HL Deb 11 May 1970 vol 310 cc411-55

2.51 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Beswick.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clause 102 [Amendment of Diseases of Animals Act 1950]:


Before I call Amendment No. 40A I think I should point out to the Committee that if this Amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendments Nos. 41, 42, or 43.

LORD BURTON moved Amendment No. 40A: Page 91, line 6, leave out subsections (2) and (3).

The noble Lord said: The following Amendments by the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, are on the same subject, and I hope it may be your Lordships' wish that we should discuss all these Amendments together. These two subsections in the Bill have been introduced to give the Government the powers to vaccinate every animal within a radius around the place of outbreak of any disease which may develop. It was the disastrous outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 1967–68 which gave rise to the setting up of the Northumberland Committee and prompted the legislation.

On the face of things, it may appear that the Government are not being unreasonable in seeking these powers. However, there are considerable drawbacks. First, the cost in present-day terms of the production, storing and turnover of foot-and-mouth vaccine alone would amount to £550,000 a year. The exceptional outbreak of 1967–68 cost the Government approximately £27 million, and if one adds the farmers' losses the total is likely to be around the £50 million mark. To what extent would this cost have been reduced if we had had vaccination? I suggest that it would not have been reduced by any considerable amount. Indeed, the vaccination could have caused enormous damage and additional cost. The 1967–68 outbreak was exceptional, and since then—probably thanks to the Government's wise decision on meat imports—there have been no cases at all.

It is pleasant to find oneself on one part of the agricultural front on which one can congratulate the Government, and the agricultural industry is indeed deeply grateful for the meat import restrictions. Since 1968 there have been new regulations and a tightening up of Ministry administration, further reducing the chances of epidemics of foot-and-mouth disease. The slaughter policy has always in the past proved itself effective, and now that the chances of an outbreak are reduced, why change our policy to one which has grave risks? Vaccination entails a very high risk, and only last week I believe that the Livestock Breeders' Association were making strong representations to the Minister against the policy of vaccination. Vaccination could produce in this country animals which are carriers of the disease. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture himself stated that no Government could be expected to face consequential compensation which could result from vaccination.

At the present moment it is illegal to import into this country any animal which has been vaccinated. Admittedly a few countries vaccinate with live vaccine, and in this country it would be the intention to use only dead vaccine; but if it is too dangerous to import animals which have been vaccinated, is it wise to vaccinate our own stock, even in what may be a limited respect? In recent years we have had experience of vaccination for brucellosis; indeed, the fact that adult cattle have been vaccinated with S.19 has been made by the Government one of the main platforms for excusing the early introduction of a scheme for the eradication of this disease. It has come to light that the S.19 vaccine used for two or three years was an ineffective serum, and it has taken all this time to find the defect. Surely we could not risk any such accidents with foot-and-mouth disease.

Again, a number of countries would not be prepared to import our vaccinated animals, and that could cause loss to our export trade. I am not going to overplay this line, but the trade at the moment is over £1 million a year and it is scarcely surprising that the N.F.U., the Livestock Breeders' Association and most farmers and people connected with the trade have been worried at the proposals to take these powers. At the meeting on brucellosis which some of us attended at the Ministry last week, it was strongly emphasised to us that the Ministry wished to have talks to try to secure agreement with all parties in the industry—farmers, veterinary officers, milk boards and so on—but there appears to have been little or no consultation on a complete reversal of policy on two animal health matters. Indeed, few of us knew anything about these proposals until the Committee stage of this Bill in another place, and during that Committee stage a good many doubts arose. I wonder if the Minister could say whether it is intended to stock vaccines, for example, for every strain or sub-strain of foot-and-mouth disease, let alone the other diseases? Could the Minister give any details of what discussions he has had with the industry, and could he say whether any sections of the industry have given their blessing to this proposal? Could the Minister say whether the undertaking given by this Government (who, I gather, are to use the vaccine only in exceptional circumstances), would apply to future Governments?

If we pass these subsections as they stand to-day we are giving the Government of the day very dangerous powers. If the powers are to be used only in an emergency, once the disease has got out of control or has perhaps got to the proportions of the 1967–68 outbreak the area to be covered and the number of cattle, sheep and pigs involved would be very considerable; indeed, it would amount almost to total vaccination of whole areas of the country. That would be contrary to the recommendations of the Northumberland Committee, which emphasised the speed with which ring vaccination should be administered. Again, who is to give the order that vaccination is to commence? Does that very grave decision rest upon the Minister's shoulders?

I suggest that there are imponderables and technicalities way beyond most of us sitting here this afternoon. As a result of Government action on imports, new regulations and the Ministry's plans, there is no immediate urgency for a decision on this matter. Therefore, would it not be better to delete these clauses from this miscellaneous Agriculture Bill this afternoon and allow full and detailed discussions to take place? Then if it is decided by the industry—and, after all, the industry should have the major say in the matter—that the Government should have these powers, let us have a separate Bill, which could be put through quite quickly if it was agreed and which could cover many of the points I have raised this afternoon. I strongly exhort your Lordships to support my Amendment, and I beg to move.


I have been put in something of a difficulty. The Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Burton, is one that I would ordinarily support—holding the views I do about vaccination against foot-and-mouth disease I could hardly do otherwise—but I am of the opinion that, even if your Lordships were disposed to accept his Amendment, it would not be agreed to in another place. In view of what the Lord Chairman has said, I hope the Committee will agree that it will be an advantage to discuss my Amendments Nos. 41, 42, and 43 at the same time as we discuss the one that is before the Committee now. All three Amendments are of course interconnected, so it would be necessary to refer to them together.

In my speech during the Second Reading debate, I mentioned that I should be putting down these Amendments concerning the proposed powers of the Minister with regard to ring vaccination against foot-and-mouth disease. I think it essential that we should first consider the pros and cons of vaccination itself, remembering as we do that the Minister already holds power to vaccinate animals that have come in contact with cases of foot-and-mouth disease. What can be said in favour of vaccination is the vast improvement in recent years in the various vaccines. As your Lordships know, there are a number of different types of foot-and-mouth disease virus, against which we now have vaccines of greatly increased potency. The second improvement in recent times is that we are now believed to have protection for pigs which we did not have before.

We must remember, however, the dangers incumbent in vaccination. First, vaccinated animals exposed to infection may become highly dangerous carriers and could spread the disease to susceptible stock. Secondly, there is no adequate protection to the animals which have been vaccinated until 7 to 14 days after vaccination. As I mentioned on Second Reading, in Denmark they adopted a system of ring vaccination and after an outbreak of the disease last December several subsidiary outbreaks occurred in vaccinated stock within 14 days. I understand that the Danes are most disturbed by the possibility that healthy cattle which have been vaccinated will excrete foot-and-mouth disease virus and thus themselves create subsidiary outbreaks.

The most important of the disadvantages is that after vaccination there is a great risk of the disease becoming endemic in this country. But even if it does not become endemic, the risk is that many countries to whom we export livestock would regard it as too dangerous to import animals from this country and a great deal of harm would ensue to our export trade. There are very large numbers of pedigree breeders in this country who are most anxious about this aspect, and who hope that a vaccination policy will never be put in force.

We had all assumed from the recommendations contained in the Report of the Northumberland Committee that very careful consideration would be given before the contingency plans for the application of ring vaccination were implemented. However, a document, dated April 1, 1970, produced by the Animal Health Division gives grave reason to doubt whether due attention has been paid to this requirement, in that it is stated therein: If vaccination is deemed necessary it would begin within 24 hours of the outbreak. This is surely a completely inadequate period, except under the most exceptional conditions, for anyone to be able to make a correct assessment. For this reason it is felt necessary to impose a delay in vesting in the Minister a power to order ring vaccination so that further consideration can be given to the details. It would also give an opportunity for national and international consultations concerning the effect of vaccination on our export trade with other countries. I understand that these consultations have not taken place up till now.

As I said when I began, I think there would be more hope of getting agreement to this delay in the granting to the Minister of these powers of ring vaccination than of obtaining a complete ban. I feel that it is a reasonable compromise and one that will enable a full study to be made of these important matters and of what will be entailed. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will agree to accept my Amendments when they are moved.


I have a great deal of sympathy with the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Burton, and with the Amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Swathling. However, I have slight reservations in that I think the Northumberland Committee reported in favour of this procedure, and in the veterinary profession I believe the tendency is, on the whole, in favour of what the Government are proposing here. We have been assured that the powers which are being given are, as it were, powers of last resort, to be used only in an emergency. That brings me on to the question of the cost of this operation. I believe that the cost of keeping various strains of this vaccine would be approximately £500,000 a year, and there are many years when it would not be at all likely that ring vaccination would be brought into operation. Indeed, the only likelihood of its being brought into operation would be when there was a massive outbreak, and when a great deal of money had already been spent by the Government in combating foot-and-mouth. My own hesitation arises on whether this is a prudent expenditure of money. If there were a "wild fire" outbreak of foot-and-mouth, and one could pour in the vaccine and get it into action, that would be one thing. But it would be quite another thing, as I see it, to spend £500,000 a year on maintaining the vaccine.

3.18 p.m.


I recognise that there is more than one opinion about this proposal, which is a departure from what we have hitherto stood by in this country. But I am bound to say that I am a little surprised now, in the light of the sort of representations that were made during that dreadful period of the disaster, to hear the objection to the proposal to have ring vaccination as a standby policy. Many noble Lords will remember when we had to report practically each week that there were further animals being infected. Something like 438,000 were, I think, ultimately slaughtered, and from all sides of the House people were asking: Cannot something more be done? Representing my right honourable friend at this Box, I had to say that we had a slaughter policy and we proposed to continue with that slaughter policy. Nevertheless, there was a feeling that the whole matter ought to be looked at again, and it was looked at again by as authoritative a body as could be set up to look at it.

I rather felt, when the noble Lord, Lord Burton, and the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, indicated that this decision of Her Majesty's Government to have this power to engage in ring vaccination was taken without proper consideration, that that was rather unfair. Of course everything was gone into; of course people were consulted; of course evidence was taken by the Northumberland Committee. And we then came to this decision. The Government have accepted that there will be this power vested in the Minister to engage in ring vaccination if, in the light of all the circumstances, it is considered justifiable. I was asked——


Will the noble Lord excuse my interrupting him? I am afraid that I cannot refer to the paragraph in the Northumberland Report which deals with the matter, but I understand that it stated definitely that, if ring vaccination was ever resorted to, it should not be resorted to until after many considerations had been taken into account. If the Minister is given these powers which are in the Bill, can we have an assurance that the period of 24 hours, which is mentioned in the Animal Health Division's leaflet about putting vaccination into operation—which would mean that no assessment could be made of the situation—will be extended?


I was about to say that I was asked who would make the decision as to whether to vaccinate or not. It would be an important decision, and I was asked who would make it. Of course, the decision would be taken by my right honourable friend the Minister but it would not be taken within 24 hours of any outbreak, not just like that. There would be a study jointly carried out by veterinarians, meteorologists, virologists and epidemiologists; and there would be an initial assessment of the risks of potential spread of the disease and the likely direction of spread. That would become available, of course, in a matter of some hours, and it would be on this assessment that a decision would be taken as to whether ring vaccination was necessary as a control measure. If the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, wants assurance that it will be a decision taken after the most careful consideration by all the various people and authorities concerned, then I can give him that assurance. But in the light of the experience which we had in the last outbreak, and in the light of the recommendations that were made by the Northumberland Committee, it would be quite irresponsible of the Minister not to take these powers to vaccinate a ring around an infected area if the various considerations suggested that such a step was necessary.

I was asked about the cost of vaccination. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, said, it would cost some half a million pounds to stock the vaccines. In answer to the question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Burton, there will be more than one strain of vaccines. A number of strains, which between them will give an effective coverage, will be available.

The noble Lord, Lord Burton, asked about the carrier problem, and I know that some farmers and breeders are concerned about vaccinated animals becoming carriers of the disease. Indeed, I think that I made this point myself, in answer to questions, when I was being pressed on the earlier occasion, during the outbreak, as to why we did not vaccinate, and I said that this was one of the possibilities we had to look into. The results of research and experience in many countries show that with modern vaccines and techniques the carrier problem does not constitute a significant risk. We shall have two safeguards against that risk. On most farms there will be young, unvaccinated animals fully susceptible to the disease, and these will act as controls. Secondly, we shall take samples and carry out tests on those vaccinated herds where we consider there is a risk from this problem before we remove restrictions from the area. The noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, spoke about secondary outbreaks in Denmark. I understand that these secondary outbreaks had in fact been seeded—that is to say, animals had been infected—before vaccination, and that subsequently the vaccine was effective.

I was also asked about exports. It was the Northumberland Committee, in paragraph 194 of Part I of their Report, who said: There will be no problem with exports to countries where vaccination is practised. Exports of livestock to such countries constitute the major part, both in quantity and value, of our total exports. There could be resistance from other countries, but many accept imports subject to special precautions from countries where vaccination is practised. The precautions required for exports to such countries are already considerable, and there is no reason why we should have difficulty in satisfying the extra precautions imposed because we had of necessity resorted to ring vaccination. Another point put to me concerned consultations by the Minister: I was asked what discussions he had had. He did in fact discuss the plans with the British Veterinary Association on April 8, and the proposals there were, as the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, said, favourably received. There were also discussions earlier this month with the farmers' unions, the National Cattle Breeders' Association, the National Pig Breeders' Association and a representative of the Royal Agricultural Society. Opinions were expressed. I cannot say that in these cases the proposals were received favourably, as with the Veterinary Association, but, of course, one understands that there is a reluctance to embark upon a policy which has certain disadvantages. But, of course, there are disadvantages in an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. There are infinitely greater risks there if we have no reserve policy of ring vaccination. I understand the reservations which noble Lords have expressed, but I put it to them that it is only sensible, practical and wise, in the light of all the advice which has been tendered, for the Minister to take the powers for which he asks in this Bill.


May I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for answering the debate on this important matter of the control of foot-and-mouth disease? I should begin by declaring a personal interest in this field, as I am chairman of the Animal Virus Research Institute at Pirbright, which is our main research institute dealing with foot-and-mouth. Let me say immediately to my noble friend Lord Burton that I should have thought he can take some comfort from the fact that our official policy for the control of foot-and-mouth is unchanged. It is still the slaughter policy; and on balance—and, heaven knows ! this matter has been carefully looked into by the Northumberland Committee—I am sure that this is the right policy.

The statement which the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, has made this afternoon about how the Government propose to use this second line of defence which is contemplated in this clause is, I think, helpful. There is a certain haze hanging over this, as to what should be done; and one has to bear in mind the comments of the Northumberland Committee on this score, where they roundly say that emergency ring vaccination will not be of any use unless it is done immediately. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, has told us that in fact it will not be done immediately. This I sympathise with: I do not think it could be, so it introduces other factors. But in so far as ring vaccination is to be applied as a last-ditch measure if an outbreak of foot-and-mouth should become as widespread as it was in 1967–68, and if there really was a danger that the slaughter policy would not be sufficient to contain it so that the outbreak threatened to spread throughout the country, as it did then, then this seems to me a measure which is justified.


I wonder whether the noble Lord would enable me just to qualify the word "immediately". When I spoke just now I was using the word "immediately" in the sense of "automatically". There is no question of automatic vaccination, but I agree that if all the circumstances of any particular outbreak suggested it, then speedy action would be necessary. But it would be on the basis of a special assessment by all the people concerned in each case.


Yes. I quite take the noble Lord's point, and I think he is right. In fact, this will take time, and this makes it even more difficult for a decision to be taken. But I am sure my noble friend Lord Burton will take Lord Beswick's point that at the height of the crisis in 1967–68 we were all asking: "Is the slaughter policy going to be adequate when the epidemic is so serious and is spreading so fast? Ought we not to think of using vaccination as a second line of defence?" Indeed, the Government then imported a stock of vaccine for that very purpose, and I think this was done with the approval of everybody.

So it really is necessary, in order to judge the Government's present proposal fairly, to remember those circumstances of two years ago and, apart from the financial loss, the immense suffering of the farming community as they saw their valuable herds being slaughtered. My noble friend Lord Burton said that he thought that perhaps the consequential cost was equal to the compensation. I should think that it might easily be double that; and that the total cost of an outbreak might be nearer £100 million than £50 million. Certainly there is no doubt that it was touch and go whether the slaughter policy could get control of it. It is against this background that I think we have to judge what the Government are now putting before us to provide themselves with a second string. Although I hope that we shall never have such a bad outbreak again, on the whole I think we should be glad to think that there is a second string. In fact, the Northumberland Committee, I should tell my noble friend Lord Burton, estimated that if ring vaccination had been applied in the Oswestry outbreak, it might have saved half the outbreaks. They qualified this by saying that ring vaccination would have had to begin very early.

Here I come to the point that I was discussing earlier with Lord Beswick. The decision whether or not to carry out ring vaccination presents enormous difficulty. The Chief Veterinary Officer would have to be the main adviser to the Ministar, and the implications are so extensive, the difficulties of making a correct appreciation of the situation in the middle of an outbreak, when slaughtering is going on every day and when reports are coming in all the time, are so great that it will be difficult to judge whether or not this secondary measure should be taken. The point I would stress is that it is worth while having a second string to your bow; it is going to be of some help to the Minister and his advisers to know that they have it and that they can bring it into action if they wish. That can be the sole justification: that it is a last-ditch measure if the slaughter policy seems to be failing. Really, I should think it is more what the Northumberland Committee called "barrier vaccination" than ring vaccination that would be brought into operation in such an event; and it is bound to come in later rather than earlier because of the great difficulty of sizing up the situation and deciding whether to do it.

I should like to add this footnote to the main issue. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Burton in thinking that it would be disastrous to turn to ring vaccination as a first line of defence. The Animal Virus Research Institute, of which I have the honour to be Chairman, gave evidence to the Northumberland Committee that this would be the worst of all worlds; that the right thing to do is either to slaughter or to vaccinate everything, to have a wholesale vaccination policy.

Of course, it is perfectly true, as has been mentioned in this debate, that the technique of vaccines has enormously advanced in recent years. The Western European countries have by wholesale vaccination methods made tremendous progress in eliminating, or very nearly so, or getting under control, foot-and-mouth disease in their countries which was a serious thing 15 or 20 years ago. So if we decided to carry out wholesale vaccination we should get the advantage then of having complete protection. But it is very expensive. It would cost at least £5 million a year, every year, and more than double that to start it off. There is immense dislocation in doing it and certain disadvantages, as my noble friend Lord Burton has said, to the export trade. I am still quite sure that for us in this island the slaughter policy is the best. But that depends on reducing the number of primaries. These have been increasingly worrying in recent years. The measure that the Government have taken in persuading the South Americans to bone their meat before sending it here represents tremendous progress, and the Government are much to be congratulated on it. I am sure that this will reduce the number of primaries; and if we can reduce the number of primaries then our prospect of being successful with the slaughter policy is very much improved.

I turn now to another point made by my noble friend Lord Burton and by Lord Swaythling on the pros and cons of ring vaccination and the risk to the export trade due to the presence of vaccinated animals in the national herd. I think that one can over-state this risk. One has to remember that if we are ever unlucky enough to be in a situation where we have had such a serious outbreak of foot-and-mouth that ring vaccination is employed, this would mean that the disease had been raging over quite large areas of the country and that, in any event, for some months to come the export trade would be prejudiced—whether there had been ring vaccination or not. Inevitably, a potential customer overseas for our cattle would hesitate for some months before buying our cattle. I do not think that if in such a case we decided on ring vaccination it would extend the period of doubt significantly.

I would therefore give my advice to my noble friends and, indeed, to the cattle breeding societies that I do not think that this would be a significant point affecting the export trade. Let us be frank about this: if anybody wants to buy cattle now from a country like France which has regular vaccination, he buys them. The Charollais trade has not suffered by the fact of general vaccination in France. The fact is that beef breeders all over the world want Charollais cattle and they will soon find some means of getting the Charollais cattle from France, sending them through some kind of quarantine arrangement and making sure that they are clear of the disease when they arrive in the United States or anywhere else. I do not believe that this is going to bother our export trade, and in the event of our ever having to ring vaccinate, the prolongation which it would bring about of the period of doubt, if any, would be a short one.

As to cost, it is true that it will cost about half a million pounds a year. That is about the cost which is now being borne in carrying this stock of vaccine. That must be regarded as an insurance policy. It is a second line of defence. In fact, I hear rumours that the cost may be cheaper; that we may be able to get our supplies of vaccine at a lower price. But whether it is half a million or less, it is worth while if we regard it as part of our insurance premium. We might remember that the cost of running the Research Institute is over half a million a year. This is entirely an insurance measure in order to inform us in this country and to give us the strongest team of scientists able to deal with animal virus. It is solely in order to give better protection here. If we pay another half million which helps to keep the virus out of the country, then it is good value. I do not think that that is a significant point that ought to deter us.

The disadvantages we must recognise. Lord Beswick, I thought, made a fair point: there is no perfect policy. Whatever you follow has its pros and cons. What we are being asked to agree to is to continue our traditional policy of slaughter and to add a second line of defence in the form of ring vaccination if we had an immensely serious outbreak which we were in danger of failing to to control. I think that this is a perfectly safe thing to do, and that we should give it our support.


I should like to thank Lord Beswick and all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I am sure that there are a number who may be confused as to what is what, but I think there is not a great deal between us. The only question is how to delay the issue: whether to take it out of the Bill now or to leave it in the Bill and ask for a year's delay. What must come out of this debate, I think, is the considerable divergence of opinion as to whether vaccine should or should not be used. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said that although he had the Veterinary Association's agreement it appears that the rest of the industry is not altogether in favour of it. That is the very reason why we are asking for delay. We feel that there ought to be more consultation and consideration. Perhaps the Government would get the farming industry to go with them if we had a year's delay, but at the moment parts of the industry are not in favour and they are the people who will suffer.

I disagree with the suggestion that the Northumberland Committee agreed to ring vaccination. If there is to be ring vaccination, the Northumberland Committee have advocated that it must be immediate. The decision of noble Lords on both sides of the Committee has been that it should not be immediate. We should, perhaps, not be talking about ring vaccination but barrier vaccination, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford. This is another possibility altogether, but it is one more reason why we should have discussions with the industry before proceeding with this matter. If I may quote from the Report of the Northumberland Committee, paragraph 221 states: We think that in certain conditions ring vaccination could be a useful adjunct to slaughter. The Committee say "in certain conditions." One of the conditions was if there was no restriction on the import of meat. I have already congratulated the Government on their wise decision to restrict these imports. In the next paragraph the Report says: If such conditions on meat imports are not put into force we would recommend that the slaughter policy should be reinforced by ring vaccination. But as they have been put into force it is questionable whether ring vaccination, or barrier vaccination, should be considered.

I think Denmark is the only country which uses ring vaccination, and there are considerable doubts about it. In one paragraph the Northumberland Committee report considerable doubts about the methods of killing the vaccine, and it might be a dangerous thing to use. I feel that there ought to be more discussion and consultation about this. I am not competent to say whether we should have vaccination or not; it is obvious that some of your Lordships feel strongly that we should have it and some that we should not. But I consider that there is a great need for more consultation.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

3.33 p.m.

LORD SWAYTHLING moved Amendment No. 41: Page 91, line 6, at beginning insert ("subject to the provisions of subsection (4) of this section")

The noble Lord said: I am very grateful to the Minister for having said that ring vaccination will not be put in force without proper consultation. I think it was obvious that we did not suspect that it would be, but I should like to quote from a document called The Outline of Contingency Plans for Ring Vaccination issued by the Animal Health Division on April 1, 1970, which says: If vaccination is deemed necessary, it would begin within about 24 hours of the outbreak; would involve the vaccination of all cattle and sheep over three months and pigs over six weeks old, and would be completed within seven days.

In view of what the Minister has said, I hope that this will be corrected and that there will be no thought that they could make a proper assessment within 24 hours of whether ring vaccination should be resorted to. The Minister said that there had been consultations with the breed societies. I can say that the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers and the National Cattlebreeders' Association are still very much against power being given to act immediately. They would approve the acceptance of my Amendment which, after all, is a very reasonable one. It asks only that the power should be delayed for 12 months to enable the kind of details mentioned in the Animal Health Division paper to be sorted out; and also for the question of the effect on our export cattle trade to be assessed properly after international consultations. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, has said that in his opinion it would not affect the export trade adversely, but I can assure your Lordships that there are many cattle breeders in the country who take the absolutely contrary view. I beg to move.


I hope that we may come to the same conclusion in respect of this Amendment as we did after we had listened to the arguments on the earlier Amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, counsels delay. It is conceivable that if we delayed for a period of 12 months, and there were no further outbreaks, there might well be one or two others who would come round to the point of view which has been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, and by the noble Lord, Lord Burton. But suppose that after two or three months of the 12-month period there was an outbreak of foot-and-mouth and the same kind of situation as we had in 1967–68 befell us again. What a different approach there would then be! The fact is that there is always a reluctance to pay an insurance premium if one is not having any burglaries. It is when there has been a burglary that people see that their premiums are paid. I suggest to the noble Lord that although it is a persuasive argument that we should wait for 12 months, in the light of the considerations we have referred to in our earlier discussions it would be an irresponsible thing to do. There have been consultations and discussions; evidence has been taken; and the Government have decided that it would be right to have these reserve powers. If we are to have them, surely it is better to have them now.

I was asked about the word "immediate". Immediate vaccination is not possible. You cannot go out within 24 hours and vaccinate all the cattle in an area; you must have a proper assessment of the situation. The more appropriate word is "urgent". There would be an urgent assessment. In some cases it might be possible to decide that the outbreak could be contained. In other cases, if there were the kind of infection explosion that we had two or three years ago, the decision might well have to be that we should have to have a barrier of vaccinated animals around the infected area. In any case, I suggest to the noble Lord that his fears, although understandable, have to be put against the legitimate fears of another outbreak of this disease.

The noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, spoke again about the export trade. I can only echo the relevant, and I thought final, comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford: that if we had an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, it would be equally, if not more, difficult to sell our animals abroad.


Will the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, give a little further explanation to try to allay some of the fears which have been expressed? There is the question of when this might be implemented. Do I gather that it will have to be an epidemic on the scale of the one in 1967–68 before any action will be taken? Would it be a barrier round the area, rather than ring vaccination which is mentioned in the Committee Report?


I did not hear the last sentence of the noble Lord, Lord Burton.


If one reads the Report of the Northumberland Committee, one sees that they refer to three different sorts of vaccination: one is universal vaccination; one has been referred to more or less in the Continental phrase of barrier vaccination designed to stop the virus coming in from Asia, and the other is ring vaccination. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, did not like the word "immediate", but it will be as immediate as possible around the area of primary infection. Do I take it that what is wanted is a middle course, which is vaccination around the area of an epidemic once it has broken out?


The answer to the noble Lord is that it will be around an epidemic once it has broken out. But again, not necessarily every epidemic; it would depend on the location, the circumstances and the assessment made by all the specialists concerned. Certainly there would not be universal vaccination: that is not the proposal. It is a question of putting up a barrier, a defence in depth, if you like, around the infected area beyond which it would be unreasonable to believe that the infection would spread. That is the intention. However, it would be wrong of me to go into too great detail about a hypothetical case. All I am assuring the Committee is that there is a wealth of advice at the disposal of the Minister, and no step would be taken without proper advice having been received.


If that is the case, would not the noble Lord agree that in the case of the 1967–68 outbreak it would have meant vaccinating one third, or even one half, of all the cattle in England and Wales?


I should not like to be too definite about this; but I would say that it was obvious in the very early stages that that outbreak was going to be difficult to contain; and there would have been a case for ring vaccination early in that outbreak.


Has the noble Lord any information about the serious outbreak which took place in Russia: whether there was any vaccination to try to stop it, or was it allowed to run—or any information at all?


I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Lord the benefit of any information about Russia's experience.


The noble Lord has stated that he thinks twelve months is quite unnecessary. Would he accept six months or four months in order to carry out the policy that I have suggested? He told us that there have been some consultations about the export aspect of this matter, but I am assured that there have been no real international consultations on the matter. He says that twelve months is not necessary. But if he would accept a delay of six months or three months, I should be pleased to alter the Amendment to that effect. It seems to me that it is necessary to have these matters cleared up before the Minister has these powers. It may well be that when they have been acquired he will find that the reasons against them will be such that he would not ever wish to put them into operation.


Have we any information as to the percentage of carriers left among animals that have been vaccinated? And have we any information about the so-called means of detecting those carriers? These, I think, are two important points.


I shall be glad to see whether I can find an answer for the noble Lord, but I have not the information at the moment.


Perhaps I can help my noble friend, Lord Rowallan. There is a quite satisfactory technique, called the Probang system, for detecting carriers. It consists of a piece of machinery which is pushed down the animal's throat and takes a sample of its gullet, because it is there that the virus, if it is there, lies. This technique is used for the Charollais exported from France and destined for the United States. In the past, these animals have been quarantined here, and quarantined in Brest. The animals are now subjected to this test, and it is quite a satisfactory method of discovering whether an animal is a carrier. So this does not present a problem with specific animals. I should not think that anyone would like to make a guess at the percentage of carriers, but it would be pretty small.


The information I have is that the number of animals would be very small indeed.


I think the noble Lord said that vaccination would not be done in every case. I hope I am not misquoting him, but I understood from his earlier remarks on the subject, when he was answering the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Burton, that he anticipated that vaccination would be used only in exceptional cases. He did not give me that impression when he was answering the noble Lord, Lord Swaythling, and he said that it would not be used in every case. I think it is important to establish which of these two is correct, and which is the Government's idea.


Let me put it again in this way. There is no intention automatically to vaccinate for every outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. I have indicated that if there were a notification of an outbreak there would immediately be an assessment. I mentioned the sort of people who would need to look at the situation—veterinarians, meteorologists, virologists and epidemiologists. In the light of their advice, and on their report, a decision on whether or not to vaccinate would be taken. I said that it was unlikely that it would be done in every case; almost certainly it would not be. But a quick decision on the basis of their report would be taken.


I think that in the 1967–68 outbreak almost everyone supported the Government in their slaughter policy. Although I can see that in the exceptional cases vaccination could be an advantage, I should have thought the noble Lord might have been rather more forthcoming than he has been so far. What worries me is that in 1968 we went into the matter very deeply, and I believe that nearly all knowledgeable opinion took the view that the Government were correct to continue that sort of policy. What has occurred in the meantime that the noble Lord wishes these powers to be used on any but the very exceptional occasion? I do not think I have expressed myself very well, but this point does worry me.


The noble Duke appears to be suffering from the same difficulties that I have in not expressing myself very well. He asks what has happened since then. There has been an outbreak when 430,000 animals were slaughtered. There was a great demand from everyone in this House and from those outside that there should be another look at this problem. A Committee was established precisely for that purpose, and they had a look at it. The noble Duke asked me about the difference between what I said on one occasion and what I said on another as to the number of times that ring vaccination will be applied. I cannot say. I do not know what kind of outbreak there is likely to be. But I would say that the last outbreak in 1967–68 would have been one where advice would have favoured vaccination. That was an exceptional case. The way that the infection exploded around was exceptional. But whether in the future we shall have a number of isolated cases where no ring vaccination will be necessary, or another case of the 1967–68 variety, I cannot say. All I am saying is that on the basis of the advice that has been tendered to the Minister the power ought to be there. The advice will be in the Bill. It is not a matter of going out and vaccinating immediately the Bill goes on the Statute Book. It may be a long time before it is used; and one hopes that it will never be used. Basically, our policy remains that of slaughter, but on certain occasions ring vaccination is a valuable additional ally.


I should like to ask the noble Lord one further question. May I take it from his earlier replies that the policy of ring vaccination would not in any way cause the disease to become endemic in the country? That is something which is not fully understood and it is troubling a lot of people.


Universal vaccination of the national herd would have the effect of making the disease endemic. Ring vaccination of this kind would not.


May I ask one further question: have we enough vaccines now in the country to apply it?


If I were asked to supply them to-morrow I could not give an affirmative answer, but in the very near future the answer will be "Yes".

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 102, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 103 [Eradication of brucellosis]:

3.52 p.m.

LORD BALERNO moved Amendment No. 44: Page 92, line 10, at end insert:— ("( ) In any scheme made under subsection (1) of this section and by which an order for compulsory slaughter is made then the compensation to be paid will be the difference between the price fetched by the animal when slaughtered and that which it is estimated by one of his inspectors that the animal would have fetched if sold in the open market in sound condition.")

The noble Lord said: The object of this Amendment is to give the cattle farmer a guarantee that in all cases of compulsory slaughter through brucellosis there will be some measure of compensation, and to give him an assurance that it will be a reasonable measure of compensation. The existing brucellosis accredited herd scheme was designed for the late 1960s, to prepare the way for compulsory eradication. I suspect that the Government hoped it would carry on into the early 1970s. Unfortunately, as noble Lords on both sides of the House are well aware, that scheme has not had the success that was hoped for—indeed, it has been described by some, and not without reason, as a scheme which spreads brucellosis. This is on the ground that reactors and infected animals can be sold with impugnity on the open market. Accordingly we must all welcome this clause in the Bill which the Government inserted at Report stage in another place. At least it shows that the Government are aware of the problem.

We are informed that the purpose of the new scheme is to provide the sinews of compulsory eradication, and that limited eradication projects will be started next year. During the Second Reading debate in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, with his customary picturesqueness, described this as standing on the threshold of compulsory eradication. There is some evidence, however, that this new clause has been hastily drafted with the intention of leaving as many options open to the Government as possible. This is commendable; but when too many things are left open, the probable action becomes quite indeterminate and the position is, quite naturally, regarded with suspicion. Farmers are accustomed to plan ahead, and we should like the Government to learn to do the same. We want some indication of whether the threshold is looking North, South, East or West, and what is the visibility from the threshold.

The purpose of my Amendment is to clarify an essential part of any scheme that the Government may develop. The Amendment is to make clear beyond peradventure that compensation will be paid for all animals compulsorily slaughtered under this scheme, and that the compensation will be adequate though by no means generous. The cattle industry are much concerned by a statement made by the Government in another place when the Bill was in the Report stage (column 1336, of Hansard, for March 24). While conceding 100 per cent. compensation in cases where healthy animals may have to be slaughtered because of excessive exposure to brucellosis, and the herd heavily infected with that disease, the Minister went on to say that in dealing with reactors the Government do not intend to pay 100 per cent. compensation. Most fanners will regard that statement as a rather foggy outlook for them.

The reason given for this is that the Government cannot afford deliberately to create a situation in which it pays people to buy up reactors in the confident knowledge—and I quote: that they—and any other animals they may infect—will command 100 per cent. compensation".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 24/3/70; col. 1336.] If this Amendment is accepted, it will not be worth while for anybody to buy a reactor. The Amendment implies that the purchaser cannot receive in toto more than the value of the animal, and the value cannot be more than the price the purchaser paid for it: it may well be less. It may be argued by the Government that a man buying a known reactor cheaply may be able to keep it for some months and sell it at a higher price. If it is a steer for fattening no great harm will result. Long-term fattening of cows is a most unprofitable business. If it is a dairy cow that he hopes to sell after she has calved he is running at least a fifty-fifty risk that she will abort, and her value will go down. That will hardly appeal to a prudent farmer.

I therefore conclude that we can discount this line of argument which, to judge from what was said in another place, is based on the methods applied to tuberculosis eradication. Brucellosis eradication differs in many ways from T.B. eradication. We have had too much slavish copying of the T.B. methods (I say this almost with my tongue in my cheek) and it really ought to stop. Nevertheless, there is one lesson that we can learn from the T.B. eradication, and that is to proceed area by area. If competently selected, the cost to the Exchequer of this method of eradicating, area by area, can be well controlled. The faster eradication can be carried out in the country, the cheaper it will be in the long run: the cost will be much less. It is this long-drawn-out policy of eradication that is making the matter so expensive. If the Government were really concerned about this, they might have considered the suggestion made in another place and included in this clause a provision that anyone who knowingly or recklessly sells a reactor will have his milk licence removed. I will support my noble friend Lord Burton when we come to his Amendment, No. 45A.

Once the majority of dairy farmers—and this goes for beef, too—know that there is to be a realistic, but by no means generous, measure of compensation, they will welcome the use of the stick upon the "black sheep" of their industry. If we are on the threshold, then I beseech the Government to accept this Amendment, or something like it, and so clear the air in order that we may see in some measure of clarity the road ahead. That will be a real encouragement to all decent farmers to co-operate wholeheartedly in the eradication of the disease.


There are many farmers sitting on the fence with large numbers of infected animals within it. They are waiting for a scheme of compensation. Whether the scheme to be introduced in 1971 will include this provision perhaps the Minister can tell us—I think that almost certainly it will. Perhaps he will also tell us whether the scheme is likely to start early in 1971 or late in 1971. I do not think we have had any indication so far. Another year's delay would be adversely received by the industry. A large number of dangerous animals are being kept waiting for this compensation scheme to come into effect, and every day that these animals are kept they are spreading disease throughout the country. Therefore the sooner they are removed, the better.

My noble friend Lord Balerno mentioned differences between the T.B. scheme and the brucellosis scheme. One point which has perhaps not yet come home to the Ministry is that in tubeculosis one can work from the clean to the dirty animal, from the animals which have not got the disease, and gradually work out. With brucellosis, I feel, one should work the other way round. The sooner the dirty, infected animals are removed, the better.

4.1 p.m.


The noble Lord, Lord Burton, says that there must be many farmers who will be waiting for just such a scheme as this. I can well imagine that that is true and that there would be some farmers, at any rate—a very few, but some—who if they had not a herd of dirty animals would think about acquiring one. This would run contrary to the whole principle behind the scheme. We have a principle here which I hope that, on reflection, the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, will accept. It is that one should give rewards to the farmer with healthy animals, rather than give compensation to the farmer with unclean animals.

Before I go on to that argument in some detail, I would point out to the noble Lord that I think he is mistaking the purposes of Clause 103, which has nothing at all to do with compulsory slaughter. It will only enable the Minister to provide himself with funds to implement the voluntary scheme, in which there is no compulsory slaughter. So it would be quite impossible, or at any rate inadvisable, to have this Amendment on the grounds of legislative logicality. It just would not fit into this clause.

However, I plead with the noble Lord, not on some technical factor but on a question of principle. For a start, we have this voluntary scheme. Farmers will be given an incentive to build up a healthy herd; they will be given l¼d. a gallon extra for their milk or 37s. 6d. on the beef animal. This is the right way of going about it, as we see it: putting the incentive on the healthy animal and good husbandry, rather than the other way round. I hope that this is the way round which the noble Lord, on reflection, will accept.

The noble Lord asked about the known reactor, which is mentioned in an Amendment we shall consider later. I shall listen with great interest to the arguments advanced on that Amendment. I have some sympathy with the noble Lord's intention there, but I think there is a contradiction between the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Burton, in his Amendment and the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, in the matter which he is putting before us here.

I have simply to repeat that the Government do not intend to pay 100 per cent. compensation for reactors on the basis that they are healthy animals when in fact they are unclean animals. The whole essence of the Government's approach to brucellosis is to put the emphasis on the clean animals and clean herd and to reward vigilance against the disease, instead of underwriting infection. That is why, in contrast to anything that has ever been done before in compulsory eradication of our animal diseases, the Government intend to pay appreciable sums in the shape of incentive premiums on the clean animals found in herds subject to compulsory eradication. That is why on those occasions when a healthy animal has to be compulsorily slaughtered because of excessive exposure to brucellosis in a heavily infected herd, the Government will pay the full 100 per cent. compensation. No new statutory powers are needed to do this. Additionally, in the compulsory areas, and to assist in the process of restocking, there will be a flat-rate replacement grant on each slaughtered reactor. That is in the compulsory scheme. But we are here dealing with the voluntary scheme, and in the voluntary scheme the emphasis, as I say, is in the amount of money which Clause 103 will make available to the Minister to give to the owners of the clean herds. I hope the Committee will agree that this is the right way of tackling the problem.


I wonder whether my noble friend Lord Balerno, before taking a further part in the debate, could make a little clearer how he sees his Amendment working. His Amendment says: '… compensation to be paid will be the difference between the price fetched by the animal when slaughtered and that which it is estimated by one of his inspectors"— that is, the Minister's inspectors— that the animal would have fetched if sold in the open market in sound condition. That seems to be a contradiction in terms. I know that my noble friend has great knowledge of these matters, but I found this a little difficult to understand, because I should have thought that a Ministry inspector when confronted with a diseased animal could have put only a slaughter value on it. I found it difficult to get my mind clear on what sort of value my noble friend saw being put on it. Would he eludicate this point?


Yes, with permission. The animal one was considering would be healthy, because so far as slaughter for eating the flesh of the beast is concerned, the case I have in mind is not parallel with tuberculosis. There is no likelihood of there being any meat to be condemned. Those words were put in with a little hesitation, I will admit, and I should not have minded leaving out the words "in sound condition", but I received some advice which made me leave them in. I quite see that there might be equivocation, but at the same time I do not think any inspector would have difficulty in understanding what was meant.


If I may make a brief comment on this point (we are in Committee and therefore there is no limit on our speaking), I am still not absolutely clear what my noble friend wants. I should have thought that the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, is something which we all accept in these veterinary matters. No Minister of Agriculture can be expected to pay the market price for a dairy cow as a dairy cow if she is diseased; she can only go for the slaughter price. A scheme which provided for her to be paid for as a dairy cow at market price would put an impossible premium on people buying up diseased animals in order to make money out of the scheme. No Minister could possibly justify spending public money in effect to encourage bad husbandry. I am quite sure that my noble friend Lord Balerno could not have such a thought in his mind.

Of course, there should be full, 100 per cent., compensation for animals which are healthy but have had so much contact with diseased animals that they have to be slaughtered. But that is another matter. It is of course always difficult for us to discuss these veterinary matters and grasp the precise portent of the different technical points. This is a matter of very great interest at the present time. We all want to see the brucellosis scheme for eradication going ahead as fast as possible, and that is why we are debating it now. I should not have thought that we wanted to make too much of any difference of opinion between us. It seems to me that the Government may have the right balance here in giving the incentives they have offered on the milk and carcase, which will bring in additional revenue to the man who wishes to be, and indeed has become, accredited. He will use this additional money to enter into an insurance scheme—I understand that the N.F.U. Mutual is now working one out—which will itself provide the difference between the slaughter value of the animal which is slaughtered and the market value which the farmer would have received if she had not been a reactor.

I should have thought that this was the right structure to get the incentive pulling the right way, so that both the dairy and the beef industry have the necessary incentive to aim for clean herds. Whether the premiums have been set at the right level only experience can show. It looks as though they might be about right, but if experience shows that they are set too low to cover the cost of such an insurance policy I should think there would be a case for uplifting them to make them adequate for the purpose. But I do not think it could be right to give a full market value compensation price for a diseased animal. Therefore I hope my noble friend is not making that the point of his Amendment, because I think it would be wrong. But it would be right to say that the Government must watch these premiums to make sure that they will be adequate to pay for an insurance policy that will compensate for reactors when they have to be slaughtered.


I should not like the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, to think that I am critical of him in any way, because we are anxious to persuade people to support the scheme for the eradication of brucellosis, but I think that in this matter his judgment is a little wrong. It seems to me that in this Amendment, which as I see it is asking for 100 per cent. compensation whatever the condition of the cow, the noble Lord is assuming that all farmers are men of high principle like himself. If the farmer was not tempted to dispose of an infected cow, much of this debate to-day and much of the agitation on the part of those who wish to eradicate brucellosis would be redundant. Indeed, the Amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Burton, which I think is an excellent one, would be redundant. But I do not think we can assume that every farmer is absolutely honest and would not be tempted, if this Amendment were passed, to procure cows which he might subsequently sell for 100 per cent. value. It may well be that this Amendment is wrongly drafted and that this was not in fact in the noble Lord's mind. I would ask him to withdraw it and subsequently, with the help, I am sure, of the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, to support the Amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Burton.


I should like to make one more comment. Particularly with beef cattle, I think it must be borne in mind that once a cow has aborted with brucellosis there is the possibility that she will not abort a second time. Therefore there is quite a strong temptation for a man to continue keeping his cattle; but he is keeping infected cattle which may, and probably will, be endangering his neighbour's cattle. Unless he has some incentive to get rid of his dirty cattle he will not do so; the 37s. 6d. (or whatever the figure is) per head per year will not compensate him for the cost of changing over his herd. With a small herd of 25 cows it will probably cost £2,000 to have his cows slaughtered and to buy in fresh, clean animals. Therefore this man will "sit on" his cows and be a danger to his neighbours, rather than bother with the 37s. 6d.


I think the noble Lord is under a misapprehension. If the farmer just "sits on" his cows, not only would it be an uncomfortable way of spending the day but he would not get his bonus payment on the milk. He will have to leave the scheme and he will not get all his incentive payments. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, that the real crux of the matter is the level of incentive; whether it will make it possible for a farmer to get rid in a proper way of those animals in his herd which are found to be infected. The levels of premiums, of course, will be reviewed annually.


I should like to reply to some of the points which have been raised. In the first place, I must apologise for not having made my meaning clear. I have never for a moment suggested that the Government should pay 100 per cent. compensation. What I have suggested is that together with the value that the farmer will get as a result of the slaughter there should be a sum which would make up the market value of the animal. May I give some examples? If it is an animal that is being fattened for beef, then that will be the price, and the Government should have nothing to pay when the animal is slaughtered. If it is an animal that is in process of being fattened for meat there might be a small element of loss, but I do not think there would be a large sum of money to be paid for the difference between the market value of the animal for beef and its market value sold as a store. At the very outside, it would not amount to more than a third, and I doubt whether it would be as much as that.

A dairy cow at the height of her milk production is the only case where there would be a substantial amount to be paid by the Government, but at the moment dairy cows are selling quite well for slaughter. Again I do not think that this compensation could amount to as much as 50 per cent. of the value, and in many cases, with certain breeds, it would not amount to as much as that. Therefore I do not see the Government having to "shell out" a tremendous sum of money, nor do I see the farmer being generously treated, but he is getting the incentive to get rid of a cow in full milk that he knows is a reactor; and that is what we want to happen if we want to get rid of the disease. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said that this clause was not compulsory but only permissive. I always find it extremely difficult to understand——


I am sorry, but I was not talking about that at all. What I was saying was that this clause is not dealing with compulsory eradication. It is discussing the voluntary scheme and making possible the financing of the Minister's bonus payments and other administrative expenses.


I apologise. I was thinking that the Government were proposing to go in for a compulsory eradication scheme, and I believe that that is the only way in which we shall get the disease eliminated from this country. Unless there is a compulsory eradication scheme we shall have the disease with us till the end of time. It is questionable whether the "carrots" that the Government have produced, while they are helpful in certain circumstances, will even pay for the cost of the insurance premiums which a prudent farmer may wish to take out. The "carrots" are very small ones and I think the time has come when a stick should be wielded. I am sorry that I gave a wrong impression to the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, because before she spoke I had already written in my notes that we had to put the screw not only on the bad animal but also on the bad fanner. Merely to encourage will not be sufficient. That was the purpose of my Amendment.

However, I see that it has some snags, as my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford has pointed out, and perhaps some illogicalities, in that the Amendment has got itself attached to a permissive instead of to a compulsory clause. In those circumstances, but full of hope that it will not be long before the Government realise that compulsory eradication and forceful action, especially against the bad dairy farmers, will be the only way of getting the disease out of the country, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.20 p.m.

LORD BESWICK moved Amendment No. 45:

Page 92, line 36, at end insert— ("(5) Section 13(5) of the Agriculture Act 1967 (under which a levy scheme relating to the expenses of the Meat and Livestock Commission may not impose charges in respect of livestock slaughtered under the Diseases of Animals Act 1950 or any order or arrangements made thereunder) shall be amended by inserting at the end 'or in accordance with any scheme under section 103 of the Agriculture Act 1970'. (6) Any person who knowingly or recklessly makes any false statement for the purpose of obtaining for himself or any other person any payment under a scheme under subsection (1) or (2) of this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £100 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or both. (7) Any of the following officers—

  1. (a) in England and Wales, any officer of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food authorised in writing by that Minister to exercise the powers conferred by this subsection;
  2. (b) in Scotland, any officer of the Secretary of State or of the said Minister having the like authority of that Secretary of State, and
  3. (c) in Northern Ireland, any officer within paragraph (a) above, and any officer of the 443 Ministry of Agriculture for Northern Ireland having the like authority of that Ministry;
may, for the purpose of obtaining any information which he may consider necessary in connection with a scheme under subsection (1) or (2) of this section, enter upon any land or premises and there inspect any animal, apply any test or take any sample, and examine and take copies of or extracts from any document. The right of entry under this subsection may be exercised at any reasonable time, but only after production of the officer's authority if so required; and any person who obstructs or impedes an officer acting in the exercise of his powers under this subsection shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £20 in the case of a first offence, and, in the case of a second or subsequent offence to a fine not exceeding £50 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month or both.").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the Amendment I am now proposing to Clause 103 is, despite its apparent length, very simple, and I hope it will be generally acceptable. The Amendment will, on the one hand, give Ministers certain powers essential to the smooth administration of new schemes made under the clause; and, on the other hand, will ensure that those participating in such schemes receive certain benefits that have gone with schemes made under the Diseases of Animals Act. Perhaps I ought to elaborate on that a little. To take the second and more straightforward point first, Section 13(5) of the Agriculture Act 1967 exempts from the Meat and Livestock Commission's levy scheme all livestock slaughtered in Great Britain under any arrangements made under the Diseases of Animals Act. This exemption has, therefore, applied to reactors slaughtered under the old Accredited Herds Scheme, and in the Government's view it would only be equitable for the same arrangement to be extended to reactors slaughtered under the new Brucellosis Incentives Scheme. Subsection (5) of the Amendment would do this.

The remaining subsections, as I have indicated, give Ministers various powers essential to the effective administration of any schemes that may be made, and were, in part at least, foreshadowed when the Bill was in another place. Briefly, the powers conferred by this part of the Amendment are similar to those contained in Sections 6 and 7 of the Diseases of Animals Act. The need to re-enact them here arises because, as the Minister of Agriculture explained in another place, the relevant provisions in the Diseases of Animals Act apply only to Great Britain, whereas the new clause provides for payments throughout the United Kingdom. Also, the powers conferred by the Diseases of Animals Act in this respect are naturally enough confined to payments made under that Act, so that it will be necessary to ensure that similar provisions exist for any payments made under Clause 103. Thus, the effect of the Amendment will be two-fold. First of all, it will put the new brucellosis incentives on the same footing as the generality of agricultural grants and subsidies by enabling officials authorised in writing by the Minister to enter premises and carry out certain inspections in order to check claims for brucellosis payments. Secondly, it will make it an offence to obstruct any officer authorised to carry out an inspection of the kind I have mentioned, just as it will make it an offence to render a false statement to obtain a brucellosis payment. These are tidying-up provisions. I hope they will have general support. I would say in passing that, having explained all that, I quite understand why the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, got a little confused when he tried to apply his Amendment to this clause. I beg to move.


I think this indicates that the whole of this brucellosis clause, while we are very glad indeed that it has been brought forward, has been brought forward in a great hurry and has been somewhat ill-considered. I suggest that it needs further consideration, and if the Government had further thoughts on this clause by Report stage, I am sure they would get the complete support of noble Lords on all sides of the House. I have only one other word to say. It seems to me that the regulations under this clause are absolutely necessary before we can go ahead with the compulsory eradication of the disease. The noble Lord is shaking his head, so perhaps I am wrong again.


May I say this by way of comfort to my noble friend Lord Balerno. In so far as this provision for the eradication of brucellosis appears to have been brought forward without complete preparation and in a hurry, perhaps noble Lords, and indeed noble Ladies, on all sides of the House may take some comfort from the fact that the debate which took place here a month or two ago did not fall on deaf ears and may have stimulated noble Lords on the Front Bench to take action to get a move on with the eradication scheme. Undoubtedly this is the basis for the future eradication areas which we are all most anxious to see set up next year.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

4.26 p.m.

LORD BURTON moved Amendment No. 45A: Page 93, line 12, at end insert ("(7) Any person offering for sale other than for slaughter any animal known to be a reactor to brucella abortus shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £100 for each animal so offered").

The noble Lord said: Unlike my earlier Amendment today, this Amendment is quite straightforward; it proposes something which has been sought by farmers throughout the country and is approved, I think, by most veterinarians. My next remarks may be a little critical of the Government, and after the kind utterances we have heard from the other side this afternoon on this Amendment I am a little hesitant, but I feel it necessary to proceed and I hope they will forgive me.

Some of your Lordships may be becoming tired of the mention of this word "brucellosis", but this agitation for action has been brought about entirely by Government lethargy in the past. Until the urgency for action is pressed home, there will be need to continue this agitation. It must be borne in mind that there was a debate on brucellosis in another place as far back as June, 1964, and very little progress has been made since then. Indeed, people who should know feel that the disease has spread during this period. It was only after the defeat on brucellosis in the Committee stage of this Bill in another place that the Government at last took action by introducing their present proposals, in a new clause at the Report stage. This, I think, bears out the remarks of my noble friend Lord Balerno, who said that things seem to have been rather hurried, though we are grateful for any action that has been taken and we should now only like a little more.

Farmers and most veterinary surgeons feel that the proposals in this Bill still do not go far enough. One honourable Member in another place referred to the feeling of utter hopelessness which farmers feel about this disease, and if this Amendment is not accepted to-day—or at least an Amendment to cover the situation is promised by the Government on Report—then the farmers' feeling of hopelessness will only increase. They will say, "The Government are not interested in this disease. What can we do?" There have been references to the need for farmers to impose discipline upon themselves. In this case, as a farmer, I am endeavouring to assist the eradication of brucellosis by seeking to impose such a discipline, by adding a possible additional criminal offence on the farming community. I very much doubt whether I shall have a murmur of protest against my intention from any farmer.

There is little doubt that the disease has been spread to many herds through farmers' putting infected animals on to the market. Some years ago, before this disease became well known, I can remember one of my tenants having an "abortion storm" in his herd. A few months later he sold all his cattle through the open market. How many clean herds this man infected I hate to think; I am only relieved to say that he is no longer farming. But this procedure has continued—indeed, I think I should not be inaccurate in stating that it is quite widespread. Is it surprising that there is a demand from farmers for legislation such as I propose? The Minister may tell us that the scheme which the Government propose to introduce will be taking some action along the lines that I suggest. But even if this is the case—and we shall have to wait and see whether it is—this scheme will not start until some time in 1971. Here may I repeat my question to the Minister? Will it be late in 1971 or early in 1971? Action is urgent now; we must have action straight away.

There is one slight snag to this Amendment, and that is the difficulty of enforcement, the difficulty of proof. How can one prove that the farmer knew that the animal was a reactor, or, if the Government prefer it, an infected animal? This is a reason that the Minister may produce for hesitation over the Amendment. At the present time there is nothing, apart from a man's conscience, to stop him from putting an infected animal on the market; and in the present state of farming the shekels often cry louder than the conscience. If we pass this Amendment to-day, there is a good chance that it will become illegal to put such animals into the market, and, whether or not there is difficulty of proof, farmers will undoubtedly think twice before breaking the law. In any event, in certain cases proof will be quite possible. I can think of many circumstances when proof would be possible. One has laws against theft, but no one suggests that one can prove in court every case of theft.

In discussing the Amendment I have come to the conclusion that possibly it does not go far enough, that in fact it ought to be compulsory for a vet who has found an animal to be a reactor to this disease to mark it indelibly, either by tattoo or ear punch, so that if the animal enters the open market other than for slaughter it will be easily identifiable. If it is felt that this is necessary then perhaps the Government will put down an Amendment on Report stage to legislate for this. Or, if they would make their draftsman available to prepare such an Amendment, I am sure that many of your Lordships would be happy to move it. However, sufficient unto the day—I beg to move the Amendment as printed on the Marshalled List.

4.31 p.m.


I should like to support this Amendment. There are many of us here who would like it to go even further than suggested by my noble friend on the subject of brucellosis. It is the habit in our Parliament to adopt a piecemeal attitude to legislation. I am grateful for this Amendment for this reason. I have been amazed at the apathy of farmers in respect of brucellosis, because often it is the farmer's family and employees who develop the disease. Nevertheless, it stems in a great part from the fact that if a farmer has an infected animal he says to himself "I may be able to pass it off on to somebody else." It is astonishing that in this country it is legally possible for an abortion to occur, for the vet in attendance to know that the cow is suffering from brucellosis and yet subsequently to learn that this cow has been passed on.

There are two or three aspects of this matter. A farmer is making money and he points out that he cannot afford not to pass the animal on to somebody. Nevertheless, he feels rather guilty. After the debate on brucellosis a few weeks ago I had a big daily mail, most of it from vets; but a number of letters came from fanners. The fanners asked, "What is going to happen if you do not make it illegal to pass on infected animals? What do you expect us to do?" One farmer was sweet; he used me as a sort of Mother Confessor. He wrote saying, "I passed on an infected animal. I feel such a guilty man that I have got to tell you." I thought that was very sweet of him. There are those who pass the animal on because they are hard up. I am quite sure that the man who confessed to me that he had done it will, along with many others, be pleased to see that it will now be an offence.

Turning to the question of vets, I discovered this fact when I first became interested in brucellosis, which followed on the cleansing of cows from tuberculosis. I realised then that brucellosis was still there to be tackled. But what astonished me was that a vet knows that a farmer has an infected cow, but (and this is where I lay the blame) there are no public health regulations which demand that the vet should inform the public health authorities of the existence of the infected cow. Vets will be pleased about the Bill. We must face the fact that a vet finds his position very difficult, because, after all, he is employed by the farmer, and if in a country district the vet reveals the fact that the cow is infected he must be afraid lest he loses the custom of the farmer. We have to remember that 63 per cent. of the vets in this country themselves give a positive reaction and have all kinds of horrible symptoms. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, is not here, because she spoke of her own vet as a martyr to the disease. This Amendment will remove this obligation from the vet; he will be able to say whether the man passes on that cow. It will be an offence, and the man will be subject to a heavy fine.

We want to go further. I, too, should like to see the cow marked. Nevertheless, this is a most important step forward because it is the kind of step which will alert the whole industry. Farmers will learn of it and vets will learn of it—in fact, the whole of the countryside will learn that the passing on of an infected cow is a criminal offence. Therefore I hope that my noble friend will accept the Amendment.


I am all in favour of this Amendment, but it does not go far enough. I agree with Lady Summerskill that this disease should be notifiable. By making the disease notifiable the vet is protected. Therefore I should like to ask the Government to introduce on the Report stage an Amendment incorporating Lord Burton's suggestion, but also including the word "notifiable". Brucellosis, in the case of humans, comes under the Ministry of Health. I think that the vet should report to the Ministry of Health, and that it should be up to the Ministry of Health to introduce this as a notifiable disease among humans.


I should like to ask my noble friend two short questions. If his Amendment is accepted, does it have effect the day after the Bill receives the Royal Assent? I rather imagine that it does. I find this difficult to establish from reading the Bill. Secondly, is my noble friend satisfied that a fine of £100 is enough? The Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, to subsection (6), which we have just accepted, says Any person who knowingly or recklessly makes any false statement … shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £100 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or both. It seems to me that if a person continually sells reactors on the market it might be of advantage to have some provision such as is contained in that Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Beswick.


Before the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, replies I should like to add a few words of support for Lord Burton's Amendment. This is, as it were, a third shot, and I hope that it will be "third time lucky." I am happy to find myself this time on my noble friend's side, and I hope that he is successful.


I should like to support this Amendment of my noble friend Lord Burton. I do so with the realisation that it is going to come hard financially to certain farmers. Some forty years ago I followed the example of my noble friend Lord Rowallan in establishing a clean herd in this respect, and I have with considerable trepidation maintained herds in that state ever since. Therefore it may appear slightly vindictive on my part to indicate to the ordinary farmer that he has got to do this, and why. But at the same time I think we have got beyond the stage when we can expect purely voluntary action in order to clean up the disease. I must agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, that we must use the stick.

4.40 p.m.


The noble Lord, Lord Burton, has argued a very strong case and, as he knows, I have a great deal of sympathy with his objective. He has been supported by a number of others, including my noble friend Lady Summer-skill, and the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford. Indeed, all who have troubled to sit in the House during the passage of this Bill have voiced their feeling about this problem of brucellosis. I noticed that last week there were some very forcefully expressed opinions, and that some passions were aroused. But passion alone is not a basis for legislation. If we are to create the offence proposed by the noble Lord, it must be as an act of considered judgment and after careful consideration of the practical implications. I should like to set down the arguments as we see them, for and against. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Burton, would not like his Amendment to be lightly dismissed or lightly adopted, and therefore I am saying to him, "Let us have a look at it in some detail."

For this purpose we must first look at all forms of sale, whether in the markets; between farmers, or from farmers to dealers, and so on—because the Amendment is not confined, for example, to market transactions. There are three types of brucellosis reactors which can be offered for sale. First, there are the unknown reactors; and because only a minority of the national herd has been tested for brucellosis, whether officially or privately, this is doubtless the largest group at this point in time. Sales of reactors in this group would not be affected by the noble Lord's Amendment.

Secondly, there are the vaccinal reactors. These are healthy animals which present no risk whatever to human or animal health. Calves treated with Strain 19, and older animals treated with the 45/20 vaccine, will temporarily enter this group until they shrug off the after-effects of vaccination. Not so those treated with Strain 19 as adults before that practice was prohibited in 1967; they are in the group for life, and it will be some two years before the natural processes of culling have reduced their numbers to insignificant proportions. From what has been said in earlier debates, your Lordships will know just how difficult it is for professional veterinary surgeons, with all the modern laboratory facilities behind them, to distinguish vaccinates from animals that are genuinely infected with brucella abortus. Intentionally or otherwise, sales of the healthy animals in this vaccinal group could be caught by the noble Lord's Amendment.

The final group consists of those animals which have been subjected to the most sophisticated blood tests available, and which—in the light of the results and other factors, such as herd history—disclose a degree of reaction that cannot reasonably be attributed to vaccination. Sales of such animals, other than for slaughter, could simply be caught by the noble Lord's Amendment—in this case with good reason. I say advisedly "could be caught" because the proposed offence arises only where the reactor is offered for sale "other than for slaughter". Your Lordships will realise that an owner could, in good faith, sell an animal for slaughter but it would then rest with the buyer whether and when it was in fact slaughtered. It might prove difficult to found successful prosecutions upon transactions of that kind.

Then again, the proposed offence has to be committed "knowingly". I am sure that this is right. The effect is to exempt, for example, the owner who could contend that the animal was healthy when it left his farm and must have acquired infection in transit, in a market, or on the purchaser's premises. In practice "knowingly" would presumably mean that the owner had sold the animal despite knowledge of clear-cut results of a blood test. We should do well to consider whether, confronted with this proposed offence or any similar measure, owners might elect to avoid blood tests altogether so as to retain unfettered freedom to trade their animals. The general effect might be to discourage necessary recourse to the veterinary profession for essential advice; or to find owners placing unwarranted reliance upon other and less effective tests which can only serve as a pointer to—but never evidence of—a "reactor to brucella abortus".

In the final analysis this Amendment seeks to influence farming attitudes and farming practices. Let us be quite clear that if there is a real need to create this offence it is not to safeguard a minority of stupid buyers, but to give more protection to a majority of genuine sellers. Few owners of clean herds are foolish enough to buy untested animals; and if any such owners remain, now that the Incentives Scheme offers premiums for clean herds, then this Amendment would not prevent them from persisting in their folly. Equally, no owner of an infected herd gains anything by buying a clean animal, adding it to his herd and thus exposing it to the disease. The real need here is to protect the owner who wants to sell a clean animal without the risk that its value will be debased because it has to mingle with reactors in the open market. It is this most relevant aspect of the whole problem that the Government are currently discussing with the organisations concerned.

So I am saying to the noble Lord—and to all those who have taken such a great interest in this problem—that it might prove difficult, especially over the next two years, effectively to enforce the constructive measure which the noble Lord, Lord Burton, has proposed. In the agricultural analogy, it would be difficult to sort out the wheat from the chaff. I am also alerting him to the fact that a law of this kind could have unintended side-effects.

I invite the noble Lord, Lord Burton, and all those who have shown the interest that they have in this matter, to read, or consider, if they will be good enough, what I have said. If the noble Lord, Lord Burton, wishes—and I have stated the case for both sides as clearly, fairly, and as calmly as I can—to press this Amendment, I undertake that on Report stage I will accept it, though I would say to him that it will require, as the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, said, some amendment as regards the penalty. We have in this Bill rationalised the penalties, and it would of course be necessary to bring this offence into line with the others. But with that one reservation concerning the amount of the fine I undertake, if the noble Lord so wishes, to accept this Amendment on Report stage.

My noble friend Lady Summerskill, and the noble Lord, Lord Nunburnholme, asked me about the possibility of veterinary surgeons notifying the local medical officers of health. I nave had a good deal of correspondence, both with my noble friend and with others, and this is a matter which is now being discussed between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Social Security. It is a matter of getting agreement with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Approaches will be made to them, and I hope that some progress will be made there, too. But it will be possible to take that action by administrative means, and it will not be necessary to incorporate it in this Bill. Having said that, I end by expressing the hope that the noble Lord will think I have made him a fair offer, and will now withdraw this Amendment. Then we can, if necessary, deal with it on Report stage.


I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, as I am sure all farmers throughout the country will be. My noble friend the Duke of Atholl posed two questions to me, but in view of the answer given by the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, I hope that my noble friend will not expect an answer from me to-day. I am sure that Lord Beswick is more competent to answer on this point than I am. My noble friend Lord Balerno said that my method would fall hard on the farmers, yet my other noble friend is asking for more. So I am not sure of the answer. If the Minister is worried about the use of the term "reactors", perhaps he would prefer the words "infected animals" because, as he says, there are vaccinal reactors. However, an animal which is a vaccinal reactor is almost certainly known to have been vaccinated, and therefore it might be a better wording, if he would prefer this. I think that the argument about proof is a little exaggerated, but I believe that the Minister has accepted that it would be a good thing to put this Amendment into the Bill at the Report stage. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.


With the permission of the House, may I say a few words? I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Beswick very much for what he has done, because I realise that he has taken a personal interest in this matter and understands full well the difficulties involved. I want to say how very pleased I was to hear that the whole question of notification, which is fundamental to this Amendment, is being discussed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 103, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Schedules 1 to 4 agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Repeals]:


We are within sight of the finishing post, and with that in mind I hope that we may speed up a little. I would suggest, if the idea commands the support of your Lordships, that we take Amendments Nos. 47, 48 and 49 together with No. 46. They are all related and they are all consequential on what we have already agreed. I beg to move.

Amendments moved—

Page 105, line 18, column 3, leave out from beginning to end of line 22 and insert ("In section 1, subsection (3), paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (4), and, in subsection (8), the definition of 'the appropriate Minister or Ministers' down to the word 'Food'.")

Page 106, line 16, column 3, at end insert (", and, in section 1(8), the words from the beginning to 'jointly'.")

Page 108, line 29, at end insert—

("7 & 8 Eliz. 2. c. 31. The Agricultural Improvement Grants Act 1959. The whole Act, so far as not specified in Part I or Part II of this Schedule.")

Page 108, line 45, after ("The") insert ("repeal of the Agricultural Improvement Grants Act 1959, except so far as it extends to subsections (4) and (8) of section 1 of that Act, shall not have effect until whichever is the later of the dates referred to in Parts I and II of this Schedule; and the").—(Lord Beswick.)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Remaining Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported, with the Amendments.