HL Deb 05 February 1968 vol 288 cc989-1038

6.43 p.m.

LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what terms of reference and conditions they will attach to the Committee of Inquiry which they are about to set up to inquire into the current foot-and-mouth outbreak and future policy for control of the disease. The noble Lord said: My Lords, when I put this Question on the Order Paper I felt the subject was one which would be of some interest to your Lordships, and the large number of names which has now appeared makes it quite evident that I was right. Before I put one or two points to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, who, I believe, is going to answer the Question, I should like to express my sympathies to the farming world, to the farmers and stockmen, who have suffered so grievously in these recent months. This has been the worst outbreak for nearly a hundred years, and the losses to the farming world are, of course, far more than cash. It really is a heartbreaking experience, both for farmers and stockmen and for their families, to lose a herd which they have built up over many years. Happily, the epidemic seems now to be drawing to its end, and this is perhaps the time to make one or two points with regard to the Inquiry.

I should perhaps say one personal word to the Chief Veterinary Officer, Mr. John Reid, and his veterinary officers who have done such a tremendous job. I would pay my warmest tribute to them and to the contractors who worked so hard for them. I am sure the Minister is right to set up this Inquiry, and to set it up on the basis that he has already indicated, as an Independent Inquiry. It might be thought that it is a bit soon to have another Inquiry after the Gowers Inquiry of 1953, which reported in 1954. That was a very good Inquiry and was very comprehensive in the hands of the Chairman, Sir Ernest Gowers. It made a first-class Report which has been of the greatest possible value to this country in the interim years.

But although that Report was quite emphatic, that the balance of advantage then was to continue the slaughter policy here as against the vaccination policy, in the last 15 years there has been a great deal of experience in Western European countries of wholesale vaccination as a method of controlling this disease. Of course, those countries, being attached to each other, could not perforce use a slaughter policy, and they have adopted a vaccination policy which has, in the event, turned out to be a great deal more successful than I think most of us expected it to be. Both the techniques of doing it, and the vaccines used with more than one valency have turned out to be a good deal more effective than any of us expected. Therefore, I am sure it is now right to look at this subject afresh and to weigh up again the pros and cons of whether or not a slaughter policy is paying us better here than would a vaccination policy. To put it in simple terms, we have had this devastating experience of the last few months. Should we sleep easier in our beds if we continued with the slaughter policy, or do the Western European countries sleep easier in their beds?

I think a good many of the community are coming to the conclusion that the logic of a slaughter policy is so strong, and that if you continue with a slaughter policy you should ban imports from countries with endemic foot-and-mouth disease, that this is a point which I hope the Committee of Inquiry will look at very closely. Last autumn I was visiting the American Foot-and-Mouth Research Station at Plum Island, and it was a very interesting experience. It was set up with our assistance some 15 years ago. They have no doubt at all that a slaughter policy worked for them, because they had a 100 per cent. ban on the importation of meat from infected sources. So this is the first point that I hope the Committee of Inquiry will look at.

At this late hour, I feel that I should not discuss one or two of the points of the epidemic which I should have liked to discuss, but I wish to make the point that during this epidemic the number of outbreaks rose to the appalling figure of 70 a day—490 in the last week of November. The Minister, quite rightly, then equipped himself with a stock of vaccine in case it was thought necessary to make ring vaccination in order to check the spread of the disease.

A further question which I hope the Committee of Inquiry will examine and answer is: If we continue with a slaughter policy in this country, at what level of outbreaks, when an epidemic has struck us, should the Minister decide that he will start ring vaccination in order to protect the rest of the livestock of the country? There must be some level at which the amount of infection let loose by this huge amount of outbreaks becomes uncontrollable, and when the slaughter policy really fails. I think we were very near it during this epidemic. This is a point which should be examined. In the meantime, this prudent step of getting a stock vaccine and holding it as a last line of defence having been taken, I ask the Minister that this stock should be preserved in being until such time as the Committee of Inquiry has reported. The existing stock, of course, has a limited life; its efficacy will end some time during the summer months. I would therefore ask the Minister whether he will ensure that this stock is then renewed, so that we have on hand a supply of vaccine in case we are unlucky enough to be struck again.

Finally, my Lords, there is the major question of the continuation of the temporary ban on meat imported from countries with endemic foot-and-mouth disease. I am sure the Minister was right—and I congratulate him—on making the ban; but the whole of the farming world is now asking that this ban should continue throughout the period that the Committee of Inquiry is investigating and making its Report. I believe the Minister has instructed his veterinary officers to make a report to him as to the course of the disease, the probable causes, the agents which affected the spread and so on; and I imagine that that report will soon be in his hands. I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, whether he would ask the Minister of Agriculture to consider very carefully the report that he gets from his veterinary officers before he takes his decision about the future of the ban on imported meat. I cannot help feeling that that report is almost certain to advise that the ban should be continued for the time being, in the interests of the livestock of this country. Certainly this is my hope; but the Ministers have heavy burdens on their shoulders, and I should not like to put it higher than that.

The view that I would express, in conclusion, is that we have suffered an epidemic of a kind which we should not wish to see repeated; that the slaughter policy is not sufficient to control an epidemic of this size; and that the gigantic losses and the crudity of the methods have really affronted the whole community. We therefore look to see the control arrangements for protecting our livestock against this devastating disease strengthened in one way or another.

6.53 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, has asked this Question, because our discussion on it is in no way parallel with the debate that took place in another place last week; it is complementary to it. In fact, we begin at the point at which they ended. They asked the Minister of Agriculture what he was going to do about his Inquiry and what its terms of reference were going to be, but the Minister was then unable to give an answer. The noble Lord has raised this Question to-night, and I hope that the Government will be able to tell us exactly what they want to do.

I was also extremely glad to hear that the noble Lord is not among those who are pressing for an inquiry to take place at this very instant, before we have had time to think about it. There has been a lot of pressure for this; but there is a question that must be decided, not by a Committee of inquiry, but by the Minister of Agriculture, before that Inquiry takes place; that is, whether or not he is going to relax the ban on imported meat. This is not a question for the Inquiry: this is for the Minister. It is a difficult question to discuss—there are many difficulties involved in it, and I hope to touch upon them—and yet it must be settled before the Inquiry is put into being.

Furthermore, one cannot put an Inquiry into being suddenly, without being able to choose the right men for it, and, in particular, the right chairman. Often the right men are not available at the time they are wanted. Do not let us Forget that there are a great many things that they have to discuss, some of which the noble Lord did not touch upon: not only what has happened this time, in this last outbreak, and what is at present known about the latest evidence on this very difficult disease, but what should be done in the future. And there are not only the questions about the disease itself, but questions about all the sideeffects—taxation, questions of rehabilitation and of compensation. These are questions which I think the Inquiry ought to consider very closely.

My Lords, I take the view—as, I think, do professional bodies such as the Veterinary College, and so on—that the ban should not be relaxed. But, as I say, this is a question which the Minister and not the Inquiry has to decide. The important thing about the Inquiry is that the right men should be chosen, even if this takes some time, and that they should take a fairly long time to decide what we should do I agree that this subject was investigated very fully by the Gowers Committee in 1953, but there has been a certain amount of evidence since then, and all this must be mulled over before we decide what we are going to do. It was suggested that the ban was temporary but I do not think this necessarily means that the intention cannot be reviewed. No pledges were given, either in this country or to countries overseas, which alter this situation. It was hoped that the ban might be temporary, but if it cannot be temporary I do not think that this matters very much.

What are the things that this Committee of Inquiry must examine? First of all, there is the one which the noble Lord raised—the slaughter policy. I should be very surprised indeed if, after considering all the relevant evidence—and, indeed, all the latest evidence on new vaccines, and so on, that come front Western Europe—this Committee changed its mind on what the Gowers Committee suggested. All the present evidence seems to me to point to the fact that to go back on our slaughter policy and to adopt a policy of vaccination would be an acceptance of defeat. I agree with the noble Lord that there comes a point when one must accept defeat; and this again is a question into which I hope the Committee will inquire.

At what point are we defeated? The noble Lord suggests that we were very nearly defeated this time. I do not think we were, my Lords. The epidemic spread over a wide area, and it was bigger than any that had happened before. But even if we count all the compensation that has been paid, and all the compensation that we should like to pay but cannot, because it is consequential, it still does not amount to the sum of money which most countries with this problem endemically in fact have to face in terms of loss of meat production and loss of milk production. Nor, in fact, strangely enough, does it amount to the cost of the vaccines, and, as we know anyway, the vaccines are effective only to certain strains, not to all of them.

But I agree with the noble Lord that if this Committee of Inquiry comes to the conclusion that we should go on with the slaughter policy—and, as I say, I shall be very surprised if it does not—then we shall have to consider very seriously making the ban on imported meat permanent. Such a step would have a number of effects which I think the Committee of Inquiry ought to examine. It may be said that they are not immediately connected with this disease; but they are the side-effects, and it is these side-effects that make the problem so difficult.

First of all, there is the effect on our balance of payments; and the to some extent conflicting interests of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food, which are together, and the Ministry of Agriculture and exporting industry. Secondly, if it can be shown that the outbreak is attributable to imported meat—and we must remember that at present we still know that only something like 56 per cent. of all the outbreaks that have taken place can certainly be attributable to imported meat; that is strong evidence, but it is not conclusive—then a slaughter policy is difficult to maintain without a ban on imported meat.

If we have a ban on imported meat, there are other things which we have to consider. How are we to mitigate the adverse effects on our trade with, shall we say, the Argentine? So far as we are concerned, we import from the Argentine something like 10 per cent. of all our beef, a negligible amount of our lamb and none of our pig. It is not really a very desperate problem so far as we are concerned; we could make it up by increasing our own production. But so far as the Argentine is concerned, they import large quantities of manufactured goods from this country. If I were speaking solely as a farmer I would say: "Let that go, let us make up the difference, so far as our own production is concerned". If we ban meat from the Argentine, we must try to find means of mitigating the damage to them so far as trade is concerned, and, next, we must try to do something to help them to overcome their own foot-and-mouth problem. This, I think, is probably a question of research. Pirbright is doing this. We are researching into vaccines and manufacturing them for places where the disease is endemic and where they have to inoculate.

Lastly, if we do not have a permanent 100 per cent. ban on all meat, it seems to me that there is one slight variation which we might do well to think about. That is the question of importing only that meat which has been deboned and from which the offal—heart, liver, kidneys and so on—has been removed. The evidence seems to point to the fact that the virus does not live indefinitely in the meat itself, but that it remains in the bone, the kidneys, the liver, and so on. It seems to me not impossible that we could come to some arrangement with countries like the Argentine by which we import only boned meat and no offal. These are the sort of things in connection with the question of imported meat that I hope this Committee of Inquiry will look into.

Next, I hope it will look into the problem of compensation, because if we are going on with the policy of slaughter—and I think it more probable that we shall than that we shall not—there are a number of problems which I think must be looked at fairly closely and which must be resolved with, shall I say, some degree of fairness. Some of these problems have already been looked at, and I think we may find some of them easier to cope with than was at first thought. They are those things like compensation for people who lost their stock many months ago. Prices have risen since then. What are we going to do about those people? There is the difficult question of replacement value or market value. I do not want to enlarge on these, perhaps, technical difficulties. Other noble Lords may wish to do so. This is an extremely difficult problem and one on which, I think, a committee of inquiry could probably help us.

There is also the question of consequential loss. Some consequential losses you can insure against. You can insure against loss of profits, for instance; but you cannot insure against be so short of cash that you cannot pay your expensive stockman and you have to ask him to go elsewhere. The Government may be able to help in this matter, and this, too, is the sort of question that a committee of inquiry could look into. I admit that there are a number of similar consequential losses which I think this Committee probably cannot look into and which a Government cannot deal with: those kind of consequential losses which occur to persons like myself whose stock has not had the disease, but who were totally unable to sell a lot of stock when they should have been sold. I must keep them over the winter at an expense to myself that I had not envisaged. I shall have to sell them at markets which are not suitable at a date when they ought not to be sold. I am in a difficulty here. This is a consequential loss against which I cannot insure, and over which the Government cannot help me.


The noble Lord may get a better price for his cattle than if he had sold them earlier.


I am hoping that some of my losses may be recouped in that way. But I shall not recoup them all. I shall have to buy hay at inflated prices in order to keep stock which I would not otherwise have kept. I shall have to sell them at markets they were not meant to be sold at. As your Lordships know, certain kinds of cattle are sold at certain markets. If you go to another market at the wrong time of year you will not get what they are worth. These are the sort of consequential losses about which I am afraid no Committee of Inquiry can help us. The same applies to auctioneers, hauliers seed merchants, and so on.

The Committee of Inquiry may possibly help us over things like rehabilitation. The Government have two minor schemes of rehabilitation. There is the ploughing grant and early payment of improvement grant. Both will help in a small way. I believe we are to talk about the ploughing grant later this week, so I will not enlarge upon it now. These are the sort of things which a committee of inquiry can look into, because they are the kind of things the difficulty of which is not realised until they are upon you. And this applies most of all to the question of taxation. I am rather encouraged to think that the question of taxation may be a little less difficult than we in the agricultural world thought it would be some months ago.

I will not go deeply into the question of taxation as I have spoken long enough and other noble Lords have yet to speak. But there are taxation problems of an extremely difficult nature with regard to compensation for stock and setting certain expenses against income tax, and so on. The encouraging thing is that the inquiries to the Inland Revenue on this problem have been fewer than one would have imagined. I think it is possible that this may be because the problem will prove less intractable than we had feared. Nevertheless, this is the sort of thing that this Committee of Inquiry should be looking into.

Lastly, my Lords, there is the question of future containment of these sorts of outbreaks. I am basing my argument on the assumption that we shall go on with present policy, that no new evidence will come to light which will change the vaccination policy, that we shall go on with the slaughter policy. There is the question of what are we going to do next time, when the next time arrives—because the next time will arise; you cannot prevent it altogether. In 1839, when the first outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease occurred in England, it swept over the country and there was neither the means nor the know-how to contain it. In the course of the century the disease became endemic. Then towards the end of the century the sort of policy was adopted which has led to our present position, in which the disease is more or less controlled. But when this last and worst outbreak struck us, we had to improvise all the means by which we did contain and control it. It seems to me that there are certain routine matters which a committee of inquiry could establish by which we could do better next time. When I say "better", I mean no criticism of the Ministry or of the veterinary profession in this, because I think that in the circumstances they did a magnificent job. But there is no doubt that were this laid out as a drill, we could possibly do it even better next time. It is not only a veterinary problem; it is a political and tactical problem is well. Which market do you close, and when? At what point do you ban people going on farmers' roads and so on?

Lastly, there is the problem which always terrifies me, and which nobody has really considered closely and which I hope the Committee will consider—the question of hill sheep. On an unenclosed hill which may stretch from Cumberland to Derbyshire, with no fences or hardly a road in between, sheep will wander. But they will not wander fir because, like your Lordships, they are hereditarily trained to the ground. They move surprisingly small distances, and for that reason it is possible to keep them in a certain defined area, to shepherd them and look after them. But let us suppose they are all slaughtered because of foot-and-mouth disease. Where do you stop? Normally, you stop at the next farm. But if the next farm is not fenced you may well consider that you have to go on from Cumberland to Derbyshire. What happens? If you take the sheep off that land you can put them on again only by shepherding them extremely closely for approximately five sheep generations. The expense of doing that is so prohibitive that nobody would attempt to do it and the land would go to forestry, which would be the only answer. There may be ways to decide how this may be contained, but none has been thought of, and so far as I know there is none. That is the sort of thing that this kind of Inquiry could undertake.

In conclusion, my Lords, I wish to press strongly that this Committee of Inquiry should not be appointed in a hurry, because the Minister has the awkward problem of deciding about banning or not banning meat imports in future. The members should be chosen very carefully and enabled to work very slowly. The Committee should consider all the problems, not only the extremely difficult problems relating to the virus itself and what we know about it, but also problems of taxation, rehabilitation, compensation and other allied matters. I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate will be able to give us some idea that this is what is in the mind of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and that he will appoint his Committee on those lines.

7.11 p.m.


My Lords, as a "new boy" addressing your Lordships for the first time, I ask for your indulgence. I have been in your Lordships' House long enough to realise my shortcomings as a speaker. I also realise that there are many Lords on both sides of the House who know a lot more about agriculture than I do. But, as a full-time farmer, I hope that I may contribute something to this discussion. As your Lordships may guess, I have given a lot of thought to what I should say. After reading all that has been said in this House and in another place on the subject, I decided that it would be useless to weary your Lordships with a repetition of it. But I should like to make a few points which I hope will be included within the Inquiry's terms of reference.

As the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, has mentioned, the Committee of Inquiry will first consider the banning of meat imports from South America. If it was right to impose the ban, it would be wrong to remove it until it is certain that the suspected danger is non-existent. Regarding consequential loss and compensation, I suggest that the Inquiry should consider whether an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease should be considered a national disaster. To do so would result in action being accelerated, and compensation to losers would be underwritten. I hope that the Inquiry will also consider the advisability of a vaccination policy, which again was discussed by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and whether the time is right to look at that matter again.

Then, more scientific research should be carried out at the research centres into the movement of the virus due to wind, birds and wild animals, and into the best methods of disinfecting vehicles and people. This industry, my Lords, to which I am proud to belong has an outstanding record of rising productivity. During the last war, and since, it has met all the demands made upon it, and more. It has a labour force whose loyalty and interest in the job is second to none. I say that it is up to all of us to do all in our power to see that the industry is not made to suffer a second disaster.

7.15 p.m.


My Lords, it falls to me to express to the noble Lord, Lord Hives, the congratulations of this House upon the excellence of his maiden speech and upon the way in which he has acquitted himself in the awesome experience of addressing your Lordships for the first time. I am only sorry, on his behalf, that the noble Lord's maiden speech had to be made upon such a sad and unhappy subject. However, this House always appreciates a speech which comes from the heart and the experience of a particular noble Lord, and therefore, for that reason especially, we appreciate the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hives; and we hope that we shall hear him very often in the future. My Lords, I must express a personal word to the noble Lord who will be replying to the debate. I must ask him to excuse me if I have to leave before the end. I came from Cheshire especially to take part. I have to be back in Cheshire to-morrow and we have lost the one really good train which would have enabled me to stay until the end of the debate.

My purpose in addressing your Lordships on this subject is to express the hope that when the Committee of Inquiry is set up it will look into this epidemic on the broadest possible lines; that it will consider not only the scientific aspects of the matter but also the social aspects, and the impact which it has had upon people. In this hope I am joined by my right reverend brothers, the Bishop of Lichfield, who would have wished to be here had that been possible, and by the Bishop of Derby, because it is our three dioceses, with Flintshire, which are most deeply involved. Of the three dioceses my own has suffered the worst. Of the 2,320 outbreaks confirmed by January 26, 1,012 were in Cheshire and 715 in Shropshire. In Cheshire, the farmers have lost 32.5 per cent. of their cattle, 16.2 per cent. of their sheep and 32.9 per cent. of their pigs. This loss has included a great many fine prize herds, and a number of herds that were the subject of scientific experiments, the results of which will largely be lost because of the slaughter.

Cheshire has a wonderful and lush countryside which has been made hideous by the experiences of the past months. There has been the smoke of the fires, the stench of burning flesh, the obscene sight of blackened limbs of the carcases protruding from the flames. Everywhere there has been a sense of frustration which has fallen as heavily as anywhere on the clergy. They have been unable to carry out their pastoral duties of visiting and bringing some comfort, help and encouragement, because they knew that if they visited infected farms they might well be the cause of further epidemics.

As so often happens with tragedies on this scale, there has been called forth a volume of service for which we all ought to be grateful. I know that the farmers concerned are particularly grateful to the Ministry and to the veterinary service, but we should not forget also what has been done by the Army, by the Police and by the Fire Service, all of whom have carried out their very unpleasant duty with efficiency and understanding.

But it is upon the people immediately concerned that the main burden of this disaster has fallen. For so many people a life's work concerned with the rearing and care of animals has suddenly been broken. This work creates a special and intimate bond between man and beast. It may be a bond of scientific research. It may be a bond of a lifetime of planning, which has created a splendid prize herd, of which its owner is rightly proud. It may be the bond of livelihood, in the possession of a small herd. It may be the bond of a stockman who has reared a particular beast and known it for three, four or five years and has a special affection for those animals in his care.

Think what it means when suddenly this disease is discovered, and within a few hours the horror of slaughter has descended upon a farm and the fires of destruction have been lighted. There follows a week of complete isolation, in which the farmer and his family are immured in their home. The children may not go to school. Then follows a long period of segregation, for anyone who has been on an infected farm is not welcome elsewhere. It means the closing down of all kinds of social contact and activities. This has been almost as bad, even worse, for those who have not had the epidemic in their farms but who have the agony of waiting, day after day, to know whether or not this is to be their lot. Indeed, there have been stockmen who have not left their farms for three or four months, so that there should be no possibility of infection. It is no surprise, therefore, that accompanying this awful epidemic there have been cases of illness, of break-down and of despair, which should call forth from as all the depth of sympathy. For the hand of death has been laid upon the afflicted countryside.

The Committee of Inquiry will have the duty of restoring confidence to those who have suffered in this way. On the evidence that I know I should not myself agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said about the immediacy of appointing the Committee. I believe that there is a very real ease that this Committee should be set up as soon as possible. I know that the Minister concerned is very anxious to get the best possible people to serve on it. In another place he has talked of the difficulty he is having of getting exactly the right people. Nevertheless, as my friend the Member for Chester said in another place—and he has himself wide experience as a farmer—time is not on our side in this matter. For soon turning-out time comes; the cattle will be going out into the fields, and there will be the danger of a recurrence of infection. Indeed, I think it is desirable that, so far as possible, the members of the Committee should have some opportunity of seeing what it has meant to the countryside to have this affliction laid upon it. So I think that the first thing that will restore confidence is that a really effective and powerful Committee should be set up as soon as possible and set to work as soon as possible.

Secondly, there is the question of the continuance of the ban on the import of meat from countries which have uncontrolled foot-and-mouth disease. I know that Her Majesty's Government have great difficulty over this. On Tuesday I listened very carefully to the speech of the Minister in another place. He did not say, Yes; he did not say, No; but he gave the impression that he was doubtful about continuing the ban. I found the logic of his argument difficult to understand because, as the noble Lord has said, if it has been right to impose this ban at all, surely it ought to stay on until there is abundant evidence that these meat imports are not the source of infection. I should have thought, again in some disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that this is a matter which ought to be considered by the Committee of Inquiry, and that it ought to be done as soon as possible.

The third matter which will help the restoration of confidence is that of compensation, a matter that has already been touched upon by noble Lords. I hope that this compensation will be upon the basis of replacement rather than some notional form of payment. I hope that there will be some way in which those who first suffered from this disease will not be worse off than those who have contracted it on their farms later. I hope that there will be some adjustment about the difficult matter of taxation. I hope also that, so far as possible, consequential losses will be taken into consideration. I know that there must be some limit to this. Nevertheless, the main business of the livestock farmer has been clamped down during these months, and losses have been very heavy.

I know that in Cheshire especially there is anxiety about the position of the stockmen on the farms. The Minister said in another place that there are other schemes, such as giving temporary employment in forestry work and elsewhere. He mentioned the figure of only 40 men who have come into the labour exchange in Chester during the epidemic, but I am told that in Cheshire there is a fear that the figure may be much higher. Also, a number of people are doubtful about the policy of giving temporary employment elsewhere, lest the very valuable and experienced stockmen should be lost for ever from the work for which they are so well fitted.

This has been a national disaster. Nothing can compensate for the personal strain and tension through which those immediately concerned have passed, and are passing. But the nation can share the burden by carrying the responsibilities of compensation and by making available all those resources necessary for investigation and research, so that we can ensure, so far as is humanly possible, that never again will an epidemic on this scale befall our countryside.

7.28 p.m.


My Lords, I am privileged indeed to be able to follow the right reverend Prelate in what was a moving and most constructive speech. I have a common local interest, and if I may I shall refer in a moment to some of the things which he said. I would follow the right reverend Prelate in adding my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Hives on his maiden speech. It is refreshing indeed to listen to a speech from a practical man who really knows what he is talking about and who puts it so clearly and concisely. In agricultural debates in your Lordships' House in future we shall benefit greatly from my noble friend's contributions.

I would express my thanks to my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford for having put down this Question and so given us the opportunity of a short discussion about this problem. This is not the moment for a full examination of this great calamity. When the Committee of Inquiry reports, then we shall have concrete evidence which will enable us the better to judge all the circumstances of what, as the right reverend Prelate said, has been a national disaster.

Over the last month, at Question Time, I am afraid I have been inflicting myself on the House rather often on this subject, and I would respectfully thank your Lordships for the patience that you have shown to me, and the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, also, for the understanding of my feelings about this subject which he has always shown to me. I am afraid your Lordships must be only too well aware by now that I come from Cheshire, too. I have lived through and in the middle of the two worst outbreaks of this century, first as a young man in 1923–24, and again now. So I have had an opportunity at first-hand to see a little, although not a great deal, of the awful consequences: the blow to the national economy; the losses of the farmers—and I think Particularly of the smaller tenant farmers, of whom we have so many in Cheshire—the sick anxiety of waiting for the blow to fall, and the helpless anger when it does. These things leave their mark on those who suffer.

My noble friend dealt fully with the Inquiry, and I do not think there is much about it that. I would add generally, although there are one or two points that I should like to mention in a moment. I am afraid that I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Henley, about the urgency of the matter. In my view, the Committee should be set up as quickly as the Minister can possibly arrange for it to be set up. I realise that he has had difficulties. I agree with the right reverend Prelate that it needs to be a strong Committee. I am glad that it is to be public, as I understand that it is, and I should like it to have, if possible, a tinge of the judicial about it. It should be presided over by a senior member of the legal profession. I may be told that these eminent gentlemen do not know very much about foot-and-mouth disease. But who does? They do know, however, the right sort of question to ask, and they know how to assess the value of evidence. Therefore I hope the door is not closed to the possibility that the Committee may be presided over by a lawyer.

It is certainly not for me to tell the members of the Committee their business, but I am sure that in their deliberations they must examine the present regulations for dealing with foot-and-mouth disease, with a view to having framed a new set of emergency regulations which can come down anywhere like a safety curtain the moment an outbreak takes place. I think we must be even tougher and more stringent in the future than we have been in the past. This I believe to be one of the most important general lessons that have come out of the present outbreak.

I should now like to make two or three small points about the Committee itself I hope very much (I have spoken privately to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, about this) that among the members of the Committee there may be some representatives from Cheshire or Shropshire, or both: people who have experienced this outbreak at first-hand—a practical farmer, perhaps, for one—and, what I regard as most important, a senior veterinary officer who has actually done field work in this particular outbreak. I think this would add greatly to the usefulness of the Committee.

Secondly (and I raised this at Question Time about two weeks ago), should not the secretariat which is to serve the Committee be set up now? I know that the Animal Health Division of the Ministry are doing certain preparatory work, but over the last four months they must have been just about the most overworked of any Government Department. They have laboured magnificently, and I should like to pay a most warm tribute to what they have done. But memories are short. Is there not a lot to be said for having a secretariat body at work now, which can build up a dossier while memories of events and experiences are still green, which can sift truth from rumour—and, goodness knows!, there are plenty of rumours—and provide authenticated instances of things which have happened and perhaps should not have happened, or risks which have been run which should not have been run? This might save a lot of time in an inquiry which is going to take many months, and I think it would prove useful to the members of the Committee.

I had intended to say something about the taxation problem (the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, may remember that I raised this with him about two months ago), but at this late hour I will not do so. I would, however, ask the noble Lord whether he can say anything definite about it, because it would be helpful.

Lastly, I pass to the vexed question of imported South American meat. Other speakers have already mentioned this, and no doubt it will be referred to again. A short time ago, in discussing this, the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, spoke of a balance of odium over the retention or the removal of the ban. I accept that there are real difficulties here, but in all my experience I have never known the farming community as united as now over the retention of the ban. In addition, there is strong evidence, which convinces me, at any rate, that we really ought to keep a free hand in this matter, at least until the Committee has reported. There are the percentages; and the noble Lord, Lord Henley, mentioned 56 per cent. This may not be conclusive evidence, but it is a very high figure. There was the Gowers Committee in 1954, and on the subject of imported meat, your Lordships may remember, they said: This is thought by the Ministry of Agriculture to be responsible for more primary outbreaks in England than any other single cause. Then there is the evidence of the disease-free countries which do not allow the import of meat. Perhaps the most interesting case is that of the Republic of Ireland, who banned imports of meat in 1940, and have not, I think, had an outbreak since 1941.

As the right reverend Prelate said, the noble Lord's right honourable friend in another place undertook that he would listen carefully to points of view and any arguments about this matter. I urge on the Government that, in spite of the difficulties—and I acknowledge that they exist—they should retain the ban until the Committee has reported. After all, the question of imported meat relates only to the primary outbreak of the disease, not to the consequential effects or to the spread of the disease. Would it not be possible, therefore, for the Government as it were to isolate this particular part of the problem and give it priority for immediate inquiry, so that an early report could be made? Meantime, as a matter of general policy, and within the limits of our present knowledge—and I think it is important to qualify it in that way—I believe the Government are right to continue with this sort of policy. No one who has seen all the slaughter and what follows it, or who realises the waste involved can think of this without sadness, and without a feeling almost of nausea. But I believe it to be right, if we are to have any hope at all of preventing this disease from becoming endemic in this country.

My Lords, it is a mistake, in trying to take a cool look at a disaster like this, to allow one's feelings to be one's guide, and I hope I have not been guilty of that. But may I finish by saying just this—and this really relates to the opening part of the right reverend Prelate's speech? When we are thinking about the material losses of the farming community and the nation, let us remember too the suffering and the heartbreak of so many farmers. There must be many of your Lordships who have been in a cowshed—in Cheshire we call them "shippons"—at milking time on a winter evening like this. It is a warm and friendly place. To-day far too many of them are cold and empty, and that is what so many farmers have to contemplate every time they open the doors of their houses. And that is the sort of thing I mean by "suffering". I suggest that this should only harden our determination to see, so far as lies in our power—by the encouragement of scientific research, by a refusal to accept risks, by the establishment of new and comprehensive emergency regulations which can come into action anywhere at the click of a switch, so to speak—that ravages on this scale do not happen again.

7.42 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first of all to congratulate most warmly the noble Lord, Lord Hives, on his maiden speech, and I am quite sure that, not only on agricultural subjects, of which he is such a master, but also on other subjects, we may hear him on many occasions in the future. We were struck by the practical value of his approach. And who could have listened to the moving speech of the right-reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Chester, without being moved himself? I should like to save time by associating myself with every word he said.

I do not believe that we can afford to put off this inquiry; it must be done at once. We are coming into another season on the farm, and there are many people who will have to decide the future of their methods of farming by the compensation they are paid and the possibility of getting back into the industry those stockmen who have left because there is no job for them. It is going to be a big problem and one not easy to settle. The sooner we get down to the job of investigating the whole question, the better it will be for us. There is one more thing I should like to say. I hope this inquiry will be an open inquiry to which the public can have access. I should like to stress the importance of allowing any evidence to be brought before it for discussion. We cannot afford to put aside any idea, however "haywire" it may appear, because it is not always the clever solutions that solve the problem; it is very often the simple things that work.

I remember my own experience when I started giving magnesium to stop grass tetany some fifteen or twenty years ago. Even now many people do not realise the simplicity of it. During the past fifteen or twenty years I have simply sprayed my pastures with 28 lb. of magnesium sulphate at the beginning of the season, and I have lost only one cow, and that occurred when my dairyman failed to carry out instructions about waiting until the spray was on before he turned a newly-calved cow into new lush pasture. I was called all sorts of things. I could go on talking on this subject for a long time, but that is not the problem to-day. However, I want to emphasise that some things which appear utterly futile and silly none the less work, and we must keep an open mind on this problem and not turn things down because they are not felt to be worth investigating.

The hour is already late, but this is an urgent problem. We cannot afford to wait. Those who have been deprived of their livelihood for the past four months must get a start—and immediately—if this industry in Cheshire and those other fertile parts is to get back to normal again. So I hope that the Committee will be appointed at the earliest possible moment and that they will be given priorities, or will establish priorities for themselves. One of the first priorities should be the question, which I hope they will decide in the right way, of retaining the ban on imported meat from countries in which the disease is endemic, until at least we have conclusive evidence that imports are not the main cause of the disease. It would be disastrous to have another epidemic such as we have just gone through; in fact, it would shatter the agricultural industry, and it would take many, many decades to recover.

7.48 p.m.


My Lords, I am the first to speak on this side of the House following the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hives. As a result of my association with Derbyshire, I knew his father; he was very much "Rolls-Royce". I spoke with him on a number of platforms but, I can assure the noble Lord, not on a political platform. But it was always a delight to hear him, and I am sure it is a delight for us to hear the present Lord Hives and we shall (although it is a bit of a cliché, perhaps, I really mean it) look forward to hearing him again.

Unlike many noble Lords who have spoken to-day, I have no immediate association with Cheshire; I do not live there. But I took advantage of a period in the Christmas Recess when I was staying in Cheshire to go and see what was actually being done there. I looked to see what they were doing about carcase disposal—a very important matter—and on the veterinary side I had a look at diagnosis and control generally. I must admit that I was enormously impressed, and I am not easily impressed by the things see, and certainly not by glib talkers, although fortunately I did not meet any of them in this particular field. On the disposal side, I found the operation in charge of a river board engineer who had been seconded to the Ministry for the purpose of carcase disposal: an excellent arrangement because he knows the height of the water table in the county of Cheshire and he was able to bring to the task of carcase disposal his knowledge of where earth-moving equipment, and the sources of supply of that sort of equipment, were.

The operation was based at Winsford and run as a very efficient Army operation would be. Indeed, some Army personnel and their techniques were used in this connection. Having regard to the emergency nature of the task this man was carrying out, he appears to have been given a free hand, and at one period he had accumulated at his disposal something approaching £1 million worth of equipment. This was in order to ensure that no carcase was left above ground, or in some cases unburned, for a moment longer than was necessary. There was no stint by the Ministry on this engineer's operations.

I also saw the work of the Crewe centre, where an emergency headquarters for the veterinary side had been set up. Here there was a group of highly efficient professional men engaged in an emergency operation. Two months after the outbreak in late October there had been built up an organisation which, except for the "scratch" nature of the premises, might have been used had it been a permanent feature of the work of those engaged.

My Lords, it may well be the case that there is a need for some kind of emergency regulations and a system available for putting into operation immediately—and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Oakshott, about this. It was inevitably something of the nature of an operation of a "scratch" type initially, but by the time I got there and had a look at it, I found it really was working extraordinarily well. I imagine there were difficulties at the outset, which had been overcome by this time, and some of these difficulties might have caused trouble and might have added to the spread of disease in some cases. I cannot quote cases, but there was a suspicion in my mind that it had taken some little time to get to the point which this operation had reached when I arrived.

There was one most unusual feature, the international character of the veterinary surgeons that I met. There were men from the United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. In most cases these qualified men came wholly at the expense of their own Governments. In one or two cases, I think, we were paying their expenses here, but certainly not their salaries. Admittedly they were learning here, but I was satisfied by the veterinary officer in charge of the whole operation in Crewe that they were greatly assisting him in his work, in addition to learning the job of how to handle outbreaks of this sort.

I talked to these men, and in no single case was any doubt thrown on the policy of slaughter stamping out. Not a single one of these veterinary surgeons had any doubts about stamping it out by our method. Each said that, faced with our island conditions, he would have no hesitation about recommending the slaughter policy to his own authorities concerned. I remember one of the veterinary surgeons from the United States of America saying that he not only favoured the policy but deplored the fact that in the United States of America they had not adopted a similar policy 60 years ago to stamp out what he called "hog fever", what we know as "swine fever".

Incidentally, on asking one of them about the spread of the disease I found that he strongly favoured the "wind-borne" theory. He said that, watching one of the infected animals slavering at the mouth in a high wind, one could see the globules of sputum being carried away, but I think he would agree with the note I saw in The Times to-day, which read: Points for further investigation include the physics of airborne spread … This aspect needs looking into, and of course it would be one of the tasks of this Committee to look into it particularly, because this is one of the things we shall have to find out: how to prevent the spread of the disease if it strikes here again.

Perhaps I should have declared an interest a few minutes ago, for I am an honorary Associate of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Your Lordships might think that, because of that, I am biased: but biased or not I came away from Crewe with a feeling of pride in my association with the profession, and also with a feeling of our indebtedness to those who made it possible for these overseas veterinarians to be here at such a time. Our thanks are due to them as individuals, and to the countries and organisations they represent.

My Lords, we have heard a lot to-day, and rightly so, about the unfortunate people whose livelihoods have been affected by this awful catastrophe. Farmers immediately spring to the mind, and here I strongly support those who have said that we shall have to look carefully at the compensation being paid and to the difficulties which the farmers are experiencing as the result of the taxation mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Oakshott. It is obvious that those who were compensated very early on may not find it easy to replace cattle, because, as a result of slaughter and the lessening of the number of cattle available, the value of cattle is bound to go up. This is inevitable when we have slaughtered so many animals. It is something that the Ministry will have to look at, and I hope they will look at it sympathetically. But, of course, there are other people who are suffering difficulties as a result of this epidemic. For example, veterinary surgeons are finding themselves without their livelihood. Animal slaughter makes it inevitable that their income will be going down. There are many people involved.

As to the cause of this severe outbreak, no one seems to venture what might be called a well-grounded opinion. It will be one of the tasks of the Committee to try to find out just how it happened. When I heard that it seemed to have started with pigs at Oswestry I immediately thought "Unboiled swill", only to be told that this was not the case because they had not fed unboiled swill at that particular time. Whatever the cause was, imported meat is bound to be heavily under suspicion. I am not going to mention the points that have been raised in this connection, except to say that if anyone looks at the reports of the Animal Health Service through the years, and also at the Gowers Report, it has been made clear that always imported meat comes under suspicion as being the source of primary infection in so many cases. I am sure this is so. I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that the infection is merely in the marrow in the bone. It is not. The Pirbright Institute looked into this, and as a result of precise experiments they said that there is equal risk of other tissue, including lymph nodes, blood in the large vessels, liver kidneys and the rumen, remaining infective for very long periods.

I need not say any more about this matter, except that I have a tremendous sympathy with my right honourable friend who has to take a decision in it. The Minister is under pressure to lift the ban on meat imports. He is under pressure because inevitably prices will go up, and if this happens he will be under severe criticism from a large section of the people in this country—and perhaps rightly so. But I believe that, despite that criticism, having regard to the catastrophic nature of this outbreak which has hit Britain, he must resist the pressures which are being brought to bear on him at this time to take off the ban. I will support him strongly if he continues this ban, at least until there has been a careful examination as to the source of this last outbreak and of the possibility that it did in fact come from imported meat, and in the conviction that we ought never to allow it again.

Of those veterinarians to whom I talked—I have mentioned all their names—not a single one of them has experience of foot-and-mouth disease. Why? Because not one of the countries concerned imports meat. It is true that we import 10 per cent. of our meat from the Argentine, and if that is the source of the disease we just cannot afford to go on importing meat and suffering the sort of expensive catastrophe which the country has suffered during these last three months.


My Lords, the noble Lord said that 10 per cent. of our meat comes from the Argentine. I think he meant beef. I think the noble Lord, Lord Henley, is correct in saying that we import hardly any lamb or pork.


I agree.

8.0 p.m.


My Lords, I should like at the outset to thank my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford for having put down this Unstarred Question and enabled this debate to take place. It has certainly been extremely interesting. I would also offer my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Hives on his maiden speech. As so many noble Lords have said, that speech came from someone with immense experience in this industry, and we look forward to other occasions on which he will address us.

This particular disease has had the most devastating effect to farmers throughout the country. Not only have they lost their cattle and their income, but very often they have lost also their livelihoods. Some of these farmers who have had this disease on their farms are not going to be able to start up again for a variety of different reasons. I was glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester pointed out the other very important thing, which is that this is a very human problem as well. I was talking last week-end to somebody who came from a district infected with foot-and mouth disease, and he said that in his area five farmers were already in a mental home. This gives some indication of the devastating effect which this disease can have.

Of course, when it comes, the first thing to do is to get rid of the disease and stop it spreading. This has very largely been achieved now, thanks to the excellent work of the people in the Ministry and the co-operation they have received. A great tribute should be paid to them. But what does one do afterwards? Does one say, "Now we have got rid of the disease let us hope it does not come again"? The Government have said they are setting up a Committee of Inquiry. I think they were right to do so, but there is one reservation to be borne in mind, and that is that there is a tendency to think that Inquiries are a panacea for all evils and if one sets up a Committee of Inquiry it will provide many of the answers. There is one great danger about this. Committees of Inquiry enable you to get the facts, but often their very existence is an excuse for, or a cause of, inaction. One has to try to balance the desirability of having the full facts with the necessity of taking action, and I believe taking action is extremely important in this situation.

Like so many other noble Lords, I am afraid that I must disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Henley. He did not find many friends in his argument that the Minister should choose the Committee slowly and take plenty of time to pick the right persons. I think it is imperative that this is done with speed. We want to know when the Committee will sit; we want to know when it will report; we want to know whom it will consist of, at least who the Chairman is; we want to know what its terms of reference are and indeed what kind of Committee it is. All we know from the answer the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, gave to a question earlier is that it will not be a Royal Commission.

I press upon the Government that there is a degree of urgency. We must have this Committee, if it is to be set up, set up quickly so that its members can get down to their work with great speed, because the material which they have must be hot, it must be readily in people's minds, and the material must be fresh. The Inquiry needs to be quick and to be concise, and of course it needs to be impartial. I think I am right in saying that the Inquiry is going to be public. This is very important, and, like my noble friend, Lord Oakshott, I should like to see a tinge of the judiciary about it. If it is not presided over by a judge, at least it should be somebody of substantial legal stature.

It must surely inquire into the actions that have been taken and the effects that they have had over this last outbreak. Did the rules and regulations which were necessarily imposed work? If they did not why did they not work? The right reverend Prelate said that these disasters bring out a volume of voluntary service. They also regrettably bring out a volume of criticism. I think it is extremely important that this Inquiry should look into the facts to try to see, if the rules and regulations did not work, why they did not work, and not in any way to try to apportion blame. After all, many decisions were taken. They had to be taken in a hurry. Of necessity, many of those decisions must have been wrong. If they were wrong, let us know why, so that the mistake cannot be made again, rather than just apportion blame for mistakes that may have occurred.

For instance, many restrictions were put on people going to race meetings and so forth, and yet people were allowed to attend football matches. Is this kind of thing sensible? I can give a case I know of where a person in Lincolnshire, where there was an outbreak, was not allowed to go to Norfolk to shoot, but he was allowed to send his cattle, because they were not in an infected area, to Norwich Market. It is ridiculous when a person cannot go to another county to shoot but can send his beasts to the local market. These regulations may be correct in intention, but obviously there were some shortcomings somewhere. I hope that this Committee will look into what was done to combat this disease when it broke out and how successful it was. Like my noble friend Lord Oakshott, I should like to see it produce a set of rules that would be brought into action should another outbreak occur.

The right reverend Prelate suggested that compensation should also be considered and that it would be a pity if the people whose animals got the disease at the beginning were worse off than those whose animals got it at the end. I do not know whether this should be considered, but I could not help being slightly amused that the right reverend Prelate's cloth did not persuade him on this occasion to accept the parable of the labourers in the vineyard.

This Committee must also consider the advisability of the slaughter policy. If this inquiry is to be as far-reaching and as comprehensive as it should be, it must inquire into the slaughter policy if only to vindicate it, and I would be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, could say whether this will be one of the points to be considered. I personally have strong feelings that the slaughter policy is the correct one, but there are others who take a contrary view, and I think it would be advisable for this to be considered.

To put it in its perspective, I would venture to tell your Lordships something I was told when I was reading Agriculture at university, which was that over the years the cost of the slaughter policy had averaged about a quarter of a million a year, whereas to adopt a policy of vaccination, with its expense and its lowering of production, would in fact not have cost a quarter of a million a year but £20 million a year. The lecturer who told me that is now, oddly enough, one of the most senior people in the Ministry of Agriculture at Tolworth. If he should read these words he may be pleased that something he said had been retained by one of his pupil-s, but I am bound to say his enthusiasm must be mellowed by the fact that not all his remarks received such ready retention.

Obviously what caused the outbreak must be of prime concern for the Committee of Inquiry. But should we as a matter of policy import from countries where this disease is endemic? I must also add a plea to those already made that this ban on imports should be continued. After all, why was the ban put on in the first place?—because there was a possibility that the infection came from abroad. The Minister said that the ban was imposed because he was frightened of another primary outbreak. I think this is important. I believe that he was quite right to be so frightened. But the ban itself did nothing to control the existing outbreak; it was merely imposed to prevent the possibility of a further outbreak.

This outbreak has cost us nearly £30 million. Can we risk another outbreak? Everyone would say, "No". But if the ban is removed, that same possibility of infection which caused the ban to be imposed in the first place will return, and I believe that we should be most unwise to allow it to do so. The Minister did not give a firm reply in another place the other day. He was frightened of breaking a pledge, which of course is entirely understandable. The pledge was to review this ban after three months; it was not a pledge to lift it. The impression which the Minister gave was that this ban would be removed. I would ask the noble Lord opposite to impress upon the Minister that, in spite of the real feeling that many people have that this ban should be lifted, in fact he will not be breaking his pledge if he does re-impose it. The pledge was to review it, and I think that the Minister would be entitled to say that this outbreak has been so serious, that the consequences of re-infection are so dangerous, that we cannot really import meat until at least the Inquiry has reported. Therefore, I hope that the Inquiry will get started quickly, and that it will report quickly.

8.12 p.m.


My Lords, I think that this debate has come at a most opportune moment, and I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Nugent for initiating it and giving us a chance to express our views on the present outbreak of foot-and-mouth and on the ban on imported meat from South America. I want to say but little about the way the present outbreak was handled, and what I hope the Committee will look into in this respect. I personally am quite convinced that the slaughter policy is right, and I should like to commend the Minister of Agriculture and his Ministry for sticking to this policy when the number of cases was running at between fifty and seventy a day. It was extremely brave of him to do this and I think he deserves our thanks for so doing. I am sure the present figures have shown that his decision was right.

I should like to say a few words about the mechanics of the slaughter policy. What worries me is that people are paid, and rightly, extremely high sums of money for burying the carcases; but nearly always these people take on the job as a part-time job. There are some who are doing it whole-time, but quite a number are doing it part-time. I heard of a milk tanker driver who was so engaged. Quite soon after he had done this work, a village to which he regularly drove his milk tanker got foot-and-mouth on their common land. The whole village is quite convinced that this was due to the milk tanker driver's doing a part-time job burying the carcases.

Obviously, this is an attractive part-time job. As I have said, it is highly paid—and probably, although I do not know, it is not returned in everyone's tax return. Therefore I can see the attraction of it. But I should think that one thing the Committee might consider in future is that the military should do this; that people subject to military discipline and only people who do nothing else, having no other normal job which takes them travelling round the countryside, should do this work. I should like the Committee also to look into the question of whether there might be issued special clothing which could be burned afterwards. I believe that nowadays ladies' dresses can be made of paper, or the near-equivalent of paper. Possibly some such uniform might be issued to people who are disposing of carcases. I personally am quite convinced that much of the carrying of foot-and-mouth is due to the human element.

May I now say a word about disinfectant? I feel that, as in everything where this disease arose, we have lacked guidance on the type of disinfectant to be used, the strength at which it should be used and the way it should be used. Exactly the same applies to salmon disease. Anglers were asked thoroughly to disinfect their wading boots and their rods and reels after fishing an infected river. They were never told what sort of disinfectant to use, or how to mix it. I should hope, therefore, that the Committee will look into the type of disinfectant that should be used and its effectiveness, because I believe that it is no use using a disinfectant which is not 100 per cent. effective. I believe commercial firms are working to produce a 100 per cent. effective disinfectant. I think this is a point which the Committee should look at. I hope it will.

Now a word about the straw baths which are put at the end of each farm road. Most people thought straw baths absolutely useless. I do not think they do any good at all, because I do not see why the virus should be on the tyres of a vehicle any more than on its body, or even possibly on the boots and shoes and clothes of the people inside the vehicle. I think the Committee might give us guidance on that. Straw baths cost a lot of money, and a lot of trouble arises in seeing that they are full of disinfectant. Also, if there is a disinfectant which is effective. I hope that the Ministry of Agriculture will keep a large stock of it, because one of the difficulties in dealing with this outbreak was the difficulty of getting a suitable disinfectant. We in our area were told that we were a long way from the outbreak, and that sheep dip would do. I strongly doubt, even if the disinfectant does any good—of which I am not absolutely convinced—that sheep dip would be any use at all. But it is a nice psychological idea.

Now I should like to refer the noble Lord to the way they dealt with the clearing of tsetse fly from Kariba in Rhodesia. To me, this was a more thorough way than anything we did with the foot-and-mouth disease. I, and I know many people in Scotland, are most disappointed that the Secretary of State turned down the offer of Scottish Command to man posts on all the Border roads. It may not have done any good, I do not know, but psychologically I think it would have been most comforting to the Scottish farmer. From that point of view I am sure that it would have done some good.

I turn to what I regard as the most important part of this debate because it is most immediate; namely, whether or not this ban should be kept on meat from the Argentine and other South American countries. I think I am right in saying that this affects only the Argentine, because Brazil is a net importer and not a net exporter of beef. There have been odd outbreaks outside the infected areas in the Midlands. I am thinking particularly of one near Coventry, and one in Northamptonshire. These were all fairly recent, and the suggestion was—I do not know; the noble Lord can confirm or deny it—that some deep frozen Argentinian meat was released in Birmingham just before this time, and that the disease came from this meat. I have seen this suggestion in the Press. It may well be wrong. I have no personal knowledge of it. But if this were the case, I think every effort should be made to trace where the meat came from and that the people who produced it should suffer due penalty for so doing. But if it was the case, I think it makes it abundantly clear that it is essential to keep this ban on, at any rate until the Committee have reported.

As we heard from the right reverend Prelate, whose speech I admired enormously—I think I approved of everything he said—psychologically the farmers are near breaking point in the areas affected by foot-and-mouth disease. I think that one of the things which might tip them over the edge would be if the ban were lifted. Presumably, there are three reasons why the Government are considering lifting the ban. First, possibly they have given a pledge to the Argentine in much more detailed terms than they have so far admitted. If this was the case, it is only right that they should have told us they had done so and not try to pretend that they had given the pledge for three months and would look at it again. We have had so many pledges broken in the last three months that I should not have thought one more would matter, when it might do some good and might be popular with a large number of people in this country. Secondly, they are probably frightened of Argentinian reprisals, but as I said in a Question I asked of the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, we have already incurred much of the odium that we are likely to incur in putting on this ban. If we take it off and reimpose it, we shall incur even more odium when we reimpose it and remarkably little credit when we take it off.

We have already suffered considerable loss of bloodstock sales to the Argentine, which happen to be the most immediate thing they could strike at after the ban was put on, and I believe that they are not going to buy any bulls at the Perth bull sales this week. But I believe that we can survive these things. I refuse to believe that the rather horrifying stories in some of the newspapers to-day about the amount of trade that we are likely to lose with the Argentine over the next three years if we keep on the ban are really true. The Argentinians are as commercially-minded as any other nation. If our prices and our delivery dates are right for our manufactured goods, then they are going to buy from us rather than pay more and buy from America which also has a ban on their meat. Therefore I do not think that in the long term this will cost us a great deal of trade.

The third reason, presumably—and I see the Government's difficulty—is the rise in the price of meat. I would point out that this has compensating factors. We are saved a certain amount of foreign currency through not being able to buy our 10 per cent. of beef from the Argentine. The Government have been saved quite a lot of money in deficiency payments through the price of meat in this country having risen way above their figure for paying deficiency sums. And if we go into the Common Market there will be this rise in the price of meat anyway, and perhaps we are just anticipating going into the Common Market. I think that possibly it is a salutary lesson for housewives and the people of this country to realise how much it costs to produce the beef and the lamb which they take for granted and which is undeniably the best in the world. I think that now our people are beginning to realise that they have been very lucky to have their meat so cheaply in the past, and possibly they will be prepared to pay a certain amount more for it in the future. I beseech the Government to keep on this ban. Psychologically it would be the last straw that broke the farmer's back in the areas which have been affected by foot-and-mouth disease if the ban were to be lifted. I very much hope that the Government will keep it on.

8.24 p.m.


My Lords, may I join in the congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Hives, on his maiden speech. Thirty years ago in my maiden speech I introduced a debate in this House on foot-and-mouth disease, so I have every sympathy with him. I will not go into great detail in what I have to say to-night, but I read in the Horse and Hound (which may not be read on the other side of the House very much) a very good article by George Forbes. He gave various reasons for the spread of the disease one of which was rats, which are more likely to carry the disease than birds. He based his argument on migratory birds from South America not introducing foot-and-mouth disease into North America. Therefore, if rats are one of the main carriers I would urge the Minister to ginger up his ratcatchers, or pest controllers I think they are called, to go to work throughout the country and do their job, and if necessary perhaps the numbers of control officers could be increased. Another point that George Forbes made in his article was the fact that infection can be airborne. He suggested that helicopters should be sent up over an infected farm after the carcases had been disposed of and that the air should be sprayed until a sufficient quantity of disinfectant was in the area to kill the virus.

I will not talk about deboned meat or offal, because that has already been mentioned, but I should like to appeal to the housewife to boil all the bones from her meat, whether it be for the dogs or whether she is going to throw them into the dustbin. Also she should boil offal, so that the rats cannot take it out of the dustbin and carry it away. This applies to imported offal or bones, or whatever it is. If we urge the housewife to do this, I think it would be beneficial. There is one final point I should like to make. As store sales have now been introduced in non-infected areas throughout the country, farmers can go to them and buy by licence, and bring back the stock to their own farms and not move them for twenty-one days. I wonder whether this order could also be extended to the fatstock market, because all cattle going to a fatstock market have to go to the slaughter house.

8.28 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to start by commending the speech of my noble friend Lord Hives. He and I both come from the same part of the country. We have both had outbreaks of foot-and-mouth on four sides of us, and I know how strongly he feels, and rightly so, about this particular subject. I hope that we shall be supported by him in debates on this subject again.

Important as it is to trace the cause of this outbreak and to act on it promptly, it can be said that the only good thing that can come out of this outbreak is that it affords a golden chance for a completely new reappraisal of the whole situation and an opportunity to put wrongs over a very long period right once and for all. I feel that it is wrong to criticise this particular Administration at this stage. We have for far too long exposed ourselves to this plague. We have risked the lives of millions of cattle, sheep and pigs and the livelihood of countless thousands of families.

The farm livestock of this country is one of our greatest national assets. We are the stud farm of the world. The Ayrshire, the British Friesian and the Channel Island breeds are renowned milk cattle throughout the world. Perhaps even better known are our Herefords and Aberdeen Angus. It is impossible to go, as I have done recently, to the Panhandle of Texas and other such areas and see 30,000 head of Hereford cattle in one feed block, without a feeling of pride that these animals all stem from this country; and it is extremely satisfactory to remind the Americans of this as well. Strains of sheep and pigs have been carefully bred over hundreds of years in this country and are unequalled anywhere. So much for the animals.

We have heard about the people involved. The plight of those farmers, stockmen, pigmen, shepherds, veterinary surgeons, and so on, cannot be too strongly emphasised. But as well as those directly affected by this plague, many other thousands of farmers have had their lives and businesses disrupted. Add to them the vets, the auctioneers, all those connected with National Hunt racing, for whom I have a particularly high regard, the Hunt servants, the blacksmiths, the woodmen and so on—these are the yeomen of England.

Yeomen service has meant something stalwart and substantial for many hundreds of years. These people are the most uncomplaining, the least demanding members of the community. They have no shop stewards. The word "strike" never comes into their vocabulary. I cannot help being reminded of Gray's famous words when he said: Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife Their sober wishes never learnt to stray. We here should and could put their case. We must have the most searchng inquiry possible. Some foreign meat is clearly suspect, and I believe that any trade conducted by this country which involves the possible import of the foot-and-mouth virus as part of the package cannot possibly be viable, particularly if we stick, as we should, to the slaughter policy.

I end by asking the noble Lord who will reply to the debate whether, when the present vets' inquiry has been completed, if concrete evidence is produced, the Minister will be able to act immediately upon it.

8.34 p.m.


My Lords, when the Minister comes to read this debate to-morrow he ought to be very grateful to this House for its understanding, and also for the very firm message which it is sending him. At least three former Parliamentary Secretaries of his Department have spoken during the debate, and they may be expected to have special understanding of his problems and responsibilities, not just as Minister of Agriculture, but also as Minister of Food—and I am glad to see one noble Lord nodding his agreement. I have very clear recollections of responsibility during a previous outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

At this late hour I want to follow up only one point, and that is what the noble Lord, Lord Oakshott, described as the safety curtain, because the Ministry of Agriculture does attempt to operate something in the nature of a safety curtain. Yet I think it is very nearly impossible to guarantee that in each and every circumstance that curtain will fall in such a way that nobody will be given any grounds for criticism. I remember visiting the headquarters during a previous outbreak and being greatly impressed by its efficiency and the way information and instructions were passing quickly and confidently. On the perimeter, the impression was less impressive, and understandably less impressive, because of the difficulties to which the noble Lord, Lord Champion, has referred.

A great many people and a great many authorities are involved. Action has to be taken very quickly, and there is no time for the sort of consultation which one would like to have in order to avoid the small rubs which are always given such prominence. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, paid tribute to the many people who are involved, but there is one group I was very sorry he left out, and that is the Territorial Army. They have done good work in some places, and I should like to think they were going to continue to be able to help if this or similar disasters befall us again.


My Lords, I mentioned the Army personnel, and of course I included all Army personnel in those two words.


My Lords, I stand rebuked. None the less, I think that the Territorial Army who have come in for so many knocks recently deserve at least a special word of commendation. Noble Lords will know that this safety curtain does not fall just once—it has to fall twice. It is quite easy to say that the infected zone will be a radius of, I think, ten miles around an outbreak. But a circle of ten miles on a map is a very different thing from defining the actual line on the ground which all the local inhabitants, people passing through and everybody who has to go about his business in the area, will recognise at sight and will observe because he appreciates that it is fair.

Even more difficult is defining the wider safety curtain which forms the boundary of the controlled areas. I should like to think that, in the light of the experience we have just had, if needs be we risk pushing such boundaries further out and bringing more people under the control if in so doing we are going to save the risk of confusion and uncertainty around the perimeter. I say this with some experience, because during one of the outbreaks since the war such a boundary ran through a small hamlet at the opposite end of the parish from where I live, and right across some fields which I was farming at that time. It was a corner of England where the parish boundary wobbles from one side of the road to the other, and I think it even leaves the road in one place to take in one field on the other side of the road. No farmer knew for some days whether he could take his cows across the road or not and we had a new police constable who with the best will in the world did not know exactly what he or we ought to do in those circumstances.

I mention this not in any sort of unreasonable criticism, but just to follow on what two noble Lords have said about how these difficulties are bound to happen in the early stages, particularly if the Department commendably tries to disturb the life of the minimum number of people. Parish boundaries are very deceptive. Roads and rivers are probably better.

There is one further point which affects the safety curtain, and that is the nature of our farming when so large a proportion of our livestock is permanently on wheels or passing through auction markets When a primary outbreak has been recorded it is the duty of the Department to try to trace the movements of all cattle which may have been contacts. I can distinctly remember one case where a group of cattle from an infected area was traced to an auction market in the Midlands, and before we could catch up with them they had gone through a second auction market a few miles away during the afternoon of the same day. This is not a very good farming practice and it does not do stock any good moving it about in that way.

We have so many part-time dealers as well as professional dealers who are out to buy animals and sell them a day or a week later if they think there is a small return that it makes the Ministry's task in these circumstances particularly difficult. I can remember, too, how a railway truck full of cattle was lost. It was routed while we kept our fingers crossed. It was routed from Northumberland to somewhere in East Anglia and was found near Aberdeen, yet it managed to reach its destination without, I think, the popular Press discovering, or in fact any unhappy results.

Having mentioned this question of all this stock moving about, I turn lastly to the question of farmers moving about. There has already been a reference to some meetings being banned while others were allowed. In my part of England, the North-West, we are reopening store markets, and there have been unhappy feelings among our people that some of those who come to the marts—maybe to do business; maybe just to see what the business is now like—have come from heavily infected areas. An appeal has been put out, I think, asking them to stay away for the time being. I mention this again, not with any nasty feeling of unpleasant criticism but just to show the sort of difficulties that arise all the time. The safety curtain has to control the movements of stock and to a certain extent the movements of men. If the noble Lord, Lord Oakshott, or any other noble Lord can devise improvements to avoid criticism, it will indeed be a remarkable achievement, and welcome.


My Lords, that is precisely what I want this high-powered Committee to suggest.


I was coming to that point. I do indeed hope that they will look into the matter and see whether they can in fact find ways of improving on the present system, if need be inconveniencing more people, where it can be shown as in the interests of the whole.

8.42 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Hives on his most knowledgeable and temperate speech. We all hope to hear him again, and very often. As one who is no stranger to farming in Shropshire, I can sympathise very much with what he said, especially as, fortunately, I gather that he, like mystelf, has so far, by the grace of God, been immune.

I do not think that I should have trespassed on your Lordships' time at this hour of the night had it not been that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester decided, most fortunately, to speak. I think the honour of Shropshire demands that I should say one word or two tonight, particularly as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield, we were told, whose diocese covers the North of Shropshire, is not able to be here. Because, my Lords, the main course of the epidemic has covered not only the best part of Cheshire but also most of the northern part of Shropshire; or, in other words, the southern part of the Cheshire Cheese country. Our experiences in Shropshire were broadly the same as those in Cheshire. The type of farming affected was the same, the only difference being that we had the hill sheep problem, which Cheshire had not, but fortunately that problem was prevented from escalating to any serious proportions.

I should like, as other noble Lords have done, to echo the praise which was given to the officials of the Ministry of Agriculture in the field, who spared no effort to discharge their most unpleasant task with the greatest friendliness and helpfulness to those affected. And also, of course, to the soldiers, Regular and Territorial—not forgetting the members of the Civil Defence, who have not been mentioned yet—who did so much, under expert guidance, to carry out work which was so much better left in expert hands instead of being handed over to contractors employing labour, who might easily have made matters worse.

That, my Lords, is all I think I need say on the general points, because they have been covered so fully in this debate, so may I go back to the terms of reference of the Inquiry, which are in fact the subject-matter of the Question asked by my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford? There seem to me to be two important things. The first is that, as so many noble Lords have said, the Inquiry should start soon, while the scent is still hot and while the members of the tribunal, however it is constituted, can obtain first-hand evidence, and not second-hand. They can obtain it now, but they will not be able to obtain it very much longer, let us hope—certainly not in the same volume.

The second thing, my Lords, is that the members of the tribunal, and particularly its chairman, should be people who have the determination and the ability to obtain the whole truth about the matters into which they are going to inquire. That may sound rather a brutal thing to say, but let us face the fact that while, on the one hand, there will be considerable vested interests setting out to secure that all the truth comes out in one direction—the National Farmers' Union and, no doubt, the National Union of Agricultural Workers will be very much concerned that their side of the case is brought out. Here perhaps I may say how glad I was that in Shropshire the affairs of the Shropshire Branch of the National Farmers' Union were in thoroughly competent hands during this particular year; it helped us a lot—on the other hand there will be other interests which, though perhaps one should not say so, may equally be at work to see that evidence in certain directions is not given the same highlight. One has only to take the problem of importing Argentine meat, which has been talked about so much to-night. We all know that the agricultural interests have a strong case for banning such imports. We equally know that other Departments—not the Ministry of Agriculture—have good arguments why such imports should not be banned; and it will take a fairly strong tribunal and a fairly strong chairman to make quite sure that the evidence is all collected.

There are other things, too. There are what one might call the "hard-line" stories. Many "hard-line" stories have been told about the foot-and-mouth scourge, not all of them representing the real facts as they appear to most people. To take one example, there have been "hard-line" stories about people sacking their herdsmen. To my mind, that is a deplorable thing to do. But, equally, I think that the vast majority of farmers have looked after their farmworkers properly, in the interests of both master and man, and that the cases in which herdsmen have been stood off wrongly are indeed in the minority. Then there will be what one might call the fringe effects—not the effects concerning the actual farmers and farmworkers themselves, but all the consequential effects concerning the auctioneers, the merchants and the ordinary shop people in the small towns. Every kind of effect will arise, because in the districts badly affected the whole of the life—not only the whole of the agricultural life, but the whole of the life—has been completely seized up.

This is going to be a long and hard task for any Inquiry. That is why I agree so strongly that it should be started at once. I think that it will be a long time before the members of the Inquiry are in a position to make their Final Report. But I hope that it will be possible, when they reach conclusions, when they reach some finality about certain matters, for them to make Interim Reports so that the Government will be able to act on them without delay.

8.50 p.m.


My Lords, I am moved to rise because comment was made about the situation with regard to the farmworkers in the industry. I would certainly agree with the noble Lord opposite that we ought not to boost this problem to proportions which are unrealistic. On the other hand, it is true that we have been advised of a number of cases where farmworkers have been dismissed from their jobs. We know that in Cheshire alone there could be over 1,000 farmworkers who might be affected in this way. The situation, so far as my union, the Agricultural Workers' Union, is concerned, is that we have evidence that 42 farmworkers have been dismissed up to the beginning of the week before last. I had a letter from my Cheshire organiser last week advising me that a further 18 had been dismissed and that three of them were involved in tied cottages, and that application had been made for the tied cottages.

I think this is not the full extent of the problem. It is also true that a number of farmworkers have had their earnings reduced, in the sense that they are put back on to minimum wages and that overtime has ceased. There is an issue here which goes beyond the present crisis of foot-and-mouth disease and which affects the national interest and, in particular, the interest of the dairying industry. It is that if these men leave the land, it is certain that they will be gone for good. This is disadvantageous both to the industry and to the country, in the situation in which we now find ourselves. And there is, of course, another problem involved, one to which at the moment I have not been able to find an answer. We have suggested to the Minister of Agriculture that in the circumstances farmers should be encouraged not to dismiss their men, and not to reduce wages, but to keep them on.

There is, of course, a money issue involved here. Farmers certainly get compensation and should get insurance. There is the £10 ploughing grant which they also receive. I hope that this House and the Minister will plead with farmers not to dismiss their men, because they are going to need them later on when restocking their herds. There is a further problem which I shall mention briefly, since I am on my feet. A grant is made for disinfection services and cleaning-up operations. The evidence that we, as a union, have is that in different counties different rates apply. I have been informed that 13s. 6d. is payable by the Government to farmers and contractors who use men for this operation, but that the rate paid to the men varies from county to county. The variation has been between 8s. 6d. and something like 6s. This cleaning-up operation helps the industry retain the men it is going to need in the future, and I think it is rather unfortunate that there should be a situation where varying rates can be paid and where contractors pay varying rates. I have written to the Minister about this problem and have seen him twice, but if my noble friend who is going to reply can add anything to help, then I should be most grateful.

8.54 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Nugent has initiated an important debate. It was also at times a moving one. It was understandable, fair-minded and constructive. I hope in the end it will be considered to have been useful. Most of the matters raised are essentially questions which the Committee of Inquiry itself will have to consider. I know that the noble Lord will not expect me to give him answers on all the points raised. I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Hives. Hitherto, I am bound to say, I had associated the name with another love of mine, the aero-engine industry. But from now on I shall think in terms of agriculture, and I congratulate the noble Lord. I hope I will hear him again on this and other subjects.

If I may, at the outset, I should like also to thank the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and all noble Lords who expressed their thanks and admiration for the work done in the field by the devoted servants of the Ministry of Agriculture and also the Armed Forces, including the Territorial Army, the police forces, the fire service, the contractors and all who in this very difficult period have lent a hand. I express my admiration to the farming community for the way in which they have borne themselves. There has been no question here of anybody begging for charity. They have in every case expressed the desire for fair treatment, but they have never, so far as I know, been plugging the hard luck line.

There are one or two points which were asked of me and with which I ought to deal before going on to the two more important aspects of the discussion. I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, about the advisability of renewing stock pending the report of this Inquiry. No decision has been made, but the suggestion that he made has been noted and consideration will be given to it. There was also the question of consequential loss raised by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, by Lord Henley, by my noble friend Lord Champion and by others. Here we are dealing with a most difficult problem. Of course, the Government understand the concern over the losses incurred by a larger number of people, both inside and outside the livestock industry, as a consequence of this outbreak. Some of them have been named. There are the contractors, the merchants, the auctioneers, the hotel owners, the meat traders, the jockeys, the bookmakers and so on. All have suffered in some way as a result of this outbreak. The fact of the matter is that no Government, I believe, can accept the principle that compensation should be paid from the Exchequer to all those who suffer consequential losses. Once we start down this road there can be almost no chance of stopping. For this reason the Gowers Committee came down so firmly against the principle of compensation for consequential losses, and since that time successive Governments have accepted this view. I hope the House will recognise the force of these arguments.

The noble Lord, Lord Collison, mentioned another consequential loss, one which, to those concerned, hits most grievously; namely, the loss of employment and the possibility also of the loss of the homes in which the people live. It is not possible here to consider separate compensation by the Government, but I echo his plea to the farmers to stand by the men who helped them. And in the main the response among the farmers has been notable. Very few farm labourers have been stood off; the figure I have is about 40, the same as Lord Collison. I trust that the best interests of all concerned, the farmers and the farm workers, will be served by keeping on these skilled men until they are needed again.


My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that this is not quite the same as consequential loss? It might possibly be a field in which the Government could help. Consequential loss, I agree, is something for which no Government can compensate. But the problem of having to stand off labourers is not quite within the field of consequential loss. This is something which the Committee of Inquiry might well look into.


My Lords, it is something which the Committee of Inquiry might well consider they should look into, but in the sense in which I was talking about it I think that it could be regarded as a consequential loss.

There is also the question about equity of compensation. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, referred to this, as did my noble friend Lord Champion. It is clear, as they and others have said, that since the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak began on October 25 the levels of valuation of some types of stock have risen significantly. I believe that dairy cow prices have increased by the order of about 30 per cent. since the start of the outbreak, and this clearly places those farmers whose herds were affected early at a disadvantage in competing for replacement. Here there has been a good deal of useful help, notably from the National Farmers' Union, with their restocking scheme. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are doing all they can to improve supplies of replacement stock; there is the £10 rate ploughing grant scheme, and other actions which will reduce the demand on the livestock market. I hope that these measures will do much to take the pressure off livestock prices and consequently make re-stocking easier and compensation go further.

My Lords, there still remains the question of equity and the Government are considering very carefully to see whether there is anything else that can be done. I hope that a further statement on this question will be made shortly. I was asked about taxation. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester and the noble Lord, Lord Oakshott, asked about it and its effect on compensation. This is a point which I hope, with good will, will be solved satisfactorily. The problem is being discussed at present with the N.F.U. and with the Inland Revenue, and I hope that these discussions will shortly be completed and that an announcement can then be made.

The noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, asked about fatstock sent to the market, which if it did not fetch the price the farmer hoped for, nevertheless still had to go to the slaughterhouse. I agree with the noble Lord that this is a point which ought to be looked into and is now being considered. I will write to the noble Lord and let him know the outcome of that consideration.

I was asked about the composition of the Inquiry and when it will be established. May I make it quite clear, my Lords, that the setting up of this Inquiry is being considered as a matter of urgency? Indeed, I hope that the appointment of the Chairman may be announced in the fairly near future. But I would also make clear to those noble Lords who seemed to think that the issue of compensation to be paid as a result of this outbreak must depend on the recommendations made by the Inquiry that of course that is something quite separate, and there will be no delay, so far as compensation is concerned. Moreover, there is also the inquiry by the Ministry's staff to which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, referred, as did the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, now looking into the immediate causes of the outbreak. A report from these veterinarians should be in the hands of the Minister before very long, and although, obviously, one cannot say what will be in it, and I cannot comment on its likely outcome, I am sure that my right honourable friend will take into account the information available to him from this report when reviewing the temporary ban.

As to the Committee of Inquiry, the precise terms of reference have not yet been decided. It would be wrong to make a decision about them until they have been discussed with the chairman. But the Minister has already made clear that he intends the Committee to be independent, and it will make a thorough investigation into the present epidemic and the lessons which we can learn from it. The terms of reference are likely to be similar to those given to the Gowers Committee. Noble Lords will remember that the terms of reference of the Gowers Committee required the Committee: To review the policy arrangements for dealing with foot-and-mouth in Great Britain, and to advise whether any changes should be made in the light of present scientific knowledge and the technical and administrative experience gained in recent years in this and other countries. If the Committee works to these terms of reference, I think that all the points which have been raised will be covered satisfactorily.

I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Oakshott, whether it would be possible to include on the Committee a veterinarian with experience in the field during the current outbreak. Almost certainly a veterinarian of experience will be included on the Committee, but it is essential that he should be independent of the Ministry, and I understand that those who served in the recent outbreak were either members of the Minister's staff or employed by him for this outbreak. Evidence will almost certainly be taken from them, and I hope that it will be agreed that their experience could best be made available as witnesses rather than as Committee members. The noble Lord, Lord Oakshott, made another very constructive suggestion, to the effect that a secretariat ought now to be established, so that the work of the Committee could go ahead as early as possible after its appointment. I am glad to say that a working party has already been set up, and it is now collecting and collating evidence, and at least one of the secretaries of this working party will act for the proposed Committee of Inquiry. A working party is not exactly a secretariat, but I think that it will serve the very relevant purpose to which the noble Lord referred.

On this matter of the import ban I understand, and indeed I sympathise with, the feelings of noble Lords who have spoken on this very contentious matter. As several noble Lords have said there are differing views in the country (this was brought out very well by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman) about whether the ban should be lifted before the findings of the proposed Committee of Inquiry. A number of conflicting interests are involved. In this or in any other issue Her Majesty's Government have to consider all the interests and make a decision which reflects the right balance.

To-day we have heard in the main the point of view of the producers. I would say that it was a very persuasive, even compelling, argument that was used. Nevertheless, we must recognise that there is another point of view, not least that of the housewife who is now paying some 30 to 40 per cent. more for beef, partly—only partly, of course—as a result of the ban. And this temporary change in our import arrangements has caused considerable difficulty and disruption not only to our overseas suppliers but also to traders. It has been accepted by them as a justifiable short-term measure.

The House will remember that when the Minister introduced this change on behalf of the Government he stated in good faith that it was only a temporary measure, designed to avoid our desperately overstretched veterinary resources from being overwhelmed by a new primary outbreak while we were still struggling to get the original epidemic under control. The undertaking was given that we would remove the ban once the outbreak was under control, and in any case would review the position in three months from the date of its introduction—namely, December 4 last year.

The Government recognise the absolute tragedy this epidemic has been for areas of the farming community, and accept the importance of doing everything feasible to avoid another major outbreak. However, in considering future policy in relation to imports, Her Majesty's Government must take into account wider considerations of policy, including the interests of consumers, both in the short and in the long term, and the important issues of national commercial policy that are involved.


My Lords, would the noble Lord make that slightly clearer? Did he say that it was an undertaking to review the ban, or to remove the ban? I thought that he said both.


My Lords, I said first that it was only a temporary measure. This was made quite clear. The ban would be reviewed within three months of its imposition—"reviewed" was the term used. But it was only a temporary ban; it was not there permanently. It was accepted by the trade on that assumption.

I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, about the report of the veterinary advisers. I have already said that when that report is received, as it will be quite soon, it will be considered by the Minister. I was also asked about the possibility of controlling imports, if they are allowed again. Of course, we have arrangements with all our overseas suppliers to ensure that any animal health risks from imports are kept at the lowest possible level. These arrangements are reviewed from time to time, and this is something which we shall need to have very much in mind when the time comes to remove the temporary import ban.

I regret that I cannot give the assurances that noble Lords would like me to give on import policy. I know that they will understand why. But I assure them that I will do all I can to ensure that what they have said is properly considered; and I trust that the discussions we have had will be thought to have been useful.

House adjourned at twelve minutes past nine o'clock.