HL Deb 26 July 1966 vol 276 cc753-75

6.17 p.m.

BARONESS SUMMERSKILL rose to ask Her Majesty's Government when they propose to take steps to eradicate brucellosis, having regard to the fact that brucellosis in man has been recognised for 35 years, and to the success achieved in eradication in many other countries. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, over the years various conscientious farmers and doctors have asked me what was the attitude of the Government of the day towards the eradication of brucellosis. Of course, I have had such confidence in the health services of our country, being confident always that action would follow the research and the recommendations which it had called forth, that I thought there was no need to agitate on this score. I have sometimes mentioned it over the years, either to an official or to some Minister in the other place, and I have always received reassurance. But last year I grew a little impatient, and I wrote a letter to the Minister of Agriculture drawing attention to the need for the eradication of brucellosis and asking him what he proposed to do about it. The Minister of Agriculture—a charming, honest, sincere man—answered me absolutely bluntly, and said that he thought nothing could be done about it at the moment because the cost was prohibitive. I have no doubt that, when he said that, he was thinking in terms of £40 million or £50 million, and I am very conscious, as I stand here to-day, of the difficulties with which we are faced in the world of finance. But I hope that what I say will be constructive, and will prove to the House that an amount like £40 million or £50 million is not necessary to start this important work.

Last week a Question was put down on this subject by the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, and he received from my noble friend an Answer which was very similar to that which I received from the Minister some months ago. By a coincidence, the leading article of the British Medical Journal of July 9—a day or two after that Question was put down in the House—bore the title "Brucellosis Fiasco", and it was the opening paragraph of that article which prompted me to put down an Unstarred Question to-day. May I quote it? The first paragraph of this article in the "B.M.J.", which is regarded as a very important reminder to the medical profession, said: Britain is among the rapidly dwindling number of countries which have not eradicated or even begun to eradicate brucellosis, the major remaining zoonosis here". May I just say, in parenthesis, that zoonoses are diseases which are transmissible from animals to men? The article went on: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland have long been clear of the disease. Western Germany and Bulgaria are virtually clear. The United States, Canada, and Switzerland are making rapid progress. Northern Ireland expects to be clear in two or three years and Eire is following the Northern Ireland lead. My Lords, Eire is in advance of us in the field of public health! I cannot help recalling that that was a country which dismissed its Minister of Health not many years ago because he wanted to introduce maternity and child-welfare clinics; yet in this field Eire is obviously far ahead of us, because it has already commenced work.

I must confess that, on reading this article—and I shall want to make a further quotation from it later—my confidence in the Health Service (which, as a Service, is, I believe, unequalled in the world) was rudely shakened, for it has been clearly recognised for 35 years that brucellosis is transmissible to human beings. Last week, when I put a supplementary question to my noble friend on this matter, he mentioned that there were only approximately 100 cases a year in this country.


Confirmed cases.


Yes. But I would remind him that this is not a notifiable disease, so all the figures we use can be only estimates. But I want to assure the House that every fact and figure I quote has been taken from the British Medical Journal, and I can assure the House that before the British Medical Journal quotes facts and figures it has to be quite sure they are accurate; otherwise those responsible will be "shot at" by Government Departments—quite rightly—and by all those interested in the matter. The figure which my noble friend gave me last week is not borne out by the British Medical Journal. The estimate of the incidence of this disease varies, it says, from about 100 to over 1,000 cases a year. And according to the Journal, also, a recent estimate by J. D. Allan, which is so far unpublished, based on a series of cases in children, would give a total of 2,000 cases a year for England and Wales.

My Lords, as the disease can be transmitted to humans through milk which has not been heat-treated, it is disturbing to discover that 73 million gallons of milk consumed in England and Wales between April, 1964, and March, 1965, had not been heat-treated. May I say here, by the way, that one cannot, of course, rely entirely on pasteurisation, because if an individual is in contact with an infected animal he can have the disease transmitted to him in a direct fashion. Now though this milk is only 5 per cent. of the total consumed, it is, I think the House will agree, a large amount capable of transmitting this disease.

Moreover, as I have just mentioned to my noble friend—and he has agreed—our information is incomplete, because the disease may not be diagnosed at all. The temperature, the fever with which it is associated, may be low. Doctors are rarely taught anything about brucellosis in the medical schools—at least, that was so in the old days; they probably are now—and the doctor may easily miss it. It presents an undulant fever. Indeed, instead of brucellosis it is sometimes called undulant fever, but the undulant fever does not occur often enough to justify this name as a general one for a human disease. If the diagnosis is missed, a second opinion may be called in, and in that way the diagnosis may be rather late. The disease also has a tendency to chronicity, and is uncertain in its response to antibiotics.

I am pleased to see that certain noble Lords who have a tremendous amount of experience in the farming world have put their names down to speak on this Question. I am delighted to see my noble friend Lord Collison here, and those other noble Lords who I understand are closely in touch with their own herds, so that they are able to speak from experience. While I am concerned with the human aspect, farmers unquestionably deplore the waste in farming. This disease in cattle reduces the yield of milk, and causes abortion, stillbirth and infertility; and it may obviously also prevent the export of cattle, particularly pedigree bulls.

My Lords, there have been investigations of all kinds. Investigations by the Ministry of Agriculture indicate that 2 per cent. of animals are infected, and 25 to 30 per cent. of herds—a total of 66,000 infected animals. I am not standing here as a kind of "crank" who feels that something should be done when those who are closely in contact with this disease are indifferent. Not at all. The progressive section of the farming industry, the British Medical Association and many other bodies would welcome an eradication scheme.

Now we come to the question of finance. I am well aware that everything, it appears, hinges on finance, and that it is rather difficult to speak about it at this time, having regard to the financial crisis that has recently been presented to us. However, I also find it very difficult, as a doctor, to accept that, while we are conscious that a disease may be contracted by human beings, we have to dismiss the thought because it might cost us a few million pounds to eradicate the cause. We have never adopted that attitude in the past, and Britain has always been in the forefront of preventive ness. Indeed, our whole Health Service is based on the preventive approach.

Now although, when I received the letter from the Minister of Agriculture, he did not give me a figure, but merely said that the expense was prohibitive, the Ministry estimated that the overall cost of eradication would be £40 million to £50 million. In this respect the experience of Northern Ireland is very interesting. In the article to which I have referred, the British Medical Journal gives some details about the cost of eradicating brucellosis in Northern Ireland. It says: With a cattle population of one million compensation for slaughtered animals amounted to £2 million, of which £1 million was recovered from sales of slaughtered animals. To this cost was added £1½ million for administration, giving a total of £2½ million (or 50s. per animal). On this basis the cost of dealing with Britain's three and a half million dairy animals would be £8¾ million. Some addition should be made to this sum, as some areas in Britain are heavily infected compared with Northern Ireland, and furthermore the use of S19 vaccination in adult cattle will complicate the reactor status. A reasonable estimate is that some £10 million might be needed to clear the British dairy herd. Extension of eradication to beef cattle would add to these costs. There is a good case, however, for beginning with dairy cattle, since this is the source of the human disease, both in the 'contact' and 'milk infection' groups". I agree that my noble friend mentioned the sum of £10 million last week; and even he, perhaps, might be a little apprehensive about the reaction of the Treasury.

May I put this case to him? Eradication need not be applied all over the country simultaneously; regional schemes could be introduced, especially in areas known to have a low rate of infection. I had the great honour to introduce the Clean Milk Bill and I shall never forget that I turned to the Speaker and said, "This is my finest hour." At that time our hospitals were full of children infected with bovine tuberculosis. We then adopted the regional approach. We divided Britain into regions and said that we would tackle each region and in ten years' time we would have cleared the country. The answer is to be seen in our hospitals. The orthopedic hospitals of the country were full of children lying in bed for years with infected spines, infected hips and the rest. Now they are empty. We could not do it in one bite. We divided the hospitals into regions and tackled each one. I suggest that we approach this subject in the same way and we shall have solved both problems. We shall eradicate the disease finally and also we shall be able to do it much more cheaply.


My Lords, I did not quite understand the noble Lady. She said she would divide the hospitals into regions.


My Lords, I should have said "divide the country into regions". That was a Freudian slip. I think actually we divided the country into ten regions—and I shall always remember that the South-West was the most difficult one; perhaps that will interest the noble Lord. As I have said, tuberculosis attestation was dealt with in that way.

It might be expected, to be practical, that there would be involved a national expenditure of around £3 million to £4 million a year. I say this to my noble friend, hoping that he will carry it to the Treasury. This compares well with the loss estimated to be sustained by dairy farmers on account of brucellosis, which is £1 million a year. The British Veterinary Association published proposals for eradication over a year ago, and still, I am afraid, we are awaiting a circular from the Ministry of Health which they had promised us. Although outbreaks of human brucellosis continue to be reported arising from milk and from contact, I understand that raw milk, potentially infected, can still be sold from vending machines. This is absolutely deplorable. I think action should be taken in this case. Really, it is a kind of criminal confidence trick where a woman goes to a vending machine because she is told that milk is essential for her child and may get milk which might infect her child with brucellosis because it is untreated. I ask the noble Lord to look into that.

Since the Report of the Oxford Working Group in 1962 there has been a growing volume of comment in the medical, veterinary, farming and general Press on the need to eliminate this disease and on the failure to take action. This is a serious reflection on all of us. I do not want to specify any Government, individual or Ministry as blameworthy. Perhaps we are all to blame. Perhaps I should have prodded much more than I have, particularly in view of the fact that the disease to which the application of preventive knowledge has been delayed is 35 years old. I should like an inquiry to be made, but I do not want to press for this. If we get reform, then let us accept that and not then try to find those who perhaps have been responsible for the delay. But I would say this: the farmers here are, I feel, the most progressive in the country, otherwise they would not be here at this debate. But there may still be farmers of the reactionary type similar to those encountered when we tried to eradicate tuberculosis from milk, who may have done everything in their power to prevent progress in this field.

6.35 p.m.


My Lords, we should all be grateful to the noble Lady for raising this question. It is one in which I have been interested for many years. In fact, I may claim to have produced the first attested herd scheme adopted by the National Veterinary and Medical Associations. During recent years the use of the S.19 strain of brucella has almost eradicated from most herds the active work of the disease. The S.19 has enabled cattle to resist a very large degree of infection and the clinical symptoms have disappeared. I believe most people would agree that the danger of infected milk has disappeared with the disappearance of the clinical symptoms. I know it is a very difficult problem to get the "boffins" interested in this subject. For some time past the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers has been trying to institute a scheme among their members which would help provide a pool of free cattle without the use of S.19. They have done everything they could. They were willing to pay for it. It was not a case of finance. But they could not get the disease research institutes interested in it to the extent even of carrying out tests on this limited number of herds. It is inconceivable to most of us that these places should be run on Government lines and by the Government and yet should be unwilling to provide facilities for those who wish for them and are anxious to pay for them. This is not a question of backward farmers but of backward boffins and of a backward Ministry of Agriculture.

The obvious way is to divide the country into the areas—which are quite easily identified by tests of the milk coming into dairies and dep´ts—where the incidence of the disease is low, and gradually in these places providing a pool of disease-free animals to which people can come from outside to replace the cattle they have to destroy or to dispose of in any other way. There is no difficulty about this whatsoever, except in providing facilities for those who wish to avail themselves of them and providing the opportunity which they are wanting to have and which is denied them.

There is no question at all that within the next few years animals from non-disease-free areas will be excluded from export. As the noble Lady said, most progressive countries have already eliminated the disease. When I was in Tasmania they had reached the last stage not only in the elimination of brucellosis but of vibriosis and other diseases of cattle. I urge the Ministry of Agriculture most strongly to enter into arrangements with the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers, as they now are, and with other bodies of a similar nature, to carry out an investigation, first of all of the incidence of the disease in various areas, so that we may have something to go on; and, secondly, the best means to tackle the problem. It would not cost tens of millions. It might cost a few million; but it would be to the benefit of the health of the people of the country and to the benefit of the farmers in providing and preserving their export markets, and consequently, of course, to the benefit of our balance of payments. My Lords, I hope that the Ministry will listen to the plea of the noble Lady and that now we shall really get down to the business instead of just talking.

6.40 p.m.


My Lords, I am deeply grateful to my noble friend Lady Summer skill for introducing this Question. I approach it from two major angles: first, the loss to British farming and the limitations on our possibilities for export in future; and, secondly, from the point of view of the infection which agricultural workers suffer from this disease. I should like to deal with these two points. I have with me a report submitted by Mr. John Pass field, the senior veterinary surgeon to the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers. In dealing with the economics of the disease he says this: There are few diseases more devastating to the livestock farmer than contagious abortion. If I may add a personal note, I have been on a farm where we had this abortion and we had to take all precautions, burning the offal and so on. It was a disgusting and depressing business, but that perhaps is by the way.

Mr. Pass field says: In addition to the monetary value of the lost calf, there is serious interference with planned milk production, young replacements and stock improvement programmes. Since the disease is constantly accompanied by infertility, considerable veterinary expense may be incurred in prolonged and sometimes unsatisfactory treatment Heifer replacements are inevitably exposed to infection after their introduction. It is estimated that in an average outlay, infected animals yield 20 per cent. less milk, and many cows which abort are of little value during that lactation. In beef herds, the loss of the calf is all-important and equally entails a prolonged period of infertility which may seriously upset the normal short calving period of such stock. Mr. Pass field tells us that it has been estimated—this was in 1962—that the annual overall loss to United Kingdom stockbreeders is in the region of £16 million. Surely, this is something which needs the very careful consideration of the Government. We know that the disease can be eradicated. We have been told that perhaps the cost will be excessive. We were given a figure of £50 million, and if it were £50 million, in my view it would not he an excessive figure. But I think that figure has already been questioned, and I agree that the figure of £10 million is probably nearer the mark. In any case, the question of cost ought again to be looked at carefully.

My Lords, we should try to do something about this disease because of the effect it has on people. Again, in dealing with the question of incidence, I also agree that one cannot be sure how many cases one finds each year. Estimates have varied between 100 and 2,000. Mr. Pass field estimated that the actual figure was about 32 cases per million of the population which amounts to 1,300 annually and only a small portion of those cases are recognised by the doctors. I am a great admirer of the National Health Service. At the same time, I am convinced that in many cases this disease is not diagnosed. Through my own legal department I have been given information which indicates clearly that often this disease is diagnosed as influenza, fibrositis and other conditions. This may not seem terribly important; though medically I think it is. I am not qualified to judge about that. But it is important to the worker, because he has to prove, as things are now, that he contracted this disease as the result of working with a herd where the disease existed.

Members of my union and the T.U.C. have been making representations to the Minister of Pensions and to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We asked of the Minister of Pensions that the disease should be prescribed so that our people could be assured of getting benefit if they fell victims to it. We also suggested that the disease in cattle should be notified so that further measures could be taken towards eradication. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food took the view that it would be impracticable to make the disease notifiable in view of the fact that many affected animals remain undetected, and little could be achieved if an occasional notification was dealt with without dealing with other infected stock in the near vicinity.

My right honourable friend the Minister of Pensions told us she felt it would not be possible to prescribe this disease because of certain difficulties, but she felt that the position of the worker was fully covered by accident-preventing measures, and that if we could show that the disease had been contracted because a man or woman was working with infected stock we could claim accident benefit. But one must recognise the enormous difficulty of doing this. It is not good enough to get a doctor to say that a man or woman is suffering from brucellosis. We have to prove that the stock with which the man or woman was working also was infected, and this is extraordinarily difficult. In one case we tried to persuade a veterinary surgeon to say in writing that brucellosis was present, and he actually pleaded professional etiquette and refused to do so.

There are a small number of cases each year which we are able to prove and where accident benefit is payable, but we are convinced that there are many more cases in agriculture where no compensation is paid. We cannot do anything about them, and therefore we join with those who are asking for measures to secure eradication. I seriously press the Government to give this matter their very close attention, believing as I do that we ought to fall in with those countries which have achieved this very desirable result, and believing that the cost would not be as great as has been estimated if this was done on a reasonable basis; and, in any case, because I believe the outcome is very desirable and well worth while.

6.48 p.m.


My Lords, this subject has been so well covered by the noble Lady and the two noble Lords who followed her that only a very short intervention is required from me. I understand that brucellosis costs the country something like £5 million a year in animal and human sickness. But, my Lords, as the noble Lady so rightly said, what really disturbs us is the sickness of humans caused through brucellosis.

Much research work has already been done concerning brucellosis. It may interest your Lordships to know that at present in North-East Scotland the Aberdeen District Milk Marketing Board, in conjunction with the North of Scotland College of Agriculture, has started a pilot scheme to try to determine the extent of brucellosis among cattle in North-East Scotland. It now appears that much is known about brucellosis and its effect on humans. What I think is possibly not entirely realised is that brucellosis in cattle accounts for only about 15 per cent. of the number of abortions. Veterinary surgeons know very little about 85 per cent. of abortions in cattle. These abortions are causing great losses, not only to farmers but also to the country. I think that this is where there is scope for more research into abortion in general in cattle.

As the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, so rightly said, now is the time for action from the Government. Obviously, a very big sum will be required. The first step might be a period of compulsory vaccination, and this might be followed by the setting up of disease-free areas. As the noble Lady said, much research work has been done in this country concerning brucellosis, and other countries have benefited by this research. She instanced Northern Ireland. They started their scheme in 1963, and already half their herds, representing over a quarter of a million cattle, have been declared free of brucellosis; and it is hoped that the whole country will be free by 1970.

It is easy to blame the Government for not acting sooner. In all fairness, one can only say that every Government is to some extent guilty of that. I think that we must take a constructive view of this problem. I would ask the Government to get moving with a scheme as soon as possible. If there is to be a period of compulsory vaccination, or a period before a country-wide scheme is introduced, let us use the interval to find out more about abortion in cattle, so that other causes of abortion do not fog the issue of brucellosis. In the end, the whole nation will benefit.

6.52 p.m.


My Lords, from the four speeches to which we have just listened one might think that the Government had never heard of brucellosis; that this was a discovery of the last few weeks. The noble Lady who introduced this debate said that the failure to take action was a serious reflection on those who had the responsibility, and she referred to them as being guilty of delay and of preventing progress. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, and I are both former Parliamentary Secretaries to the Ministry of Agriculture, and I should like to defend him, as well as myself, in a few words. I am glad that the noble Lord accepts my offer.

He will remember as well as I do the seriousness with which brucellosis was taken; but, of course, brucellosis has to be considered together with all the other hazards to animal health and human health that come via animal infections. It is wrong (I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, will bear me out when he comes to reply) to say that brucellosis was ever considered in a lighthearted way, or as some animal disease which was only of secondary importance. On the contrary, it was considered of very great importance. There are other diseases such as mastitis, which has not so far been mentioned this afternoon, which are probably responsible for a greater loss in milk production than brucellosis. But since brucellosis can also constitute a hazard to human health, it naturally occupies a somewhat special class.

During the years when the noble Lord and other noble Lords (I think the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, is also one of those I am defending at this time) were sharing this responsibility, for the neglect of which we are now being charged, we were dealing first and foremost with the eradication of tuberculosis, which was a colossal operation. Of necessity, it was going to take a great many years, and it needed virtually all the veterinary resources we could deploy. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, will again agree that if we had divided or dispersed those resources over various campaigns, we should not have been successful in any one of them.

In the days I can remember vividly, the question was, how soon we could start on the eradication of brucellosis—that is, how near were we to the end of the tuberculosis operation, and how soon could begin to divert resources to tackling other diseases? We were limited not just by money, which has been mentioned by every speaker this afternoon, but also by the number of skilled veterinary surgeons and their auxiliaries available, and by the facilities. Furthermore, when a campaign of this sort is being launched a considerable public relations operation is inevitably involved, because it needs the co-operation of all farmers, not just of some, or the whole operation can be outflanked. I remember that when we came very near the end of our tuberculosis operation there was the question of whether brucellosis should come next or whether the claims of swine fever should take the prior place. I think that since then greater effort has been put into eradication of swine fever. Probably brucellosis is next on the list, but no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Champion, will tell us whether or not that is so.

I only wanted to make the point that this problem has not been overlooked. It is a question of using resources in the best way to achieve the results we want. It is all too easy, if these resources are dispersed, dabbling first in this disease and then in that, to achieve nothing in the end. Perhaps it is going to be said that we were wrong in choosing to eradicate swine fever, and that it should not have been allowed to occupy the greater part of our veterinary resources in the last few years: but I hope the noble Lord will say that brucellosis is going to be next on the list and that during recent years far more preparations for that campaign have been made than the speeches this afternoon might lead an audience to suppose.

6.55 p.m.


My Lords, I trust that your Lordships will excuse my speaking as a chalk jockey. I am not entirely speaking "through my hat"—though of course I would not be wearing one in your Lordships' House. I have farmed for over thirty years and have had a dairy herd of over 300 head, so I have come in contact with most of the difficulties and diseases that farming entails. When I was young and farming we did not worry about fancy names, and this disease was known as Maltese fever. We knew that in Malta people caught fever from their goats. Now the bacillus has been identified and the disease has a new name, but I still think of it as Maltese fever. I went through all the trials of eliminating tuberculosis, contagious abortion and mastitis, and I must say that, with help from the Government, we eventually had a large herd free from all these very troublesome complaints. I hope that in future the problem of this disease will be taken up seriously.

Nothing has been said this afternoon about the effect of the disease, Maltese fever, on human beings, which is the whole point of the exercise. In the case of Maltese fever there is a fever temperature, a feeling of unpleasantness, followed by periods of great depression and aches and pains. I have often experienced these in old age and told my wife that I have Maltese fever—but she will not believe me. There does not seem to be any real way of diagnosing Maltese fever as it should be diagnosed. I support the noble Baroness in the hope that this work will go forward as soon as possible.

6.59 p.m.


My Lords, this has been an interesting debate. I was surprised when the noble Baroness, Lady Summer skill, put this Question down on the Order Paper. When she began to quote, I thought for one moment that she was going to quote from the Farmers Weekly, which seemed to be out of character, but it was not a surprise when I found that she was referring to the Medical Journal. The points which she has brought out are most useful.

Clearly this is a disease which we should wish to see eradicated as soon as possible. But I myself am not absolutely convinced that it is of such severity and its incidence is so great as the noble Lady has made out, and consequently I am not convinced that its seriousness is so great. As the noble Lady has pointed out, it is an undulant fever which, when it is transmitted to man, is not necessarily a particularly bad disease, though in certain circumstances its consequences could go further. I should wish to be persuaded that the slaughter and compensation method which the noble Baroness suggested as the best method of eradicating this disease would, in fact, be the best method. Slaughter and compensation can be extremely expensive, and it can have dire consequences, as many noble Lords will remember happened over the fowl pest problem, where slaughter and compensation went to enormous heights. That was a disease that was transmissible to man. I remember informing your Lordship son one occasion that my farm manager had fowl pest, and I suggested to him that he should be slaughtered and compensated. It was a suggestion that was not very attractive to him.

It is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Collison, said, that this disease messes up your herd. It throws out all sorts of vermin; the calf becomes useless, and it takes many years to get a cycle of milk production right again. I should have thought that there was a strong argument for the use of Strain 19 vaccine, and possibly for its compulsory use, as the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, said, as at least a starter which could be considered by the noble Lord, Lord Champion, if the whole hog of slaughter and compensation proves to be expensive. But I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, that the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food have not been backward over this, as will be appreciated by those who have seen the Ministry at work at Weybridge, and seen the teams of scientists and veterinary surgeons operating on one disease and then another, rather like a military campaign. It would be unfair and unjust to describe that as backward. I hope the noble Lord will be able to give some encouragement by saying that a more universal use of Strain 19 vaccine is being brought about.

7.2 p.m.


My Lords, we are extremely grateful to my noble friend for her constructive approach to this problem. which is one that all who have spoken here to-day recognise. I am sure that her interest in all health matters, and particularly in relation to tuberculosis, which she mentioned, is something for which the whole country is grateful. I remember reading of her interventions in the pre-war years, and the eventual effect on the health of our children is something which is almost incalculable. We are, indeed, grateful to her for her work in that connection.

To-day my noble friend has raised something which is of importance to the dairy industry and, as the noble Lord, Lord Collison, said, to human beings, who can be infected by the disease not only through drinking milk which has not been properly heat treated but also by having to handle the cows which abort. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, defended on behalf of the Union of Parliamentary Secretaries the work that is going on in the Ministry and the work which various Parliamentary Secretaries have been associated with from time to time in this connection. I am grateful to him for this.

In my first major contribution from the Box in the other place as a Junior Minister, speaking of the inter-war years and my personal farm experience, I said this: It was really a hard grind with no margins at all, and when suddenly the sort of thing that could happen in those days came upon one—the catastrophe of a cow slipping her calf and the realisation that contagious abortion was upon us. Perhaps the most pleasing thing that I have heard of during recent years is the fact that Strain 19 vaccine is providing the cure or rather the prevention of contagious abortion, and I think it right to pay tribute to those research workers and scientists who have produced this tremendous boon to the agricultural industry. The fear of contagious abortion has been removed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. Commons, col. 1352, 18/7/51.] At that time I hoped that it had. But clearly it has not been completely removed. Not all the calves are vaccinated, and to-day we have to look at the need afresh. This has been going on for some time within the Ministry and not just recently as a result of the campaign which seems to have bubbled up over recent years. But everything that is said in this connection by everybody helps to probe Ministers and Departments into taking decisions.

The noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, was, I thought, a little unfair when he rather suggested that the boffins (as he called them) were not interested in this matter. I hope that as my speech develops I shall be able to show that the boffins, both on the research side and those others within the industry whom the noble Lord might call boffins, have been interested in this subject over a period. Indeed, something I am going shortly to announce will be as the result of the work of boffins of all types, whether administrative or research. The Government have been giving careful consideration to all aspects of the question whether to introduce a scheme to eradicate brucellosis in cattle, and this afternoon my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture has announced a scheme in reply to a Written Question in the other place. Your Lordships would not believe how glad I was when I heard that he was going to make this announcement this afternoon, because this will at least protect me from the wrath of the noble Baroness.

What has happened is this. In answer to a Written Question this afternoon—and the Question asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food: how soon he intends to introduce the pig health scheme announced by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on the 2nd February last; and when he proposes to make a start on eradicating brucellosis"— the part of the reply of my right honourable friend which is germane to the debate this evening is: We have also decided to introduce a scheme aiming to eradicate brucellosis over a period of some years. This will not only serve the interests of human and animal health, but will also improve agricultural productivity and enable us to maintain and increase exports of livestock. The first essential is to build up a register of brucella-free herds on a voluntary basis to provide a reservoir of disease-free replacements. The second stage, which can only be introduced when the voluntary response is large enough, will consist of a plan of eradication, area by area, in which all animals reacting to diagnostic tests will be slaughtered, with payment of compensation. Various aspects of the plan have yet to be discussed with the National Farmers' Unions and other interests concerned, but we intend to make a start as soon as possible. Perhaps I ought to expand a little on the reply which my right honourable friend has given to the Written Question in another place. Nobody has ever questioned that brucellosis is a serious disease for animals and a most unpleasant one for man, but it is by no means as serious or important as bovine tuberculosis in the field of human health and wellbeing or, as a result of calfhood vaccination, in the economics of the livestock industry. The disease rarely results in death in man, and it is rarely, if ever, transferred from person to person, although it is probable that the incidence in human beings is greater than the 125 cases which are confirmed each year. The noble Baroness referred to my statement that there were 125 cases each year, but I qualified that by the word "confirmed" when I answered the Question, because a number of figures have been quoted in this connection. I have seen varying figures suggested, but none higher than 3,000 or 4,000 or so. This disease cannot be compared with tuberculosis as a fundamental and major health problem.

Here perhaps I might say something to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, or in amplification of what he said. Clearly, when considering the eradication of disease in animals we have first of all to take the diseases which are the most important, and I would agree that tuberculosis certainly is. But if we are thinking of other diseases as well, we dare not embark upon eradicating them all at once, or the country would be left without a sufficient herd from which to restock the farms and, indeed, to supply the milk. This is part of the problem which has taken up some of the time. We cannot do all these things at once; we must do them when we feel that a sufficient herd will be available in the country to carry on and to ensure that we have sufficient milk.

So far as the livestock industry is concerned, the free calf vaccination service offers a substantial measure of help by extending earlier calf vaccination schemes which have done so much to maintain a low level of clinical infection in the national herd, thus mitigating the losses inproduction of milk and meat and the economic consequences of the disease. In present circumstances, we have had therefore to consider most carefully whether we could afford an eradication scheme. From the Brucellosis Survey of 1960–61 we know that something like 2 per cent. of our dairy cows were infected and these were distributed among 25 to 30 per cent. of dairy herds. To eradicate the disease, these are really the animals we have to eliminate. But vaccination of adult cattle with Strain 19 vaccine—and this has been done on a considerable scale, as I am sure the noble Earl will know—causes the animals to react positively to a blood test. The available tests do not differentiate between infected animals and vaccinal reactors. This means that in an immediate eradication programme we have to deal with many animals that react to the diagnostic tests but are not really infected.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question? He referred to animals vaccinated as adults. Of course, the usual practice is to vaccinate them as calves. Does the same thing apply?


I believe the practice which is recommended by the veterinary profession is that vaccination should always take place before the 240th day of life. But there is, and has been, a fair amount of vaccination of adults, and these adults will continue to react to the test that I am talking about. This is one of the difficulties about immediate eradication, even if the country could afford it. I agree with some of the figures that have been mentioned this afternoon, that immediate eradication might cost the country something between £35 million and £50 million. I mention this figure as one which has just been given to me by the Ministry.


My Lords, of the number of animals vaccinated as calves, a very small percentage indeed show any vaccinal reaction after a year old—it disappears very quickly. The later vaccinations, of course, do last longer.


Yes, my Lords. I thought that was what I was saying. If they are vaccinated as calves, then this difficulty does not arise so much. It is when they are vaccinated with Strain 19 as adult beasts that they will react, and continue to react for a long time. This is one of the difficulties.

This means that in an immediate eradication programme we should have to deal with many animals which react to the diagnostic tests but are not infected. I think I said that before. This is one way in which we should differ-from some other countries. Survey results suggest that some 14 per cent. of female cattle of breeding age would react to the tests which we should use in an eradication scheme. An immediate country-wide slaughter policy covering such a number of cattle would be a waste of national resources and impracticable because of the need for brucella-free replacements for reactors, quite irrespective of the cost, which would be considerable. This was the point I was making in support of something the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, said. It is necessary to have a reservoir from which to draw animals which are brucella-free.

The noble Baroness, and the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, recommended to us the scheme which we adopted. I hope they will get some comfort from this, despite the announcement made by my right honourable friend this afternoon. This was the problem which had to be faced. I think the problem has been resolved, or will be resolved, as a result of the announcement we have made this afternoon. We will start with a voluntary register of brucella-free herds. This will cost the country some money for tests, and some for compensation, though we hope that the latter figure will be comparatively small, as we shall try to find out and register the herds that are already free from infection. When there is in any area a preponderance of registered brucella-free herds, we shall be ready to move on to a compulsory eradication in that area.


My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to ask a question germane to that point? I think I am right in saying that at present there is nothing in law to prevent the owner of a cow which is either known or believed to be infected with brucella from selling it in the open market. Could the noble Lord, at the same time as he is instituting this voluntary scheme, put some check on this, or make it difficult for beasts to be sold at public auction where there is any possible suspicion that they may be infected? That, surely, is one of the great difficulties of the present situation which has not yet been mentioned.


My Lords, this will have to be worked out. I read the Answer which my right honourable friend gave. All the aspects of the plan will have to be discussed with the National Farmers' Union and other interests concerned. This is something which, of course, they will be considering. But if I had a brucella-free herd, I should be very careful to ensure that I bought beasts that were brucella-free, because most of the trouble in these herds is the fact, and has been the fact in the past, that if you have a herd in which there is contagious abortion—


I have had it, and I know about it and what it costs.


If you give it a reasonable time in which to die out within that herd, it will do so. But the danger always is that you may buy a cow that is heavily infected, and immediately the whole process starts up again within the herd. Therefore, these people who come into the voluntary scheme will have to be very careful about the replacements which they might buy because of the fact that they might introduce this disease. This is part of the situation that will have to be worked out.


My Lords, the noble Lord has not understood me. It is obvious that when one buys cattle into a herd one tries to buy disease-free cattle. One of the great difficulties of the present situation—and it brings in this hazard to human health—is that it is no offence to sell a cow in the open market which is known to be infected with brucella.


As was the case with the tuberculosis scheme, when we come to deal with the clearance of an area this must be looked at to ensure that cattle are not brought into the area which are heavily infected, or infected at all, with contagious abortion, otherwise the whole of the money and effort that has been expended up to that time to create the condition we want to secure have been wasted. The noble Lord, who knows so much about this, I am sure recognises that what I am saying here is right. When we have moved on to compulsory eradication in the area, from that point onwards there will be a considerable further cost, but we expect that by that time many of the cattle that would react to tests because of adult vaccination will have been culled in the normal course of husbandry, and we shall take steps to ensure that in future adult vaccination with Strain 19 vaccine will be kept to a minimum.

The cost involved in this gradual approach to the problem would be a quarter, or less, of the cost involved in an immediate slaughter programme. I do not think the actual figures mean much. They are based on necessarily arbitrary assumptions as to applications for the voluntary register and figures for compensation and fees, not yet negotiated with the bodies concerned and inevitably subject to change in the course of time.

The point which my noble friend Lord Collison made—and we respect his knowledge in this particular field—is one which clearly, in so far as it relates to the Minister of Pensions, I cannot answer here this evening. We recognise the difficulty of getting an illness accepted as an accident arising out of a man's occupation, but I am sure that the noble Lord's position as the head of a great trade union will enable him to pursue this matter with the Ministry of Pensions and eventually, I hope, enable him to find an answer to this problem. My Lords, I do hope that, almost as a result of an accident, I have been able to give the noble Lady a satisfactory answer this afternoon and have been able to please the House. It does not often fall to a Minister to do that.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for what he has said, and tell him that his announcement gives us all great pleasure.