HL Deb 28 March 1928 vol 70 cc686-91

LORD HINDLIP rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether any case of foot-and-mouth disease has occurred at Nonsuch Farm, the property of the Birmingham Corporation, since October, 1927; whether any animal has been slaughtered on the farm and compensation paid since October, 1927; whether Nonsuch Farm has ever been scheduled; whether any request for an inquiry into the recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease at Birmingham has been received by the Ministry of Agriculture, and, if so, whether such inquiry will be granted; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, my reason for putting down this Question is that, owing to this outbreak, or alleged outbreak, of foot-and-mouth disease at this particular farm there has been a certain amount of local heart-burning, or some faint suspicion that things were not quite as they ought to be, and I have put down this Question hoping that my noble friend who represents the Ministry of Agriculture would be able to clear up what I suspect is only a misunderstanding. This Nonsuch Farm is the property of the Corporation of Birmingham, and the grazing is let to certain large dealers and butchers in and around the City. There was a movement of cattle from this farm to the Birmingham slaughter house in the month of December, and foot-and-mouth disease was discovered among the first batch of cattle sent in. A certain amount of dissatisfaction has been caused, I understand, by the fact that the Birmingham Corporation official allowed further cattle to be moved from Nonsuch Farm to the slaughter house after foot-and-mouth disease had been discovered or very strongly suspected in that batch. I understand that a second lot of cattle were removed and found to be clean, but the fact that they were clean was not discovered, I believe, until they were in the slaughter house, no examination having been made on the farm.

Nonsuch Farm, I understand, has never been scheduled as an infected area, although an animal was alleged to have been killed on the farm, and the farm, or some portion of it, was sprayed and disinfected. The Ministry themselves obviously considered that this outbreak at Birmingham had a very serious aspect because they sent an officer direct from London to make a special investigation. He, I believe, was satisfied from what he heard and discovered that nothing had been done which ought not to have been done and that everything was in order. I dare say that is true, and I will not take it upon myself to say that anything has been done which ought not to have been done or that anything was left undone which ought to have been done. But I think that the farm should have been scheduled, because it is alleged that neighbouring farmers—I do not know whether their farms actually adjoin it or not—had foot-and-mouth disease on their farms very shortly after the outbreak at Nonsuch Farm. They say, whether rightly or wrongly, that they were never informed that the disease was at Nonsuch Farm and that this farm has never been scheduled.

The local farmers union have requested the head office of the National Farmers Union, as I understand, to request the Ministry to hold a further local inquiry. If this request has been received, or has not yet been received and is received hereafter, I should like to express the hope that the Ministry will grant the inquiry. There, again, one is up against the cost of a first-class ticket to Birmingham, but I do not suppose it will cost very much. I ask the Minister to consider very seriously this request for an inquiry in order to prevent any lack of confidence between the farmers and the Corporation or the Ministry. If even one or two farmers get it at the backs of their heads that the Corporation can move cattle from an infected farm without being stopped or can do things that the farmers themselves cannot do, it will damage the confidence which now exists between the farmers and the Ministry on this very serious question of foot-and-mouth disease. If there is any miasma of suspicion I am sure that an inquiry would blow the whole of it away and would clear the atmosphere and reintroduce confidence between the farmers and the Ministry. I beg to move.


My Lords, in replying to the Questions asked by the noble Lord I hope I shall be able to dispel the suspicions which seem to exist regarding the way in which this outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease was dealt with at Birmingham. I will deal shortly with the noble Lord's Questions as they arise. He asked, first of all, whether foot-and-mouth disease had occurred and been confirmed at Nonsuch Farm in the occupation of the Birmingham Corporation. It has not been confirmed on that farm since October, 1927. The farm, however, was declared an infected place on December 13, 1927, because, as the noble Lord has told us, cattle were moved from the farm on December 8 to the abattoirs at Birmingham, and on December 10 the owners reported that they suspected foot-and-mouth disease amongst that consignment of cattle. The chief veterinary inspector of the Birmingham Corporation inspected the cattle and found them to be infected with foot-and-mouth disease. He communicated with the Ministry of Agriculture, and the inspector of the Ministry confirmed the opinion. The lesions on the cattle were such that suspicion arose that the cattle might have been in an infective condition when they left the farm on December 8. Therefore it was decided to schedule the farm. This was done as a precautionary measure.

On the farm a house is situated in which one of the employees of the Birmingham Corporation lived. To get to this house he had to walk across the fields in which the infected cattle had been lying. The man owned a pig, and it was thought that in walking across these fields he might have carried the infection to the pig. Therefore, again as a precautionary measure, it was thought desirable that the pig should be slaughtered. Afterwards a post-mortem examination was held and it was found that the animal was not infected with foot-and-mouth disease. However, again to prevent any risk, it was decided to bury the carcass of the pig on the farm, and this was accordingly done.

With regard to the inquiry, two local branches of the National Farmers Union sent a request to the headquarters of the National Farmers Union in London that the Ministry of Agriculture should institute an inquiry as to whether any irregularities had occurred in connection with this case. On January 20 Mr. Kelland, Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer of the Ministry, held an inquiry at Birmingham and went most exhaustively into the whole case. He interviewed a great number of people and, as he said, received from the people in Birmingham every assistance that could be given him in order that he should arrive at a proper conclusion. In due course he reported to the Ministry that he was satisfied that everything had been carried out in a normal way, and in due course the Ministry sent Mr. Kelland's report to the National Farmers Union in London. That report was sent on February 7 this year and was transmitted, no doubt, to the branches of the union at Birmingham. We have received no further requests for an inquiry on this subject, so I suppose that they do not think it necessary to go any further with it.

Personally I am very glad, and the Ministry itself is very glad, that the noble Lord has raised this Question. If anybody has any doubts or thoughts in their minds that the officials kept by the Ministry are not doing their duty, we shall be very glad to have reports brought to our notice. The Ministry trust their officials, and feel that they carry out their duties, which are often very difficult and require a great deal of tact, efficiently and with common sense, and it is only fair to them and all concerned, if any insinuations are made, or thoughts are entertained in people's minds that things are not being done above board, that these matters should be thoroughly thrashed out and brought to light. I hope the statements I have made will satisfy my noble friend that everything was done above board and in accordance with Regulation. I quite agree with what he said, that it is most desirable that there should be absolute confidence between the officials of the Ministry of Agriculture and the farmers. We do want to press upon the farmers that the Ministry of Agriculture is working with the object of helping them in every way. These measures that are taken with regard to foot-and-mouth disease may seem drastic, and, perhaps, to some people, going too far, but they are done with the object of stamping out foot-and-mouth disease, and, as I have said before in your Lordships' House, it is hopeless for us to try to work on successful lines unless we have the thorough co-operation and assistance of the farmers of this country. I am therefore much obliged to my noble friend for bringing this question forward, and I hope the answer that I have given him will satisfactorily dispel any thoughts or suggestions that things are not done above board.


My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend very much for the answer he has given me. I think it is certainly calculated to dispel any ideas that may have existed. I certainly hope that it will have that effect, and I think myself it will.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.