HL Deb 06 July 1972 vol 332 cc1553-76

5.30 p.m.

LORD ROWALLAN rose to ask Her Majesty's Government: What steps are being taken to prevent reinfection of accredited herds by the elimination of known centres of brucellosis infection; to develop more reliable and more rapid methods of diagnosis, and to establish more acceptable communications between the herd owners and the Ministry. The noble Lord said: My Lords, time marches on, and it is getting late, so I shall be as brief as I can. I wish to say at once that we had a very kind reception at the Ministry this morning, when we went to talk to them about the present situation in in the eradication of this disease. We were able to hear from them sufficient of their problems to enable us to have a fellow feeling with them, and I hope that we managed to impress upon them the fact that we were trying not to be destructive but to help them in every way in the eradication of this disease.

It is difficult to describe briefly the problems we face, but brucellosis is the most difficult of all the diseases connected with cattle that I have ever come across—and I have come across a good many of them. There are certain stages of calving when the disease is masked. There are certain stages when one must be very careful in carrying out vaccinations, as otherwise they are not likely to be effective. There are certain ways by which the infection may be carried from one animal to another and from one farm to another. It is also true to say that it is the only disease in which a farmer is quite unable to take any steps to reduce the probability of cross-infection to his own herd, however much he tries.

We were very fortunate in being able to get some figures from the Milk Marketing Boards of England and Wales, which enabled us to make a pretty good guess at the situation about a year ago. By analysing the figures we came to the conclusion that there were some 23,000 herds which were known to be free, or very nearly free, of all infection but which were not attracted in any way to entering the scheme. Also, there were only about 2,500 herds in the whole of England and Wales where the infection had reached the point of no return, and where it was quite useless for the farmer to try to keep his herd clear. We were very delighted indeed to hear that the slaughter compensation paid under the scheme was very significantly increased, so that it became an attraction to those who were free to enter the scheme. As a result, 30,000 herds have since joined the scheme, which will produce a very useful reservoir for replacements of animals which have to be slaughtered. That gave us something to work on.

The fact that only about 2,500 herds had reached the point of no return led us to hope that the Government and the Ministry would be tempted to follow the eradication scheme which has proved fruitful in Northern Ireland, by getting rid of the heavily infected herds and thus diminishing the chance of infection from another farm where no effort had been made to clear the herd. In Ayrshire during the past year there have been 80 reinfections. Farmers who at great expense had cleared their herds found them to be reinfected for various reasons, most of them fairly well known to those of us who are interested in this subject. We shall not be able to sleep in our beds at night without knowing we may find that our herds have become reinfected, with all the problems that that creates.

The noble Viscount, Lord Davidson, told me the other day that it had taken him five years to get to the point where he had amortised his own very heavy expenditure on double fencing, on clearing up all contacts with herds outside and on getting rid of infected animals. Five years is a long time, my Lords, and if, at the end of that time, a farmer goes back to square one it is one of the most disheartening and devastating experiences that he can have. Many people imagine that it will be all right and that he will get over it in a very short time. But, on average, it takes 15 months to get rid of the disease, if you are lucky. To all intents and purposes, your farm has to be closed to contact with the outside world. You cannot sell your cattle off the farm except in the non-accredited market, which means a fall of at least 30 per cent. in the true value of accredited animals. You cannot bring animals on to your farm to make up for those that have to be taken off. I heard of one case where a man had 150 Jersey cattle who were free from disease. They then became reinfected, and the result was what I call "the death of a thousand cuts": after about 18 months, his herd had been reduced to 10 cows. His whole marketing organisation and the market for his retail milk had been destroyed. No possible blame could be laid at his door.

The other day a friend of mine was calculating how much he had lost through reinfection; it amounted to £22,000 and he was not yet out of the wood. It is a devastating experience, and yet the only means of clearing the way for future success is to get rid of heavily infected herds and so give people who have gone to the expense of clearing their herds a chance to remain free from the disease. I am afraid that we could not convince the owners of these infected herds, but I am quite certain that something could be done by giving them an incentive in the way of better opportunities of keeping their farms clear for perhaps 12 months, feeding bullocks on them in the hope that at the end of the time the trouble may have cleared up.

We had a very pleasant talk this morning with Ministry officials, and I hope that pressure may yet be brought to bear on these owners by bodies other than our committee in order to give them—I do not like to say this—the courage to take what most of us consider to be a right and proper course. This policy succeeded in Northern Ireland, and I am sure that it is the only one that can succeed with us. There are many problems which members of the committee would wish to put forward, but I do not want to take up any more time. I hope that we may come to some agreement and arrangement whereby the cause of infection, which is so serious among herds in the most heavily stocked areas, will be eradicated and hope of freedom from reinfection will be given.

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, first of all, I wish to thank my noble friend Lord Rowallan for bringing this Question before us to-day and, secondly, I wish to declare an interest. I manage a suckler herd of 300 cows which are heavily infected. One cannot consider the question of reinfection without considering the whole problem of brucellosis. Milk can transmit this disease to human beings as it can transmit any disease that lives in it. Nevertheless, all processed milk—pasteurised milk and so on—is absolutely safe. I do not produce any milk; I produce store cattle for beef, so the problem does not apply to any extent to me. Beef is quite safe; it is cooked and there is no danger to public health.

But the farmer is affected in this way. If one sells in the market and gets the market price for an infected cow one will probably get something of the order of £100. Against that, one has to set the loss of the calf because it dies; this is of the order of £50. There is also the cost of an accredited replacement heifer and this is liable to be in the region of £200; there are some which can be got more cheaply but not many. There is the loss of one's calf subsidy and one's hill cow subsidy, so in very rough figures, in replacing one cow one is down something like £180. Farmers farm for a living and they cannot stand these losses.

It is quite unrealistic to say, "Sell the whole lot". The North of Scotland College of Agriculture at Aberdeen, which has been infected three times, has had to do that and it is still being infected. When one considers that in Scotland alone there are something like 30,000 beef suckler herds, one wonders how many are infected. I do not know, and neither does the Ministry. But this gives us some kind of idea of the problem about which we are talking. In any case, if one replaces one's infected cows with accredited heifers, the accredited animals have no protection against reinfection. On the other hand, if one replaces them with heifer calves that have been inoculated with S.19 inoculation, which leaves no trace in the subsequent test if it is done in accordance with the Ministry's directions, there is protection for five or six pregnancies. What is inflating the cost of replacements is the scarcity of accredited heifers or S.19 inoculated heifers. There are just not enough within reach of where the people require them. I should have said that I am talking about Scotland; I know nothing about England.

Another point which is not generally realised is that a dairy heifer, of which there are many, is totally unsuitable as a replacement in a hill cow suckler herd. These animals are out-wintered frequently, roam around the hillside and are not pandered to in the milk parlours. So they are the wrong type of animal and there is no point in replacing with dairy stock. It seems to me that there is only one reasonably economic and sensible method of tackling the problem. Tackle it we must, and we are trying. We must inoculate our whole herd with 45.20, which is a 75 to 80 per cent. effective vaccine. But it gives a reaction and before one starts going accredited one has to stop inoculating for about 18 months. That is where losses are liable to hit us. On the other hand, if you have three or four consecutive years of inoculation you will build up a good resistance in the herd which may stand you in very good stead in this difficult period. Then you must try to isolate, as we do now, all cows that have aborted, and treat them, because a cow very seldom aborts twice—occasionally it does, but very seldom. This is a thing which, economically, we have at this moment to live with. Otherwise, we are going to put every farmer out of business. Inoculation is the only thing to do.

There are three suggestions that I would make to Her Majesty's Government. The first is that since S.19 vaccination does not result in a positive reaction to the tests and also gives protection against infection, all heifer calves should be inoculated at the appropriate time (three months to nine months, I think it is) with S.19, which would provide a big pool of replacements and help to defeat inflation. As to encouraging farmers to do this, you would have thought that a Scotsman, if he could get something free, would jump at it. But, my Lords, Scotsmen are not jumping at it. So to encourage them to jump at it I would suggest the following procedure. When the vet inoculates with S.19 and puts the distinctive ear-tag in the heifer calf, he should then write the numbers—not the actual individual number of the calf—down in a duplicate book; something like, "Farmer So-and-so: I have this day inoculated with S.19 20 heifer calves", or whatever the number is. Then, three months later, when the Government puncher comes along—that is the official who punches the hole and enables you to get a subsidy—he gets the chit from the farmer and punches for subsidy only those heifer calves with tags in their ears. So, if the farmer does not bother to get his heifer calf inoculated with S.19, then he does not get the heifer subsidy—nor should he. I can see no difficulty whatever about that. I think Her Majesty's Government should have done it years ago; if they had, we should not be in the pickle we are in now.

There is one other way in which I think hardship could be alleviated. When you replace a cow which has gone down with an accredited heifer or an S.19 heifer, a bulling heifer, you should be allowed to include that bulling heifer for hill cattle subsidy that winter, and not have to drop a year, waiting until she has had a calf. If there were that encouragement on the one side, not making it compulsory but not paying a subsidy for a calf which has not been inoculated, though it would take a little time I think that it would be quicker in the end and would receive pretty good support. I know that the Scottish N.F.U. would not oppose this.

5.54 p.m.


My Lords, I have no first-hand knowledge at all of brucellosis in animals which is what this debate is really about, but I have some experience of human brucellosis and I really put my name down on the list of speakers just in case any questions were raised on the human disease which perhaps I might be better able to answer than other noble Lords speaking in this debate. No such question has been raised, and therefore my remarks are perhaps irrelevant; but as I am on my feet I should like to take three minutes or so of your Lordships' time to support the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, in bringing this matter very forcefully to the notice of Her Majesty's Government (although I know Her Majesty's Government are very well aware of the problem) and to support his pleas that further action should be taken as soon as possible and as efficiently as possible, because human brucellosis presents a public health problem of considerable seriousness and magnitude.

Although the disease is often self-limiting and rarely fatal, it can cause prolonged illness, going on for months and even for years, often intermittently with bouts of fever. Not only can that be very uncomfortable to the sufferer, but it is possible that it may cause quite serious complications; for instance, in the joints, including the spinal joints. The economic effects (which seem to be influencing noble Lords this afternoon) of prolonged illness of this kind can also be very serious to the sufferer. Perhaps I should just add that diagnosis of this disease is often very difficult, especially if it is unsuspected and a patient suffering from a mysterious, feverish disease, forgets to tell his doctor that last August he spent his holiday on a farm and was drinking raw milk. Furthermore, treatment is very unsatisfactory, although in most cases some of the antibiotics appear to shorten the disease. That, I am sure, is all I need say in this debate. I strongly support the noble Lord who opened it.

5.57 p.m.


My Lords, I join with my noble friend Lord Stonehaven in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, for having put this Question down this afternoon. I should also like to thank him for the tremendous amount of work he has done and trouble which he has taken in his capacity as chairman of the Brucellosis Committee. I cannot attempt to follow the highly technical and informative speech of the noble Lord, Lord Platt, but it was of great interest to me and, I am sure, to every other noble Lord taking part in this debate.

It is the custom in your Lordships' House for those who have an interest to declare it at the beginning of their speech. Therefore, I must say that I am a farmer farming 600 acres of mainly arable land. I am not in the milk business, so my practical knowledge of this dreadful disease, happily, is non-existent. Noble Lords who have spoken earlier are so much more knowledgeable on this subject than I am myself; and I was particularly interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, and especially in his remarks on the difficulty of keeping a herd clean even after it has been free from disease for a period of time.

My noble friend Lord Stonehaven gave some alarming figures with regard to the difficulties facing those whose herds are infected. His most interesting speech outlined the difficulties facing not only the Minister but also the unfortunate herd owner. At one time—not to-day, but earlier on—I had the feeling that some noble Lords were very impatient at the delays which the eradication of this disease entails. For my part, I am not critical of the steps taken so far. The Ministry must be practical and this must be a phased programme; they cannot overlook the many other problems with which they are faced. For instance, while dealing with this problem, too stringent a slaughter policy could not be undertaken owing to the acute shortage of replacement animals. They have to work within the limits of the problems imposed upon them.

I understand that one in three of all herds in Great Britain are participating in voluntary accreditation, of which more than half are not fully accredited. The scheme now covers some 3 million testable animals and there are 6 million testable animals out of a national herd of 10 million head. The Government are paying large sums in order to clear up this disease. In 1971–72 £5 million was paid in milk incentives and over half a million pounds in beef and hill cow supplements. Whether this is enough is arguable; but what is certain is that the money available to the Ministry is not unlimited, and if more is spent in this direction it has to be diverted from somewhere else. Apart from the difficulties facing the Ministry, there are only a limited number of vets; and in my experience they are generally grossly overworked. They are taking between 4 million and 5 million blood samples a year, and I doubt whether this rate could be stepped up very much. Could my noble friend, when he comes to reply, say whether the time taken for the analysis for these samples could be reduced? It is obvious that it must be advantageous for reactors to be removed from the herd as soon as they are known.

I am informed that the breakdown rate in clean herds is running at 4 per cent. of the accredited herds. This is clearly too high a figure, and I hope we may be told that there are schemes for improving on this. I realise that it took 20 years, up to 1960, to eradicate tuberculosis, and that it cost £100 million. Owing to to-day's increased costs and the high values of cattle, it may well cost £150 million to eradicate brucellosis; but as veterinary science has advanced a very long way since 1960, it would not be unreasonable to suppose that a much shorter period of time than 20 years should be required effectively to deal with the disease.

6.5 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first of all to say how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, for having given us this opportunity for an interesting debate in your Lordships' House. I, too, must declare an interest as a farmer. Malta, or Mediterranean, fever has been known for many years, but it was not until 1887 that this disease was first isolated by Bruce and given the name of brucellosis. The effects and different types of the disease were not known until 1918. Goats had much the most virulent form of the disease but, luckily, not in this country. The disease seems to have an incubation period of from two months to seven months, due partly to its ability to lie fairly dormant inside the cells of the liver, kidney and stomach, slowly spreading from cell to cell inside its host. Once the disease has broken out in humans it can be very serious, with a high fever which can often last, off and on, for several months; hence its other name, undulant fever. Humans suffer from severe depression with periods of violent backache, headache and fever. Brucelli can live for many months in warm, damp, shaded places and have survived in water at 25° C. or 77° F. for well over one year. They can thrive in many cheeses but not in butter, because they cannot survive in sour or pasteurised milk.

The spread of the disease from man to man living in reasonable hygienic conditions rarely if ever occurs. But man's role is still an important one for, by domesticating the animals and herding them together, he provides conditions which, though age-old, are quite unnatural and greatly increase the ease by which brucelli survive both inside and outside their hosts. Infected farm animals readily infect one another; their illness tends to be chronic and they shed the disease into their environment. Although the disease is mostly transmitted by the afterbirth, it very commonly spreads to cattle by urine and can be spread by blood-sucking flies such as the horse-fly. A fox or any carnivorous animal carrying away the afterbirth could easily spread brucellosis from one farm to another. Although it is not common, bulls can infect any cow they serve as the disease can be transmitted by way of the semen.

Some 15 per cent. of British herds were infected by brucellosis in 1961 but, thanks to the great efforts made by the Ministry of Agriculture, this percentage is not increasing. Its spread is now so common among people who work with cows that it has just been recommended that brucellosis should be added to the list of recognised diseases under the Industrial injuries Act. More than 60 per cent. of British vets are sufferers. Although it appears that middle-aged men are more likely to contract brucellosis than women or children, it is expected to infect in the next fifteen years more than 2,000 children and young people through their drinking unpasteurised milk alone, as 14 per cent. of Britain's cows are infected. Vaccination is certainly an answer in cattle and I believe it is effective for six or seven years. In that connection I was most interested in the remarks of my noble friend Lord Stonehaven. But, so far as I know, the problem with vaccination is that it has no effect on an animal already infected, and therefore testing becomes a problem. Certainly 45/20 clinically-tested animals which have been vaccinated produce the same result as an animal with the disease.

A veterinary surgeon must take three blood tests from each animal at four-month intervals, and this, with the limited Ministry veterinary staff and a national herd of 9.5 million, is a mammoth task. Government compensation costs are, I believe, estimated to be £150 million, apart from the serious loss to any farmer where the disease returns to a herd which has been accredited as free. Subsidies for beef cattle are paid at six-month intervals on the lowest number of cattle that a farmer has at the beginning and the end of the period. One way in which the Government can help would be to allow any farmer to claim that subsidy if he immediately sold any animal which failed the test. As it is, many farmers keep infected animals longer than they should, so as to gain the subsidy. The fact that under these conditions beef subsidy can be paid on "ghost" animals is not widely known and may possibly assist some of the work which my noble friend Lord Stonehaven is doing in this connection.

In a country such as Great Britain with reasonable standards of farming management, eradication of brucellosis in cattle requires only determination, co-operation and money. This has been achieved in Germany, Denmark, Holland and several other countries. Therefore it must be achieved here, but it cannot be done immediately and I am satisfied that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is doing all it can and will spare no effort to achieve the eradication of this disease. People visiting France, Italy or other Mediterranean countries should be very careful about the milk or cream that they drink, particularly goats' milk. I should like finally to thank the noble Lord, Lord Platt, Mr. Peter Mills, Mr. Steel and all the staff at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for their help in my researches.

6.14 p.m.


My Lords, following the Government's announcement of the higher beef and milk incentives I feel that we should congratulate them on the most encouraging progress of the voluntary Scheme. I think great credit is due, also, to the livestock industry where obviously there has been splendid co-operation within the Scheme. Notwithstanding the benefits which they may eventually derive when they become accredited, producers are facing quite considerable financial problems at the present time. They are in an extraordinarily difficult position because it is difficult to evaluate whether or not to go into the Scheme, especially if they have a fair number of reactors at the first test. I wonder whether it would be possible for the Government to offer some practical advice to insurance companies whereby some insurance scheme might be forthcoming so that producers could insure even before becoming fully accredited. Perhaps the Government could help with the high premiums which would be payable before producers became accredited, and maybe the money which they pay then could be deducted from any incentive payments after accreditation.

In the interesting, highly informative and pleasant meeting which we had this morning with the Minister and Ministry officials I was glad to learn of the continuing research into the speeding up of the testing and diagnosis of reactors, and especially the subsequent reporting to owners of these animals. Certainly it is obviously essential in these diagnoses; but I feel that speed is equally essential, for difficulties arise, both financial and also administrative, for the farmers if reporting is delayed, and there is considerable danger of other animals being reinfected. If the current process can be continued I think that it would be of great help to the industry as a whole.

6.17 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry that I did not put my name down to speak; I did not think that I should be able to be present. I should like to declare the usual interest: I am a cow keeper. The noble Lord, Lord Allerton, is an arable farmer; Lord Stonehaven keeps beef; I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, keeps beef. I do not know what other noble Lords do, but I am a cow-man and I have about 500 cows. This is an appalling disease. We are not a veterinary committee here and we cannot go into all the details of S.19 and the rest of the problem. The noble Earl, Lord Balfour, said that this disease can be cured and that we can eradicate it with determination, co-operation and money. Are we spending on this operation the sort of money we spend on Concorde? All the arguments used by the noble Lord, Lord Allerton, were used about tuberculosis in the old days—that there were not enough vets; that we should be short of cows—and it took 25, 30, 40 years before we did anything about tuberculosis. Then the Irish did something quickly and we had to do something.

My Lords, we must get rid of this terrible disease which, for the information of those who do not know, is contagious abortion. It is a beastly disease for cattle to have. All veterinary surgeons have it and most of the cows have it. It is true that if you drink pasteurised milk you will not get it through drinking the milk, but you may get it through eating cheese. In an advanced country like ours we have no business to have—I do not know the figure, but a large number of our herds still infected with brucellosis or contagious abortion, because, we say, there are not enough vets; or that we should not have enough heifers to replace the animals, or that it would cost rather a lot of money, and would the farmers like to do it.

All praise to the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, who keeps on keeping on. He writes letters to us; he runs his Committee and lobbies the Ministry, and keeps on saying that we must stop this disease. We can stop it, my Lords. Other countries have stopped it. I am impatient and, if he does not mind my saying so, I do not believe a word of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Allerton. I am impatient about this delay. I used to work at the Ministry, and I am sure that the Ministry people are all charming, and were extremely diplomatic, kind, sensible and everything else at the meeting this morning. But the fact is that the disease has not been stopped, and will not be stopped.

I suppose that I am too old to go in for "demos". But would women have got the vote if they had not chained themselves to the railings? One has to push on a little sometimes. We have now come to the time when all these stock arguments of lack of vets, the difficulty of replacement and what it would cost have got to come to an end. We are shortly going to join the Common Market and we want to have our cattle industry free of one of the well-known diseases. We also want to remove from our medical practice, as the noble Lord, Lord Platt, was saying, a very debilitating, insidious, tiresome disease of the human being which is much more widespread than is generally known—undulant fever and the sort of diseases which are often, and I believe rightly, attributed to brucellosis.

Let us praise the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, for having his "ginger" group. I want just to warn the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, that I for one am not going to listen with any patience at all to the usual platitudes about how difficult it is to eradicate this disease; how well we are getting on, and how friendly we all were at this morning's committee. I was not at the committee.

6.22 p.m.


My Lords, I hope you will permit a short intervention for there are two points which I feel require ventilation. I, too, must declare an interest. I have both beef and dairy cattle and I am also very impatient. I was very pleased to hear the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, say that he was impatient. Current schemes lay too much emphasis on keeping a herd clean rather than on preventing infected or dirty cattle from infecting clean herds. I am not going into this as the Ministry is well aware of the problem. Too much weight is given to the problems and insufficient attention paid to possible solutions. If an industrialist causes pollution there is an outcry; indeed, a farmer is in trouble if he permits silage effluent to run into a stream. But farmers are being freely permitted to spread this disease, causing not only financial loss to their neighbours but substantial loss to the country. There seems to be no reason why the law should not be altered to prevent the movement of dangerous, or potentially dangerous, animals except to the slaughterhouse. I hope my noble friend will look closely at this side of the matter.

The next question is whether the Ministry really have all the answers on this disease. I am not happy that we as farmers can get a firm answer as to how soon we can safely restock with clean cattle a piece of ground from which infected cattle have been removed. I would ask my noble friend to look into this point to see whether sufficient research has been instituted to permit reasonably sound advice to be given to the farmer.

The noble Lord, Lord Platt, who has left the House, mentioned the difficulty of curing this horrible disease in humans. It does seem, however, that the homeopaths have a comparatively simple cure. I am not one, but I am open to look at any possible solution. It is hoped that current promising experiments of homeo- pathic treatment of cattle will prove effective, as this would certainly save the country millions of pounds.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, I did not intend to speak in this debate but I should like to make two points before the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, replies. I am a dairy cow breeder and I have a herd which has been accredited for over two years. I believe it is possible for a farmer who has a herd which he wishes to become accredited, or if he lives in an area which he has reason to believe is in a very short time going to be a compulsory area, to have a private blood test taken of his cattle. He can then sell reactors in the open market and thereby spread the disease.


May I interrupt the noble Lord? I moved an Amendment on this point on the Agriculture Bill. A person would be breaking the law if he did so knowingly.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Burton. I quite agree that a person may be breaking the law; but I am assured that it is done very freely and I do not know whether there have been any prosecutions in such cases. There is another point. I have a herd near me of some 400 to 500 dairy cows, and I have reason to believe that these cows had a test which showed that 40 per cent. were reactors. When asked what they were going to do about this the owners said that they were going to ride the position out until the area became compulsory, when of course they would get compensation for any reactors that there might be in the herd. As the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, said, if there are herds which are known to be a danger to other accredited herds in the area, I hope the Ministry will take steps to do something about them.

6.26 p.m.


My Lords, I should just like to emphasise one thing which has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Burton. The Ministry do not know how long it is going to take to clean up land that has been occupied by a brucellosis affected herd. I would suggest that, where there has been a bad outbreak and cattle have been cleaned out, farmers should temporarily go in for sheep.

6.27 p.m.


My Lords, I should like at the outset to thank the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, for putting down this Question and for having this discussion this afternoon. Like a number of other noble Lords, I should also declare an interest, in so far as I am a farmer or, as my noble friend would more directly put it, a cow-keeper and therefore also interested in the problem. Anyone who has known the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, knows the deep concern and interest which he has already had in this problem and the pungent way in which he always puts his point over, not only in debate but on every other occasion on which the problem of this particular disease has been raised. I was concerned at the blast which came from behind, from my noble friend Lord Waldegrave, who said that he was impatient, that he was not going to stick any kind of nonsense, that we did not spend enough money on this disease compared with the amount that was spent on Concorde, and that if we had spent a lot more on it instead of on Concorde we could have got rid of the disease earlier. I could not help being reminded, when he said that, of one occasion when he himself was speaking from this Dispatch Box and somebody complained to him that not enough money had been spent compared with what was wasted on Blue Streak. I can remember this so well because I frequently recounted it myself. My noble friend turned round in horror and said, "You can reduce any argument to how much you have spent on Blue Streak". I would only say to my noble friend that he will have to eat his own words, if he would do so most graciously.


My Lords, of course I would most graciously eat my own words. Blue Streak is out of date; Concorde is the modern thing.


My Lords, the strange thing is that my noble friend wanted this done years ago and I wonder why he did not set about it when he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. No doubt his time was fully occupied and I certainly take his rebuke that he does want action. I hope to be able to show your Lordships that the Government are fully committed to the policy of eradicating a disease which is horrible to animals and to humans and which presents a considerable problem of disease eradication.

It is a disease which is widespread and very infectious. Despite the exhortations from my noble friend, it is bound to be a slow business to eradicate it. Quite apart from the nature of the disease, there are two important factors which control the speed at which we can achieve this eradication. The first is the good supply and availability of clean animals to replace the reactors which are slaughtered. The second is the availability of trained manpower, particularly veterinary surgeons, of carry out and interpret the necessary blood tests and to offer advice to herd owners. In their programme for the eradication of this disease, obviously the Government have to take account of these factors. This is why we have placed such emphasis on the brucellosis incentive scheme under which herd owners are paid incentives on milk and on beef as soon as their herds become accredited. In this way we are not only identifying the clean herds, but, what is more important, we are building up a reservoir of clean and healthy stock to replace the reactors which are going to be slaughtered. Therefore this is a point of some importance.


My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend? I believe it does not require a veterinary surgeon or even a fully skilled person to take a blood sample. Therefore it should be quite easy to have comparatively untrained staff doing this work.


My Lords, my noble friend surprises me slightly, because he knows that if you are going to have an efficient scheme that is acceptable to the Government and to the public in general it obviously has to be controlled. We believe that the right way to control this scheme is for the veterinary profession to he in charge of taking these blood samples and doing tests. There are now over 64,000 herds taking part in the scheme, of which nearly 34,000 are already accredited. These 64,000 herds comprise some 3 million cattle which are eligible for blood testing; that is, cows, heifers and bulls. This represents about half of what one might describe as the testable cattle in Britain. We have half the testable cattle in Britain, but that does not mean to say that we are half way through the scheme, because obviously we have those herds most likely to be free of the disease in the first half; it is those in the latter half that will provide the greatest difficulty. Applications to join the scheme are still being received from herd owners at the rate of about 2,000 a month. This, I suggest, shows not only that the incentives that we are offering are about right to give encouragement to voluntary action, but that herd owners in general are anxious to get on with the eradication of the disease.

In this way we are building up a reservoir of clean stock. At the same time, we are going ahead with the compulsory eradication of the disease on a planned area by area basis. As noble Lords will know, we made a start last November in the initial areas in Western Scotland, North-West England, South Wales and the Isle of Wight. Since then we have announced our plans to extend our operations into other areas in the next two or three years. We have also recently announced the revised financial terms for herd owners who are affected by compulsory eradication. These terms have been welcomed by the National Farmers' Union as being fair and reasonable.

These two things, therefore—the encouragement of clean and healthy herds and the systematic compulsory eradication on an area basis—comprise, we believe, the most effective way of using our limited veterinary resources. About 50 per cent. of the time of the Ministry's veterinary staff is employed on brucellosis, most of them dealing with the voluntary scheme herds, with smaller concentrations in the eradication areas, where of course every cow, heifer and bull must be subjected to compulsory testing. While eradication is under way, we have to exercise control over the movement of all susceptible cattle into the areas and between farms in the areas. I would hope that no one would doubt that this is a very large-scale operation indeed in the animal disease field.

In addition to the Ministry's veterinary resources, to which I referred earlier, we have the assistance of nearly 3,500 private veterinary practitioners, and they are at present taking between 4 and 5 million blood samples a year. Each sample of course has to be properly identified as to the animal to which it belongs, and has to be sent off to a laboratory for testing; and those which react to the first test, the Rose Bengal plate test, have to be subjected to two further tests before deciding whether the animal should be slaughtered. In addition, every abortion or premature calving in the herds which are taking part in the scheme in the eradication areas must be investigated. This again involves the private practitioners and Government laboratories. I say this, my Lords, because I think it is important that the noble Lord's Question, and indeed the other questions which have been put forward, should be seen against the background of what in fact is being done; and not only that, but the size of the problem itself.

The noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, asked what steps are being taken to prevent reinfection of accredited herds by eliminating known areas of infection. The noble Lord, Lord Rathcreedan, also referred to this. The results of the Milk Marketing Board's survey of dairy herds in England and Wales show that there are about 25,000 herds which have reacted positively to the milk ring test. Any or all of these might be regarded as an infection risk to neighbouring accredited herds. Unfortunately, and for rather obvious reasons, there has been no similar survey of beef breeding herds, but no doubt there are several thousand of these herds which are also affected.

If we accepted Lord Rowallan's suggestion that we should try to eliminate infection from all these herds we should be faced with two problems. First, because our manpower resources are limited, we should have to divert staff from other work on to brucellosis, which would slow down or even halt the progress that we are making in the voluntary scheme. Secondly, the slaughter of all reactors in all these infected herds would create an immediate problem of an immediate demand for the replacement animals which the industry would be unable to meet. What the noble Lord's suggestion would amount to is that, instead of moving forward systematically as we are on a planned area by area basis, we should base our eradication programme on what might be called spot eradication, dealing with individual farms where infection already exists, and at the same time having what one might describe as a fire brigade force to go along to deal with new centres of infection as they flare up.

I have the greatest sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, when he gives examples of farmers who have become part of an accredited scheme and put their money and effort into it, and thereafter have become reinfected; they have tried to clear themselves, and maybe have done so, and then have become re-infected. If this continues, and if those people are not in an eradication area, I suggest that they must take the best possible advice that they can. It may be that they will have to admit that it would be wiser for them, rather than to bankrupt themselves, to wait until such time as an eradication area is made in their area, so as to ensure that all their neighbouring farms are clear of infection. However much one may sympathise with the noble Lord in the predicament which he emphasised,. I personally believe that it would be politically (and I use that word in the widest sense) totally unacceptable for the Ministry or anyone else to go on to a certain person's farm and say: "We believe that you are a source of infection. Therefore we have come to test your cows and, if necessary, to eradicate them". We require the co-operation of the farming community, and I believe there could be no better way of alienating the local farming community than for the Ministry or other informed people to point the finger of suspicion at various farms as opposed to others, and to try to eliminate the disease in that way. It is only by moving across the country in a planned way that you will in the end achieve the very desirable result which the noble Lord wishes.

My noble friend Lord Burton asked a very forthright question: he asked whether the Ministry knew all the answers. I should be a stupid fool if I said that they did; but I can tell him that in fact a great deal of research has been done by the Ministry and by the veterinary staff. The noble Lord referred to the period in which a farmer should be able to restock after an outbreak of this disease. I am bound to say that the right thing is for him to take the best advice he can from the local veterinary officers, because we are dealing with a disease which is not simple and regular, a thing which lasts for, say, 14 days and then conveniently comes to an end. The disease varies according to the circumstances, and each case has to be considered individually. Normally restocking is allowed after two months, provided all the buildings have been thoroughly disinfected. We would strongly advise that any pastures on which infected animals have recently grazed should be kept free of cattle for as long as possible.


May I interrupt my noble friend? If the Ministry are allowing restocking after only two months, they do not know all the answers.


My Lords, it seems that my noble friend has answered the question which he asked me, in which case I cannot think why he asked it in the first place. But in all seriousness, I would suggest to noble Lords that each case must be considered on its own merits. I believe that it would be wrong to lay down a hard and fast rule over this.


My Lords, may I intervene for a moment, if I am in order? I am not suggesting that we should deal entirely with individual herds, but I am suggesting that in a case where you have several herds which are free, except for one which is not, I know from my own case that the others are almost certain to become infected before long.


My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point. But when you are trying to organise a scheme it is very difficult to organise one which would be fair in the very instance which the noble Lord produced without being unfair in many other instances. I believe that to achieve the final result, which is to get the country as a whole free from this disease, it must be done on the lines almost of a military operation right across the country.

My noble friend Lord Balfour referred to the payment of beef or hill cow subsidies on reactors which are slaughtered. I can tell my noble friend that animals slaughtered as reactors will attract subsidy provided they are replaced as soon as possible, having regard to veterinary advice. The House may like to know that these animals are known, as I believe he mentioned, as "ghost cows". My noble friend Lord Stonehaven suggested that all calves should be vaccinated with a strain 19 vaccine. In fact a million calves are vaccinated each year under the free calf vaccination sheme. These are vaccinated at between three and six months, and are ear-tagged at the same time. Not all calves are taken into breeding herds, of course; some are fattened in calf-rearing units or fattening units, and we do not feel that one could justify the withholding of a beef-calf subsidy, which is a production subsidy on these particular animals. But for all that, I think the noble Lord's suggestion is an interesting one.


My Lords, may I say that there is no guarantee that any heifer calf will not get into a breeding herd.


My Lords, that is perfectly true, but the point of the production subsidy is that it is given as a production subsidy and not necessarily as a means of controlling disease. The only point I was trying to make was that there may be occasions when it could be wrong to withhold a subsidy for certain animals which would not be infected by the disease at a later stage. For all that, I take note of my noble friend's point which I think is an interesting one.


My Lords, in an emergency it is perhaps slightly abusing the subsidy; nevertheless, I think it would do good, in an emergency, towards clearing up the disease.


My Lords, I think there is much in what my noble friend says. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, asked whether the Government would encourage insurance companies to grant insurance policies for those people who have not yet become accredited. I could not help feeling, as he said that, that one could detect the farmer in him. If he had spoken to some of his noble friends in this House who are involved in insurance and asked whether they were prepared to recommend to insurance companies that they should give carte-blanche insurance policies to cover the very types of people who, as the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, said, have herds which are infected with this disease, I think he would very quickly have been shown the door.


My Lords, I wondered whether something could be done for people who were becoming accredited and who had perhaps had one clear test—and not a carte-blanche insurance, but merely in cases where they had one clear test. Obviously, if they had several reactors in the first test it could not be done, but I wondered whether, if they had a clear test, there could be a way of insuring against possible reactors. It might assist in speeding up the voluntary scheme.


My Lords, all I can say to the noble Lord is that that is a commercial decision. I believe that if one takes a problem to Lloyds they will underwrite almost anything; but what the premium for this would be I do not know. I think it would be imprudent for the Government to try to bring any form of pressure whatsoever on insurance companies for that purpose.

The Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Rowallan, raised the question of the methods of testing. I do not wish to go into this aspect in any great detail. The noble Lord, Lord Allerton, expressed the hope that perhaps the tests could be speeded up. We are satisfied that the combination of tests which are being used at the moment in this country—the Rose Bengal plate test, which does rapid screening, followed by the serum-agglutination and the complement fixation tests which confirm the positive results—is the most reliable and effective method of diagnosing the presence of brucellosis in cattle. Our research staff at the Central Veterinary Laboratory are experimenting with various machines which might be able to carry out the test more rapidly, but if they are successful I cannot hold out much hope of a great reduction of the time it takes to transport the samples to the laboratory, to carry out the tests, interpret them and convey the results to the herd-owner. The average time—and I stress that this is the average time—at the moment is about eight days. Given the scale of operation which is involved, I am sure, and I think my noble friend will agree, that this is an acceptable period for the interpretation of the results to come through.

This is not to say, of course, that there are not some parts of the country—or indeed some individual circumstances—where the standard of performance is not as good, but these are very much the exceptions and can usually be explained by temporary staff shortages, the involvement of a weekend or problems of that kind. The noble Lord's Question criticised the inadequacy of communication between the Ministry and the herd owners, although the noble Lord did not refer to this matter. On the whole, when one considers that there are 64,000 herds involved, and between 4 million and 5 million samples a year, our experience has shown that the communication between the industry and the farmers has been good. From time to time there are bound to be slip-ups, but on the whole, they are fairly rare.

I will conclude by telling your Lordships that it is the intention of the Government to continue—and continue vigorously, my noble friend Lord Waldegrave will be glad to hear—the campaign for the eradication of this disease which, as the noble Lord, Lord Platt, said, is bad for humans, bad for cattle and bad for farmers. We wish to continue this campaign vigorously and I believe that we shall be successful. It is bound to involve some frustration, and it is bound to involve time. But we shall succeed in the end and the achievements to date are a very considerable measure of progress.