HL Deb 20 January 1970 vol 307 cc72-125

5.18 p.m.

BARONESS SUMMERSKILL rose to ask Her Majesty's Government when they propose to take effective action to stop the spread of brucellosis. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, my object in raising this question again is to instil into the Government a sense of urgency with regard to the eradication of brucellosis. This disease is preventable. There, I think, is something which should appeal to everybody who recognises that there are so many diseases in the land which are only curable: this is a disease which is preventable if we use the right methods. It is the only disease of any significance which can be transmitted from animal to man.

My Lords, it will be recalled, because many of your Lordships were here on that occasion, that I raised this matter on an Unstarred Question in 1966 when we had a similar debate. I was then led to believe that the Department seriously proposed to take effective action. I say after very careful consideration that I was gravely misled. The fact is that now, four years later, brucellosis is spreading.

As I look at the pictures of the militant farmers in this country, I think that if they devoted one of their protests against the prevalence of brucellosis they would be fully justified. Unfortunately, there is no more effective deterrent to protests than ill-health. The symptoms which distinguish brucellosis vary from recurrent fever, muscular and arthritic pains, skin rashes and gastritis to mental symptoms of every kind and degree. In fact, sometimes the victim becomes psychotic. These symptoms drain the victim of the energy required for active protest and that is one reason why so many people who have experienced the disease themselves seem fatalistic about it.

While the amount of human suffering and disability cannot be accurately assessed, the loss to agriculture through abortion, reduced milk yield and infertility, and to the export trade, must be very considerable. But although this loss is recognised by farmers, nobody has been able to assess it in terms of pounds, shillings and pence. While officialdom— I chose that word very carefully, because I know of the power of officials and of those officials who are determined that there shall be some reform—in this country has dragged its feel, other countries, smaller than ours, have successfully eradicated the disease. The position was summed up in the British Medical Journal on November 29, 1969, under the title, "Brucellosis still spreading". It stated: Though brucellosis is a preventable disease insufficient effort is being made to prevent it in Britain. In the United Kingdom only Northern Ireland has a satisfactory scheme of eradication and the result is that over 97 per cent. of the eligible herds there has been certified as free of brucellosis. In Great Britain up to the end of October, 1969, only 6 per cent. of the herds had been registered as accredited. The figure for Scotland is 7 per cent. The Scandinavian countries have wiped out brucellosis. Western Germany and Bulgaria are virtually clean. Switzerland, the United States of America, and Canada are making sound progress. Northern Ireland is ahead of schedule and Eire is doing very well.

My Lords, our country has always been looked upon by the rest of the world as being one in which the farming industry is preeminent. Yet here we are, lagging behind all these little countries and failing to prevent this disease. That eminent authority on public health, Dr. John Boycott, writing in the Lancet in 1969, maintained that half a million people had contracted the organism; while missed and undiagnosed cases were very common. As is well known, brucellosis is chiefly occupational. It is found among farm workers, meat packing employees, laboratory personnel and veterinary surgeons. The poor veterinary surgeon is a martyr to the disease. Dr. Boycott estimated that 63 per cent. of the practising veterinary surgeons have serological evidence of infection.

There are also 3 million people, for the most part ignorant of the hazards to health, who drink raw milk and are consequently at risk. Of course, the difficulties of eradication are not due only to the apathy of officialdom; they are due also to the immoral behaviour of those farmers who knowingly pass on infected animals to healthy herds. And "immoral", my Lords, is not an overstatement. The argument that the public is protected because 97 per cent. of the milk supplies is heat treated is no longer valid, as more and more families visit the country for holidays and are at risk, together with the static rural population.

May I give the House an example? Anglesey, the constituency of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, is a delightful holiday resort which no doubt many of us have visited in the past. But even there, Mr. H. H. Thomas, Chief Inspector of the Consumer Protection Department of the County Council, has said that more cattle have been found to be infected during the three summer months of 1969 than throughout the whole of 1968. After that report, my Lords, nothing would induce me to drink a glass of milk in Anglesey, or even to drink a cup of tea with milk from a local farm. That is how those of us who know the seriousness of this complaint treat such reports. Unfortunately, most people who go to these country districts and drink untreated milk are utterly ignorant of the potential danger of drinking that milk.

I know that I am speaking to a House in which there are experts, and I am trying to touch on the various parts of the country in order that it will be quite clear that this matter has been given the most careful consideration by men who spend their lives in the farming world. The Border Rural Council's medical officer of health, Dr. Claude Bentley, says: It is much more widespread among the population than appears on the surface. The known cases in Cumberland are high, due to the fact that a great deal of untreated milk is drunk. My Lords, it is not surprising that abortion storms are raging in places like Cheshire where veterinary surgeons suggest that twice as many herds are suffering the effects of clinical abortion to-day as before the foot and mouth epidemic. A further tragedy is that while it is permitted secretly to dispose of an infected animal, farmers are not prepared to admit that they are in trouble. In consequence, the sources of infection are not always disclosed. I noted that, according to the Farmers' Weekly of July 11, 1969, Mr. A. C. Stewart said at the Scottish Milk Marketing Board Council last year that all brucellosis reactors should be marked with a star in the ear; and those who objected to this scheme could only be rogues who spread the disease by selling reactors through the auction rings. A Mr. Crossett, who replied, had the moral courage to reveal that he had sold his infected cows on the open market to recoup his losses. He added: I am very sorry to have spread this brucella to other herds, but the owners of these are the fools for buying on the open market. My Lords, surely it is the first duty of the Government, whether in relation to farming or elsewhere, to control the activities of the rogue and to protect the innocent fool. But in the sale of cattle infected with brucellosis it appears that the rogue can ruin the fool if he so desires by selling him cattle which will infect the whole of his accredited herd.

Last year the Cheshire County Health Committee expressed concern at the slow rate of progress of the brucellosis scheme. It recommended that the accredited scheme should now be applied compulsorily to all producer retailers, with slaughter of animals who are positive reactors and payment of compensation. I should like to see immediate steps taken to pasteurize all milk for human consumption and brucellosis made notifiable. I have known of diseases which in the past have not been notifiable, and heard those who objected to notification saying how difficult it was to diagnose and that it would be better not to take this step. But when a disease is made notifiable, doctors and others are alerted to the problem. They are much more anxious to observe symptoms and come to a conclusion. While we leave this disease brucellosis unnotifiable, we are not going to instil the sense of urgency into the medical profession and the farming community.

Furthermore, vaccination should be made compulsory. I am well aware of the difference of opinion that exists in the farming community on this subject. Most farmers feel that giving strain 19 to calves is desirable, but I shall listen with great interest to noble Lords who have different views on the efficacy of vaccination. I believe that stronger measures should be taken immediately to prevent the transmission of infection. Farmers with non-designated herds should be compelled to protect neighbours who have accredited herds, by the use of double fencing and by dealing efficiently with effluent disposal in order to prevent contamination of water supplies. Furthermore, fox hunting should be banned on accredited farms, to prevent a fox from carrying off the afterbirth and aborted fœtus and so contaminating a herd. I say these things because I have been impressed by the number of noble Lords who have come to me and said that, after building up an accredited herd, somehow, from somewhere, infection came and their cattle were struck down. I do not feel that we have examined carefully enough the sources of infection or that, if we have examined them, we have taken enough trouble to prohibit the guilty men from continuing the practices which affect a neighbour's herd.

There are many speakers, but I hope I have succeeded in convincing the House that brucellosis is a serious menace to both man and beast. In another place at the end of the year the Minister stated that eradication would be started in 1971, but I am advised by veterinary surgeons that this further delay is unnecessary. There are no sound technical reasons why the scheme should be delayed for what can be another two years. This matter is one of extreme urgency and an undertaking should now be given that without fail the scheme will be put into operation at the end of this year.

5.33 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say to the noble Baroness that with three-quarters, seven-eighths or or fifteen-sixteenths of what she has said I am in utter agreement. The one-sixteenth on which I disagree with her is when she accuses the farmers of backwardness. In 1962 the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers started to put the screw on the Ministry to get a brucellosis eradication scheme instituted at once, because of the danger that was growing day by day through lack of encouragement and help from the Ministry. In 1965 they gave up all hope of getting the Ministry to move and started a scheme of their own, which was conditioned under the auspices of the British Veterinary Association. We asked that we should be allowed to have testing carried out in Government laboratories. There was a flat refusal. We managed to overcome that.

Immediately we founded our scheme, the Government came in and said that they were going to take it over. A great many of our members had already travelled a long way along the road of brucellosis eradication and in all essentials our scheme was exactly the same as the one the Government started in 1967. We were not allowed to transfer to the Ministry's scheme those who had qualified under our operations. It has been not only a disappointment but a subject of hopeless despair to a large proportion of farmers in this country who are providing dairy products that there has been this neglect by the Government to protect those who have achieved attestation.

Your Lordships will remember that I raised this matter on the Animals Bill, when I tried to get protection for the man who, in many cases at great expense, had accredited his herd, from the man who allowed his cattle to stray on the roads and break into other farms. I was told by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that in a way it might be said that the man who had achieved accreditation had created a risk for himself. The other day I wrote to the Ministry of Agriculture in the following terms: My dear Minister, I wonder if it would be possible So appeal to the police not to turn straying cattle into the fields. With so many accredited herds and near-accredited, such action might well cause the closing of pastures and the withdrawal of accreditation certificates, with disastrous effects. Our own Chief Constable in Ayrshire has given orders that this must be avoided and the South West of Scotland Electricity Board have also warned their linesmen to use great care to see that gates are fully secured. I received this reply from the Minister: Thank you for your letter about the movement of straying cattle on to fields occupied or used by cattle from herds in the Brucellosis Accredited Herd Scheme. While I do not wish to minimise the problems which could arise, I do not think that this is a matter which can be considered from the point of view of the Brucellosis Accredited Herd Scheme only. The first concern of the police must be the protection of life and property. I did not suggest that it should be compulsory on the police. All I suggested was that the Minister should warn them of the danger they might cause. At the end were these words: I feel, too, we must consider the owner of the straying livestock, whether he owns accredited or non-accredited stock. He would, I am sure, like to feel that his animals were not put at additional risk by the land. That is the sort of attitude we have struggled and struggled against. I my-self have been testing my herds regularly since 1932. Most of my tenants have already entered the scheme and a great many have achieved attestation. But every day they are subject to the risk of their livelihoods being taken away by some careless action on the part of some-body who does not know what he is doing.

What have the Government done? Under the Epizootic Abortion Order 1922, which is still the only legislation for the control of cattle—ordinary cattle not under the scheme—nothing further has been done. I should like to ask the Government how many prosecutions have taken place under that Order in recent years. Yet that is open to them, when they can bring evidence against people who have knowingly sold cattle in the market within two months of an abortion. It is a small thing to ask, I admit. But that Order has been there all the time, and it has not been acted upon by the Government.

When the Survey of Animals Disease (Survey No. 4, 1964) was carried out no more than 2 per cent. of cattle were found to be infected, and, in addition, 12 per cent. were suffering from vaccinal reactions of S19. Why is this the case? It is because the Government did not give a sufficient lead or sufficient instructions to the people who in all good faith vaccinated their cattle at 15 or 18 months up to perhaps four or five years old. The S19 at that time was a perfectly satisfactory vaccination provided it was given in the early days of calfhood; but there was no real effort by the Government to ensure that that proviso was agreed to. A large proportion of farmers to-day have only wakened up to the fact that what they thought was a protection has turned out to be a danger.

When the Government scheme was produced it was said that it was based on good management, good boundaries and on the keeping of good records. What have the Government done? They postponed the evil day by providing the starting point for the testing of animals with the milk ring test at intervals of three months, and at the end of that they would be given a clear bill of health; they were to be tested by the blood test, and finally the farmer was to receive accreditation certificates and compensation for lost animals. Did the Government not know that within the early post-colostral stages and drying off stages a large percentage of cows were likely to react? I myself had one at the very end. I was not given any compensation for it; I was not given any credit for it. I put her straight away into the market —not the dairy market, but the meat market—and she was found to have no signs of reaction in her organs.

Later on they refused to allow animals under suspicion to be slaughtered and disposed of. The animals had to be kept during a period while the confirmatory test was pending. It is not every farm in the country—and this is true of a great many of the best farms—that has suitable accommodation for isolating cattle over long periods. Sometimes the period was for over a month. I had a case of a cow in a Galloway herd, where within 12 days of being tested with the blood test she lost her calf. It was obviously what is called mechanical abortion—one caused by an injury. There was no putrefaction in the fœtus, and no signs of anything wrong with any of the organs, so far as one could see. She was tested, and no brucella was found. At the end of another two weeks she was tested again, and no brucella was found. At the end of another two weeks, no brucella was found.

They said: "Well, if it is not brucella it must be vibro". They could find no vibro. They tested her again, and found no vibro. All this time the bull was waiting for 27 heifers, and the heifers were trying to get at the bull, but they were on separate farms and therefore could not be married. Ten weeks in the life of a calf that is going to be sold later as a suckled calf is a long time. It probably meant a loss of £10 to £15 a head. At last I was allowed, provided that one of the professors from the Glasgow Veterinary College should be present at the slaughterhouse in person, to have her slaughtered. Again there was no sign of anything. That was a delay which cost me not only the cost of the cow, but also the cost of the disturbance to farming.

This is going on to-day. I know one farm where for more than a year there has been one cow or another which has failed the milk ring test. The farmer cannot get any further. He is having to carry it out at his own expense, and he is doing it because he wishes to achieve the status of accreditation. But what happens when that takes place? The farmer's land may be infected from over the march—and, by the way, there are far more stray dogs than there are foxes, and they probably do far more harm. He is at constant risk, and having spent a lot of money on achieving near accreditation he has been held back and cannot yet be paid any compensation for animals which react.

The trouble is not all on the livestock farmers' side. In fact, I should say that, on the whole, dairy farmers, if they have the slightest opportunity, are a great deal more enthusiastic. But who can imagine that there is any urgency on the part of the Government when such things are allowed to occur; a Government who say that they will put it off until possibly the end of 1971—and certainly not in the early stages unless we get a great change of heart.

We care very little for the modern methods of vaccination and diagnosis. All these delays might have been avoided if we had heard a little about what is known as the Rose Bengal test. I saw a reference to it in one paper, and nothing has appeared since. I have been unable to get any information about it. I was told that it was able to differentiate vaccinal reaction from the disease reaction. I do not know, and I cannot find out. But what I do know is that it is an almost instant diagnostic, and can be carried out on the spot. Those animals which are doubtful, or fail to pass, can be got rid of before they have had an opportunity of spreading the disease in other quarters.

Milk ring tests, when they were carried on to the blood sampling, showed 39 per cent. of failures, and most of those were to S.19. The complement fixation test was a diagnostic which we heard about in the early days. We never hear about it now. In 31 months, 4 per cent. of cows (and I am glad to hear the noble Lady's rise to 6 per cent.) had reached accreditation. But 21.4 per cent. of herds which had reached that standard failed, and 2,410 farmers had fallen out because they were sickened by the delays, and by the disturbance to the ordinary work of their farms, their livelihood, and thought it not worth while. Both the S.19 and the 45/20 have proved themselves failures in some cases, even when they have been used together, in avoiding infection. In most of these cases the costs are still being carried by the men themselves, and I believe that if one thing has been made clear by the militant fanners it is that they cannot afford to pay that for very long from the 5d. a pint— and less—which they receive for their milk.

The open markets are still freely allowed to take in animals from unknown origin. I believe it is the case that no dealer, however reputable he may be, is allowed to make one or more of his accommodation farms accredited so that he can carry on his normal business. Area eradication by the end of 1971, or possibly further on after that—we have heard this before. Even if only a gesture were made, it would be some consolation: we should know that somebody was alive. New vaccines are required to take the place of the old, which are losing their potency. Quicker diagnosis is needed—and Rose Bengal has been used in the States for years. There are manpower deficiencies. Yet we know that the practising vets are not being used to anything like the full extent.

There must be information: farmers must know what they are expected to do. They must be told what to avoid, and what to follow, so that they do not make the mistakes they made in the case of S.19, and so that they do not believe it is safe if they use what was allowed by Government, without any effort to stop it: brucellosis-testing. More herds have been infected by those simple words than have ever managed to reach accredited standard. Cheshire provided a great opportunity, following the foot-and-mouth disaster. Farmers there were allowed, without anybody warning them, to stock their byres and their fields with brucellosis-tested herds. Twenty-five per cent. of herds in Cheshire nowadays are reputed to be infected with the disease.

My Lords, in this whole matter of eradicating brucellosis the farmers are doing their part. Let us ask the Government to take an interest in what they are doing and to help them, rather than hinder them.

5.55 p.m.


My Lords, may I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, on raising this very interesting and important topic this evening, and doing so with her customary force and lucidity. The noble Baroness was followed by Lord Rowallan, who made a powerful speech. It occurred to me that the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, must feel that this is likely to be a one-way traffic this evening, and that there is something rather virulent about brucellosis. But I hope he will be able to sustain the load and give us a satisfactory answer at the end of the debate.

I am bound to say that my remarks will also be largely critical. The noble Baroness rested her complaint on danger to human health as well as danger to animal health. For the sake of the record, I looked to see what the incidence of brucellosis in human beings was so far as is known. The Henderson Survey, with which I expect the noble Baroness is familiar, concluded in 1967 that for the years 1962 to 1966 there were some 97 to 169 humans infected each year with brucellosis. But these are, of course, only the reported cases, and undoubtedly there are many hundreds more which are not reported. These are to be found particularly—as has already been said—among farmworkers, veterinary surgeons and others occupationally in the environment of animals. Henderson's Survey showed positive sera at very high levels among personnel working in these circumstances, especially veterinary officers. None of us would say that this is a satisfactory position; it is highly damaging to human health and that alone is sufficient reason to ask that urgent action should be taken.

The danger to animal health has been referred to and I should like to support what has been said. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food carried out a survey in 1964 which showed that infection was present in about 30 per cent. of herds in this country. That is a fairly high level. This survey was carried out in dairy herds, but I should think that the level is probably about the same in beef herds. The brucella infection is peculiarly damaging to cows because it causes abortion and has serious financial consequences to the herd. The noble Baroness said that no estimate had been made, and I agree with her. I think it is probably impossible to make an estimate, but undoubtedly the financial loss is heavy. I also agree most warmly with the noble Baroness that we are undoubtedly falling behind our European neighbours in our progress with eradication. They are making good progress; some of them have completed eradication. Apart from our sense of anxiety that we are falling behind others in this field, we should bear in mind that the day is approaching, as most of us hope, when we shall be entering the European Economic Market, and we shall find it a grave embarrassment if the state of our herds in this respect is seriously behind that of the Six. Therefore, on grounds of human health and of animal health there is really a very weighty case for urgent action.

The Government's scheme has already been dealt with most trenchantly by the noble Baroness. It has been running for nearly three years now, and there is no doubt that there is mounting criticism as to its adequacy. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor gave us an interesting progress report on the Report stage of the Animals Bill, when he told us that some 62,250 herds are now accredited, and some 7,150 herds are taking qualifying tests. He also told us that applications for entry to the scheme were now running at the rate of 150 a week. And at the same time, as has already been said, he told us that the Minister of Agriculture intends to set up eradication areas in 1971. That picture does not sound too bad on the face of it, but already it has been considerably knocked about and I feel that I must add a word of criticism as well.

The noble Baroness called our attention to the fact that only some 6 per cent. of all our herds are so far attested. But there are two further points I want to deal with, and one of them the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, has already referred to. The first point is: how many herds are pulling out of the scheme? The noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, gave us a figure of 2,410, and I would guess that now something like the same number of herds are pulling out of the scheme as are actually in. We must bear in mind the second point I want to make: that the early entrants to the scheme are of course the enthusiasts like the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, and others, and breeders who for one reason or another have a specific financial interest in becoming accredited. For instance, the Hereford Society have mounted an admirable campaign to free their herds of brucellosis in the interests of their export markets.

But we soon reach an end of the herds which have a specific financial interest in becoming accredited. Then we reach the ordinary commercial herds, dairy herds and beef herds, which have no particular financial incentive. They are faced with a scheme which has been most graphically described by the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, which is both expensive and very troublesome. If this scheme stays as it is, we shall find that the number entering will drop off very rapidly simply because there is no financial incentive for the bulk of herds to go into it.

The noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, referred to this ever-present danger of the re-infection of an attested herd. Of course, this is probably the worst feature of all. I have already referred to the widespread infection round about the countryside and it is inevitable that all owners of herds, dairy herds and beef herds, have neighbours somewhere who have infected animals. I should think that virtually no progress is being made now with the national herd because the infected animals leave the farms where they have been found as infected animals, and most of them, as the noble Baroness has already said, go off into the markets and are sold to somebody else and there is simply a higher level of infection there.

I am afraid I cannot go along with the noble Baroness in agreeing that the farmers who sell their infected animals are immoral. I agree that, it is most regrettable that they should do so, but for many of the smaller men this is a matter of survival and they simply could not afford to do anything else. The trouble is that the scheme is at fault. What is needed is a scheme of compensation and slaughter, and then we shall begin to clean the national herd up.

The noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, gave us a very powerful critique of the general weaknesses of the scheme and the frightful difficulties the farmer has to cope with. I say that, both in fairness to the farmers who have gone to great trouble and expense to become attested and in the interests of making the scheme viable, the Ministry of Agriculture really should now make up their minds to start eradication areas this year. Let them choose the most promising areas in the country to start this scheme.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, when he answers, is going to say that there are still left- overs from the old S.19 vaccination— the live vaccine—and if eradication areas are started some of these will still appear and the animals will therefore have to be slaughtered because they will react; this will make the introduction of the scheme unnecessarily expensive, and will also run the risk of the slaughtering of animals which are potentially healthy. Well, there is that risk, I will grant the noble Lord. But that risk must be diminishing now, and I should have thought it possible to find at any rate some selected areas where enough is known about the individual herds and their records of vaccination for a start to be made. But this is the proposition that the noble Lord and his right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture must face: that there is a danger that the S.19 leftovers may have an influence. But that must be matched against the shrinking confidence in the effectiveness of this scheme at all.

It is the responsibility of the Minister of Agriculture to ensure that his scheme commands the general confidence of the agricultural world. I do not think he is going to do that if he waits another year or eighteen months before he starts eradication areas. I think this is the burden of the message that all noble Lords from all sides of the House are going to give to the Government this evening: they really must make a start this year, just as soon as possible, at any rate in some selected localities, with these eradication areas.

When the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, comes to reply, I hope he will tell us something about the estimated cost of total eradication, with the cost of slaughter and compensation. I hope he will be able to reassure us that the rumours one hears that the Government are being restrained from starting on this project because of the heavy cost are not true. They ought not to be true. I hope the noble Lord will be able to reassure us that that is not so. Also, I hope he will be able to assure us that there is sufficient laboratory capacity to cope with the volume of applications that will begin to flow in when compensation and slaughter get properly under way. We want to see this project moving. It will take some years anyway, but now is the time to get on with it. Much valuable work has been done, but if it is left now much of that work will be wasted because farmers, as I have said and as the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, has said, are fast pulling out of a scheme in which they are beginning to lose confidence. It is up to the Minister to take action to restore confidence in a scheme we all want, and in which we all want to have confidence.

6.8 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that a number of your Lordships would wish to join me in thanking my noble friend Lady Summerskill for putting this Question down and giving us an opportunity to discuss this urgent and important matter once again. As I am sure your Lordships know, the workers in the agricultural industry, through their union and indeed through the Trades Union Congress, have been pressing the Government to take measures in two directions: first, and I think most important, to deal with the question of brucellosis infection in our herds; and secondly (and the point has not yet been made this evening), to accept that brucellosis is in fact an industrial disease entitling agricultural workers who contract brucellosis to receive compensation under the Act. The efforts of my old union (I am no longer there, as your Lordships know), and the efforts of the T.U.C., have been supported by a number of important organisations, including the British Veterinary Association, the Unilever Advisory Service, the National Federation of Women's Institutes, and now USDAW and the people looking after the slaughterhouse workers.

As is known—and this matter has been discussed at length—the Ministry's accredited herd scheme began officially with the acceptance of applications on April 21, 1967. That is a long time ago. But both then and since then it has always been emphasised that the scheme is not in itself an eradication scheme but only the prelude to future measures which might be taken, and its primary aim is to identify those herds which are already free from brucellosis so that surplus stock may be available as replacements to other herds from which the disease has been eradicated. Therefore it seems to me that the Ministry is proceeding along the same lines as in the old tuberculosis eradication scheme, whereby eradication was effected by areas, commencing with the district in which the greatest progress had been shown to have been made already under the voluntary scheme.

It has already been said that the size of the problem is probably really appreciated only by people in the agriculture industry and by medical men and women. It is a fact, as has already been said, that a number of farmers are carrying out their own eradication procedure. Therefore one cannot feel happy at the slowness with which this project is being undertaken. During the last few days I have been in touch, on this matter, with my old union and their position—and it is mine—is that while they welcome and have noted the declared intention of my right honourable friend Mr. Cledwyn Hughes, who in December, as noble Lords will remember, told Members in another place that eradication in specially selected areas would begin in 1971 (we now know that it will be towards the end of 1971), they do not think that this scheme and the progress made is in any sense of the word satisfactory, and they take this view deliberately, knowing all about the problems involved and all about the cost of a more rapid eradication programme.

As is shown this evening in your Lord-ships' House, there is a great interest in the livestock industry in the scheme and in the development of the scheme, and I know that the Animal Health Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has indicated that farmers are joining the scheme at a rate which is acceptable, and indeed pleasing, to the Ministry. However, I also know that within the veterinary profession there is a grave disquiet at the position at the present time. It is felt that the policy of building up herds which are accredited within the scheme on a random geographical basis may bring, and indeed is bringing, the scheme under considerable criticism. There are cases where the fact of reactors causing breakdowns in accredited herds is acting as a disincentive for new entrants to join the scheme.

And may I underline the point which has already been made? My noble friend Lady Summerskill has said that the selling of stock known to be affected is a moral offence. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, has said that there are reasons for this, and I think both points have been brought out extremely clearly. I should like to quote from the British Medical Journal dated November 29, in an article entitled"Cause for Concern", dealing with brucella affected cattle. They quote a number of cases where farmers, some of them young, aspiring, ambitious, and men who should be welcomed in our industry, are suffering severe loss—in fact killing loss—by the abortion which takes place on their farms because of the introduction of affected cattle. A number of cases of that type are quoted, and a number are quoted where farmers have knowingly sold infected cattle in the open market. I would just mention two of them. First, a farmer, when he was asked what he was going to do with the infected animals, replied that he would try to get them in calf and sell them to the best advantage. He was adamant about this although fully aware of the possible danger to other herds. He thought that his losses and expenses up to that time justified his action. That is the point that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent. If there is a rogue, they are living in a rogues' kitchen.

The point is made again and brought out clearly in the quotation I will give of another case. This was the farmer's wife who had an attack of undulant fever in March, 1967. This was the first indication that brucellosis was present. The herd was examined and found to be infected. When these people were questioned about what they were going to do, the"flying herd system"was stoutly defended as a legitimate and long-established way of making a living. In fact, it was claimed that dairy farming could not continue if this type of dealing was abolished. The possibility of spreading infection was regretted, but it was maintained that matters would not improve until the Ministry ordered the slaughter of infected animals and paid compensation. There we have both sides of the meal argument put. I think this action is immoral; but, on the other hand, there is the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent.

I was speaking about the veterinarians. They recognise full well that the scheme is to operate within certain financial limits, but they strongly take the view that the following facts should be considered most carefully. The first is that clinical outbreaks of brucella abortis actually appeared to be more frequent since the institution of the Brucellosis (Accredited Herds) Scheme. I do not know about this personally: this is what I have been told by the veterinarians. Secondly, the policy of placing reactor animals or non-acc-edited herds on the open market—a point that has so ably been made by my noble friend Lady Summerskill—is, quite apart from what I have said, prolonging the effort to bring the disease under control and ultimate eradication. Thirdly, they say that the absence of positive steps towards eradication is causing grave disquiet among live-stock owners and veterinarians. So there is clearly a need not only to take action in order to remove the threat of brucellosis in farming, but to do this quickly to restore confidence: in the industry and among those people who are servicing the industry.

May I now turn to the question of the incidence of brucellosis among agricultural workers and farmers? It is a fact that we cannot get entirely clear of brucellosis in humans until eradication has been completed. As I have indicated, I am anxious that urgent measures should be taken to achieve this end. In the meantime, and while we are doing that, I am concerned with the position of those agricultural workers who contract the disease. Again if I may just tell your Lordships what my own union think, it is as follows. They told me that one of their primary concerns had been on the question whether or not the disease should be prescribed under the Act, and they pointed out that for a number of years both they and the T.U.C. have been pressing the Government in this respect, but so far they have not been met at all in this matter because the Government are of the opinion that brucellosis is a disease which is endemic in rural areas and results from consuming untreated milk straight from the cow. Therefore it is not a disease (they say) which is peculiar to farm workers. They argue that the disease must be identified with a particular occupation only and that it must be shown that the population in general are not subject to that particular hazard—the hazard of catching the disease.

It has also been argued that where the disease has been contracted by a farm worker claims are accepted under the accident provision of the Industrial Injuries Act. One cannot agree that the type of case I have in mind is covered in that way. We cannot agree, and I cannot agree, with the suggestion that there is no need for prescription; because there have been numerous cases where there has been serious dispute between the claimant and the Ministry as to whether or not infection has resulted from contact with stock. One of our prime difficulties has been in obtaining evidence. It is unfortunately a fact that some employers have proved uncooperative, and on most occasions the veterinary authorities have been unwilling to lay such evidence, since in most cases they are also concerned with the farmers' needs: they are concerned in providing services to the farmer, and are therefore reluctant to break what they conceive to be a point of professional etiquette.

One can understand and, perhaps, honour that point of view. However, it causes problems for my union in trying to help the people concerned. The union has been pressing my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture to lay regulations requiring those farmers with infected herds to notify the authorities of the incidence of the disease on their farm, not only for the purpose of eradication but also for the purpose of enabling us to establish that a farm-worker who has the disease contracted it through contact with stock.

From the point of view of qualifying under the Industrial Injuries Act, it should be stressed as another difficulty that the diagnosis of undulant fever is extremely difficult. A fairly recent paper, entitled"Some observations on Bovine Brucellosis, its Eradication and its Relation to Undulant Fever", by J. Tarala, which appeared in a recent edition of the State Veterinary Journal, and which I found to be a useful and comprehensive article, included this statement: It was Marston who provided the first accurate description of undulant fever in man. This has been little improved upon since those times. Patients with undulant fever will present a number of general complaints, which can be enumerated: weakness, chills, sweat, anorexia, generalised aches, headaches, nervousness "— and the noble Baroness has pointed out that this can become a question of mental distress and illness— backache, joint pain, insomnia, depression, pain at back of neck, cough, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhoea, visual disturbances, nausea and vomiting, neuritic pain. When undulant fever gives rise to these complaints, examination of the patient reveals very little in the way of physical signs… Probably such cases, it mild in nature, are diagnosed as influenza or some such common complaint. So it must be patent that many cases of brucellosis go undetected, and therefore it is impossible to claim under the accident provisions of the Industrial Injuries Act.

In referring to the occupational nature of the disease the author of the article says: From earlier work, it has been thought that infected milk represented the principal mode of infection in overt human cases of undulant fever. However, Spink says that 198, or 81 per cent. of his clinical cases, presented evidence of contact with infected material— most of these patients were meat-packing employees, farmers, dairymen, livestock producers, laboratory personnel, and so on. Another survey, among 1,255 cases in England and Wales, also confirms that the disease has a distribution predominantly among certain occupations. Boycott, in an intensive and well-documented survey in West Somerset, showed that out of 38 patients with undulant fever, 23 had a history of habitual contact with cattle. A recent survey has shown that 63 per cent. of practising veterinary surgeons in the United Kingdom show evidence of infection with brucella organisms, and 27 per cent. were either active cases or cases which had just recovered. A survey amongst slaughterhouse employees is currently in progress. Since that time the survey has gone on and we now know that slaughterhouse employees do contract the disease. The article finishes with these words: In conclusion, brucellosis in humans in Great Britain appears to be an occupational disease affecting those connected with bovines. However, a certain percentage of cases appear to be caused by ingestion of unpasteurised cows' milk. Pasteurisation of all milk will diminish the incidence of undulant fever in man but only complete eradication of brucellosis in cattle will cause its disappearance.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question? Is the figure he gave for infection of veterinary surgeons for vets as a whole, or for rural vets only?


My Lords, it relates to the vets dealing with cases of brucellosis in cattle; and, as I understand it, it is confined to the vets doing the job in the rural areas.

My Lords, if I have been speaking for rather a long time I apologise, but I am deeply concerned about this matter. I should have thought that if there ever was an occupational disease that disease is brucellosis, and I really cannot understand why the Government find it so difficult to put the disease on the prescribed list. Having said all this, I must repeat again that the final solution to this problem of brucellosis, in agriculture and in humans, can only be eradication. I realise all the difficulties the Government are facing; I know what is being done. But I greatly hope, as do many of my colleagues, that urgent steps will soon be taken to get on with the work.

6.28 p.m.


My Lords, I completely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Collison, has said, that eradication is the only and final way of getting this disease under control. The noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, has laid great emphasis on the fact that this is a preventable disease. It has been a preventable disease for 20, 30 or 40 years. We have had the knowledge of it; we have the technology to prevent it, and we have not done so. It is a preventable disease and I should like to underline what the noble Baroness said on that point. I think she was a bit hard on foxes, and also on farmers. But she is a doctor, and we know that doctors see the patients, and we can understand her bitterness.

For forty years, for nearly as long as the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, I have been battling with this disease of contagious abortion in cattle, keeping isolated two self-contained herds; battling because my neighbours were unclean, and trespassers, not foxhunters, would leave gates open; battling because, in the early days at any rate, little was known about the accuracy of the tests and we could take no risks. On this account, looking back, I can see that we sent many a cow or heifer "down the road" on unproven suspicion, hard on the cow or heifer, though just as hard on the farmer's pocket. There was little profit in progressive dairy farming. It is seldom that the pioneer in agriculture makes money. From Bakewell onwards most have trodden the verge of bankruptcy, and it looks as though they are doing it again. But battling, too, because all the time we were aware that this contagious abortion in cows could be communicated to man as undulant fever—and we were selling fresh milk and still do. However slight may be the risk of causing such an infection through milk which comes from herds which are not clear, we refused to take it; and so, with satisfaction, we battled, though it cost a lot in hard cash.

The risk of contracting undulant fever from drinking milk from brucellosis infected cows is a relatively small one, but it is an important one—I do not deny that. As Lord Collison has pointed out, a much bigger risk comes to those who work among cattle, particularly to the veterinary surgeons. The noble Baroness also made the point that 63 per cent. of veterinary practitioners go down with brucellosis. As Lord Collison has said, it is an occupational disease, and I would submit that with any other profession or occupation, steps would long ago have been taken to remove this risk. As usual, agriculture is the Cinderella of the industries. If the number of those humans actually diagnosed to be suffering from this disease could be analysed, I am pretty sure that the majority are those who, in some way or another, have worked with cows—veterinary surgeons and farm workers. Apart from this, I do not decry what the noble Baroness has said, that the disease in humans is more extensive and produces more chronic disability than was previously recognised. I admit that freely.

Turning now to bovine brucellosis, I think it is clear that the launching of the scheme in 1967 brought out into the open a state of affairs of which we were ignorant or which we did not want to know about. Added to this, there have been difficulties caused by the S.19 vaccine failing to give protection, by the agglutination test failing to be sufficiently reliable as a diagnostic agent, and by the fact that chronic carriers frequently fail to react. However, the alternative tests are becoming more effective and, as the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, has pointed out, the new tests that are being used in other parts of the world are regarded as fairly sound, and there seems to be no reason why we should not be moving on to these new diagnostic agents.

Regarding the scheme itself, I think that its relative failure must be attributed to the fact that a slaughter policy for the reactors was not adopted at the earliest stages of testing. The result of this has almost certainly been to spread rather than to contain the disease. As the slaughtered animals can be sold for beef, any compensation payable by the State is so much less than in the case of foot-and-mouth disease. And I question whether it would be necessary to go above good commercial value.

I would support my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford in advocating the slaughter policy and, as he has pointed out, if it leads to too great a flood of applications, then it should be controlled by limiting it, in the first instance, to certain areas as indeed has been done almost completely successfully in Northern Ireland. I wonder whether the Minister realises how successful the slaughter policy has been in other countries. The noble Baroness mentioned how successful it has been in Scandinavia. I wonder whether the Minister realises that Norway has been clear of the disease since 1949. Five more European countries other than the Scandinavian countries of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, have adopted the slaughter policy. The result is that in Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Northern Ireland the disease is almost eradicated. In Canada, by the slaughter policy, large areas have been already cleaned up; while in the United States, by the slaughter policy, with good diagnostic tests the disease has been eradicated completely in 14 States and, for what it is worth, in the Virgin Islands. But overall in the United States, 94 per cent. of all the counties are either certified free or modified certified, and 99.4 per cent. of the counties in the United States are in the eradication programme. I believe that there are something like 3,000 counties in the United States of America.

Among the European countries which are making little progress is Belgium, where there is compulsory testing but no slaughter policy. In France, only a modified incidence is reported, but there is a partial slaughter policy. In Spain and Portugal, the disease is low in incidence. As has been pointed out, in Eire, where they started in 1966, they are making good progress towards eradication.

As we have heard in this debate, we started the Brucellosis Accredited Herds Scheme in 1967. We have now got 6,000 accredited herds, with another 7,000 coming into the scheme. After 31 months, the scheme has enrolled about 4 per cent. of the herds of the country. Add to this figure the herds in the pipeline, and the figure rises to about 6 per cent. It has already been mentioned that on the qualifying blood test some 20 per cent. of the herds fail. If this is correct it shows how wide is the incidence. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Nugent has said, it is to be doubted whether we are making any progress at all. The sale of the reactors from the herds which are coming into the scheme is in fact spreading the disease. There are those who believe that there are now more infected cows in the country than there were when the scheme started in 1967. This view was cogently put forward at the Oxford Fanning Conference.

I would remind the Government that their policy for milk is causing many farmers to give up milk production, and their cows, too, some of them spreading the disease, are flooding into the markets. The financial advantages of a quick clearance of the disease are considerable. Continuation of the present policy will, in the long run, undoubtedly cost much more money. I wonder whether I am in order in asking this particular question; namely, whether the present lukewarm policy was recommended to the Government by their professional advisers, or whether it was the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which thought this up; or is it the result of a compromise with the Treasury?

It is no light matter for a farmer to embark on the eradication of brucellosis in his herd. The testing of his stock may well cause postponement of his mating arrangements, these having been so graphically described by my noble friend Lord Rowallan. Especially in beef herds on the hills the expense of double fencing can be quite considerable. I would make a plea for as generous treatment as possible by the powers-that-be to help farmers to become accredited, and that action should not be taken which would make their financial position worse on account of their putting the interests of the public before their own immediate concern and pocket.

In conclusion, my Lords, it seems clear to me that we shall not, effectively and in a reasonable time, eradicate bovine brucellosis unless the Treasury provide much more finance. For efficiency in the farming industry, for the welfare of the human beings in this country, it is imperative that we go ahead. I will give your Lordships one further reason; that is, with things as they are it is almost certain that Britain will be the last major country in Europe to get rid of this disease—and when I say Europe, I mean both sides of the Iron Curtain. The difficulties facing Denmark, Germany and the United States were not any less than those which facie us to-day in Great Britain. Other countries have shown us that where there is a will there is a way; we, in Britain, seem to lack the will.

6.41 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with all other noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, for raising this subject this evening. It is surely one of tremendous importance, not only to the agricultural industry but to the whole nation.

I should like to speak for a few moments on one of the agricultural aspects of the question. During December of last year, as the noble Baroness said, the Minister of Agriculture made a statement regarding the Brucellosis Eradication Scheme in which he stated that he did not wish to make an early start with area eradication owing to the large numbers of cattle that would be vaccinal reactors. One can recognise some logic in this argument, and I agree that many of these animals will be culled from the herds over the next three years or so. General adult vaccination, I believe, ceased several years ago. although I understand that it was continued in certain cases until 1967, but not 1 think in sufficient numbers to affect seriously the situation in a few years' time.

The Minister went on to say that in 1971 some 15,000 to 20,000 accredited herds should be available to supply replacements when a compulsory scheme is introduced. My Lords, in this instance I would, with respect, suggest that he is being extremely optimistic. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor told us, there are approximately 6,250 herds already registered as accredited, and a further 7,000-odd herds are undergoing qualifying tests—though I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, that many of these are pulling out. To illustrate this may I relate to your Lord-ships the experiences of a friend of mine, the owner of one of the herds in the 7,000 category?

First, a ring milk test on individual cows was carried out, entirely at his own expense, on his herd. That test proved to be 100 per cent. clear. He was then admitted into the scheme, and another milk ring test was carried out, which again showed 100 per cent. clear. Three months later the next ring test was made, and one bottle from three cows was found to contain a possible reactor. A blood test was taken of these three cows and one was proved to be a possible reactor. This cow was probably a vaccinal reactor, but nevertheless it was slaughtered immediately, involving the farmer in a considerable financial loss as the cow was in full milk and the slaughter value minimal compared to the live value of the animal. This farmer was then told that a complete blood test on all his animals would have to be carried out, at his expense, before further ring tests could be started all over again under the scheme. My Lords, you can imagine his reactions! While appreciating the necessity of the stringent measures, he concluded that there was absolutely nothing in it for him except a lot of work, worry, and expense which he just could not afford. Consequently he decided against bothering any more until a compulsory scheme came into being.

Exactly the same thing happened to a near neighbour of his, and he also has opted out of the scheme. That is just two cases of farmers who are not going ahead; and there will undoubtedly be hundreds more similar instances. Farmers are bearing an appreciable amount of the costs involved and there is no incentive whatever for them to become accredited. The noble Baroness has talked about the rogues selling in the open market, but I suggest that economic necessity overrides all, and it is unfortunate that these reactors are being sold in the open market, which makes an absolute mockery of the whole voluntary scheme. I am certain that it is the opinion of the majority of people in the agricultural industry that, hard as farmers are trying, the voluntary scheme is not making any headway, and that the necessary herd replacements will not be forth-coming in the near future.

I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to a proposal by the Norfolk County branch of the National Farmers' Union. I am not sure whether or not I ought to declare an interest, as I am a member of the National Farmers' Union. The executive committee proposed that Norfolk should be designated as a pilot area for complete brucellosis eradication, with a full slaughter and compensation scheme evolved. Norfolk could give a lead, and such a scheme would not take long to complete, for geographically the county is ideally situated, with the sea on two sides and the vast arable area of the Fens on another. The herds also are relatively isolated, one from another, compared with those in other parts of the country. Farmers such as myself, buying in young stock to rear and fatten, would undoubtedly experience considerable difficulties in acquiring cattle, but these difficulties would not be insuperable within the short period of time envisaged. With other areas similarly following on, enough accredited herds would be assured to supply the required replacements, thereby enabling the commencement, and ensuring the success, of a more comprehensive scheme within the next two or three years.

My Lords, I would commend these proposals to the Government as being worthy of further full and urgent consideration, in order that a start may be made now in the struggle to remove this hazard to the health of the nation.

6.47 p.m.


My Lords, I know we are all grateful to my noble friend Lady Summerskill for putting down this very important question to-day. Having listened to the noble Lords who have already spoken, I do not see how anyone can avoid the conclusion that really serious steps must be taken now, or in the immediate future, to tackle this damnable disease. Of course some steps have already been taken; there is the free calf vaccination scheme. The first suggestion I want to make has already been proposed by my noble friend, and it is that this scheme should at once be made compulsory—in any event in the case of heifers it is intended to retain for breed- ing purposes. In other words, all heifer calves should be vaccinated between the ages of three and six months with Strain 19, and I do not see why that step should not be taken immediately. Furthermore, adult cattle should compulsorily be vaccinated with Strain 45/20, which is a dead vaccine and therefore does not mean that the cow is going to react for the rest of her life but it would be only for a year. This would not be possible in the case of those herd owners who intended to enter the accredited herd scheme within the following twelve months.

The accredited herd scheme itself has, of course, also achieved something, but with this scheme there is the problem, to which many noble Lords have referred, of the disposal of the initial reactors until accredited status has been achieved. My noble friend Lady Summerskill referred also to this matter, and I agree with her. I do not think her language was too strong when she spoke about the immorality of selling in the open market, to be retained in another man's herd and milked, a cow which has reacted to a test and is infected with this disease.

My next proposal is what she herself suggested, and is that when a cow reacts positively to the blood test she should automatically and by law be marked with a conspicuous star or symbol of some kind in the ear, so that it would be known thereafter, if she appeared in the open market, that she was a reactor. I know that this will cost the farmer money and that instead of getting £100 or £110 for that cow as a milker he is going to get £50 or £60 from the factory or from the butcher; but that is something which has to be faced, and if the farmer does not like to take that risk then I think that he will not have his cattle tested until, as I hope will happen, a compulsory eradication scheme is introduced. As many noble Lords have said, that is the only way of tackling the problem. There is also the difficulty of the vaccinal reactor, to which I hope to refer in a few moments.

As I mentioned briefly on the Report stage of the Animals Bill, I am in the position of being able to give some idea to your Lordships from my personal experience of what happens when such a programme of compulsory eradication is introduced, because I am farming in the five counties area, in the North of the Republic of Ireland, where such a programme was introduced in 1966. This area was chosen for two reasons. First, it is a predominantly beef-producing area and, with all due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, I think that the incidence is lower among beef cows and heifers than it is among dairy cows and heifers; and, secondly, in that area the use of S.19 is practically un-known and therefore the question of vaccinal reactors did not produce a problem.

Compulsory annual tests started in 1966 and 1967, under which any cows which reacted were bought at what was, and still is, a fair price of up to £100 for commercial cows and £200 for pedigree cows. These were then removed from the premises and slaughtered, and there was a subsequent series of tests after 60 days and after 30 days until brucellosis-free status had been achieved. It may interest your Lordships to know that the incidence found in those areas was extremely low. In County Donegal, of the cows and heifers above twelve months tested, there were only 0.74 per cent. reactors, and in the other four counties, including my own, the figure was only 1.2 per cent. Of course it was much higher in individual cases, and I know of individual fanners milking eight or ten cows and the whole lot. had the disease. But, generally, it is a very low and encouraging figure for an area of that kind, which is predominantly beef-producing and where there is not much intensive dairying. Those five counties will be declared a B-free area next month and six more counties adjacent to them will come into the scheme in the course of 1970.

I want to mention my own experiences, because they show the great difficulty of eradication even where such a scheme is introduced. I briefly mentioned this earlier, but as from this morning I can carry the tragedy a little further. I had my first annual test in 1967 and tested 65 cows and heifers and they were completely free. I had my second annual test in 1968, and again the herd was completely free. As I mentioned earlier, I do not buy cattle and have a completely self-contained herd; in fact, I have not bought any cattle of any kind for five years. I am completely surrounded by brucellosis-free herds, except to the South where there is a wide, strong river with B-free herds on the other side. I have my own bull and I use him only on my own cows, so there is no risk of bringing in the infection in that way.

Yet when the time came for the third test last October, which I faced with complete equanimity, I had 13 cows and heifers which reacted. No one has been able to give me an explanation of how this disease came into my herd and one of the disquieting aspects of the disease is that nobody knows whether it is carried by foxes, dogs or birds. Research has not been done and it is not known how the disease gets in. My 13 cows and heifers, including my best purebred Hereford and my best purebred Shorthorn, were removed and slaughtered and I was paid a fair price for them, although one would never sell good cows of that kind; they are worth far more than one would ever get for them in the market.

I then had to wait 60 days from the date of removal to have my second test. This was on Monday of last week, and of course I was hoping against hope that this time I should be clear, because I had a very good young bull which I wanted to sell at Ballsbridge next month. The blood test was taken last Monday and I rang up Sligo this morning and found that I have six cows and a maiden heifer which reacted to that test, as well as the bull which I was hoping to sell at fifteen months old. So although I am surrounded by B-free herds and am completely self-contained, I have lost 20 out of 65 cows and heifers which I have bred myself in the course of the last 20 years, and have lost the nucleus of my entire breeding stock for the future.

We know that the great difficulty of a compulsory eradication programme is the presence of an unknown number of vaccinal reactors. My noble and learned friend who sits on the Woolsack told us that it would be 1973 before the great majority of these vaccinal reactors would be culled. By then any vaccinal reactor would have to be seven years old or more. It is considered that there would then be a small and therefore acceptable percentage of all cows and heifers over twelve months. My noble and learned friend implied, I think, that there would therefore be no major scheme for eradication until then. The Minister has stated in another place that it is hoped to introduce limited projects by the end of next year, and I should like to ask, as my noble friend Lady Summerskill, the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, and others have asked: is it not possible to make a start this year, if only in one eradication area of perhaps four or six adjacent counties, possibly in Scotland, Wales or the North of England, in an area which is predominantly beef-producing and where adult vaccination with Strain 19 has not been very generally used?

I do not want to go into the mathematics of this, because I do not want to take up your Lordships' time, but I have calculated that it should be possible to find such an area where the number of vaccinal reactors would be not more than 5 per cent. of the total number of cows and heifers over twelve months. In many cases, particularly of cows bred by the owner and of valuable pedigree cows, it would be possible for the vet in the area (who would be well acquainted with that herd's history and who would himself have vaccinated the cows) to give a certificate that this or that particular cow was vaccinated with Strain 19 after the age of 12 months.

I have not given notice of this point, and, of course, I do not expect an answer to-night, but I would put it to the Government that in cases where such a veterinary certificate can be given it would be accepted that a cow which reacts is a vaccinal reactor, and that the owner would therefore be allowed to retain her in his herd. If that was the case, I reckon that only 2 or 3 per cent. of the cows would be slaughtered because they were vaccinal reactors, and in fact perfectly healthy beasts. If one reckons the difference between the value of a milking cow and the value of that same beast as beef at something like £40, this would mean that the extra cost would be something in the neighbour-hood of £100 for 100 cows tested, or £1 a cow. I would end by asking whether that would be too high a price to pay in order to make a start this year in this country with an area, however small, though I hope it will be of a considerable size, where compulsory eradication with full compensation can be introduced.

7.2 p.m.


My Lords, when brucellosis was discussed by the Inverness County Council I received a note which said, "What is brucellosis?" After the eloquent introduction of this Question by the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, and also the description given by the noble Lord, Lord Collison, I feel that it is unnecessary for me here to-night to elaborate to any extent on what it is. However, I have had very direct experience of this disease, both in humans and in cattle, for my wife has suffered from the disease and also I have had to renew a complete herd of beef cattle as a result of it. So far as it affects humans, we have heard the various symptoms, but what we have not heard, and what perhaps is more important than anything so far mentioned, is that if one has a weak organ in one's body—it may be a kidney or the liver—the disease is liable to attack that organ. In the case of my wife it was her eyes, and even though she is now cured her eyesight is still deteriorating.

The question arises as to what is the cure for this disease in humans. It appears that the doctors are not sure of the best procedure; therefore they give one a. crash course of a heavy concentration of antibiotics and sulphonamides. This, of course, is liable to kill all the antibodies in one's body and to open one up to catching any other bug which happens to be going. In the interim, one may also have succumbed to antibiotic poisoning, as happened to my wife. Eventually, in desperation, she heard of a homeopathic doctor who was able to cure the disease. The result was quite remarkable: a short course of pills, with no side effects, seemed to put her right after many months of illness under the medical profession. I hope this reference has not made the noble Baroness, with her medical training, wince too much, for I am sure we are all grateful to her for having raised this subject, which has sadly required Government attention in a mounting degree over the past number of years.

What, I wonder, is the incidence of this disease in human beings? Surely by now some statistics are available to the Government. I have managed to secure a figure which is so terrifying that I hope it is not typical, but which the Minister could verify, if he chooses to check on it. It is difficult for me to be absolutely certain of this figure, because obviously it is a confidential one to the hospitals, but over a two-month period three or four years ago every patient entering a certain Scottish hospital was tested for brucellosis, and the number of reactors turned out to be 80 per cent. This was for all types of patient—broken legs, broken arms, everything. Everyone who went in was tested, and I am reliably informed that 80 per cent. of all those patients were reactors. I think this is most alarming, and can show what the position is throughout the country. However, whatever the figures are in other parts of the country, the cost in human suffering, in the loss of work and in National Health expenditure must amount to substantial figures every year.

As several noble Lords have said, there is no doubt that the urgent eradication of all cattle reacting to the disease is the only solution. To my mind, there is absolutely no point in playing about with heat treatment of our milk, as some medical officers seem to think. Indeed, I believe that in at least one area a vendetta is being carried out against dairy farmers who are not treating their milk. Even though the milk has no brucella infection in it, the farmers are still being victimised. I am sure that this is wrong. Indeed, it could be that certain imported cheeses, particularly the cream cheeses, are a much more dangerous source of infection. I do not think that any action has been taken to check these cheeses, particularly, I think, those from Italy. However, I am pleased to say that I believe all our own home-made cheeses are safe.

What I am most grateful for is the wonderful co-operation we have had from all parties in Inverness-shire. Much of it has been unofficial, and indeed some of it, I think, of questionable legality. The Milk Board, the sanitary inspectors, the medical officers, the advisory services and our hospitals have all been absolutely superb: so much so that should any brucella-infected milk go on the market untreated it would be detected in a matter of days. So if the noble Baroness is frightened of going to Anglesea perhaps she would like to come to the Highlands for her holidays; she will find it is quite safe in Inverness-shire. It is known at once which dairy herds are dangerous, and as a result no less than 42 per cent. of the Inverness-shire dairy herds are now accredited. This shows up very well compared with the 6 per cent. national average; and I am quite sure that this is almost entirely due to the very good work done (unofficially, most of it) by the various bodies which I have mentioned.

We are, of course, far from satisfied with this, and I know of farmers with infected herds who are very worried men. Indeed, there are those of us who have clear herds who are also extremely worried. We could be re-infected from neighbouring beef herds at any time. I have two small farmers with infected herds right in the middle of me: they just cannot afford to become accredited. I have heard of one cow which infected no fewer than five herds. It is no use concentrating on the dairy herds; the beef herds must be done simultaneously. But it is a very expensive undertaking for the fanner. The dairy fanner is now virtually unable to buy replacements. I know one comparatively small farmer who reckons that to remain accredited is costing him no less than £2,000 each year; and another farmer has spent £4,000 on attempting to become accredited but has now had to abandon his efforts as he is finding it too costly.

The beef farmer can lose much hill cattle subsidy; and then, again, one has to wait and breed one's own replacements. When one's herd is reduced one has a reduction in calves and in calf subsidy. Indeed, if one has a storm, as happened to me, one has to clean out all the adult cattle and leave the premises free of stock for six months; and then, after that, one has to start rebuilding one's herd. So far as I am concerned, I did not know where to look for replacements, and I have had to build them up from my own calves and another herd which I was fortunate enough to have. But this has meant that I have had to keep all the heifers, some of which were obviously not sufficiently good and which I would not have wanted to keep; but the only way I have managed to get the numbers up is to keep them all.

One of the problems is that once a cow has aborted that cow may not abort again but she remains a dangerous carrier for, I think, the rest of her life—certainly for a long time. This is one reason why farmers who have had a storm say, "We cannot afford to get rid of our cattle; they will not abort again; we will just carry on ". And there they are, sitting perhaps in a fairly clear area with a highly dangerous stock of cattle. I just cannot understand the Government's thinking in this matter, or why they have taken no action. The farmers have asked for what appear to be the most reasonable proposals, some of which could have cost the Government little or nothing. They have asked for certain disciplines to be imposed on themselves. In the North Scotland Milk Marketing Board we have imposed a penalty on any infected milk. That milk will, of course, be treated and therefore no risk will be involved. Even so, we have imposed a penalty among ourselves. I can only assume that Ministers with largely urban backgrounds are unaware of the situation; that they must have been receiving very bad advice. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, who mentioned this point. Indeed, I was going to say that it was criminal advice that they have been getting.

When questions are put to senior veterinary officers, the excuse is that there is no finance available. Then all I can say, my Lords, is that they must have made a very bad case for the Government. If, after what we have heard to-night, the Treasury still refuse to produce money, then something is very wrong. I will hazard a guess that the Minister has among his notes figures to show the steadily-increasing number of accredited herds. I should like to suggest that those figures are really quite valueless when every farmer knows that the incidence of the disease has increased, and at an alarming rate, in recent years. Only yesterday I was told by a veterinary surgeon that in his area alone there had been a five-fold increase of clinical out-breaks of the disease— this rules out any reactors through vaccination— in the last five years. This means that in his area the disease had increased at least five times compared with five years ago. And this increase is compound; so that in another year— my mathematics are not good enough: if it has increased five-fold in five years and is compound I am not sure what it will be at the end of another year, but it will be quite a large figure.

I checked this point with another firm of veterinary surgeons and they confirmed that the figures in their area— a different area— were very much the same. It was mentioned earlier this evening, I think by the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, that there had been a twofold increase from prior to the foot and mouth out-break. This would bear out pretty consistently the five times in five years in other areas. These are terrifying figures. If this happens from a very small source five years ago, I do not know what will be the position in a few years' time.

I hope that after this debate the Government will say that 1971 is far too late to make a decision and that we must set about preparing legislation now. If that is the case, what steps do we take? In the first place, let us make the disease notifiable, both with human beings and with cattle. Anyone having an animal which has aborted should be compelled immediately to notify his vet. I cannot see what objection the Government can have to making this compulsory. Why have they not done it already? Secondly, any animal known to be infected should be marked and its sale should be only for slaughter; it should not be allowed to go into the open market. Why do we not have that regulation either? The Government must have known that these sales were going on; they must have known that these animals were spreading throughout the countryside. Only a month ago I bought a bull at a sale, having been assured that the herd was not being broken up on account of brucellosis. I am afraid that the brute has reacted. This should not be permitted by law.

Selling infected cattle on the open market must be stopped at once. In another year's time the disease will have spread to such proportions that it will be very difficult to eradicate in any area. I believe that East Anglia is better than some— that has been mentioned this evening— but, even so, the disease is spreading at an alarming rate. Five years ago the Black Isle in Ross-shire would have made an ideal clearance area; but now it is absolutely riddled with infection and it is highly problematical whether I shall be able to keep my herds—and I have fairly large areas there—free from the disease. If finance is the stumbling block, then what was a comparatively small problem is going to be a major financial headache in a few years' time. It could well be that it is going to be extremely difficult to clear the country, from the practical point of view, for replacements.

The third suggestion I make is that we can reduce the cost of becoming accredited. This is too expensive for the farmers at the moment. Because tuberculosis eradication was aided by double fencing there appears to have been an attempt to model brucellosis eradication on the same lines. I maintain that double fencing is quite useless. I had a whole plantation, let alone two fences, between me and the infected herd—and my herds broke down because the infection was carried through. Another of our best dairy farmers on the shores of the Moray Firth was more or less completely isolated. His herd broke down, too. He had a storm. I gather that he wracked his brains as to how this had happened and then he found on the shore the remains of a fœtus. It seems highly likely that this was an infected fœtus and had been thrown into the Firth somewhere else. When I was listening to the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, I was wondering whether possibly a fœtus might have come down the river (since he mentioned that a river was one of his boundaries) and whether possibly that might be a solution of his problem. However, it shows that fencing is of no consequence and is only an unnecessary expense which might just as well be scrapped. As regards the carrying of infection, the noble Baroness mentioned foxes. I would rather have hunting on my ground than have my farm a sanctuary where there would be foxes harbouring who would be more liable to carry infection.

Then we have the vexed question of vaccination. Here I must disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken. The noble Baroness is not here. but I think that, with her medical experience, she will bear me out in saying that if one has a high enough degree of infection almost any vaccination will break down. As bovine animals have the unattractive habit of eating the fœtus, the degree of infection they are liable to get from an infected fœtus is high; and as vaccination can give a positive blood test we should question whether the expense and time is justified or whether vaccination should be prohibited and the time and expense devoted to eradication. Then, as we have heard from other noble Lords, we have a mass of fiddling administration and record-keeping to satisfy the Ministry. This is a further cost and disincentive to entering the scheme. I think the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, mentioned several instances of this. However, this problem I feel we could get over; we need not have as much trouble as this.

My fourth point is whether or not financial incentives should be given to farmers to become accredited—and, if so, what incentives. There is no doubt, particularly in the present economic state of the industry, that many farmers are financially unable to become accredited. There is, however, little doubt that the saving to the country in the future, both from the human and from the agricultural aspect, wan-ants a substantial and urgent injection of finance into the eradication of this disease.

My Lords, if by now the Minister is not pondering as to what on earth he can reply; if by now he is not convinced of the need for urgent Governmental action, would he not consider the setting up, as a matter of urgency, of a Committee of Inquiry—as was done by the establishment of the Northumberland Committee for foot-and-mouth? When I mentioned this before the debate it was suggested that I should be offering the Minister a lifeboat to save him this evening. However, a lifeboat is of no use unless it gets there very speedily. The greatest speed is required. If I have saved him in this way, we have at least achieved something if he sets up this Committee, because I am sure that he will get very rapidly the answers that we all want.

7.20 p.m.


My Lords, I will not detain the House for more than a moment. I should like to support the noble Baroness in this debate. I think that one thing is absolutely certain in this debate: we are unanimous, on all sides of the House, on this problem. There never can have been, or could be, a more popular policy for any Government to put forward than a policy to eradicate brucellosis. I recommend that to the Minister as something that he might well put in his pocket and produce at a General Election, since I cannot imagine anything that would rally the farmers more securely to support any Government than the fact that a scheme of this kind would form part of their agricultural policy.

My Lords, it is the duty of us all, on whichever side of the House we sit, to do something about this disease, if we are interested in this industry and in other aspects of the problem which have been brought out by the noble Baroness, including one to which I, too, can testify —the devastating effect on human beings. Only the other day I met my veterinary surgeon in the street of a market town. I know him very well; he is an extremely nice fellow. He looked so ill that I said to him, "What is the matter with you? "He looked as though he might fall down at any moment. He replied: "I have undulant fever. I have had it now for months and months as the result of having to handle a lot of herds where there is brucellosis."

I can add nothing to what has been said during the debate. Everyone has spoken in such an interesting manner and from experience. My heart went out to the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, who had done everything possible to avoid this disease. There is no doubt that a great deal of research is needed and that much more study is required. My mind goes back to the very early days of the tuberculin-tested scheme for cattle. I think that my husband was the Minister at the time when that scheme was started, and I know that it was an extremely difficult thing to do. But he, and every-body concerned, persevered; and to-day we know that the result has been highly successful. All herds to-day are tuberculin-tested and the incidence of bovine tuberculosis has gone down enormously. I believe that the same thing could be done with this disease. It would require money, experience and research. But everybody wants it done, and nobody would be against the Government if they undertook this kind of scheme.

The question of the use of new vaccines, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, is very important. My cattle are constantly being injected with Strain 19. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not; and many other people will tell you the same. We have to do something fresh about it, which means more research. I hope that the Minister will report to his right honourable friend at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that everyone who has anything to do with this industry and who cares that people should not get this disease —which is preventable—will be behind him if he undertakes a really radical scheme. But that must be done, or at any rate started, now. If it is not, the situation will get far worse. Eradication will become much more expensive in the long run and more difficult to achieve. If the Minister pays attention to all that has been said, he will know that we shall be behind him if he puts forward a good scheme based on the experience of other people.

7.24 p.m.


My Lords, before the Minister replies—and I apologise for being too late to put down my name to speak—I should like to add my word of thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, for initiating this debate. I am delighted at the way in which it has gone. I think there can be no doubt that from what has been said on both sides of the House, as well as from the medical and the farming points of view, the country is anxious to go faster towards a brucellosis-eradication scheme than the Government appear at the moment to be willing to go.

I have been keeping dairy cows in Somerset, in England, and as there have been many speeches from people from Ireland and Scotland, and from beef cattle owners, I thought that someone should speak up for the dairy cattle breeders. Brucellosis is a foul disease in dairy cattle, and we want to get rid of it. I am sure that the only way is by adopting a slaughter policy. To me it seems strange that in this country, where we have been so strongly wedded to the slaughter policy that has proved' so efficacious in respect of foot-and-mouth disease (and the second volume of the Northamberland Report is coming out now), we should have taken so long to come round to a thorough-going slaughter policy for brucellosis eradication.

I remember so well the weary days we went through at the beginning of the T.T. eradication policy, and that it took a shamefully long time to eradicate bovine tuberculosis. When other countries had to start eradication, particularly Ireland, they were able to do it in half the time taken by the great United Kingdom. Do not let that happen again with this brucellosis problem. Finally, my Lords, I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, for his extremely interesting piece of information that contagious abortion is entirely absent in the Virgin Islands, as of course it should be.

7.26 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to take up too much time, but I also would thank the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, for initiating this very interesting debate. I have listened to all the speeches. I do not propose to make a speech, but I am going to bring out one or two points. The first is that an eradication scheme must be started forthwith, not in 1971. The next point is that all reactors should be marked with a star, and they should not go through the marker except for slaughter. Compensation should be paid from the first test to make up the difference in the price of animals going for slaughter and the price of a milking cow.

I should like to ask the Government to institute an insurance scheme for attested herds. We should all be very willing to pay insurance if the Government would protect us against outside infection. I want veterinary notification of the first sign of brucellosis on a farm, and I should also like to see a requirement of medical notification of undulant fever in humans. I know that it is what is called in Scotland"not proven ", but abortions in women may quite possibly be the result of undulant fever. The noble Lord, Lord Burton, suggested that 80 per cent, of people there who went into hospital were reactors, and surely some may be aborters too. But that is not proven, because it is not notifiable. So I think that some medical research is essential. In conclusion, my Lords, I should like to thank all the speakers in this most interesting debate and to urge the Government to get on with the job.

7.29 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we are all very grateful to my noble friend Lady Summerskill for raising this matter this afternoon. The fact that so many have stayed until the end of the debate proves how important the subject is. It was good of my noble friend to give us this opportunity to look more closely into the problem of this disease than was possible on the occasion when the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, moved his Amendment to the Animals Bill. We have had our attention drawn to the risk which brucellosis presents to human health, and I know that your Lordships will join with me in sympathising with the noble Lord, Lord Burton, on his personal tragedy, to which he referred.

The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, warned us that he was going to be critical; and he was true to form. I have rarely, if ever, heard him more critical. He went a time or two so far as to tell your Lordships what I was going to say in reply and said that he felt sorry for me because I would be ploughing a lone furrow. However, I do not feel sorry for myself.

I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. No time has been lost. All were very interesting speeches. However, I am bound to point out something which must be obvious. I will not be able to reply to all the points made, but I will see that the attention of my right honourable from the Minister of Agriculture is drawn to the whole of the debate and to the points which have been made.

I should like to make two general points before replying to particular questions which have been raised. My first point is that we must keep a balance and we must have priorities. If we are to multiply the time which our veterinary surgeons spend on brucellosis, then something else will have to give way and there will be no margin for new problems. We cannot simultaneously commit all our available professional resources into brucellosis and then respond to the next pressure, whatever it may be, even if it happens to concern diseases like salmonellosis, or Regulations like those for slaughterhouses, which involve human as well as animal health.

My second point is that there is a tendency, as we have heard to-day, to speak of tuberculosis eradication and brucellosis eradication in the same breath, and to relate the one to the other. This is not comparing like with like. Tuberculosis eradication started with a voluntary scheme in 1935 and it took 25 years to complete. So far, and allowing for the "stand-still" during the foot-and-mouth epidemic, the Brucellosis Scheme has been running for barely 25 months. Next, the two diseases them-selves have little in common. It is well-known that brucellosis is far more complex to diagnose and much more difficult to eradicate. Then again nobody would suggest that the British livestock industry has stood still in the 35 years since the the tuberculosis eradication campaign started. To-day we have far more live-stock, far higher stocking densities, new intensive systems, and large concentrations of cattle, often using common cubicles or the like. We owe much to these modern developments, but we would do well to remember that they create conditions in which animal diseases are spread more easily and are more difficult to control.

The point has repeatedly been made— and the Government fully accept it—that the only effective solution to brucellosis is to eradicate it, area by area. What is in question is not how to tackle that problem but when to start. This has been worrying noble Lords during their speeches to-night. Many noble Lords have said that 1971 will be too late and that we should start much sooner than this. But I repeat that the question is not how to tackle but when to tackle the problem.

Last month my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture made an important announcement in another place about brucellosis. Noble Lords were given the details by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor during our debate on the Report stage of the Animals Bill, and they have been mentioned again to-day. But I make no apology for recalling the principal points. My right honourable friend said that he aimed to start limited eradication projects in specially selected areas in 1971; and he made it quite clear why it would be wrong to make an immediate start on a general compulsory eradication scheme. There are two reasons, and they are inter-related.

First, our national herd still contains large numbers of animals which, although perfectly healthy, react to tests for brucellosis because they were vaccinated with Strain 19 vaccine at an adult age. This practice of adult vaccination with Strain 19 ceased in 1967 so that, by the end of 1972, virtually all of these adult vaccinates should have been culled from the national herd. If we started compulsory eradication now we should have to slaughter all these healthy animals; we should be expected to pay compensation for them; and, above all, we should need replacements for them. The slaughter, the payment and the replacement would all represent a reckless waste of national resources.


My Lords, could the Minister give any idea of the number of cattle vaccinated in that way?


I am sorry, my Lords, I cannot, but I shall see that the noble Lord is sent a reply to that question. It would be equally reckless to embark upon compulsory eradication without an adequate reservoir of replacements—and I must again point out that the reservoir must be larger, if we are to slaughter the vaccinal reactors as well. In the recent foot-and-mouth epidemic, we saw only too starkly what can happen if there is extensive slaughtering in a limited area and replacements are hard to come by. With foot-and-mouth we had no choice; with brucellosis we can phase our programme to avert any shortage and any resulting escalation of prices. Whatever the pressures, the Government are determined not to precipitate a market crisis by a premature programme of eradication. Indeed, those who clamour for eradication now would probably be the first to cry "halt", if we took them at their word.

Nor can I accept unreasonable criticism of the progress made towards building up this essential reservoir of disease-free stock. It will normally take repeated testing, over a period of at least a year, to establish the disease-free status of a herd. Yet in barely 25 effective months we already have 7 per cent, of the herds and 14 per cent, of the cattle in Great Britain within the Scheme. Then again, if there was no confidence in the Scheme, as is widely alleged, you would expect a falling off in interest and applications. Instead, the level has been rising and is currently exceeding 150 a week. Those who know and understand this complex disease will, I am sure, accept the timetable for compulsory eradication and acknowledge the encouraging progress of the present voluntary scheme.


My Lords, may I interrupt the Minister to ask him whether he would give, in addition to the number of entries, the number of drop-outs per week?


My Lords, I am sorry that I do not have this information in my notes but I will try to get it for the noble Lord. It remains for me to discuss some of the specific points which my noble friend Lady Summerskill and other noble Lords have raised to-day.

Let me say a few words about the market circulation of reactors. The most widespread call is for measures to be taken against the sale of reactors in the open market where, it is argued, their presence in increasing numbers is multiplying the spread of the disease. It seems to me that this theory does less than justice—I would go so far as to say it does a double injustice—to British farmers. First, it implies that large numbers of them are unscrupulously placing infected animals on the open market. Secondly, it implies that our farmers in equally large numbers are naively importing disease into their herds. Without both of these assumptions—and I know the British farmer better than to accept either of them— no significant trade in infected animals could be maintained.

This is not to say that some reactors may not find their way into the markets; and it is argued that the Government should prevent them from getting there. Noble Lords will be aware that it is already an offence, under the Epizootic Abortion Order of 1922, to put on the market an animal which has aborted in the previous two months. However, I recognise that we are here dealing not necessarily with animals that have aborted but with reactors; and of course there is no better illustration of the many technical complexities of brucellosis than the fact that a cow which is chronically infected with the disease may well deliver a healthy calf after an apparently normal pregnancy. Equally, it is quite wrong to assume that every abortion is due to brucellosis; surveys indicate that only about 6 per cent, of all dairy cows do not carry their calves to full term and of these only about 1 in every 10 abort because of brucellosis.

Indeed, when noble Lords and others speak of "reactors in markets" we ought to be clear what is meant by that expression. Does it mean animals that have reacted to a blood test? Or does it mean animals that would react to a blood test? Both groups, let us remember, will include healthy vaccinates as well as infected animals. My impression is that most people tend to think, speak and write in terms of the first and smaller group of "known reactors"; but if we stopped there we should only be scraping the surface of the subject. To discuss the problem realistically I suggest we must address ourselves to all animals in markets—not just a select few that happen to have been tested.

Then again, those who call for Government measures to prevent the marketing of reactors tend to do so in very general terms without entering into the practical realities of what they are suggesting. So let us examine what would be involved.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will excuse me, is he implying that all animals, all cattle beef and all bovines going into the market, male and female, should be tested?


I am not saying that at all.


Then I must have taken the wrong meaning from the noble Lord's words.


If the noble Lord will read what I have said, I think he will find that I did not say that.

Most of the critics simply say that the Government should ban the sale of reactors in the markets—and leave it at that. But we cannot leave it at that. How, may I ask, are the Government to enforce a measure of that kind? Suppose we dispersed our precious veterinary manpower up and down the country seeking out reactors among the thousands of animals which pass through hundreds of markets each week; and suppose we prosecuted the owners concerned. Unless it was a young animal we should have to acknowledge that it might not be infected at all, and that it could be an adult vaccinate. I doubt whether your Lord-ships would approve of any conviction on that kind of evidence.

Others argue that all reactors, presumably whether genuine or vaccinal, should be branded with a prominent earmark or the like. That would be very rough justice for the owners of the healthy vaccinates. Nevertheless, let us follow it through from its simple starting point. Who is going to identify and brand these reactors, and when will they do it? Certainly not the farmer or his stockman because they have no facilities for distinguishing and establishing the disease in particular animals.


My Lords, surely the answer to that question is that it should be a veterinary surgeon. When he has carried out blood tests on a cow, and the cow has reacted to the test, he should be under an obligation to mark the cow in such a way that it cannot fail to be noticed.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his help, but I am sure I do not have to remind him that we are short of veterinary surgeons.


My Lords, is the noble Lord trying to make us believe that there is no way of eradicating known diseased cattle, and that we have not enough vets? If we have not, we had better recruit some more.


I would invite the noble Lord to read what I have said.


I certainly will. It is the most pessimistic speech that I have ever heard.


My Lords, if the approach I was describing were to be more than a facade, every herd in the country would need a compulsory blood test at frequent intervals— because the presence of a single reactor foreshadows the possibility of other animals in the herd quickly acquiring the disease. This might be feasible; but to find the necessary veterinary manpower we should first need to abandon the present accreditation scheme and with it any early prospect of area eradication. A continuous national branding exercise, like effective enforcement measures through our chain of markets, would simply postpone the methodical steps that are being taken to deal with this disease.


If I may interrupt the noble Lord again, if there is this acute shortage of veterinary surgeons which is implied, may I ask whether the Minister has given consideration to the fact that we might employ lay testers to draw the required sample of blood? It is a simple operation and much simpler than the insemination that is done by laymen. We could get the samples in this way and thus put very little pressure upon the veterinary profession; and the manpower could be used for other things as well.


My Lords, I suggested in my speech that some of the time might be saved by doing away with vaccination.


My Lords, I will draw both those points to the attention of my right honourable friend. Your Lordships can take it from me that he is well aware of the shortage of vets.

Some argue that reactors would never find their way into our markets if only the Government would slaughter them and pay compensation. I do not doubt it. Nor do I doubt that if we set about brucellosis in that way the disease would still be with us in the 21st century. Is it seriously suggested that we should abandon any systematic approach so that we could free our veterinary surgeons to rush hither and thither testing (and if necessary arranging slaughter and valuation) of individual animals destined for the market? If so, then I am glad to affirm that the Government intend to eradicate brucellosis on a herd and an area basis, and have no intention of dissipating their own and the taxpayer's resources on any stratagems based upon particular reactors on particular farms or in particular markets.

My Lords, the solution of this emotional problem of market reactors is maddeningly simple. You cannot have a market transaction without a willing buyer as well as a willing seller. Those who want to buy brucella-free animals do not need to go blindfold into the market. Already there are 75 markets having sections exclusively reserved for accredited stock—and the number of these markets is steadily rising; or if the buyer prefers to purchase direct from the seller he can insist upon a blood test. If there are any significant number of reactors in the ring, then disciplined and prudent buying should effectively deal with them. And if the noble Baroness has any doubts on this score or on other aspects of present Government policy for brucellosis. I hope she will have found reassurance in last week's article in the Lancet. I would commend all noble Lords to read this article.

Now a word on notifiable disease. The noble Baroness wanted brucellosis to be a notifiable disease in humans. While sympathising with the objective, here I pant company with the solution that is suggested. I hope the noble Baroness will agree that this would not prevent spread of the disease; nor could it serve its intended purpose, because brucellosis in man is notoriously difficult to diagnose, as few, if any, of its symptoms are specific and the lapse of time before diagnosis is made impedes the tracing of the source of infection.

In the Animals Bill debate on December 16 and again to-day my noble friend took us to task because, she argued, more progress had been made with brucellosis across the Irish Sea. In this instance, however, I am bound to remind her that the earlier requirement to notify human brucellosis was repealed in Northern Ireland because experience tended to show that notification was unlikely to be forwarded until laboratory confirmation was available. In fact, considerably more cases were reported by the laboratories than through the notification procedure. I agree that there are advantages in building up information about sources of infection by other means, notably by tests on raw milk.

In reply to my noble friend Lord Collison, and his suggestion about scheduling the disease under the Industrial Injuries Act, I would point out to him this was dealt with In another place as recently as December 15. What I have just said about the difficulty of diagnosing brucellosis has a very real bearing on the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, who asked about the significance of the figure he quoted as representing the incidence of brucellosis in Aberdeen. I should perhaps say that this was in a personal note that the noble Lord., Lord Balerno, sent to me, and I am not sure that he raised this particular point during the discussion to-night.


No, my Lords; 1 did not raise that particular point, though I rather think it was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Burton.


In fact this refers to persons who showed evidence in their blood of exposure—and this is the key point—at some time in their lives to infection with brucella organisms.

The noble Baroness who put the Question, and the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, contrasted our brucellosis measures with those that have been taken in other countries; and the noble Baroness specifically referred to the progress made in Scandinavia and Ireland. I would urge that comparisons of this kind should be made only when there is any semblance of comparing like with like. For instance, do these other countries feature the same densities of livestock population; the same intensive systems of livestock: farming; the same massive local movements of cattle which characterise our present marketing arrangements? And did they perforce have to use vaccines to the extent that we did? It may be that other countries which have tackled brucellosis were faced with some or all of these problems. None, I venture to assert, has been confronted with them to the same extent.

Taking my noble friend's specific example, while I should not wish to denigrate in any way what has been achieved in Northern Ireland during their six-year programme it would be fair to point out that, after less than three years, we already have more animals within our Scheme than the entire cattle population of Northern Ireland. Equally, I think it fair to say that the Republic, with its exporting tradition, has adopted a rather different approach to the disease. Their efforts have centred mainly on the less densely populated cattle areas. Perhaps I may digress here to express my sympathy to the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken. I am sure that your Lordships were moved by the unfortunate personal experience which he recounted on an earlier occasion in your Lordships' House and again to-night, It is, if I may say so, a clear illustration of all the perplexities attending upon the control and eradication of this disease. There you had what is fairly held to be the panacea of a self-contained herd in the very heart of an eradication situation—and yet, as the noble Lord told us, 14 out of 60 animals suddenly reacted at their annual test.

Turning to the Scandinavian countries, I would acknowledge that their record has been impressive, but neither their problems nor their solutions were akin to our own. Thus, taking Denmark, which alone of the Scandinavian countries has a cattle population approaching that in Great Britain, I understand that their eradication effort was spread over eleven years, although the Danes were less troubled by the presence of adult vaccinates. Moreover, I see that their approach to eradication included penalty provisions where herd owners did not make swift progress. I doubt whether the noble Baroness is necessarily advocating anything of that kind—indeed, I believe that she subscribes firmly to the slaughter/ compensation approach. The Government are willing and anxious to benefit from eradication experience gained in other countries; but I cannot go along with those who put our own Scheme at a discount.

The noble Lord Rowallan referred to the problem of the owner of an accredited herd on to whose land non-accredited cattle stray. I have every sympathy for the owner in such a situation—and I understand that the noble Lord himself suffered in this way. But the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor covered this matter fully in the debate on the Report stage of the Animals Bill a short time ago. There is little that I can add. The rules of the Brucellosis (Accredited Herds) Scheme are clear on this question of the herd owner's responsibility: the owner of an accredited herd is under an obligation to maintain his boundaries and to ensure that his cattle cannot and do not come into contact with other cattle. It would therefore seem to me to be wrong to create an additional risk for the owner of the straying animal when that risk arises out of the accredited owner's voluntary contract of which he is already in breach.

The noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, also referred to the related dangers to an accredited herd when the police turn straying cattle off the road into the nearest gate, and to his recent correspondence with my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture. There is very little that I can add to what has already been said on this difficult subject, except to say that this, too, seems an area where the accredited herd owner can best safeguard his own interests—in this case, I would suggest, by posting warning notices around his premises. Unless the occupier takes this simple precaution, it seems to me that, with the best will in the world, the man on the spot—who, after all, is faced with the immediate problem of confining the straying animals as soon as possible—would be unable to identify those fields which belonged to the accredited premises.

I repeat my thanks to the noble Baroness for the opportunity she has given us to look at this important disease and its impact upon human and animal health. Although I have necessarily dealt mainly with the agricultural side of the coin, because this is where the problem begins and ends, I can assure the noble Baroness that the human health factor enters very fully into the reckoning. Indeed, only last month senior officers of the Ministry of Agriculture had a far-ranging discussion exclusively on brucellosis with representatives from the County Councils Association, the Rural District Councils Association, the Association of Municipal Corporations, and the Department of Health and Social Security; and note was taken of various ways in which each side could help the other. These discussions concentrated specially on the problem of the producer/ retailer and here medical officers of health have a particular responsibility for regular testing of raw milk supplies.

Finally, the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Collison, can rest assured that I have not overlooked the other health hazard to which they referred—and in which I need scarcely declare my personal interest. As she has pointed out, it is not only those who drink raw milk who may be at risk from brucellosis, but also all those in the rural community who handle cattle—farmers, their families, the veterinary profession, slaughtermen, and above all, if I may say so, agricultural workers. Most of my life, like Lord Collison's, has been spent endeavouring to further the interest of farm workers; and in particular to secure for them the standards of safety, health and welfare enjoyed by their fellow men in other industries. I feel it keenly that they are specially exposed to the distress of this grievous disease. it is because I am convinced that the Government are in earnest about brucellosis, and because I do not want to see their considered policy disrupted by unrewarding diversions, that I have replied to this debate in such forthright terms. My Lords, I will certainly ensure that all the points that various speakers have made are referred to my right honourable friends.