HL Deb 24 February 1927 vol 66 cc222-8

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move the Second Rending of this Bill. I may say at once that the Bill is short, is wholly uncontroversial and is simply intended to tighten up and render more efficient the administration by the Ministry of Agriculture of the Diseases of Animals Acts, The first clause of the Bill carries out a recommendation of the Departmental Committee which sat in 1922 and in 1924, presided over by Captain Ernest Pretyman. The clause provides for simplification of the procedure set out in detail in the Diseases of Animals Act, 1894, which is described as the principal Act.

That is the procedure which has to be followed in a place or in an area where an outbreak takes place, with consequent restrictions, and where subsequently those restrictions can be removed on the disappearance of the disease. This procedure is very cumbersome, it is quite out of date, and it involves delay and quite unnecessary expense. This clause simply provides that the Minister of Agriculture shall be able by Departmental Order to prescribe the procedure necessary for the purpose which, as a matter of fact, is already done by him with great success in the case of swine fever. The Bill really assimilates the administrative procedure in the case of swine fever to these more serious contagious diseases.

Clause 2 has reference to cattle plague, or what is known in some parts of the world as rinderpest. Fortunately, since 1877 we have had no outbreaks of Cattle plague in this country, though many of your Lordships will know that about the middle and during the latter part of last century it was amongst our most serious animal diseases. As the law stands today, the Minister gives directions for the slaughter of animals affected with cattle plague and must insist upon the slaughter, not only of affected animals, but of all those deemed to have been in contact with affected animals in the same shed or otherwise. Your Lordships may be aware that several years ago there was discovered a very effective immunising agent winch has been successfully employed in various parts of the world where cattle plague has broken out, and in those countries, notably in South Africa, in India, is Japan and more recently in Palestine, it has enabled the spread of this disease to be entirely prevented in the case of in-contact animals. This clause is simply intended to permit the use of this immunising agent in the event, which we hope may never occur again, of an outbreak of cattle plague in this country, thus avoiding a great waste of animal life and also a great waste of public money.

As regards the third clause it authorises the Minister to order the slaughter of all animals in an imported animals wharf or landing place that are deemed to be affected with any contagious disease which renders animals at any time liable to slaughter. Under the present law the Minister has the power to order the slaughter in these places of all animals affected with foot and-mouth disease, pleuro-pneumonia or cattle plague, but he has no power to order the slaughter in such places of other animals affected with serious contagious diseases and we particularly want to have this power in relation to the scheduled forms of tuberculosis. It is rather a curious anomaly that to-day, while all local authorities have power to order the slaughter of animals affected with the scheduled forms of tuberculosis, the Minister of Agriculture has no power in the case of animals that have come into this country and are detained at these landing places and animal wharves. This clause is designed simply to remove that anomaly and I hope that it will be approved by your Lordships.

Clause 4 amends the Importation of Animals Act, 1922, by authorising an increase of the fees charged to importers where it is desirable that their animals should be detained for inspection and testing. Perhaps I may give your Lordships an illustration of our aim in this connection. It is proposed to detain all horses imported into this country so that they may be tested with mallein, a test which, as your Lordships are no doubt aware, has proved to be an effective means of preventing the spread of glanders or farcy, which used to be so serious among horses in this country. If this clause is agreed to it will be possible to use the mallein test and so prevent glanders reappearing in this country.

Perhaps from the administrative point of view the most important clause in the Bill is Clause 5, which provides, also on the recommendation of the Pretyman Committee, that the maximum penalties in the case of offences against the Diseases of Animals Acts shall be increased so as to give magistrates wider powers to deal with offences of a serious character. Of these offences the most serious in our view is the neglect to report the existence of the disease, and we have reason to believe that in recent years neglect on the part of stock owners to report outbreaks of the disease has led to some of the more serious and widespread outbreaks. Neglect of that sort, of course, not only exposes neighbouring stock to the risk of infection and loss, but involves a large expenditure of public money in stamping out the various outbreaks that may result from such concealment. The Bill provides for a maximum penalty of £50, or £5 per animal, whichever is the greater, and also for a fine of £10 per ton in the case of carcasses, litter, fodder and other such commodities. I need hardly remind your Lordships that the passing of this clause would not affect the amount of penalty which it is open to the magistrates to impose in minor cases, but it would enable them to impose a more suitable penalty in the case of these graver offences, of which we regard concealment as among the most serious.

Finally, this Bill does not extend to Northern Ireland—we wish that we could say that it should—because the powers in relation to the diseases of animals in that country were transferred, as no doubt your Lordships will remember, to the Government of Northern Ireland by the Ireland (Confirmation of Agreement) Act, 1925. It will, of course, be for the Government of Northern Ireland to decide whether they will pass similar legislation applicable to that part of the United Kingdom.

Before I sit down I think your Lordships would probably like to know something about the position of foot-and-mouth disease in this country at the present time. If you will allow me to say so, I think it is only fair to the extremely efficient veterinary staff of my Department to testify to the great value of their work and the reassuring results that have flowed from it during the last few months. In 1923 there were no less than 1,929 outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in this country, involving an expenditure of public money of £2,205,000. That was the peak year. In 1924 there were 1,440 outbreaks, involving an expenditure of £1,389,000. In 1926 the number had shrunk to 204 outbreaks only, as compared with seven times that number two years before, and the expenditure was £188,000. So far this year there have been only 19 outbreaks, compared with 39 during the corresponding period of last year. The tracing of the Lanarkshire outbreak last May to continental pig careases has definitely established a previously unknown source of danger of infection to our stock, and it is really the most valuable discovery in the direction of effectively stamping out the disease that has been made for many years past.

Your Lordships will remember that the Minister thought it desirable as the result of that discovery to place an embargo upon all fresh meat coming from the Continent, and I think your Lordships will agree that the policy then adopted has been justified in the light of the Comparative figures which come from other countries in relation to this disease. Your Lordships will note that there were only 204 outbreaks last year. In Germany there were no fewer than 187,527 outbreaks as compared with our 204, and that was a considerable increase on the two previous years for which the figures were 40,000 and 56,000 respectively. In Denmark the number of outbreaks in 1924 was 8,000, and the figure rose in 1925 to 53,000 and last year to no fewer than 97,400. The outbreaks in Holland in 1925 were 31,000 and they rose last year to 62,600. In Belgium in 1925 the outbreaks numbered 3,000 and last year they rose to 35,500, an enormous increase in a very small country. In France in 1925 there were 17,000 outbreaks and last year 48,900. I mention those figures only as an indication that our policy founded upon the Lanarkshire outbreak is a wise policy and is protecting us more or less effectively against the real danger of a serious prevalence of the disease in countries not very far from our shores.

There is one other matter to which I feel bound to refer, and if I did not do so the noble and learned Viscount opposite would be sure to say something about it. It is the work which has been carried on during the last three years by the Foot-and-Mouth Disease Research Committee, over which Professor Sir William Leishman presided until his death and over which Professor Martin now presides. Your Lordships may remember that there was a rather premature announcement made by two experts, both of them I think of German origin, Drs. Frosch and Dahmen, in the year 1924, as to the supposed isolation of the micro-organism responsible for the disease. Unfortunately it has been demonstrated that these alleged discoveries were not well founded. The labours of the Research Committee have resulted in their having regretfully to say that so far it has been found quite impossible to cultivate this virus and therefore to prepare anything in the nature of an immunising serum, but knowledge of the virus has been extended by their labours in many directions, as a result of interesting experiments, including its susceptibility to various disinfectants, one of which is vinegar, under certain conditions. But far the most important discovery which will be announced in their Report which will be published to-morrow relates to the vitality of the germ of the disease. It has been discovered that in animal flesh the virus becomes inert within twenty-four hours after the slaughter of the animal. In the case of blood the virus remains still active for thirty to forty days after slaughter and in the case of bone marrow, which we have suspected for some time past, the virus remains active for seventy-six days after slaughter.

I only want to say, in conclusion, that we have traced a good many of the more recent outbreaks to the consumption by pigs of slaughter-house offal, and we have reason to suspect that the contagion has resulted from the fact that in bone marrow as well as in blood the germ remains persistent for so long a time. At an early date, possibly during the next twenty-four hours, an Order will be issued which will compel those who use slaughter-house offal for the feeding of pigs to boil it—or at least raise it to a certain high temperature—before so feeding it. That is as far as I feel justified in going now, but I thought it was only fair, in dealing with this Bill, that I should make some reference to this important discovery.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Bledisloe.)


My Lords, the noble Lord opposite rightly thought that what would interest me personally would be the latter part of his statement relating to virus and micro-organism. It is disappointing that the micro-organism has not yet been isolated, but that is not the fault of those who have been engaged upon research work, because, as the noble Lord said, it was supposed that this micro-organism had been isolated in 1924. That turned out to be a delusion. However, I think something very substantial has been achieved by the Research Committee under Professor Martin in so far as they have succeeded in showing that the germ continues to exist longer in vitality the more appropriate the surroundings in which it is lodged. The marrow seems to be a very important surrounding of that kind. The noble Lord referred to the Lanarkshire outbreak, near Carluke I think it was, and that was definitely shown to be due to stuff imported from a port in which pigs had been in contact with the material brought in.

All that shows what an enormous amount we have to learn about foot-and-mouth disease. I do not myself believe it will be a very deadly disease once means are acquired of either immunising the animal or destroying the germ. It is not a disease which affects seriously the animal while the animal continues to live and it is a disease which probably can be controlled. However, we are a long way from that, and I will only say I am very glad to hear the statement of the noble Lord that the Committee is pursuing and has pursued its course with practical results, such as those of which he has told us. It was in the time of the late Government that it became keenly interested in this matter and endeavoured to get at the root of it, but things passed into the hands of the noble Lord and his friends, who have carried out the research work effectively. As to the other parts of the Bill I do not feel that I know enough about them to express an opinion, but the provisions seem to me to be reasonably designed for the purpose of enforcing the law more directly than it is enforced to-day.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.