more important measures. I quite understand the noble and learned Lord's interest in this matter. I sympathise with him and I shall certainly take an early opportunity of mentioning the matter to those who are in power in another place.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
My Lords, may I be allowed to add that, speaking unofficially for the moment and speaking on behalf of my Department in a general way, we fully accept the proposition which the noble and learned Lord put forward, that it is very undesirable to destroy the birds which take part in destroying destructive insects. Speaking for myself, I am a warm supporter of the noble and learned Lord in respect of his own Bill. But I should like to mention this. As 1062 regards the wire-worm, of course we all know that the wire-worm has been particularly prevalent since the War owing to the turning over of old pastures. It is a serious pest at the present time; but the noble and learned Lord will realise that wire-worms are not affected by this Bill.
§ LORD BLEDISLOE
The Bill refers only to imported pests. Unfortunately, the wire-worm is an indigenous pest and a very destructive and rampant indigenous pest in this country.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.