HL Deb 30 November 1971 vol 326 cc239-56

7.51 p.m.

LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in the light of the recommendations in Cmnd.4797, they will proceed without delay to promote a full scale research programme into fowl pest virus. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question set down in my name on the Order Paper concerning the problem of fowl pest and the White Paper on this Newcastle disease epidemic of 1970– 71. I should first declare my interest. I have an interest in my family farm, where we have large flocks of breeders, and therefore I have a commercial interest in the industry. This epidemic of the past year has recorded nearly 7,000 outbreaks which have involved some 42 million birds. To that must be added an unknown number not notified but certainly large.

The financial loss from this epidemic has not been quantified, but noble Lords may have been interested to see in The Times to-day a figure of £20 million as the estimated loss for the industry over the past year. I would think that it was quite that. This epidemic has of course meant disaster for thousands of poultry keepers who have been put out of business, and it has meant a very considerable economic loss for the country. I make the comparison on these figures with the Oswestry outbreak of foot and mouth disease three years ago. Then the economic loss was comparable; if my memory serves me right, something of the order of £25 million was involved in compensation. This has been a major disaster for the poultry industry.

I should like to thank the Government for the White Paper, and particularly to thank the panel members from the poultry industry who helped the civil servants who made up the panel. Let me say immediately that the White Paper is satisfactory, so far as it goes. My complaint is that it does not go far enough. If I may contrast it with the Report of the Northumberland Committee following the foot-and-mouth outbreak, noble Lords will see what a very mild document it is—compiled, indeed composed, as it was by a Committee inside the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which is a very different inquiry from an independent inquiry such as that of the Northumberland Committee.

As I say, my Lords, I do not disagree with its findings; my objective is to give emphasis to them and to fill in some omissions. My main objective is to ask Her Majesty's Government to promote a full-scale research programme into this devastating virus. I agree with every word of paragraph 123 of the White Paper which deals with this subject. Of course I accept that it would take, and will take, some time before the fruits of a full-scale research programme mature, but we should get them eventually. May I briefly recall my own experience with this devastating virus? I happened to be Chairman of the National Farmers Union Poultry Committee in 1947 when the first outbreak occurred, and so I was brought into the picture at that time to give a lead to the industry to co-operate with the introduction of the slaughter and compensation policy. Not very long afterwards, in 1951, I became Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, and for several years I had experience of the administration of the policy.

During those years I felt increasing doubt about the wisdom of the policy because I became increasingly convinced that it would be impossible ever to slaughter out the virus from the flocks in this country. The existence of very large numbers of small domestic flocks and all kinds of other creatures made it, to my mind, impossible and therefore money was being wasted. After I was out of Government, in 1960, I took the liberty of giving advice to the Minister of Agriculture of the day on a personal basis—the Minister was my noble friend Lord Blakenham. I advised that he should consider ending this slaughter and compensation policy, which was then costing some £15 million to £20 million, and should introduce vaccination. He set up the Plant Committee, and in due course they recommended that he should do this and so it was done. I mention this, my Lords, because it may show the strength of my interest in this matter, not only from my commercial point of view, but also from the viewpoint of the interest of the industry as a whole.

I think there has been a disposition in some quarters in the Ministry of Agriculture to blame the poultry industry for the current epidemic, on the grounds that it has been caused by the decreasing level of vaccination. I should make the point that this is gross over-simplification. Certainly the level of vaccination had seriously fallen by 1970 when the outbreak occurred. Equally certainly, had it been well maintained, probably the epidemic would not have started, or would not have been so severe. The point is that the reasons for the fall-off in vaccination were far more complex than that. It is a fact that the dead vaccine which was authorised at that time was completely unsuitable for broiler flocks. As my noble friend who will answer the debate well knows, they go for slaughter at 8 weeks to 10 weeks of age. The dead vaccine, which is administered by hypodermic would be physically too large to put into a day-old chick and secondly the dead vaccine—indeed any vaccine—could not be relied on to take in the first two to four weeks of the chicks' life because of the interference of parental antibodies; or this is the belief in a field where research is still very much needed.

The first dose could not normally be given before two to four weeks of age. Then, a further seven to 14 days would be needed before immunity was conferred. All this means that the bird would be about four weeks of age before immunity could be conferred on it. It was therefore understandable that many broiler growers considered that if the bird survived the first half of its life without getting the disease it was hardly worth going to the expense—which is quite significant in an industry which has a very small margin of profit—and the trouble of vaccinating it to cover the second half of its life. So much for the broilers, my Lords, where undoubtedly the incidence of vaccination was lowest.

In the layers, vaccination was much higher, although the cost was high. There were three vaccinations at point of lay and then every three months during laying; and every bird had to be handled and the hypodermic applied to it. So it was quite expensive, but still it could be done for commercial birds laying in batteries, where they could be easily handled. Vaccination was impossible with breeding flocks because they could not be picked up from the floor without putting them all out of lay. Thus, after the breeding flocks had had their injections at point of lay it was impossible to give them another injection throughout their lives. So it is now evident, my Lords, that the dead vaccine, although quite good in theory, had serious practical defects which were not fully understood when it was introduced in 1965. Therefore the conclusion must be that the responsibility for the 1970 epidemic was a joint one: the poultry industry was responsible because of laxity in vaccination and the Ministry of Agriculture because of lack of research into the virus and, more important still, the epidemiology.

To turn to the present position, my Lords, the virus is now endemic; we have got it with us and we shall have to live with it. Therefore an effective vaccination policy is basic to the life of the poultry flocks in this country. They produce something like £300 million worth of food a year. The Ministry of Agriculture has approved now two live vaccines, Hitchler B.1 and La Sota, and these have been of great help to the industry in giving additional protection. But this is very far from providing a complete answer. Live vaccine has the major advantage that there can be mass application, instead of individual application by hypodermic, so it is cheaper, easier and universal in application. But as with all live vaccines, there are dangers of side effects and dangers of incorrect application. Whatever these may be, it is hard to say precisely, but we do know that in the field there continue to be many reports of breakdown of immunity in fully vaccinated flocks, which then go down with the disease. There has been and there still is great confusion in the field and much more needs to be done in connection with the various types of vaccine and their correct application. Here I should say a word of welcome to the new pamphlet that the Ministry has just issued, giving comprehensive advice for the first time on the application of vaccine methods. This should be of great help in due course, though it has come out about a year late. Evidently much more needs to be learned about the types of vaccine and their application before we can feel any confidence in the protection of our flocks.

I turn to the present research effort. Appendix E of the White Paper sets out a schedule of the work being done. These headings, as I am sure noble Lords will recognise, cover everything which a research programme should include. The vital questions are how much work has been done under each of these headings, how many scientists have been working on each project and for how long, and what is the annual expenditure. I have seen a figure that indicates that the total annual expenditure at Weybridge on all poultry diseases is of the order of £150,000, but I hope that my noble friend will be able to give answers to these vital questions.

The only absolute indication I have of the volume of work being done are the publications. I have looked at them and I find that some 14 have been done, of which four were done jointly with scientists outside the Weybridge laboratory. This is mighty little publication compared to the field in which I am interested, in foot-and-mouth disease, where there have been not 14 but literally hundreds and shelves-full of publications over the years. So I should like to compare for one moment the size of this research effort with the research effort on foot-and-mouth. Here I must declare another interest, as chairman of the Animal Virus Research Institute at Pir-bright, where I actually have a direct connection with these matters. There we have a first-class research station, set up to give protection to our clovenhooved livestock. We have some 31 scientific officers, all graduates, employed there on this work and they are mainly employed in research on foot-and-mouth. They do work on other viruses as well, but mainly on foot-and-mouth, on which they spend some two-thirds of a million pounds per annum. There is a comprehensive team of virologists, veterinarians, biologists, biochemists, geneticists, physiologists and epidemiologists, especially since the Northumberland Report, and they are continuously at work. They have done this for some 30 or 40 years and they are still learning. Viruses are very difficult to study and it means constant work by a comprehensive team, so that better vaccines can be evolved.

There is a secondary benefit in that not only is this of benefit to this country but also to the Commonwealth and indeed to the world. Our research station plays a major part—indeed, I suppose it is the leading foot-and-mouth research station in the world. The purpose of this station is to defend us against the virus that we do not have here, where we are able to slaughter it out. Here I am comparing this station and the research effort we put in on a virus we do not have in this country, with the research effort which is being put in on fowl pest, on a virus which we do have in this country, an effort which, in my judgment, compares very unfavourably with it. I think it makes the point that a very much bigger research programme is needed on fowl pest, if we are to have any advance in our understanding of the virus and how to manufacture adequate vaccines and vaccination techniques and a whole epidemiology of vaccine, in order to get adequate protection for our flocks.

My advice on development would be that there should be developed at the A.R.C. research station at Houghton, where there is already a good team of scientists, assembled under my old friend Dr. Gordon—already doing much valuable work for the poultry industry, especially in virology—a fowl pest research on top of their other work on poultry diseases. In my opinion this would make the best use of this very scarce commodity of scientists who are specialists in poultry diseases, because it really comes down to the problem of finding the experts to deal with these esoteric matters. That is the reason for my advice to get the right people on which to develop a full scale programme.

So I would ask my noble friend to urge the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Education and Science if together they would work out a programme for providing the A. R. C. with the necessary finance to set up this research programme. In my judgment there is no field of research which can yield such valuable returns in economic benefit as this, particularly in developing more effective vaccines and a more effective epidemiology. There are other points in the White Paper which I should like to discuss with my noble friend, but at this late hour I think that I must thank him particularly if he would answer what I regard as the essential feature of the Report, an adequate research programme, and ask him to give it his sympathetic attention.

8.7 p.m.


My Lords, we have heard an absolutely authoritative presentation of the problem of the poultry industry. There is no one who is better qualified than the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, to speak on this matter. As he says, there is a disposition to blame the poultry industry for the troubles which they now experience. Neglect of vaccination may well be an element. The environment in which poultry arc now reared may well be another element. But this is not a matter which we can dismiss simply by saying that the industry is to blame. On the basis of economics alone, I think that the noble Lord is right in saying that we should regard this as a matter of national concern. One may even say that on humanitarian grounds something more should be done.

Can we really be complacent at the scale and persistence of this pest? Is it not a scandal that we have allowed this pest to eat its way on such a scale into the poultry population of this country? I rise simply to say that in my view I think the noble Lord has made his case. There is an unanswerable case for a full-scale programme of research into a virus which has caused such unpleasant and damaging effects in this country, and I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply will be able to give some satisfaction to the case that has been made.

8.9 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, would like to thank my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford for initiating this debate. The seriousness of the problem and the disaster that it has brought to many poultry breeders is hardly reflected in the Report itself. In fact, it really is rather a nice cosy Departmental Report. You would not think that you were dealing with a subject so utterly vital to the livelihood of so many progressive farmers and to the welfare of the human race.

One welcomes the proposals of the Committee and, so far as was possible in the circumstances, their realistic approach. I think everybody would agree with their conclusion that in present circumstances it is not practicable to make vaccination compulsory, because enforcement is impossible. Therefore they discarded that proposal. But I wonder whether we shall gain much by making the disease notifiable. Again, this is something that is almost impossible to achieve with the accuracy that is demanded if action is to be taken on the information which comes in. I think probably it would be best (it sounds callous) to leave it, like the other poultry diseases, for the industry itself to control.

What interests me is that from August 1970 to July last one-third of the working time of the whole of the field veterinary staff throughout the country was spent on fowl pest. This is not the best way to use the field veterinary staff now that the disease has become endemic. If there has to be control of any kind, I think that special consideration should be given to the employment of lay operators to do this, and not to make demands on the high-powered veterinary profession, who could be much better employed in getting on with the eradication of brucellosis in cattle.

Another point that I would question in the Report is how the veterinary surgeon can possibly certify the health of birds or eggs for export when the disease is smouldering all the time. I do not think he can possibly give a clean bill of health in this way. One point that I must mention about Scotland is that there the disease is not too bad, but advice is being given that all flocks should be vaccinated. I welcome the recommendation for the dissemination of information on the situation regarding the disease overseas, and the arrangements that are being made by the Ministry, with the British Veterinary Association, to have this information brought up to date in the veterinary records. I think this is a very sensible suggestion.

The important thing at the present moment, and the way in which we can show our sympathy with these producers, as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, said, is to get on with the research. That is fundamental. Here we can help. One suspects that very little work has been done in this field. The new lasota vaccine is, I believe, a great improvement. It might have been discovered a little earlier: in fact, one rather suspects that it was discovered by some poultryman before it was fully known to or appreciated by the Ministry. But that is only surmise, and not definite evidence.

I hope that the points listed in Appendix E to the White Paper will be fully considered by the Government, and that real funds will be put at the disposal of this investigation. It needs expert men and women trained in the subject of virology. Supposing we were to get on top of this disease—and I do not think that one can get conclusive results in under quite a period of time—there will always be a massive task for virologists so long as the human race survives.

8.16 p.m.


My Lords. I shall not follow the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, in a general discussion of the Fraser Report. I shall confine myself to the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, which is: can we have more money for research, and a more energetic effort put into research? I knew when I promised the noble Lord that I would support him that I should be left with little to say. It is a narrow subject, and he is not one to leave much for others. So far as I am concerned, I do not want to add to what he has said, but for the sake of respectability I will include a few glosses.

I have an old connection with the industry. Unlike many of your Lordships, I have actually made a living out of inducing hens to lay eggs; and I reckon that about three years ago I got out at just about the right time. I have talked to people I know in the industry (and they are many) and there is no doubt that as a result of this epidemic they are very worried. Intensive methods—which now, I think I am right in saying, cover 80 per cent. of all eggs produced—have come to stay, and I think it is clear that they demand intensive research to protect them against the troubles they produce for themselves. Clearly, the main trouble is the concentration of numbers in one place—the dangers of infection, the sucking in of air and the rest of it.

The Fraser Report contains one paragraph which really says all that needs to be said. Paragraph 139 reads: We consider that considerably increased research effort should now be undertaken by the Agricultural Research Council, the Ministry and the industry. I should like the noble Earl who is to reply to tell me whether that observation is accepted; and if so, in what way has the research been increased. I would refer noble Lords to the interesting Report by my noble friend (or perhaps, as a result of his present employment, I should no longer call him that) Lord Rothschild. In Chapter 2 of his very pithy Report on research he says: R. and D."— which I take to mean "research and development"— must be done on a customer-contractor basis. The customer says what he wants; the contractor does it, if he can, and the customer pays. The customer in this case is the industry, plus the Ministry. The contractor, as the noble Lord pointed out, is the A.R.C. I do not think there should be any difficulty about money. My view is that if a really comprehensive and much wider research was set up the industry would be prepared to pay its share. The A. R. C. not only has its research station, but it also has set up teams in universities with one skilled man, who is particularly known in the business, and a couple of helpers who work on a particular problem. This is the spread of research that we need.

I do not think that there is anything more to say from my point of view, except that the industry is worried about the typing of the strain of virus. I do not know whether they are right in what they think, but there is a view that the Essex 70 virus is not the danger, in particular, to the broiler, but that there is something more virulent. I should like to know whether any work has been done on this matter and, if not, could it be done? The present system works badly we all know that. There has been put forward a solution of a perfectly acceptable kind in the Fraser Report, and I conclude by supporting the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, in asking that the Government take active steps to pursue it.

8.21 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend and to everyone who has taken part in this debate. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend for having raised this subject. As the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said, my noble friend is an authority on this matter, and his views are not only extremely welcome, but they are always very succinct. It is not without a trace of cynicism that I find myself standing here this evening. It was almost 12 months ago (I have looked it up; it was November 24 exactly) when I, sitting on the Benches at present behind me, put down an Unstarred Question on this subject of fowl pest which at that time was on the rampage throughout the country. I am bound to declare an interest, as I did then, that I also keep poultry. I was so anxious to press the Government on this point on that occasion that what more could I do than invite my noble friend to come and support me. But he did not do so. The anticipated delights of some gastronomic engagement. with which he had rightly and sensibly involved himself beforehand, precluded him from taking part. It is not, therefore, without a degree of irony that I find myself standing here in a curious translation, using different but possibly more informed arguments than I might have done in other circumstances.

This is an important question; it deserves and requires the serious treatment which it has rightly received, and the fact that there are only four or five noble Lords present this evening should not reflect the interest and seriousness with which this disease is regarded by many people. Until a short while ago fowl pest was considered by many to be something which occurred in large-scale commercial poultry flocks, and that this was one of the hazards of this type of poultry keeping if you were stupid enough to go into it. The curious fact is that it was only during the past 12 months, when wild pheasants in substantial numbers have been affected by the disease, that the full impact and horror has been appreciated. Many people have realised it to be the disease which it is, a killer, a fast spreader, one liable to affect domestic and wild poultry of all types.

At the outset I should like to make it perfectly clear that the Government have accepted the recommendation of the Fowl Pest Review Panel that a considerably increased research effort should be made into fowl pest. I should also like to join my noble friend Lord Nugent in the thanks which he gave to the members of the Committee. I thought my noble friend Lord Balerno was a trifle unenthusiastic. He called it a "cosy Report". I did not find anything cosy in it at all; I found it most alarming. Your Lordships will recognise that all sorts of considerations are taken into account in determining the priorities which should be given to research, and the losses from any particular disease are merely one of the factors which are taken into account. It is an important aspect; the size and cost of the Newcastle epidemic which we have had recently has undoubtedly brought this to the fore.

I thought it might be helpful in discussing what should be done in the future with regard to research that we should be aware of what already has been done. Much of the work on research into this disease has been done at the Ministry of Agriculture's central veterinary laboratory at Weybridge. I suggest that this laboratory has received a good deal less recognition, and less than its fair share of credit for the work which has been done on this disease. The laboratory was the first to identify the disease way back in 1927. Since then it has pursued a distinct programme of research into the disease. Its world collection of fowl pest virus strains is recognised internationally as being unrivalled, and the laboratory has studied and recorded the characteristics of each known strain of virus. It has carried out studies in considerable depth, therefore, on the virus, which has in turn advanced substantially world knowledge of its characteristics. This is extremely important.

In the field of Newcastle disease vaccines the Weybridge laboratory has contributed much to the inactivated vaccine which is used in this country. It has carried out a considerable programme of laboratory research into all of the known live strains of vaccine; it has advanced substantially the procedures and techniques for assessing the efficiency, safety and potency of vaccines. It has undertaken studies into the response to live Newcastle vaccine. It has carried out research into the effects which different methods of applying the vaccines may have on the way the vaccines, when applied, may interact with any latent infections which may be present; on the relationship between the size of the dose and the response to it in the bird and the development of effective vaccination programmes. In addition to this they have done much research into the maternal antibody interference, to which my noble friend referred. As I am sure my noble friend knows, this has caused difficulty with many vaccine programmes and their ability to give an adequate immunity. The true significance of this interference was first discovered at Weybridge.

Important work has also been done on the relationship between the level of antibodies in the blood and the consequent level of resistance to infection. The study of ways in which this disease is spread, which has been carried out by the central veterinary laboratory in conjunction with the veterinary field service, is probably unique. These are all complicated and technical matters, and it is not easy to assess the real importance of these achievements. I suggest—and I draw your Lordships' attention to this—that the laboratory can reasonably claim that the extent of its research into Newcastle disease in the years since 1963 cannot be matched by any other laboratory in the world, save possibly the University of Wisconsin.


My Lords, will my noble friend allow me to ask him a question on this matter? If such spectacular work in research has been done at Weybridge, why is it that so little clear advice has come out into the field? Why is it that we do not have an effective vaccine to protect our flocks? Why is that there is such confusion right through the industry about even the application of the vaccines that we have?


My Lords, I accept the points which the noble Lord makes. He will also realise that this is a changing sphere. He will know that the type and the virulence of the disease of twelve months ago was different from that which occurred earlier on. What I was trying to point out—and I am more than sympathetic to the noble Lord's request that more research should be done into this subject—was what had been done and that this should not be belittled.

Earlier in his opening remarks, my noble friend compared the work that has been done on fowl pest with the work that has been done on foot-and-mouth disease. We ought to be careful about drawing comparisons like that, because it is easy to say that as a lot of work has been done on one item therefore more ought to be done on another. But of course we do not change cattle scientists into poultry scientists overnight. It could be argued—I am not suggesting that it should be—that because so much resource has been applied to foot-and-mouth disease, therefore something else has had to suffer.

The financial effects of foot-and-mouth disease are very much greater when they occur than have been the effects of Newcastle disease in the immediate past. But I do not wish to go into too much of a comparison on this, other than to say that I take the noble Lord's point. He has been at it for thirty years, or his Institute has, and foot-and-mouth disease as a result has been kept out of this country. We unfortunately have this other disease now well established in the country, and it has to be dealt with. I would only say that the fundamental properties of the Newcastle disease virus are fairly well known, and more research has been done at places including St. Thomas's Hospital Medical School, the Royal Post-graduate Medical School, the Department of Pathology at the University of Cambridge and the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Warwick. So research is being done and this is merely an example of how veterinary science has also benefited from human medical research to a very marked extent. Does the noble Lord wish to interrupt? He looked as if he did.


My Lords, I am sorry if I am putting off the noble Earl. I am waiting to hear him come to the point as to what extra is to be done.


My Lords, I shall come to that point if the noble Lord will be a little patient. I was trying to draw a distinction to show that quite a lot has already been done.

With regard to what will be done, there has already been the reallocation of resources made on fowl pest research. The research projects for 1971/1972 include work in each of the fields which have been listed by the Review Panel as being in particular need of attention. In addition to the field control of live vaccines which are already carried out, the Laboratory are monitoring the efficiency of vaccination in a number of commercial production flocks. They are undertaking research into various aspects of the way in which the vaccine is administered as well as into vaccination programmes and the potency of the vaccine. A good deal of work has already been done on such live vaccines as rowapin and commeroff, and it is now intended to draw further on the experience of other countries such as Israel and South Africa, who use these particular vaccines, to see what additional research may be required here before considering the possibility of full trials in this country with them. This is being done at the Central Veterinary Laboratory.

I should like to say that my right honourable friend has asked me to convey an invitation to my noble friend to go down there and see what is being done, not in order that the Laboratory should justify itself but in order that he, who has shown such an interest in these matters, should see what in fact is being done. If my noble friend would care to avail himself of this invitation I should be more than delighted to make the arrangements for him to go there.

He asked me specifically what the expenditure had been on fowl pest research. It is difficult to break these things up with very much accuracy, but I shall do the best I can. If we take the Central Veterinary Laboratory first, the entire poultry department of 8 veterinarians, 17 technicians and 15 laboratory support staff, are working largely on respiratory diseases of which fowl pest is the most important aspect. Two of these veterinary scientists and three technicians are concerned solely with fowl pest. But the rest of the work that is being done has a relationship with this disease. Broadly, similar numbers have been engaged on research in the field since 1963. The Ministry's veterinary staff in the field and the veterinary investigation side in the regions have also done a good deal of research into the disease, particularly as part of the vaccine trials. The research projects supported by the Agricultural Research Council have employed the services of between two and five research scientists plus supporting staff in recent years.

With regard to the expenditure, taking the Weybridge Laboratory first, I should mention that there is a unit which has been designed for research into Newcastle disease and which was built in 1965 at a cost of £180,000. Since that year expenditure on research into poultry diseases has risen from about £85,000 in 1966– 67 to between £90,000 and £100,000 in each of the three following years. In 1970– 71 it was £133,000, and in 1971– 72 it will be £140,000. About half of this was specifically directed at Newcastle disease and much of the remainder has relevance to the disease. Total expenditure on poultry diseases by all sides of the agricultural departments was of course higher than this. In the current year, including expenditure on the vaccine trials, it will be in all about £220,000. About half of this expenditure will relate specifically to Newcastle disease and much of the rest will have some bearing on it.

Expenditure by the Agricultural Research Council in direct payments in respect of staff, material and equipment used in supportive research by university departments into Newcastle disease was about £4,000 in 1967, £5,000 in 1968, and £10,000 in each of the years 1969 and 1970, and £2,500 in 1971. I should emphasise that these figures take no account of the considerable overheads incurred in the university departments. My Lords, I apologise for such a lot of detail and statistics, but the noble Lord asked me for them, and I wanted to make it, if not as plain as possible, then as full as possible, and it will perhaps make him a little light reading to-morrow.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for making it admirably plain and full. He has, I think, made my point; it is not very much.


My Lords, my noble friend said that he thought that Houghton would be a very good place for this increased research to be carried out in. As he knows, whereas the Central Veterinary Department comes directly under the Ministry of Agriculture, Houghton is a research institute maintained by the Agricultural Research Council, and any further research here would be dependent on the Agricultural Research Council's providing further funds. The Fowl Pest Review Panel directed its recommendation specifically to the Agricultural Research Council as well, and it is obviously important that research activities should be co-ordinated. I am glad to tell my noble friend that the Ministry of Agriculture are in touch with the Agricultural Research Council to see what more can be done in this field, and these discussions are being pursued with urgency.

I hope that the Answer to my noble friend will show him that the Government are taking this question of research into Newcastle disease very seriously. The 1970– 71 epidemic has been the most severe and the most extensive on record. It has shown the potentially devastating effect of the disease in a new and even more serious light, and the Government accept that we must do what we can to reduce these effects so far as possible. An increased research effort is not only justified, my Lords, but will be undertaken.

I should like to emphasise just two points. First, one of the suggestions of the Fowl Pest Review Panel was that the poultry industry should itself consider whether to devote more resources to sponsoring or undertaking research into Newcastle disease. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are to have consultations with the organisations representing the poultry industry in order to discuss this possibility. The second is that while it is highly desirable to know more about the virus and to develop better vaccines, the vaccines which have already been authorised for general use in this country are, I suggest, capable of controlling this disease, with two provisos: one is that they should be administered correctly and the other is that they should be administered sufficiently widely. The sad and the hard fact is that the mere act of vaccination will not of itself guarantee immunity to the birds so treated, but it will substantially lessen the effects of the disease on the bird in the event of an outbreak. The only way to guarantee immunity to the disease—if one can guarantee anything—is for a very high percentage of birds to be vaccinated, thus effectively blocking not only the spread but the actual appearance of the disease. In 1964, when the levels of vaccination went up to 80 per cent., we had very few outbreaks; last year, when they went down to 50 per cent., we had the outbreaks which your Lordships know about. I am glad to say that the vaccine sales have been rising again in recent months, and it is essential that the level of vaccination should be raised as high as possible and, having been raised, be maintained in order to keep the disease down to manageable proportions.