HL Deb 10 April 1962 vol 239 cc360-3

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider revising the Dogs and Cats Order, 1928, so as to exempt such dogs and cats as have been vaccinated against rabies before leaving the United Kingdom from quarantine on their return.]


My Lords, this country has been free of rabies for over 40 years, and it is in the interests of both the human and the canine population that this happy state should continue. With a disease of this horrible nature no risk is too small to be ignored, and the noble Earl's proposal has definite risks inherent in it. No form of vaccination for any disease is completely effective; rabies vaccination is no exception. There would be a very real difficulty in identifying individual dogs, particularly since there would be an increased traffic in dogs with infected countries; this would make possible the evasion of any regulations.

In countries where rabies exists in the animal population, or which are not in a position to enforce quarantine, vaccination is an invaluable protective measure. Quarantine, which is the only sure protection apart from prohibition of entry, is the method recommended by the Expert Committee on Rabies of the World Health Organisation for countries such as Britain which are free of the disease and are well placed to enforce quarantine regulations.


My Lords, are the Government aware that, out of 27,398 dogs and cats quarantined in this country over the last twelve years, no single one developed rabies? Are they further aware that in the United States, where no quarantine restrictions exist, there were only two cases of human rabies last year out of a population of 180 million and that in Western Europe, with a population of over 300 million, there was only one case? Finally, will the Government not admit that the human anti-rabies vaccine gives virtually 100 per cent. immunitv?


My Lords, there are many difficult figures here. First of all, I think that one case of rabies in a human being is one case too many. Secondly, the noble Earl may not be aware that there were over 3,500 cases of animal rabies identified in the United States in 1960 and over 2,200 cases of animal rabies identified in Western Germany in 1960. I do not believe that we should be well advised to take any risk with this horrible disease. I think that it is worth remembering that Australia and New Zealand do not allow the importation of dogs except from one another and from this country, because of our quarantine regulations. In Jamaica they accept dogs only from this country. It would be a retrograde step if we, who are perhaps leading the world in this matter, should go back.


My Lords, the Minister mentioned the difficulty of identification. Could this not be done by marks on the ear?


My Lords, most certainly it could be, but this also could be evaded. Pet lovers are apt to be enthusiastic. I am afraid that it would be very difficult to mark all dogs on the way out of this country and to ensure that the customs officer was marrying the certificate to the same dog on its way back through a crowded customs barrier on an August Bank Holiday afternoon.


My Lords, the noble Earl's figure of the cases of rabies in Western Germany and that of the noble Earl, Lord Arran, indicating that there have been no cases of human rabies in Western Germany, show that possibly there are two sides of this question. If the noble Earl who asked the Question put down an Unstarred Question, would the Government give time for it to be debated?


My Lords. I have no doubt that that could be arranged through the usual channels. I do not want to mislead the House. The figures I gave were of rabies in animals, but there have been cases of rabies in human beings. The last outbreak of animal rabies in this country ended in 1922. This was the end of an outbreak of over 300 cases which we had when dogs were smuggled into this country after the First World War.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Earl for his most courteous answer and for his intention to be helpful, will the Government please understand that there are many objectively-minded people who regard this as a triumph for Blimpishness and bureaucracy? Would they please take a fresh look at this whole problem, bearing in mind that because the system has worked well for 50 years, that does not mean that it cannot necessarily be scrapped or improved? When I come to raise the subject again under a different heading, perhaps the Government will be able to give us a really informed and really unprejudiced opinion.


My Lords, would the noble Earl not agree that anybody who has seen a person suffering from rabies would never contemplate opening any opportunity for this disease to come to this country?


My Lords, I am glad to say that I have never seen anybody suffering from rabies, but from what I have heard I very much agree with what the noble Lord has said. I think that when discussing this problem we should remember that dogs get hysteria frequently. In a country which has rabies, when one finds a dog with hysteria one ought immediately to be inoculated, because one cannot be sure whether or not the dog has rabies. This is a very painful inoculation and can have bad side effects. The World Health Organisation reports that in 1960 over 400,000 people received treatment for rabies or suspected rabies and 81 people died during or after treatment. In addition, there were what are, I believe, described as paralytic accidents attributable to vaccine treatment in a large number of other cases. It is a very horrible treatment.