HL Deb 24 February 1954 vol 185 cc1102-27

2.56 p.m.

THE EARL OF IVEAGH rose to call attention to continuing outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in this country; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, before I move the Motion which stands on the Order Paper in my name I must say how sorry I am—and I expect all your Lordships are also—that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who normally represents the Ministry of Agriculture in your Lordships' House, is not able to be present. He is unfortunately laid aside through illness. We also sympathise with the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, who is taking his place today, because he has had, at very short notice, no doubt, to "mug up" this subject. However, I know that the noble Earl is deeply interested in this question, and I am very glad that he is to reply to the debate, for he has a past which belongs to agriculture, as well as to the Post Office.

In moving this Motion I am not criticising the Government. What I am doing is trying to show the necessity for the measures which are now being taken in connection with this disease, and, if possible, to enlighten people about the dangerous things that may happen at any moment in the future with regard to foot-and-mouth disease. Outbreaks of the disease had not been reported for some few weeks at the time when I put down this Motion. Since then, I am sorry to say, there have been a number of new outbreaks. I hope that my action has had nothing to do with their occurrence—it was certainly not my wish that it should. At the same time, the new outbreaks emphasise the gravity of the situation, and I feel that it is worth putting on record what has happened. In order to make my point, I have to go back to the outbreaks which I have had on my own property. I am probably the only Peer of Parliament who has suffered the loss, through foot-and-mouth disease, of two valuable herds since the war. Though I hope that it will not happen again, if one consequence of my losses is that the public persuade the Government of the day, with the support of both Parties, to take some steps to remedy the situation, then great good will have been done; the losses will have been worth while.

The loss of a valuable herd, especially when one has taken a great deal of trouble in collecting and building it up, and when it happens to be the best herd of its kind at the moment, is naturally a very depressing circumstance. Now, I can talk calmly about it; but there were some months when I could not. From that time until now, I have been taking considerable pains to study this subject and to get all aspects of it well into my mind. Let me make it clear that I do not for a moment contend that the only people to be sympathised with are the owners of valuable herds. But anyone owning herds of any kind who has had them snatched away from him and speedily destroyed will know what a terrible affair it is. I should like to stress that although the owner gets monetary compensation, that does not remedy his unhappy state. On this question of monetary compensation I hasten to add that in my own case it did not turn out too badly. We did not know until a con- siderable time afterwards that it was going to turn out as well as it did, but we found next year that the market had dropped; and in consequence of what had happened I did not have to sell in a bad market animals which had become surplus. But that does not alter the fact that it was a very depressing circumstance.

I would ask the public, through your Lordships, to realise that it is not only the owner who suffers. The men who look after the herds suffer terribly, and I should like to enlist sympathy for them. The cowmen and herdsmen really love their animals. The animals depend upon their care day by day. The men have to look after them in all their illnesses. The result is that the herds become almost, as it were, their children. As the head cowman of one of my herds said to me, "If you want to be a good herdsman you have to look on the cows as your cows, and not as Lord Iveagh's cows." I have no doubt whatever that that is the way these men feel about the animals, and their feelings when they see the animals taken away and slaughtered can well be imagined. And, be it remembered, they have to help in that slaughter—they have to dig graves, or set bonfires going. It is indeed a terrible calamity, and I think we ought to have in our minds that it is not only the owner upon whom the burden falls. I remember that in a group of about half a dozen or so cottages proximate to the farm, everyone had to stay indoors for a time, guarded by the police. Children were not allowed to go to school, and their fathers were compelled to see their animals slaughtered whilst they themselves could not go to work if they had work in other places. They were, in fact, confined to the area where their cows were being slaughtered. I cannot imagine a worse situation, and it is one with which I think the public ought to sympathise and, if possible, remedy.

Having said that I have got rid of the "sob-stuff." I would add that it did not make me feel any better, when later I was in Italy, to see, as I drove to the station to go home, notices all along the road saying that foot-and-mouth disease was rampant. All along the road bullocks were working close to the farms where the animals were confined in premises to which we could not go. I do not know the Italian regulations about foot-and-mouth disease, but they are not like curs. Indeed, they could not be, because local traffic in the villages in Italy would come to an end if all infected animals were slaughtered and the others were prevented from going within a few hundred yards of animals that had the disease. Later, we wandered into Belgium, where they do not slaughter infected animals, and I had the privilege of being taken by Mr. Jansen, the Minister of Finance at that time, to see a farm where there had been an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease some months before, probably in November. The farmer had originally forty-eight animals: seven did not contract the disease, four died and the remainder recovered, although one had a very bad time, and three cows aborted.

An example of that kind cannot help but make one wonder whether in this country we are not making a mountain out of a molehill. At the same time, I thought that if every other farm in England had lost the milk of three-quarters or more of its animals, it would not he a good thing for the milk trade of the country, or for the farmers up and down the land who had so many sick animals about their places. I wonder very much what will be the report of the departmental committee which is at present going round the world. I hope that they will tell us something more about what happens to infected animals in countries where foot-and-mouth disease occurs. I shall await their report with great anxiety, but I am not sure that I have much hope that we shall get any alleviation quickly. From Belgium we went across into Holland, to see a farm there, a fairly large farm with a good many cattle. My wife and I asked the farmer whether he had had any foot-and-mouth disease and he replied, "Yes, but we don't care about it now that we nave inoculation." I myself am hardened to the idea of the use of inoculations to prevent outbreaks of any disease—I myself am inoculated pretty often—and I am almost certain that something will come of that.

I now come to the second part of my argument, which I think will help to get across to others who are interested the enormous problem that confronts the I Government in carrying out their policy, At Pirbright, they have an excellent sta- tion that has been doing good scientific work. The work being done there shows what a complicated problem this disease raises. When I went there for the first tune I was shown maps and diagrams which demonstrated the real crux of the problem. Everybody in the country should know that there are three sorts of foot-and-mouth disease, and I understand that each one requires the preparation and injection of a separate vaccine. It is hoped that eventually it will be possible to mix the three vaccines to form one injection, but a great deal has to be found out before that can be done.

If any noble Lord chooses to follow my example and visits Pirbright, he should go on a nice warm day, so that he will not catch cold, because the visitor has to take all his clothes off and put on the sterilised clothes, rather like pyjamas, which they supply; then he is allowed inside the forbidden land, where microbes may live but rats may not go. Inside there is an enclosure about a couple of hundred yards long, surrounded by tall corrugated iron walls with concrete foundations so that no rat may creep in. Inside a line of boxes are the infected animals. I have in my hand some of the diagrams which tell the scientist's story. In order to see: whether it is better to produce vaccine direct from the cow or by sub-cultivation from the tongue of a dead cow, it is necessary to do a great deal of work. I gather there is practically no difference in kind, but in order to measure the effects of the size and strength of the various inoculations they have to be done three times over. To get a proper spread, eight cows are used for the experiment, so that the inoculations add up to a total of sixty-five.

These experiments with cows are long and costly, because the animals have to be kept in separate boxes and fed through a hole in a hopper constructed so that no infection can come from it. I did not go inside one of the cattle boxes. I did not face it; but I saw one of the men prepared to go inside. He was got up like a seaman in a gale of wind in stormy seas. He was dressed: from head to foot in mackintosh and then squirted all over with some kind of disinfectant before he was allowed to go in. and I presume he was disinfected when he came out. All these precautions do not make it any easier to do the job of inspection and supervision which is so necessary in tackling the whole problem.

The Government are not waiting for the answer from this committee which is wandering over the world, as some people think. I am glad to say that the last time I went to Pirbright, a week or so ago, I saw that the Government had begun to spend an enormous sum of money, Pirbright is more like an American airfield—at any rate, the sort of airfields I see around me. There are acres and acres of it, all mud. Various buildings of the sort I have tried to describe are now being erected with the object of carrying out more and more experiments. Staff houses are being built, not only for the scientific staff but for the attendants of the scientists, who look after the cattle. There has to be a huge incinerator to destroy not only the cattle that have the disease, but also the manure that comes from these animals; and they have a separate sewage works in order to do this. It is a huge undertaking, and I do not think people realise what it means. I congratulate the Government on having taken this step. I am not here now to say they had better hurry up and do it, although I was rather inclined to think a few months ago that I might have to say that. I saw the concrete mixers at work, and the machinery being installed for the boiler house which will heat this huge establishment. It has to be a huge establishment when you are trying experiments on bullocks, and not on something like rats or rabbits that can be huddled together.

Another fact that I think should be known is this. In order to find out what type of disease it is, they have to treat some hundreds of thousands of white guinea pigs. Apparently the blood of the guinea pig can be used for this complement fixation. I will not try to explain it, but it is a fact that all the scientists believe in it, and they can tell whether the particular outbreak is like the previous one, or whether it is likely to be an outbreak similar to one which occurred somewhere on the border of South Wales, when within a few months all three of the possible viruses turned up, as if they had spread from the one, although the scientists do not think so. I think they call them "A," "O" and "C." But it does not matter what the initials are; I would not understand it and I do not suppose it is necessary for me to do so. But before it would be worth while for me to buy a vaccine, even if it cost me a great deal of money, I should want to feel certain that it would prove effective. One might find there is a new variety of the disease occurring, suddenly and unbeknown. A further point that is disquieting is that there are two varieties that have not come here yet, one lurking in Asia, and the other somewhere near Kenya. It has come as far as Egypt, and therefore might easily come here.

That brings me to a second stage. When we have obtained the vaccine, ought we not (and I hope that we shall) to help our neighbours to prevent the particular virus that has afflicted Europe from coming to the shores of the Channel? I think I am right in saying that when there is a bad outbreak all along the shores of the Channel we are extremely lucky if we do not get it here. There is talk about birds bringing the disease. If you like to kill all the starlings, I do not mind much—but you will have to get up very early to do it. I think these viruses can move easily without the assistance of birds. When a cow has a very sore throat she is continually dribbling—she is, for that matter when she has not a sore throat; she has not good manners at the best of times. Therefore, if she salivas, and the saliva dries in the air, you may be sure that vast numbers of the virus will be in the air. I tried to get some idea of the size of this virus and I was told that if a single virus were magnified to the size of an orange, the diameter of that same orange when magnified the same number of times would stretch from here to Carlisle. If it is so small as that—one certainly cannot see these things with the naked eye—I cannot see why a virus may not be drawn into the upper air, and by an extraordinary chance even go across the Atlantic. I do not see any real obstacle to such a thing happening.

However, it does not matter whether it is carried by the birds, or not—it still comes; and what is much more insidious is that the three types of disease have been breaking out in England during the last twelve months. Therefore, one may be faced any day with one of these outbreaks, the germ being picked up in a market and the disease discovered after the animals have dispersed through the countryside. If it is not discovered then, it may go around and there will be further outbreaks. That will lead to a closing of markets, as well as a slaughtering of animals, and distrust will be here, there and everywhere. It does not end with the cowmen I have been talking about. All the people who keep pigs have to keep them for a longer time than they should, and the pigs eat their heads off and become less valuable. That is just one of the troubles. I agree that the present regulations are hard and disagreeable, but I will not say that they are unnecessary until I see the report of the committee and know a little about it. It seems to me that the people of the country should realise that they are living under a Sword of Damocles that may fall upon their heads any day. They should be told that the Government are taking the necessary steps to do what I believe is the only thing to do—that is, to get a vaccine that will protect animals. It would be better still if we could stop the disease from coming across Europe towards us. But the fact is that the germs are here all the time; that is the worst of it. At any rate, we should be able to do something to give immunity to the animals nearby.

Doctor Galloway said that he hoped the disease would not break out in the South-West of England, because that WAS where he had his bullocks. He thought that if the disease reached there, his bullocks would not be half so valuable to him because they might have an immunity. Judging from the pattern of the outbreaks of the disease in Europe, it seems to wait a few years until the new animals have grown up and then it comes swinging across Europe. If I am right, the East or South winds are our undoing, and the disease will break out here, there and everywhere. But it is still occurring without a South or East wind and without an outbreak across the Channel. So we must hurry if we can. But we cannot. We have to wait until the concrete sets to keep the rats out. Whether that is a picturesque way of putting it or not, I realise that it will take some little while before we can hope to get any possible change and obtain the imaginary vaccine about which I spoke.

After all, I have been engaged in this industry for something like forty years and the treatment of disease has changed during that time. Until you keep some animals and let them catch the disease, so that you can try experiments upon them freely, you cannot know what drugs like penicillin and its derivatives may be able to do to alleviate the suffering of the cows. It is a horrible disease. I did not see the actual cows ill, but I saw what I thought was an excellent thing—a coloured magic lantern slide of the cow's mouth and feet. I could recognize now. It is a most distinctive kind of ulcer with a huge blob in the middle. The cow has probably a pain in its mouth and in its feet when it tries to walk, anti, it is not a pleasant disease. I hope that I am not prejudicing this departmental committee which, I hope, is going to report not long hence. I hope that what I have said to-day will not hinder but will bring nearer the day when we can get a vaccine and try better experiments; then we may have some hope for the future.

There is one other point which I do not think I have mentioned. I do not know whether the Minister who is to answer has any information as to whether other countries are likely to "play," too. It is not we alone, but the whole world, who are involved in this. There is one item of hope in this huge expense of studying the virus in animals. Poliomyelitis has the same character, and we human animals may get an advantage out of the experiments which are done at Pirbright, because I believe that all these troubles that are now put down to virus may have the same remedies, and what is found out for one may be applied to another. I beg to move for Papers.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, may I say first that I am certain that there is no member of your Lordships' House to whom we prefer to listen on a fundamental question affecting agriculture than the noble Earl who has just spoken. We have a great affection for him as a person, but we have a greater admiration for the work he has done in construction and reconstruction in various fields of agriculture. I often wish that I had both the inclination and the resources to attempt some of the great work that he has done in agriculture. Certainly he has been able to teach many of us a good many lessons. Therefore, when he speaks upon this subject, I naturally feel that it is an occasion of importance and that I should come and listen.

I should have preferred my noble friend Lord Listowel to be here to speak upon a subject of which he has made a particular study. On the other hand, I can assure the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, that I have had at least a passing interest in this question of foot-and-mouth disease for a great number of years. The first time I ever set foot within the precincts of that section of the Palace of Westminster covered by the usage of the House of Lords was in 1920, before I became a Member of Parliament, when I went into the Moses Room in order to give evidence before a Royal Commission which was sitting to hear the case of those who importuned the Government to remove the embargo against the importation of Canadian stock cattle. At that time, I was looking for a means of improving the supply of disease-free animals reared in wide open places like the lands of Canada, and there was an embargo upon them. I am not sure whether the embargo still operates, or whether the agricultural economy of Canada has been so changed to meet the situation that they no longer desire to send Canadian store cattle to this country. I have often wondered how I dared on that occasion to give evidence which was, of course, on behalf of the consumer, without knowing a little more about the technical side of the subject. Nevertheless, it has made me read all I can about the current events relating to the operation and the policy to be followed in dealing with this disease.

One thing is certain. Any Government, of any Party—and there is certainly no Party issue here—would wish, if possible, to avoid the not inconsiderable charge upon the taxpayer of paying the present rates of compensation for the slaughter of animals affected, or said to be in any way likely to be affected through having had contact with some diseased animals in some particular place. The charge is very heavy indeed, and I should say that all in Government circles must be continually looking for a remedy of that position. When there was an agitation against the danger of spreading infection through the importation of store animals, we were in the full stage of development of the exportation of the finest pedigree animals for breeding in countries overseas. I suppose that it is equally important now, as then, that we should take all necessary steps—whatever stage fundamental research may have reached—to safeguard that vital part of the agricultural economy of this country.

I believe that the noble Earl is absolutely right in the phrase he used—I have forgotten the exact words—when he said that he would not wish to interfere in any way with the precautions now taken, certainly not until the vaccines about which he has been speaking have been proved and, I should say, proved over a long period. We on this side of the House welcome every bit of information about Government research activity and every bit of news about the promise of a solution which the effect of the development of that activity holds. Certainly no one could describe better than the noble Earl the kind of reaction which the outbreak of the disease has on farming estates, great or small. The noble Earl said that he could not complain at the rate of compensation. He seemed to be fairly fortunate in that economic change about which he spoke in the case of his herd. In many cases, however, the loss goes much further. I am sure that all Members of your Lordships' House who are interested in agriculture will remember the disaster—for disaster it was—of the destruction of a herd at one of the artificial insemination centres, a herd which had been built up over years at very great expense. Even though it might be possible to replace that herd within a short time, so far as money is concerned, one could not be sure that it would be possible to get all the advantages that would have been obtained from those wonderful animals. Therefore, the progress we can make in having a vaccine treatment, by inoculation to prevent the disease from breaking out and, in cases where it does come, as we have proved, to prevent the disease from being so destructive and so final in its action, we welcome very much.

As regards the position overseas, I was interested in the story from Belgium, and I was even more interested in the story from Holland. I am sure that the noble Earl will forgive me if I say that I was waiting for him to tell me a little more about this. I realise that the noble Earl was considerate of your Lordships' time, but I should certainly have liked to know more about the degree of success which has been achieved in Holland. I support the noble Earl in his request to the representative of the Government who is to reply to the Motion this afternoon. I hope that he will tell us all he possibly can, in the space of our short debate, about developments in other countries pari passu with our own development of research here. I am told (I see that my noble friend Lord Listowel is in tie House; I did not expect him to be here) that, among other countries which might be dealt with, Mexico, by some form of treatment, has largely eradicated foot-and-mouth disease in that country. Whether the disease there belonged to one of the three main kinds of the disease which the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, mentioned, I could not tell; but I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, will be able to tell us about the position in Mexico, and how far it has been affected since they took the steps they did. I wonder, also, how far it has affected our economic position with regard to cattle exports to Mexico from this country. It is always interesting to see whether the steps we take here are appreciated in the countries which may have gone further than ourselves in the attempt to eradicate the disease by technical and scientific means.

I do not wish to take up any more of your Lordships' time. I do not know, of course, how long this debate will last, but I hope the noble Earl who is to reply will not feel in any way upset if I tell him that I have to go and speak this evening at a Party meeting at Worthing (not, incidentally, a type of place which favours my own school of political thought), and I must leave your Lordships' House fairly early. If I do not happen to be here when the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, replies, I hope that he will forgive me; I shall certainly read with very great interest the reply which he makes to Lord Iveagh's points. I hope that the fact that we face up to the situation to-day will not cause any increase of nervousness in the minds of the consuming public. The fact is that to-day a considerable proportion of the animals slaughtered are passed, either by the local medical officer of health or by the sanitary inspector, for consumption.


Not in my case.


Not in the noble Earl's case. I hope the Minister will say anything he can to allay any fears or suspicions that may be held in the minds of the consuming public, and to make it clear that we are looking after their health as well as that of the animals. If am quite sure that it would be a tremendous service to agriculturists, and to the workers under them, if it were possible to find either a vaccine which is comprehensive, or if necessary a number of vaccines, which could be placed in the hands of qualified veterinary surgeons and used in appropriate cases, in order to deal with this disease at the source. I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, will be satisfied with the reply he gets. I am sure that he will find support in every part of this House on any future occasion when he presses for the same kind of interest.

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend who has raised this matter, and because I had experience in the county where I live, of two severe outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease, would endorse what he says about the appalling blight of apprehension and anxiety that falls upon everybody, and especially the workers on the farm whose daily business is concerned with animals. There is one thing that it is most important to emphasise: until these vaccines are tried out over a long period nobody can say whether they will be successful in eradicating the disease. As this is the only country which has remained comparatively free, the livestock export is of tremendous importance; and that, to my mind, is the only excuse for the slaughter policy. The slaughter policy, unpleasant as it is, must be carried on, but there are certain aspects of that policy, in regard to contacts, which require further investigation. For instance, there is no evidence at the moment to show whether, if we took a blood count of animals in suspected areas which had had no actual contact, we could get fair warning as to whether or not they were likely to contract the disease. But if we could catch them in time, it is probable that some vaccines, which are in good supply, would prevent the oncoming of that disease. The whole thing turns upon the amount of warning obtainable before the outbreak. At the moment, no experiments have been carried out to satisfy people who own herds that adequate information is available about the warning that can be obtained through taking a blood count. I think it is high time that that was done. I see on the Benches opposite one or two noble Lords who know a great deal about this subject. I should have been interested to hear their views, especially those who know the conditions in East Anglia.

There is no doubt, as the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, said, the infection may be carried by air, by birds. One thing we do know with absolute certainty: one of the chief causes of this disease is the feeding of swill. That could be prevented at once, but it is not being prevented. If this debate has done nothing else but draw the attention of the Government to the fact that in certain cases orders are not being carried out, it may well help to prevent further outbreaks of this foul disease. The first Diseases of Animals Act, that of 1947, dealt with the boiling of swill. I am saying nothing derogatory about our United States friends but I think it is common knowledge that their scale of rationing is considerably in excess of ours. If you go to any of their air stations, you will find that the amount of swill available for disposal is tremendous. A great deal of the meat consumed by American enlisted men—and they consume far more meat than our people do—comes from South America. We know for a fact that it is in South American meat that this virus is carried, even if the meat has been refrigerated, frozen, or only chilled: it is carried in the marrow of the bone. If unauthorised people get hold of this swill, it is not properly treated; it is fed to pigs or any other animals, in the shape of black puddings. That is the reason why the disease spreads, or may spread.

There are certain regulations in force. Recently, the Ministry have brought out a regulation, and the United States Government have agreed, that all swill from all United States air force stations in this country shall, in common with the swill from all British establishments and public places, be treated by certain special sterilising plant. But, while we are straining and arranging for that, we have no control whatever over hotels, canteens and other places who may contract with an independent contractor. It may not be a very great amount of swill, but there is no proof that that swill is properly treated; and it may be fed wrongly. Therefore, I emphasise this fact (it is one of the few facts known): that foot-and-mouth disease is carried by swill. It is scandalous that any loophole should be allowed. I think that more compulsory powers ought to be taken, through the local authority, and certainly through the animals section of the Ministry of Agriculture, whose inspectors are not adequate in number to go round everywhere and inspect. It is absolutely essential that this should be looked at without further delay.

There is one other point I should like to mention in regard to foot-and-mouth disease, and that is that we are spending very large sums of money every year; £750,000 or £800,000 is about the cost of the new building at Pirbright. As the noble Earl who introduced this debate has stated, every penny of that is justified, because it is only by having buildings of that character that it is possible to try out the vaccines that are so necessary. Nevertheless, it is a very large sum. Incidentally, when there is an outbreak, it costs the taxpayer a great deal in compensation. There is one thing that I think one must say: Dr. Galloway—and anybody who knows about these things realises that he is the greatest expert, probably in the world, certainly in this country, on foot-and-mouth disease—has done more than anybody else to contribute towards the investigation of this disease. People come from every European country to Pirbright to study these matters. The vaccine we produce at Pirbright is exported to Europe, almost exclusively, on the ground that, if we can cure cattle in Europe, the likelihood of contamination by birds, or whatever it may be, will be reduced.

However that may be, I feel that Dr. Galloway is a great scientist but a bad "publicity merchant." It is absolutely essential that the Agricultural Research Council should see to it at once that the ordinary farmer, up and down the coun- try, and everybody interested in agriculture, has a popular edition of this monumental work, which is the only report on the subject issued. I refer to a report published by the Foot-and-Mouth Disease Research Institute, covering the years 1937 to 1953. It is an extremely dull document to read. The only thing that the ordinary layman can understand is that hedgehogs are probably the most dangerous animals for carrying the disease. There is no reason why more hedgehogs should not be slaughtered, if they are carriers of the disease—but you have to catch your hedgehog first, and there are not many people who can do that. If there were more publicity in the form of diagrams and pictures, something to interest the public, it would mean far more collaboration among all the people in the country, because they hate the idea of this slaughter. After all, prevention is better than cure. The noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, was talking about these cures but what is needed now is rather the prevention of the likely causes of this disease. Therefore, I hope that this important subject which the noble Earl has raised to-day will be considered by the Government, and that they will believe that a great deal can be done if they will authorise the Agricultural Research Council to induce Dr. Galloway to publish, or in collaboration with him will produce, a popular edition of what otherwise is a dull report.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, will allow me to say a few words arising out of what he has said in regard to the silence of my noble friend behind me. I hope that that was not in any way a retort to the comment which was made from these Benches on the silence of Back Benchers on the other side in the important debate yesterday. I have only risen to say something which my noble friend Lord Hungarton cannot say for himself. My noble fiend is serving on a Committee which is studying this problem. He has been serving and doing strenuous work on that Committee for some eighteen months. He has travelled some 25,000 miles in connection with the work of the Committee and I am sure that, when the report of the Committee is published and there is another debate, your Lordships will not find the noble Lord silent on the problem.

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all most grateful to the noble Earl for raising this most important subject. Fortunately, I have not had any cattle destroyed by reason of this dreadful disease, but living, as I do, within fifteen miles of the noble Earl, when his animals suffered the disease I underwent a long period of acute anxiety and also the helpless feeling that there was nothing very much I could do, but merely put myself behind an iron curtain and hope that the Sword of Damocles would not fall. At the same time, as the noble Earl said, one's pigs, et cetera, were eating their heads off because one could not get rid of them. There is no doubt that foot-and-mouth disease is the disease that all farmers most fear. There are people who feel that the method of slaughter is perhaps a little too drastic, particularly when one thinks of the milk producers. When they have to have their herds slaughtered, their whole business and livelihood goes. Moreover, when the disease affects a fine pedigree herd, into the building of which a lifetime of work has gone—as in the case of the noble Earl—the destruction results in an irreplaceable loss to the whole breeding industry.

In my opinion, the two problems which face the agricultural industry, in its efforts for expansion, are, first, to produce meat of the highest quality, and, secondly, to produce as cheaply as possible. To do those things we in this country must have healthy herds. At the moment, even with the diseases which are rife, if more were done production could be increased enormously. I understand that the chief dangers of foot-and-mouth disease are abortion and a lowering of the milk yields. If, in fact, those things become in any way widespread, the effect will be an increase rather than a reduction in the costs of production. Therefore we cannot allow this disease to become in any way widespread.

How can we control it? First of all, we have to try to prevent it from starting. We have heard several suggestions about that, and the one that to my mind is most important is in regard to publicity. I do not think that people realise all the dangers that lurk in swill. I believe also that some outbreaks have started through straw, which has come in packing cases from abroad, being used as bedding. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, that a popular edition of the Report would be extremely useful, though I must say that where I disagree with him is that I thought the Report as it stood was one of absorbing interest and was extremely clear. However, I think the Report should be given the widest possible publicity. Another method which some people suggest is that we should have widespread vaccination. Apart from the mechanical difficulties of that proposal—after all, there are in this country some 27 million farm animals which are susceptible to the disease—if one reads the Report of the Research Institute one realises that owing to the various strains of the virus of the disease, vaccination is quite impracticable at the present time, because the vaccine which gives immunity from one strain is quite ineffective in regard to another. Therefore, for that reason vaccination at the moment cannot be effective until an outbreak has taken place and the particular strain involved has been discovered.

When an outbreak has just started, there is at the moment no alternative but the slaughter policy, though I thought that this Report, by showing the enormous progress which is being made, indicated that later we may be able to slaughter and to vaccinate, or possibly even to vaccinate only. Therefore, I think the three things we must do are, first, to bring home to the farmer that he must do what he can to make an outbreak on his farm less likely. In that respect, apart altogether from other forms of publicity, I think a popular edition of this Report would be of great help—I do not think that can be emphasised too much. Secondly, I think that the Government must do all they can to control the imports of all substances which are likely to carry the infection. Thirdly, they should continue to give every encouragement to research into this disease, so that the excellent work which is being carried out at Pirbright will, as we hope, lead to slaughter being a thing of the past.

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, the method by which this virus comes from the Continent is still either unknown or very much in doubt. During the course of the debate swill, straw and starlings have been mentioned, but I know that many people have the feeling that the large number of cars which go to the Continent and return, after crossing countries where the disease is endemic, are a possible source of the disease entering this country. If there is any possibility that that is one method by which the virus comes, it seems to me that it would be a simple matter to ensure that every car entering the country from the Continent should, at the point of entry by sea or by air, be thoroughly disinfected with a powerful disinfectant spray over the whole chassis and under the wings, to make certain that no mud which might be carrying the virus is left adhering to the car before it goes about the roads of this country. The expense of doing this would be slight compared with the expense entailed if the disease, which one fears so much, results from this method of entry.

3.57 p.m.


My Lords, before I say anything on this subject, may I mention something that I forgot to say earlier—namely, that the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, rang me up this morning and asked me to express his regret to the House for not being here to ask his Starred Question; he is in bed with a temperature. I undertook to pass on that information to your Lordships. I am quite sure that all your Lordships will agree with the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, in regretting the reason why I am here at the Box to-day. We all have a respect and affection for the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who, for the last few years, has spoken on agriculture in this House. I know that your Lordships would like me to convey to the noble Lord our sympathy at the reason for his absence. I feel sure, also, that I am speaking for all your Lordships—indeed, those of your Lordships who have already spoken have said so—in thanking the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, for putting down this Motion and for the manner in which he has laid it before us. Whenever the noble Earl speaks on the subject of agriculture, he brings to it an enthusiasm, an interest and a lifelong knowledge to which every one of us would desire to pay our deepest respect.

I hope that your Lordships will have some sympathy with me in trying to answer this debate. As the noble Earl has already said, a Committee is at present inquiring into a great many of the questions that have been raised, and indeed many others. As the noble Lord, Lord Burden, has said, the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, is a distinguished member of that Committee, and therefore, regretfully, we are unable to listen to him to-day. I should like to say to the noble Lord on behalf of the House, and through him to his colleagues, that we are looking forward very much to the Report that we hope the Committee are going to be able to produce in about May or June, if things go well. This Committee was appointed in August, 1952, by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Secretary of State for Scotland, and it was asked to review the policy and arrangements for dealing with foot-and-mouth disease in Great Britain, and to advise whether any changes should be made in the light of present scientific knowledge. Naturally, I am not able even to attempt to anticipate the Committee's views on the methods of control of this disease. If the Government I ad felt that they were in a position to be dogmatic on this subject, they would not have appointed the Committee. I think your Lordships will be glad to know that not only have the Committee been investigating the subject in all its aspects in this country, but they have also visited a great many European countries, as well as the Argentine. I am sure we are looking forward to receiving from them a comprehensive and interesting Report.

I think we all feel that the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, was right to take this opportunity of reminding the House of the heavy toll which this disease continues to take in this country. It will certainly he of great assistance to those who are responsible for the control of the disease if as many people as possible are made aware of its dangers and of what can be done to stop it from spreading. In. a moment I will refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, said on the question of publicity. On this point, Lord Iveagh asked me a specific question as to the period of incubation of the disease. Actually it can be from three to fourteen days, but I am told that it is normally between five days and seven days. The noble Earl knows that to deal with averages and normalities can in these circumstances be dangerous. However, the extremes are three days and fourteen days. I think we want to be clear that what we are really discussing is the extent and the gravity of the problem. The noble Earl's Motion refers to "continuing outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in this country." I think it, is plain that he means that, in spite of control measures, we continue to get periodical out breaks.

I want to stress this point. It would be a great pity if the impression were to get about that the disease itself is endemic or continuing here. It is not. There are longish periods when we are free, and even when it recurs, or recurs at close intervals, the outbreaks are frequently of different types, which proves definitely that they are sporadic outbreaks and not of a continuing or endemic character. As the noble Earl said, we are very fortunate in this country in having what has been properly described as the world-famous station at Pirbright. Research in this country has the advantage that only here, where the disease is not endemic, can really effective vaccination experiments be carried out and immune sera for determining type differences be safely produced. Lord Glyn was right in saying that approximately £700,000 of capital is being spent on developing this station. It might also interest your Lordships to know that last year the current expenses of this station were £70,000, and this year it: is estimated that they will rise to something like £98,000—or very nearly £100,000.

Let me go back to the question of putting this problem into perspective. The figures for the number of outbreaks in the year just ended show a very great improvement compared with those for last year. In 1952, the total for Great Britain was 495. For 1953, it was 40. For this year, up to date, since January, it is n. In the earlier years there were the three types of the disease—A, O and C. This year we have had the A and O types, but there is no trace so far of the C type. In spite of the figures which I have given—the comparatively moderate, indeed I might say declining figures—the noble Earl has rightly emphasised the gravity of the losses that we have suffered. But we must not allow ourselves to forget how much more fortunate we are—whether it is good fortune or the result of the different policy which has been pursued, it is for your Lordships to judge—than are other countries on the Continent of Europe.

We all realise that conditions in France and Germany are extremely different from our own. They deserve nothing but sympathy for the heavy losses they suffer. I think it may not be generally realised that during 1952, when our outbreaks were 495, there were no fewer than 54,500 outbreaks in Western Germany alone and no fewer than 320,000 outbreaks in France. That, I again emphasise to your Lordships, compares with 495 outbreaks in the same period in this country, Therefore, I think we should be clear in our own minds that the reason why the outbreaks obtain such publicity in this country is not that the disease is rife but that the exact opposite is the case—the disease is, in fact, comparatively rare. I think that is a very important point to make, and not merely for consumption in this country. After all, we have a large export trade and it is important that a false impression should not get around that the disease is more serious here than, in fact, it is.

As your Lordships know, the present method of dealing with the disease is by slaughter. That is to say, whenever an outbreak occurs, the Ministry slaughter the affected stock and all susceptible animals that have in any way been exposed to infection. Of course, the slaughter policy can be practicable only in a country where the disease has not gained a permanent foothold. That is why it could not work on the Continent of Europe, where the disease is endemic. I realise—indeed we all realise—that some people do not agree with this policy, but I think I am speaking accurately—the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton could confirm this, or otherwise, if his lips were not sealed—when I say that there are many other countries where the disease is endemic and where there is no slaughter policy. They wish they could be in the position we are in and could adopt it. We are in the fortunate position of being an island, and therefore it is worth while trying to keep immune.

Many of your Lordships have referred rather longingly to the possibilities of adopting vaccination. I speak with great diffidence here, because the whole subject has been investigated by the Committee and, if I make one or two remarks now, for all I know they may be proved to be quite out of date when the Committee bring forward their Report. We have to remember that the total number of animals—cattle, sheep and pigs—that are susceptible to this disease is 31 millions—the noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney said 27 millions, but at any rate it is a very large figure. And every one of these would have to be vaccinated. Vaccination for small-pox lasts, I believe, for a number of years, but in the case of foot-and-mouth disease vaccination lasts for only some six or eight months.


Rather less.


The effect certainly thins out even earlier, but we might say it lasts from six to eight months at the most. This means that 31 million animals would have to be vaccinated every six months for three types of foot-and-mouth disease. When we talk about the gravity of losing such sums as £2,500,000 in 1952 and £130,000 in 1953 in compensation for the slaughter of animals, we should also think of the cost of the policy of vaccination. I have spoken rather beyond my brief, because this is a technical subject which is being looked into by the Committee. I think what noble Lords would like from me is as much information as we are sure of at the moment. Outbreaks are of two kinds—secondary, and primary: those that result from the spread of the disease from other outbreaks in this country, and those that seem to come from some other source. Obviously we have to find out as much as we can about how the disease is brought to this country. We have our suspicions, but it is hard to get proof, though the evidence we have is frequently powerful. As your Lordships know, there is the theory that migratory birds coming from the Continent introduced infection to this country in 1951 and 1952. Certainly there is strong evidence in that direction. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, such evidence as there is on the subject of motorcars carrying the infection does not point very clearly in that direction, but I will certainly draw the attention of my right honourable friend to this point, though I know he has already considered it.

There is no evidence that birds were responsible for any outbreak last year, when there were 40 outbreaks. Of these 25 were regarded as primary and 17 were attributed to swill or contact with imported meat. The noble Lord, Lord Glyn, raised this point, and with most of what he said I heartily agree. The law requires that all meat, bones, offal, swill, waste food-stuffs and kitchen waste should be boiled before being fed to animals or poultry. As one who farms, I feel it is up to farmers themselves to protect their animals against infection from this source. It is not only a legal but a common-sense requirement to boil all swill, and I Think that is the most effective method of control. The noble Lord, Lord Glyn, asked whether we, could not enforce, the treatment of swill by local authorities and others. The trouble is that only about 50 per cent. of swill passes through the hands of the local authorities. Could we get away with a rigid control on local authorities, while leaving the other 50 per cent., which collies from thousands of individual households, without any control at all? The noble Lord mentioned the control at American camps. That is a very good thing, although actually there is no foot-and-mouth disease in America and the precaution is taken against swine fever.

I agree with what the noble Lord has said about publicity and will certainly bring his remarks to the attention of my right honourable friend. I confess I am not closely enough in touch with the work of the Department to know how much is being done at the moment, but the noble Lord made useful suggestions, which were backed up by the noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, and I will see that they are given full attention. In conclusion, I return to the point I made at the beginning, that a debate of this character is in itself of immense value; and for that reason l again thank the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, for having put down this Motion and for the manner in which he has moved it.


My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, I should like to say that we did not get much information about Mexico, which I mentioned. And in view of what has been said about the various sources of infection, could he say whether any cases have arisen from the use of bone meals as part of protein feeding stuffs?


My Lords, the answer to the second question is that there is no evidence of that being so, but it is not a matter on which I have personal knowledge and I will look into it further and let the noble Viscount know. I am sorry I did not answer the noble Viscount's question on Mexico. It is true that in Mexico the outbreak was controlled by vaccination and finally eradicated by a slaughter policy, but the disease broke out again after vaccination had been used. I am sorry I cannot take the matter further, but I would say, in regard to this suggestion that while we could learn much from other countries, if the vaccination policy in countries where the disease is endemic brought down their figures of lost animals anywhere near to what they are here already, they would consider that they had completely eradicated the disease. I do not feel we have 60 much to learn as might be thought.


My Lords, may I also ask a question before the noble Earl sits down? Outbreaks in 1952 were 495, and in 1953 they were 40. I wonder whether the noble Earl can tell us whether 1952 was an abnormal year, and whether the 1951 figures were 400 or 40-odd. The point is whether the previous figures were, in the region of 40 outbreaks, or whether they went into the hundreds, and whether we have really got control of the trouble.


I can answer that by telling the noble Lord that I have all the figures here for the years since 1922. I gave the figure of 495 for 1952. I should say, from looking at this list, that that is very much above the average over the last ten or fifteen years. It was an exceptionally had year. I am not sure that it would be fair to say that, because there is a big drop from 1952 to 1953, that means that we have control of the problem. It is simply that that year was a particularly bad year, and it was a particularly bad year, to begin (with, on the Continent of Europe.

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, the last outbreak to which I have referred was in July, 1952. Speaking from memory, I think it went on all through the autumn and into the next year, so that probably the next year was not a fair year owing to the overlap of the outbreak from which I suffered. However, I am speaking from a bad memory. I should like to thank noble Lords for what they have said during this debate, and, in particular, the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.