§ 4.15 p.m.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, I wonder whether it will be convenient for me now to repeat a Statement made in another place on the Report of the Northumberland Committee on Foot-and-Mouth Disease? The Statement is as follows:
"The first part of the Report deals with policy to prevent and control future outbreaks of this disease.
"I would like to thank the Committee for its careful analysis of this complex problem and for the clear way in which it has set out its findings and recommendations. Its main recommendation is that the slaughter policy by itself should be continued as the best means of eradicating the disease provided that we maintain a meat import policy which reduces substantially the risk of primary outbreaks. The Committee proposes that the existing ban on imports of mutton, lamb and pigmeat (including unprocessed sheep and pig offals) from countries where foot-and-mouth disease is endemic should be extended to all unprocessed beef imports, unless wider considerations should make this unacceptable, in which case imports from these countries should be limited to boneless beef and processed offal. The Committee's view was that if bones, unprocessed offals and lymph glands were excluded from beef imported from such countries, the reduction of risk would be almost equivalent to that which would be achieved by a complete ban on imports.
"The Government have taken account of this assessment of the animal disease risks of the alternative courses, along with their economic implications for our meat supplies and our trade with a number of traditional supplying countries with whom we value our close relations. The Government have decided that the animal health and other interests can best be served by accepting the Committee's recommendations to continue the existing ban on imports of mutton, lamb and pigmeat and unprocessed offals from such countries where foot-and-mouth disease is endemic, and by limiting imports of beef from such 966 countries to boneless beef and processed offals. There is already some trade in boneless beef, and to give reasonable time for the necessary changes in trading to be made, it is our intention to delay the introduction of the new arrangements until 1st October next. We propose to reduce the relatively high tariff of 20 per cent. on boneless beef so that a reasonable level of trade may flow, and will have the, necessary consultations to this end.
"The Committee considered that it would be necessary to impress upon the Governments of those countries which will be permitted to supply beef only in boneless form the importance of attaining a high standard of compliance with animal health requirements, and of hygiene and public health inspection. The Government attach great importance to this matter and will follow it up urgently with the Governments of the countries concerned, who will be reminded of the necessity for Her Majesty's Government to withdraw immediately authorisation for supplies to come from plants which do not meet the required hygiene standards.
"With the adoption of the Committee's recommendation on meat imports, we propose to continue to rely on slaughter by itself to eradicate foot-and-mouth disease. But we accept the Committee's recommendation to prepare contingency plans for ring vaccination.
"We propose entering without delay on discussions with the Governments of countries and domestic interests affected by these decisions about their implementation.
"I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT and making available now in the Library our decisions on other recommendations of the Northumberland Committee.
"The Committee is now studying the other aspects of its remit and I understand that it hopes to be able to present the second part of its Report towards the end of the year."
Following is the supplementary statement by the Minister of Agriculture:
I have dealt with the main recommendations of the Committee in my Statement this afternoon. The Committee also recognised that, within countries where the disease is endemic,
there may be well-defined areas completely free of foot-and-mouth disease. We shall explore the possibility of supplies from such areas. We should have to be fully satisfied that conditions existed for keeping such areas free of disease.
There are three recommendations, numbers V to VII in the Report, which the Secretary of State for Scotland and I accent in principle. Revocable conditional licences are already used to a considerable extent to regulate the imports of meat and we are considering the extension of their use, as the Committee recommends. We agree with the Committee that the cleansing and disinfection at the point of entry into Great Britain of vehicles engaged in the transport of livestock is desirable. There are difficulties to overcome in introducing the control, and we shall be considering these problems with the authorities concerned. The Agricultural Research Council will take account in its planning of the recommendation on the expansion of research at the Animal Virus Research Institute at Pirbright; and arrangements are being made to put epidemiological teams into the field in support of the epidemiological studies that are usually conducted during an attack of the disease.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for repeating that Statement, and join with him in thanking my noble friend the Duke of Northumberland and his very expert Committee for preparing for us this admirable Report, which is of great interest and authority? I see from the advance copy of the Report, for which I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, that the Committee considered one of the two policies which are viable—that is, comprehensive vaccination—and rejected it as too expensive at present, which I think is right. The Committee therefore turned, as the noble Lord told us, to the alternative viable policy of maintaining the slaughter policy with a ban on imports. I congratulate the noble Lord on the large degree to which he has gone towards a complete ban, while meeting the obvious needs of the consumer by continuing to allow the import of beef in boned condition and with offals processed. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord on doing this. I believe it is the best measure which could be taken at present.
The noble Lord has told us that in order to meet the continuing danger when primary outbreaks occur the Committee have recommended that preparations for ring vaccination should be made, and that the Government have accepted this recommendation. There is one question 968 I should like to ask the noble Lord. The Report is not entirely clear to me as regards the arrangements for putting ring vaccination into action. The Minority Report is quite specific: ring vaccination should be put into action immediately a primary outbreak occurs. The question I want to ask the noble Lord is: will he ask his right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture to give careful consideration to this advice, because in my belief it is almost impossible to decide, once an outbreak has started and the epidemic is under way, when to vaccinate, whether it be for foot-and-mouth disease, influenza or anything else. Therefore, if a ring vaccination policy is to be effective on what I hope will be the very few primary outbreaks we get in future, it should be implemented as soon as the outbreak occurs. Would the noble Lord be good enough to have careful study given to that point?
My Lords, may I warmly welcome the conclusions of the Report as repeated in the Statement, and may I also congratulate the Government upon their acceptance of it, very nearly in full?
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, I am much obliged to the two noble Lords who have given a welcome to this Statement. We are dealing with a very vexed, complex and, indeed, tragic problem. Those of us who remember the wretched business of last year look back with a feeling of relief now that the decisions have been taken. I was asked about vaccination. First, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, that although the Committee decided against a policy of complete vaccination, that was not on the grounds of expense alone. There are other considerations, of course. So far as ring vaccination is concerned, the noble Lord is quite right when lie says that the arrangements are not stated very clearly, and the fact of the matter is that there must be further discussions with the farming and veterinary interests. I can assure the noble Lord that the views which have been put forward in the Minority Report have been carefully considered, both as a result of that Report and as a result of other representations which have been made to the Department, of which the noble Lord will know. I can assure him that close attention will be given to those views, although at the 969 same time it seems clear to me that the advantages of vaccination in all cases, in all parts of the United Kingdom, are not altogether decisive.
§ LORD ROYLE
My Lords, I wonder whether I may ask my noble friend two questions. First, apart from the change in import levies, what steps will the Government be taking to ensure that there will be no large rise in the price of meat to the consumer as a result of this decision? Secondly, in view of the fact that on the Northumberland Committee the National Farmers' Union have had a representative, may I ask him whether he will now see to it that in their further deliberations there shall be a representative from the distributive side of the industry?
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, so far as the price of meat is concerned, clearly there must be some impact upon the market. The considered view of the Department is that that will not be considerable, and especially over the longer term—over a period of possibly about a year, when the market has been able to settle down and supplies of boneless beef come more readily to this country. After all, the amount of meat which will be affected is a comparatively small proportion—
§ LORD BESWICK
No, my Lords; the amount of meat which will be affected, the cheap cuts of the imported beef from these particular countries, is much less than one-third. But, in any case, the noble Lord is on a point: the price to the consumer is a matter which has to be watched. It is not expected, however, that there will be a significant rise as a result of these essential steps. The noble Lord has commented again about the composition of the Northumberland Committee. I remember very clearly what he said before, in the debate which we had. I beg of him, although it is a fairly voluminous Report, to read this Report. I am sure that after reading it he will feel that this well-balanced, well-argued, carefully analytical Report is not at all biased in the way he thinks, and I hope that on reflection he will feel that his present suspicion is unfounded.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords., the noble Lord asked me about representatives. It is not a question of representation now for any further consideration; but, of course, discussions will have to take place with the interests concerned on the further steps that have to be taken for the implementation of this Statement.
My Lords, may I ask one question about the importation of bone manure? Is there any control over bone manure from countries where we are refusing to take meat unless it is cut off the bone?
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, I think I am right in saying that although there are difficulties, not only with bone manure but in the case of serum, semen and all sorts of other things coming from those countries, in all those cases the precautions which are now taken are thought to be as adequate as it is possible to make them.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, arising out of the original Statement, will the noble Lord say whether the Government are prepared to accept all the recommendations that the Northumberland Committee have made up to date?
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, if the noble Earl reads the recommendations he will see that there is a certain balancing, and that it is impossible to give a "Yes" or "No" to the question which he poses. But in addition to what I have said that my right honourable friend is accepting, it is also the case that Recommendations V to VII in the Report are also accepted in principle.
§ LORD BALERNO
My Lords, arising out of the noble Earl's question, may I ask whether any consideration has yet been given to Recommendation No. VII, calling for an expansion of research work, particularly in epidemiology; and may I ask whether the Government would agree that, if this had been carried out in the past, the work of the Northumberland Committee in the present would have been greatly helped?
§ LORD BESWICK
Yes, my Lords. Recommendation VII in the Report has also been accepted in principle by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question? He said, I think, that the import of beef on the bone was going to be banned from October 1 next. Does he mean this October 1, or October next year?
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, may I ask one question of the noble Lord? In view of the fact that the slaughter policy is a policy of despair, however necessary it may be—it destroys many thousands of fine beasts and a lot of the hopes of farmers and of the veterinary surgeons who look after these animals—would the noble Lord give an indication to the pharmaceutical industry that there will be support from the Government (moral support, anyway) in the production of a vaccine which will be not only highly efficient but also cheap? As I understand it, in Europe at the moment there has been produced a vaccine which is much more efficient than anything we have had in the past.
§ LORD BESWICK
My Lords, possibly the noble Lord will be good enough to read the Report and what it says about vaccination. A good deal of work is being done in this country, and not least by the Purbright Institute, which has been accepted as a world reference library on all these matters. Although I accept what the noble Lord says about the evils of slaughter, nevertheless all the authorities that have looked at this matter, and all the evidence that was submitted to the Committee, bear out the unfortunate fact that slaughtering, certainly for any conceivable time ahead, is essential.
§ LORD RAGLAN
My Lords, would my noble friend give a guarantee that the Government will be very cautious about adopting a policy of vaccination, in view of the danger of the disease becoming endemic in this country, which I understand is what vaccination may lead to
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, is there not the same possibility in the case of any disease? This disease is no different from any other, such as smallpox. We have stamped out many diseases which, in our youth, were killing. There is no reason why in the future—I am not saying that it is possible at the moment—if the effort is put into it, we should not be able to have a perfectly efficient and cheap method of vaccination.