HL Deb 31 March 1976 vol 369 cc1245-77

11.20 p.m.

The Earl of MANSFIELD rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what legal and practical measures they are taking to prevent an outbreak of rabies in the United Kingdom, or in the event of such an outbreak to contain its effects on domestic animals and wild life. The noble Earl said: My Lords, first I wish to thank in advance those noble Lords who have put their names down to speak in the debate and who have, moreover, remained in the House, despite the unsociable character of the hour. I make no apology for raising this matter, and I say this for two reasons: first, because of what I regard as the threat to the relevant freedom from rabies, which we in the United Kingdom have traditionally enjoyed in recent years; and secondly because of the approach of the disease towards the English Channel, we are bound to become more vulnerable; that is to say, we are bound to suffer an increased risk of the importation of a rabid animal, with the consequent likelihood of an outbreak of the disease in this country.

For these reasons, a number of people from different walks of life, representing different interests, but in many cases specialists and, indeed, experts in their own fields, have been expressing concern—indeed, one might put it as high as alarm—at what they regard as the apparent lack of awareness in the country of the approaching, danger. Although on a number of occasions the Government have expressed some anxiety, nevertheless the feeling persists that there is a lack of urgency to produce what I might call a co-ordinated plan, first to minimise the risk of the importation of rabid animals; and, secondly, to act quickly and effectively, so as to contain an outbreak of rabies, should such occur in this country.

My Lords, if rabies were to become endemic, it would have a profound effect, not only upon our lives, but also upon the animal kingdom. Our ecological balance would be upset; there would be profound changes in the pattern of wild life in this country; the concept of animal conservation would be radically changed, and the richness and variety of our animal population—which at the moment is the envy of the rest of Europe—would be permanently impaired. Of course, human life is incomparably more important than the welfare of the animal kingdom; I should be the first to acknowledge that. I do not want to sound unduly alarmist, but I sometimes wonder whether we in this country appreciate that rabies could be a menace to us; a menace, that is, as opposed to being a vague, continental hazard, rather similar to the hazard produced by foreign food when one goes abroad on holiday.

As a perfect summary of the nature of the disease, I can do no better than quote from paragraph 1 of the Waterhouse Report. It reads: Rabies is a disease of the central nervous system which is known to have plagued mankind for as long as recorded history. It is caused by a virus, which is usually present in the saliva of a rabid animal, and the most frequent mode of infection is by biting. In many parts of the world rabies remains one of man's most feared diseases, causing numerous deaths every year; and its victims often die horribly, in great pain and distress. With two possible recent exceptions, there has never been an authenticated case of recovery from the disease. So, my Lords, for those of us who come into contact with dogs—either our own or other people's—it is perhaps worth while to reflect that if we are bitten, provided the bite is not too severe, at the moment I dare say we think little of it. Indeed, perhaps regrettably, postmen and dogs are subjects of levity, if not mirth. But if rabies became endemic in this country we would, as, for instance, in France, have to set up post-exposure treatment centres, where those (numbering thousands every year) who have been bitten by dogs would undergo painful, unpleasant, and possibly dangerous treatment.

Therefore, there is no question of the importance of keeping rabies out. But the tide of advance along the Low Countries and France seems to be quickening. Anybody who looks at the Waterhouse Report will see in it a map showing how, at the time when the Report was made, the spread of the disease was envisaged by 1980. Perhaps it is anxious-making to reflect that by early 1976 the disease seems to have spread almost up to what was regarded as the likely advance by 1980. It is now only about 100 kilometres from the Channel Ports in the Calais area, and it is not far from other ports, such as Amsterdam. So we have to face the fact that over the next few years we shall be increasingly at risk.

My Lords, it is generally agreed that the most likely source of infection is the importation of small mammals, particularly pets, such as dogs and cats; and there is no doubt that our importation control has been our salvation up till now. But there are disturbing signs that members of the public are still prepared to flout the law, and it seems to me that there is a serious gap so far as powers of arrest are concerned. Your Lordships will know that offences concerned with the importation of animals are dealt with by the Diseases of Animals Act 1950 as amended by the Rabies Act 1974, and the two rabies orders of the same year. Section 6 extends the scope of the offence and lays down maximum penalties, which, in the case of imprisonment for an offence of this nature, is of one year. So the offence is not an arrest-able offence under the Criminal Law Act 1967, and I lay particular stress on this.

Section 71 of the 1950 Act gives constables the power to stop and detain, but no power of arrest without warrant unless a person seen committing, or reasonably suspected of committing, an offence fails to give his name and address in a satisfactory manner. The result of this is that if, for instance, a person visiting a port on a yacht is seen exercising a dog on the quay and he gives his name and address when asked, there is no power to stop him from thereafter sailing away before a summons can be issued and served upon him. I appreciate that in many ports the police and magistrates have issued summonses with commendable speed, but it is not always possible to do this. In any event, I would suggest that it would be more desirable to amend the law so that in effect the offence is made arrestable without warrant. I hope the noble Lord will be able to reassure me on this point.

While I am on what I might call the legalities, the other matter which gives rise to some cause for concern is the attitude of the courts. I would be the very last to urge the Government to try to influence the courts in any way. Far be it from me to make such a suggestion, and I know the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate would not entertain it. Nevertheless, people are still being dealt with comparatively leniently, and it is a matter of disgrace that on certain occasions in the last few months, or during last season, no punishments at all were imposed by the courts. The courts, in the end, reflect public opinion, and it is the duty of the Government to rouse public opinion so that the courts, reflecting that public opinion, in the future do their duty. My Lords, I had, I will not say the pleasure but the duty to prosecute the late Jayne Mansfield, who imported into this country—indeed, smuggled into this country—two Chihuahua dogs which were concealed in the bosom of her mink coat. My name was not Mansfield at the time, but the relationship was soon found out by her lawyers, and the Uxbridge magistrates' court dealt with the matter in a breezy and thoroughly pleasant way. It was before the county outbreak, but I could not help being concerned, even at that early stage, at the lack of seriousness with which the offence was treated.

I turn now from the smuggling aspect to more general considerations. If there was an outbreak of rabies, the infection would, I suggest, probably come from one of four sources. First, an outbreak from an arrival in an approved quarantine establishment; secondly, from an animal which developed rabies after its release from a quarantine establishment; thirdly, an animal smuggled into the country; and, fourthly, an undetected primary source of infection which gave rise to a detected secondary case, either in domestic animals or in wild life. However the infection is spread, it seems to me that there are prophylactic measures (if I may so term them) that the Government may consider before an outbreak—and those are the ones with which I am most concerned tonight—as well as how and by what means action to contain an outbreak may be taken once it has occurred.

My Lords, in view of the lateness of the hour, I think that probably my quickest and least tedious course is to ask the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, a series of questions which I shall appreciate if he cannot answer "off the cuff." First, what research is presently being undertaken possibly, indeed, hopefully, in conjunction with other countries to lay down what I might call lines of action? Secondly, bearing in mind that rabies is principally spread by the larger carnivores such as dogs, cats and foxes—although I believe it can be spread by other mammals—is the Ministry of Agriculture or any Ministry considering the problem of stray carnivores in urban areas? Here I am particularly concerned with ports where, I believe, there are many stray dogs and cats which run wild or semi-wild. This is particularly worrying in places like the Southampton dock area and the nearby New Forest where there are a number of semi-wild dogs at large.

What consideration has been given to the control of urban foxes, the numbers of which, for various reasons, I am informed, are at an all-time high? If rabies occurred now, I believe that urban foxes may well become the major host for the virus, as has happened on the Continent, and may act as the main infecting agent for other wild and domestic animals. It might be prudent to consider reducing the urban fox population now rather than when rabies actually breaks out.

Noble Lords will appreciate that in port installations concerned with oil handling and storage, there can be no question of destroying animals, rabid or otherwise, with shot guns or rifles because of the risk of an explosion. There are a few dart guns, it is said, in the country suitable for these cases. I ask the Government to say where they are located and what arrangements have been made in case they are required. Have persons been trained in their use? If it was necessary to contain an outbreak of rabies in highly dangerous places such as Fawley, where wild dogs are to be found and which is close to the New Forest, one of the high-risk areas in the South of England, could the necessary number of dart guns and operators be deployed in sufficient time to prevent an outbreak spreading to the New Forest area and causing an explosion, as it were? Incidentally, I am told that there have been cases of Scandinavian dogs being landed on some of the oil rigs in the North Sea. I ask whether dart guns are available for use on the rigs if necessary.

If there is an outbreak of rabies in this country, we are entited to expect that there is in existence a well-co-ordinated plan which will prevent a recurrence of what I might describe as the "muddle" which occurred over the Camberley outbreak. Is Government strategy, assuming there is one, based on the recommendations of the Waterhouse Committee? If so, are the Government satisfied that the recommendations are up to date in the light of current knowledge, especially on the Continent? I think that we should be comforted, if that is the right word, by an assurance that there is a measure of co-ordination between the different bodies concerned; that is to say, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Home Office and the local authorities. Which branch of which Government Department is saddled with the over-all responsibility to take the necessary steps to prevent, so far as may be possible, an outbreak from becoming an epidemic? Above all, I believe that sensible percautions taken now, while there is still a little time, would minimise the effect that a simple outbreak would be likely to have when it comes. Such precautions would be welcomed by all who have the welfare of the community and its domestic and wild animals at heart.

11.35 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome this debate. It is a great pity that there is no veterinary surgeon who is a Member of your Lordships' House, because from time to time veterinary questions—and this is primarily one—crop up, and if we had a veterinary surgeon in our Membership we should be well served. All I can say to justify my speaking now is that I have taught veterinary surgeons for about 40 years, instructing them at university, and thereby have achieved the distinction of being made an Honorary Associate of the Royal Veterinary College.

My noble friend Lord Mansfield has put this case completely. One point I wish to underline is that we must put across more general publicity about the terrible consequences of this disease becoming endemic. I am no lawyer and I am in no Government, so I can say openly that the best publicity that can be obtained is swingeing sentences imposed by the justiciary on persons who contravene the Act. The law as it stands, subject to what my noble friend said, is regarded by the legal profession as sufficient for the purpose; but it must be brought home in no uncertain terms to the general public. I can think of no surer way of doing so than by the most severe sentences possible on those who contravene it.

11.37 p.m.


My Lords, at this late hour I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Mansfield for raising this matter with the Government. I am surprised that we have not heard more about this subject, with the effect it has on the public. One of the most dangerous places in which these rabies outbreaks can occur is in urban areas. I live only three-quarters of a mile from the centre of Birmingham. Not long ago, on returning home from one of your Lordships' sittings, I saw the most beautiful dog fox walk across the road straight in front of my car lights. He was not the least interested whether or not there were cars about. He was like a stray dog. If rabies gets into those foxes, what is going to happen to the urban population. There are thousands of these foxes about. Do the local authorities have any ideas as to where they are and how they travel?

Container traffic which comes into this country worries me. The containers can be loaded almost anywhere on the European Contintent and brought to England. We are not able to see how well they are inspected. There has been a case of a cat being discovered in England having had kittens in a container. How are we to make sure that a rabid rat or cat does not get into a container? May I ask the noble Lord who will be replying whether the people who receive containers are told what action to take in the event of a rat or cat coming out of a container which has been imported from the Continent and is going through the Customs facilities, for example, at Birmingham? It is a most dangerous situation. If a rabid rat got out, one can imagine that a dog which is rather given to nailing rats could get severely bitten. Then the infection starts.

The other matter, about which I have not heard a great deal, is that an enormous number of cats contract rabies in France. Have we in quarantine any cats that have had rabies? If so, the fact has been very well concealed. Are the keen eyes of the inspecting officers, as they watch people come in, as open to cats as they are to dogs? A number of children, for example, on seeing a kitten, would bring it into England tucked into their coat; and many people have been discovered hiding them in their pockets.

I should also like to ask the noble Lord this further question: should an outbreak occur, are the facilities of local authorities in the area adequate to contain it, in conjunction with the police and the help from all the other services that are available? I have heard that a Departmental Working Party is about to produce a plan for the control of stray dogs and other animals, and that it intends to bring up to date the law covering dogs. At the moment there are 26 such Acts. I believe there is a suggestion that a dog warden organisation might be set up by local authorities. Could we be told a little more about this scheme? If a good scheme is produced it might be the basis on which local authorities could work to contain an outbreak of rabies.

One further point I should like to make concerns the disposal of dog carcases. At the moment, disposal of dog carcases by veterinary surgeons is extremely difficult. The carcases are just tipped over on to local government tips. The number involved at present is small compared with what will happen if there is an outbreak of rabies, because not only dogs but cats and many other animals would be affected. I do not expect a quick reply tonight from the noble Lord who is to reply, but I would ask the Government to consider this matter, because I feel that the proper and efficient disposal of carcases in any area where an outbreak of rabies has occurred is absolutely essential. At this late hour, I shall not pursue the matter further. However, I should just like to thank my noble friend Lord Mansfield for asking this Question.

11.45 p.m.


My Lords, we are discussing an important national and international problem, and I am sure we are all extremely grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, for giving us the opportunity to do so. The problem is international in the sense that the most likely cause of an outbreak of rabies in this country is its introduction from abroad; and it is national in the sense that whatever area the disease takes hold of it could spread throughout the United Kingdom. I propose to illustrate some of the problems with which rabies confronts us, by talking about one area, the Isles of Scilly.

In some ways, these islands epitomise the generality of the problem. Many foreign boats visit the Isles of Scilly, particularly during the holiday season, and I noted that the British Veterinary Association said that they were particularly concerned about the difficulties of detecting animals in certain cases, such as smuggling on yachts. So I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, could give us any idea of what the Government are doing to co-ordinate action, particularly within the European Economic Community, in alerting those who own and holiday on yachts to the dangers of taking their pets, and bringing them to countries such as ours where rabies is not yet endemic.

Assuming that the difficulties of control cannot be overcome easily, we should surely focus our minds on what would happen if and when an outbreak occurred. So I should like to illustrate this aspect by quoting from a letter which I have received from the chief executive of the Council of the Isles of Scilly, because many people go to those islands during the holiday season. Mr. Woosnam wrote to me in these words: My real concern in this matter is that the legislation may"— he was writing about the Rabies Actin effect, prove to be unworkable in the Scillonian context because of the very small resources available to us for dealing with an ever-changing combination of peripatetic dogs. I get the impression that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is content that the legislation exists and that we therefore have powers to deal wih any incident of infection which may arise. There is no doubt in my mind that if a diseased animal did unhappily land here we would have the very greatest difficulty in deciding whether it had actually been in contact with all the other gambolling dogs on the beach or in the town and the only prudent thing to do might be to apply the provisions of the Rabies Order to all those animals within the immediate vicinity. We haven't really got bodies to do this nor could we effectually control the departure of dogs to the mainland or their arrival from Penzance while this was going on. I would have thought it now prudent for the Ministry to prepare a contingency plan to be put into operation should a crisis arise…. If I may instance just one small example of the sort of thing I have in mind, we have only one Veterinary Surgeon on the islands and even assuming that he was available at the time of an incident he would probably need professional assistance. This could only come from the mainland and it would have to come quickly. In the holiday season the likelihood of being able to get a seat on the helicopter at short notice is minimal. I would have thought it sensible therefore for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to have an arrangement with the Ministry of Defence whereby Military transport could be made available for the conveyance of essential personnel should a critical situation arise. What they decide to do is clearly a matter for the experts but in my respectful submission it would be wrong for the responsible Government Department to do nothing at all. If nothing at all were done, the following consequences might arise, and I quote again: If an incident arose and was not immediately controlled, and an infected dog were permitted to board the Scillonian"— this is the boat which goes to and from the mainland to the Scillies— where it would come into contact with other returning animals going to the mainland, then, at a stroke, we could within twenty four hours seed the country with infection from Canterbury to Chester and from Norwich to New-castle, assuming that those were the areas to which the holiday makers were returning. The problem would then be one of much greater magnitude. If we do have an outbreak in the Scillies, as seems probable within the next decade or so, then clearly it will be in the national interest to ensure that it is contained within the islands". I have not come here to plead a special case, my Lords. I have, however, come here to illustrate a national problem and the great difficulties which would be faced by people with limited resources in an area to which people go ever-increasingly for their holidays. I hope that when he answers the debate the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, will be able to answer some of the questions I have raised.

11.51 p.m.

Viscount LONG

My Lords, first may I thank my noble friend Lord Mansfield for asking this Unstarred Question. Secondly may I congratulate him for looking so strong after his recent bout of 'flu. I noticed, however, that a moment ago he had to take a small sip of water! We welcome back the noble Earl because the debate this evening is both vital and important.

May I begin selfishly by saying that I have a family interest in this Question, as my grandfather was President of the Board of Agriculture between 1895 and 1900 and first had the problem of dealing with the terrible disease of rabies. A dog ran amok and attacked three children who were playing in a park. Subsequently they died from hydrophobia. Soon after this episode my grandfather visited his doctor in the town of Warminster in Wiltshire for a routine medical check-up. He was informed by this doctor that he believed that the only way to deal with and control rabies was to muzzle all dogs.

After this interesting advice from and conversation with his doctor, my grandfather came back to London and informed the Cabinet about what, as President of the Board of Agriculture, he was going to do. The immediate chain reaction was that the dear and beloved ladies of the members of the Cabinet felt that they would be unable to survive, simply because Victorian society ladies kept pekingese and other tiny dogs with blue ribbons round their ears and necks and liked to exercise them in the park. My grandfather received a petition, containing many thousands of names, in defence of the canine breed to prevent their little nozzles from being muzzled. However, the situation was that these children had died and that my grandfather's doctor had told him that there was only one way to deal with rabies. Therefore he carried on with his Bill. And, as your Lordships know, we had no violent attack of rabies until 1974, when a dog at Camberley caught the disease.

I turn now to our country districts and to our living standards as human beings, and two points come to mind immediately: first, that we now have in our rural areas enormous housing estates, both private and public; secondly, we have roads with lay-bys, and on each lay-by is a litter-bin. On the housing estates each family has its own bin and throws its own food out at different times of the day or week. If it is not collected straight away it immediately sets up bacteria. I have a fear not only of rabies but of other diseases which could arise from the way in which we process food today and the way in which food is chucked about.

Two seasons ago my local pack were hunting a fox and killed it, but we could not understand why the fox was not eaten by the hounds. The hounds left it and would not go near it. Subsequently, we investigated what the fox had been eating. The only thing that the kennels could find was that its blood looked wrong. It had obviously eaten something that the hounds did not like at all. There was a fox which we called the "dustbin fox". We hunted him from dustbin to dustbin. We never caught him, but obviously he was eating out of these dustbins and he went round them day by day.

This is the state of affairs now existing in the country: that the bacteria from rotting food thrown out by lorry drivers or by people in rural areas could cause the spread of disease very rapidly indeed. Should an attack of rabies start, in no time at all it would spread through the housing estates. In my village each house seems to have a cat, and in my garden I have everybody's cats; I have never seen so many cats. Each cat is the pet of a child. My fear is that one scratch from a cat that had been in contact with this disease could start the spread of the disease. I think we should look more closely at the way in which we throw food about; and on each lay-by I should like to see hard tops fitted to the litter bins so that the foxes cannot get easily into them.

I now turn to research, and as my noble friend has already touched on research and asked several questions there is little that I can add. I do not believe that we are doing enough to bring in the new antibiotics should an outbreak occur. In a letter from the Veterinary Surgeons' Association, they say: One point we would like to stress is that vaccination"— this is to an animal— never gives 100 per cent. protection. Outbreaks of rabies in quarantine in this country have been in the vaccinated animals". I should like to ask the Government how much improvement there has been recently in this connection and whether they are really looking at the problem. I believe that the effect of this vaccination lasts only one year. Is there not a vaccine, now or on the drawing board, that will last longer? It is a very painful injection. What research is going on into producing a pill to take the place of injections?

The 1974 Act is probably not strong enough now. We are all very agitated at the new ways in which animals can enter this country. Oil rigs have been mentioned. Can the Government say what discussions are taking place with the oil companies to stop dogs being kept on oil rigs? I cannot conceive why a dog should ever be allowed on an oil rig. It cannot even exercise properly, and I should think it is very unhygienic. Are the Government in touch with the EEC countries and the Scandinavian countries on this point?

My Lords, I end on this note. If there were an outbreak, and if we did not have enough vaccine or a vaccine good enough, we should have to resort to muzzling, and so far as I am aware that is not covered by the 1974 Act. I think we ought to look at that point again, because if an outbreak should occur we shall need to use every conceivable means to control it, and I think that muzzling is one of them.

12.2 a.m.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, it has been a long day, so I shall be very brief. I have some questions which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, can answer. Is he aware that in the fight against rabies in the Ardennes the Belgian authorities killed off all the animals in a cordon sanitaire? The result was that rabies quickly, and more quickly than expected, filled in that vacuum. This shows that any slaughter policy for wild animals' rabies contagion has to be carried out very carefully, it must be thought out very carefully, and research must go into how it should be done. What research is being done on the size of these containment areas?

This matter has been raised, but I think it is so important it must be emphasised: Does the noble Lord think the public completely understand the ghastly results of this disease? Do they realise there is no cure whatsoever and that death is inevitable? Do the public realise the disastrous effects on the countryside, not only for the countryman but also the urban visitor? For instance, a family from Leeds or Birmingham holidaying in the country may go to the New Forest area, and if rabies has appeared in the Southampton Docks area, they cannot even risk their child touching a pony, because a pony can lick a cut and the child is then at risk.

Do the public realise that country pursuits will have to stop completely? Every Saturday 240 packs of foxhounds are followed by approximately 30,000 people. Those 30,000, I am sure, would willingly give up their sport if it would help to prevent the spread of the disease. Large numbers of jobs are involved in this operation—saddlers, horse traders, those who produce shoes for both horses and humans, and several other trades. The same applies to shooting.

Are Her Majesty's Government getting the co-operation of foreign Governments? Are they also consulting them in regard to what research is being carried out? What research is being carried out on the movement of foxes, not only into these "bleeped" foxes which I believe are in Wales, but also in the flatter and less wooded parts of the country? As your Lordships will probably know more than any other body, the fox will move for great distances in the Midlands and much smaller distances in heavily wooded parts of the country. The urban fox has already been mentioned. Foxes have been seen in Putney. A friend of mine has organised fox shoots on Wimbledon Common, and a quite considerable number have been killed. If rabies becomes endemic in wild life—and I believe that before the muzzling orders and the Diseases of Animals Act were introduced at the turn of this century it never was endemic in wild life—vaccination will have to become the norm. My noble friend Lord Long asked about what research is being done into cures and vaccines.

Finally, I come to the penalties for animal smuggling. This has been mentioned, but again it is so important that it must be re-emphasised. The penalties should be increased. If some idiot—I use the word advisedly—uses his yacht to smuggle in a dog, that yacht should be confiscated. Will the Minister give an assurance that there will be no repetition of a recent incident at Cowes when a dog came ashore from a foreign warship? Will the Government extract assurances from foreign States that if a foreign warship visits this country and a dog or a cat lands, the commanding officer and the owner of that dog or cat will be court-martialled? This may sound drastic, but it is not too drastic to stop a child, or an innocent human being, dying from what is one of the most unpleasant of all diseases.

I have spoken long enough. All I can say is that I hope I never have to get out the anti-rabies muzzle, the first one given to my great-grandfather, who was President of the Board of Agriculture immediately after my noble friend Lord Long's grandfather. If I do it will mean that rabies has become endemic in this country.

12.8 a.m.


My Lords, may I thank my noble friend Lord Mansfield for raising this Question. I have the following questions for the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi. First, do the Government accept that an outbreak of rabies in the United Kingdom is a virtual certainty? If the Government think otherwise, can they assure me that the British Veterinary Association also think that there is no chance of an outbreak? If there is an outbreak of rabies, do the Government realise that the existing regulations regarding the control of notifiable diseases are not appropriate for rabies? Rabies is carried by pets as well as wild animals, and not just by farm animals. While he is on this point, would the noble Lord agree that, rather than pets, one of the main threats of rabies coming into this country is likely to be through rats or birds and wild animals?

Can the noble Lord tell me whether the Government would consider (indeed, have they the legislative powers?), should an outbreak of rabies occur, ordering a standstill area in the way we do for, say, foot-and-mouth, for all animals, including pets? In that area would they do the following: order compulsory vaccination, registration and tattooing of all dogs and cats? If you go into vaccination, this question of identification of the animal is vitally important, so that the veterinary surgeon knows whether or not he has done it, and has to do it a year later, too. Would the Government, in that standstill area, order the compulsory slaughter of all dogs and cats? Again in that area—I do not mean the whole country; it might be an area 20 miles wide round Southampton—would they order isolation in an approved kennel or the slaughter of all suspected contacts of rabies? Again in that area, would the Government order the keeping inside of all dogs and cats and the slaughter, by the police or whoever they wish, of all stray cats and dogs? Again in that area, can the Government make troops available to shoot all foxes and such wild life that are carriers of rabies?

If the noble Lord says, Yes, to all or some of my suggestions, is he able to assure me that the Government have enough veterinary surgeons to control and organise the measures I have suggested, should they prove necessary? I should also like to know whether the Government are satisfied that they could obtain enough vaccine to carry out the mass vaccination of pets in the area, if they needed to do so. Are the Government taking any steps to get better vaccine for humans?—a point made by other noble Lords. I know that the present vaccine is very unpleasant and I understand that there is a better one, I think in France. Would the Government consider immediately the problem, which has already been mentioned, of stray dogs and cats and the destruction of the increasing number of dustbin foxes around and in our cities? There was a photograph of a fox in Oxford the other day and only the other evening, when I went out to look at my animals, I came across two or three dustbin foxes and they did not seem to mind whether or not I was there. I suppose I should have shot them, but I did not have a gun with me. Perhaps I am crying wolf, in the best of farming tradition, but I do not think I am and it would be a terrible thing, as other noble Lords have said, if an outbreak occurred. I think our attitude is too lax; indeed, I sometimes worry about our whole animal health laxity. We have not been very clever over the eradication of brucellosis and we have been very slow in recognising the danger of sheep scab. I appreciate that these may be minor points, but if we take the same attitude over rabies, which is far more serious, I do not know where we will be.

Some months ago I saw a television programme of a comedian who had a monkey as a pet. He had been in and out of Italy, France and other Continental countries with his pet in his pocket. I am glad to say that eventually the Customs found him out, the pet was taken away and put into a kennel and he was heavily fined. But the attitude of that man and, I am sorry to say, the attitude of the television commentators, was that it was bad luck. Perhaps I should comment that, if any noble Lords were to be rabid, that would be a lot worse luck than having to listen to me at this time of night.

12.14 a.m.


My Lords, I hesitate to intervene at this late hour. I do so only because I have had experience of this matter, having myself been bitten by a mad dog and having undergone the treatment. I have been making notes during the debate and I believe that I can make some contribution to your Lordships' consideration of the matter, particularly after the speech of my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley, who asked a question that I had intended to ask; namely, is there adequate provision for preventive vaccine in the event of an outbreak? We had a pack of hounds in India for many years and we never had a case of rabies, even though we hunted the jackal, because the hounds were innoculated annually with a preventive vaccine. The proof is there because, as I say, we never had a case of rabies. I understand that the vaccine is not easily storable for long periods. This is an important matter and I, too, should like to know whether there is sufficient provision for vaccine to be available in the event of an outbreak.

I speak only because this is a very important matter, though one would hardly think so from the packed Benches opposite! It would be a very serious matter if rabies broke out. The problem of the urban foxes is difficult, because such foxes live very largely on rats and such, and there is an ecological balance which cannot be interfered with without causing difficulties. I have had experience of rabies being conveyed by the tree rat in India; that is, the chipmunk or the grey squirrel as it is today in this country. There was more than one case in India of children dying of rabies from a rabid tree rat falling into a pram.

That brings me to a point made by my noble friend Lord Long about children who died from being bitten by a pet dog in Kensington Gardens. One problem about protection is that, if a human is bitten by a rabid animal, the nearer the bite is to the head the more doubtful it is that the preventive treatment will be effective. It is, therefore, children who are most in danger because they are more likely to be bitten in the face. With an ordinary bite such as I had, I am told that something like 23 days may elapse before the preventive treatment must be done in order to stop the disease from developing.

My noble friend Lord de Clifford made a point about the disposal of carcases. If further regulations are to be made, it may be wise that there should be a provision that any animal suspected, contacted or destroyed as a result of rabies should be cremated, though I do not know whether ingestion of the flesh of an infected animal would invariably cause a spread of infection. Though the grandfather of my noble friend Lord Long was able to have a muzzling order enforced, I doubt very much whether that would be possible today with the hundreds of thousands of clogs which are now kept as pets. In previous debates in this House, I have mentioned the danger of ships' cats, but I believe that I am right in saying that since the regulation of 1974, there has been control of the wandering of ships' cats. They are odd creatures. They do not like to do more than one sea voyage and they pop ashore and change places with another cat for the next voyage. However, I understand that that is something which is now well in hand. I reinforce everything that my noble friends have said about the control of animals coming from vessels trading with this country.


My Lords, I had not intended to intervene, but, having listened to your Lordships, I should like to ask one question. I believe that the authorities were unable to control Warfarin-resistant rats in a quite small area. If so, what hope have they of controlling not only the rats in an area where rabies comes in but all the other animals as well?

12.19 a.m.


My Lords, I should like to join others in thanking my noble friend Lord Mansfield for introducing this debate, because this is a very important question indeed. My noble friend pumped the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, with a number of questions, as have others of my noble friends. It will be very interesting to hear the noble Lord's replies, because we are all very concerned about this. This House is always supposed to be a fund of experience and my noble friend Lord Ferrier has trumped that by saying that he was once bitten by a rabid dog. I imagine that he must be almost the only one among my noble friends behind me whose grandfather was not President of the Board of Agriculture. Otherwise, he would have had a muzzle with which to protect himself. This is a foul disease, not only for animals but for human beings, and the mere fact that my noble friend Lord Ferrier is here, having been bitten by a rabid dog, should not lead one to believe that this is something necessarily to be expected.

If a person is bitten by a rabid dog, he is subjected to very disagreeable and extremely painful injections, which are by no means certain to provide a cure. If the virus gets a hold in the system there is nothing that can stop it, and the incubation period of a virus can be 12 months. If one is bitten, one has at least a very long, worrying period, and possibly a very unpleasant death at the end. One cannot stand the sight of water, one froths at the mouth, and one dies a most horrifying death. I do not believe for one moment that the average member of the public realises that. As my noble friend Lord Mansfield says, the public rather regard rabies as one of these curious diseases which other countries have, which we do not have, and therefore will not have.

This is worrying, in so far as the current outbreak of European rabies, which started in the Polish Corridor before the war, entered France only in 1968, and is already, I understand, 100 miles from the Channel coast in France, and 60 miles from the Channel coast in Holland. It is advancing across Europe at the rate of about 25 miles a year.

So it is very close. Let us look at the figures of confirmed rabies in France. In 1972 there were 1,008 cases, in 1973 2,085 cases, in. 1974 2,557 cases, and in 1975 a slight drop to 2,032 cases. Thus this is an increasing disease on the Continent, and the only barrier we have is the Channel. Her Majesty's Government should have as strong powers as possible. Here I disagree with my noble friend Lord Long, because I think that the Government have adequate powers. But there are two aspects to which I should like to draw attention.

First, what can we do to stop the disease coming in? Secondly, what do we do if it does come in? What can we do to stop it coming in? First, we should prevent dogs and cats leaving ships, as a number of my noble friends said. This is of vital importance, and I ask the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, whether he thinks there are enough inspectors at quaysides to prevent this happening. Secondly, we should prevent smuggling. This is done either by people who do not know the laws, and who do not know that they are breaking them, or by people who know the laws, but who treat the situation rather like getting a bottle of brandy through the Customs without declaring it. They think that if one does this with a dog it is all right. There are also people who know the laws, who know why the laws are made, yet nevertheless deliberately smuggle in animals. In 1974 it was reckoned that there were 208 illegal landings, and, in 1973, 230 illegal landings. Mr. Locke of the State veterinary service, who surveyed all the illegal landings in Kent, said that 40 per cent. were deliberate smugglings.

I believe that the penalties must be very high, and that they should be imposed. We have to thank the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that when he was in Opposition he secured the agreement of the Government of the day to the existing system, whereby the penalties are a limitless fine and/or a year's imprisonment. I agree with my noble friend Lord Mansfield that the tragedy is that the courts do not apply these penalties. What is worse, the penalties often get reduced on appeal. The fines vary from £400 to only £25, and there was even one case of a conditional discharge for a deliberate smuggler who hid a dog under her anorak when she came in by boat.

One girl tried to smuggle a Siamese cat through Luton Airport. She was fined £400 with £25 costs; yet that was reduced on appeal to a fine of £250 with £25 costs. Another fine was reduced from £400 to £25. Thirty-five people were caught smuggling animals through Kent ports alone between March and October of last year, but 13 of those were foreigners, and no action was taken against them. I wonder why, and I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, can say whether there are no powers of arrest for foreigners in pet-smuggling cases. There was a German sea captain whose dog went for a walk along a quayside. He had his fine cut from £400 to £100; but, of course, it does not always work, because there was another case of a French yachtsman who took his dog out for a five-minute early morning stroll and got caught for £400, and had to pay it. I believe that is absolutely right.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Mansfield that it is not the Government's job to interfere with the Judiciary, but I hope the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, will take heart to do all that he can, and all that the Government can, to publicise the real dangers of this disease and, if not to interfere, to exhort that those whose job it is to protect our country should indeed be mindful of the very real disaster which this disease can bring about, and of the fact that the only way of keeping it under control is by really heavy fines. I would here ask the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, whether it is a possibility that some cattle which come in—very often pedigree cattle—cannot be carriers of rabies, because if you import pedigree cattle, they have a quarantine period of 42 days, and as those animals are probably vaccinated is it not impossible that they could be carriers of this disease?

I would be grateful if the noble Lord would say what the Government intend to do, should there be an outbreak. I believe the Government have got sufficient powers. The thing is: have they got the plans, and the contingency plans, to use those powers; and, if so, what would they intend to do? Would areas be designated as affected areas? Would animals—foxes, and so forth—be hunted and be shot? Would we witness the experience we had down at Camberly where people were going through the woods shooting animals? How exactly is it anticipated that there would be control'? Indeed, would pets have to be vaccinated? If they were to be vaccinated, would they have to be branded to show that they had been vaccinated? Because one could well understand a number of people getting very upset if their little "Tibbies" and "Whiskers" were to be branded.

I hope the noble Lord will spell out as harshly as possible exactly what will be done, so that the general public will really take fright at the thought of what will happen if there is an outbreak; because only then will the general public have their eyes snapped open to the disasters of this disease. I know that all my noble friends behind me would give the noble Lord all the support possible in ensuring that this disease is not allowed to come into this country.

12.29 a.m.


My Lords, I am sure the House will be very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, for the opportunity which he has given us to discuss the vitally important subject of our plans for keeping rabies out of the country. If I may, I should like to join with the noble Viscount, Lord Long, in saying how glad I am the noble Earl is back from his slight indisposition, and is with us again. I think it has been a very moderate and a very constructive debate, and I have listened to every speech with the greatest of interest; because, as has been said by every noble Lord, rabies is a dreadful disease, and has rightly given rise to considerable interest and concern among the public at large, but not, probably, enough yet, as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has said. It is right that this interest and concern should be shared by this House. The Government share them, too, and I am glad to say that we have developed a vigorous policy to deal with the disease risk. Indeed, much of the country's interest and concern stem from the success of the Government publicity campaign to achieve a sense of awareness which is an essential factor in all defensive policies.

First, the threat, as mentioned by other Lords. Rabies continues to spread westwards across the Continent of Europe and has now reached, I am informed, about 130 kilometres from the Channel coast in France in the Department of the Aisne, and the chief vector is the fox. Clearly, the risk to the British Isles increases as the disease approaches the Channel. But. I must stress that fortunately the Channel itself provides an effective barrier to the entry of rabies by the natural movement of wild life. In short, the threat, as it always has been, is through the illegally imported animals. It was to counter this increased threat that the Government introduced legislation. First came the Rabies Act 1974 which I had the privilege of introducing first into this House. Then we had the Rabies (Importation of Dogs, Cats and Other Mammals) Order 1974, which became fully operative in February 1975 and there was a further order for dealing with emergencies which I shall deal with later.

The importation order maintains and strengthens our policy on import control and six months quarantine for rabies-susceptible animals. Not only have measures been taken to close any possible loopholes through which illegally-landed animals might slip, but the penalties for deliberate offences against the Act have been substantially increased. I shall have more to say about the penalties later.

Regulations requiring boarding passes, available only when an import licence has been issued, prevent unlicensed animals boarding commercial aircraft or vessels at departure points abroad. Animals travelling by air are required to be documented and secured in authorised containers thereby preventing contact with any unauthorised persons en route or on arrival. All Customs, airport and port officials have been made fully aware of the regulations and of their responsibilities. The number of ports and airports authorised for the landing of animals under the Rabies Import Order is restricted by Statute. These are listed in the order. If they are to retain their status, provision must be made for secure, authorised holding premises at these places by February 1977. As to enforcement, local authorities, who employ Diseases of Animals inspectors, are the enforcement authorities. They are fully aware of their responsibilities and they carry them out, I am glad to say, with commendable vigour.

As was said in this debate and as the House will be aware, while the maximum penalty for offences against the Rabies Act is a £400 fine on summary conviction, the penalty on indictment for a deliberate attempt to commit an offence is an unlimited fine and/or up to one year's imprisonment. Here I should like to say how much I appreciate the tribute that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, paid to my noble friend Lord Shepherd. What he said in this respect is perfectly right.

I think that noble Lords will agree that this is a substantial deterrent by any standards and I feel sure that the courts will interpret Parliament's intentions. In addition, the illegally-imported animal may be destroyed at the discretion of the enforcement authority. As to the penalties imposed by the courts, the average fine on summary conviction during 1975 was £175, a considerable—and many noble Lords would say desirable—increase on the previous annual average of a paltry £50. One case has been prosecuted on indictment; the offender received a £200 fine plus £200 costs, and six months' imprisonment suspended for one year. The total number of known illegal landings in 1975 showed a marked reduction on the previous year. In view of our improved defences, I think it likely that undetected landings also decreased. However, it is too early to draw any firm conclusions from such figures. Indeed, it would be dangerous to do so, and there is certainly no room for complacency. However, until the courts see fit consistently to apply the maximum penalties and we have a clear indication that there is no reduction in attempted offences, there does not appear to be a case for raising the penalties further at this stage. None the less, we take note of what has been said by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, and other noble Lords, and the Government are keeping this matter under constant review and we take it very seriously indeed.

As for powers of arrest which were mentioned, the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, suggested that the rabies legislation should be amended to provide for powers of arrest. Powers of arrest are contained in the Magistrates' Courts Act 1952 and the Criminal Justice Act 1967 and cannot be varied to deal with specific offences. The general effect of these two Acts is that a justice of the peace may issue a warrant to arrest a person and bring him before the magistrates' court for the County, provided that, first, the information is laid in writing and substantiated on oath and, secondly, the offence to which the warrant relates is either indictable or punishable by imprisonment, or the address of the defendant is not sufficiently established for a summons to be served on him.

If there is evidence of deliberate intent to breach the conditions of the Rabies Importation Order, the offence is both indictable and punishable by imprisonment, and therefore the offender may be arrested on the justice of the peace warrant, regardless of nationality. Indeed, cases have occurred where this has been done. Where the offence does not show deliberate intent, it is probably preferable, in the case of a foreign national likely to leave the country, quickly to convene a court at short notice. This, too, has been done successfully in several cases. However, should it be necessary, the option of arrest is still available under the insufficient address provision I have mentoned.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, has he gathered my point? If somebody on a yacht is discovered in the act of walking his dog and then sails away before the warrant can be obtained, he cannot, in the present state of the law, be arrested. What I am seeking is not an undertaking but at least an expression on the part of the Government of agreement that it would be desirable for there to be an arrest without warrant in certain circumstances.


My Lords, that is certainly something I will go into. I will let the noble Earl know about that.


My Lords, if the noble Lord is leaving that point, can he give advice to members of the public? They might see what they suspect to be somebody with a dog, which has been illegally imported from a yacht or boat anchored in a distant bay, on an uninhabited island which may be visited by people resident in Britain with dogs. What should they do? Can they make a citizens' arrest, or do they have to wait for the legal processes that the noble Lord has described? If the best protection is well-informed public opinion, what would the noble Lord do to ensure that people know what they can do in order to protect themselves and others from this situation?


My Lords, I shall be coming to the question of the Scilly Isles and other publicity in a moment—


My Lords, may I intervene for a moment? Am I right in believing, from what the noble Lord has said, that the same conditions apply to foreigners as English people who are smuggling animals, and there is no reason why a foreigner cannot be prosecuted in the same way as English people?


Certainly, my Lords; there have been cases of foreigners being prosecuted. With regard to publicity, we must accept that no defence can be impregnable. It is essential that we should have the full support of the public, so that everyone is fully aware of the threats and of the selfish and dangerous nature of animal smuggling offences. We must also reduce the problem at its source abroad and, to this end, the Government are continuing and extending their publicity campaign. As the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, says, the Government have the duty to arouse public opinion. He is perfectly right and the Government are carrying out that duty.

During 1975 a very large number of posters and leaflets were widely distributed throughout the country, particularly in port areas, aimed at both the general public and foreign visitors. There were numerous Government-sponsored or supported exhibits and displays about the rabies threat, and articles were published in travel and similar publications. This year new posters have been designed for display at home. They will also be distributed in six foreign languages through embassies in Europe, and our current leaflets have been updated and redesigned. Three television "fillers" are planned for showing during the spring and summer on both BBC and ITV, and a four-minute film made for showing abroad has already appeared on the Continent. Scripts for suitable radio programmes and fresh display material are also in preparation. The BBC is planning a television programme on rabies for showing this spring, I am glad to say. I can assure your Lordships that there will be no excuse for anyone to remain uninformed of the rabies threat and the penalties for animal smuggling.

Despite all these efforts and our continual striving to improve our defence against rabies getting into the country, it would be criminally remiss of the Government not to be prepared to cope with an outbreak should one unfortunately occur. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, have asked me to describe what plans the Government have. The Rabies (Control) Order 1974, which is the sister order to the Importation Order, gives the Government far-ranging powers to deal with any outbreak. Which of those powers would be used depends on the nature, scope and location of the outbreak. These could vary greatly, from a single case with few and identifiable contacts, to an outbreak of much more serious proportions, perhaps involving both domestic animals and wild life.

In cases where contact with other animals, including wild life, is suspected, an infected area—the size would depend on the circumstances—would be declared around the source of the infection. This would enable all or any of the following measures to be put into effect: there would be a restriction of animal movement into or out of the area; there would be control and confinement of animals, including the muzzling of dogs and leashing of dogs and cats; there would be seizure, detention and disposal of animals not under proper control, including of course, stray animals; and there would be measures for the disposal of carcases by incineration. There would be compulsory vaccination of all animals, concentrating initially on dogs and cats; prohibition of sporting and recreational activities involving animals, as was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow; and also destruction of foxes which, as I have already said, are the main vector of the disease in Europe.

I am glad to say that a great deal of detailed planning has taken place, including consultations with local authorities, all the Government Departments concerned and the many associations and bodies who may be involved, or may he able to offer assistance in the event of an outbreak. A joint working group is now finalising a co-ordinated model plan on which local authorities can base their own local arrangements to tie in with the central Government's plans.

I should now like to deal with some of the specific points that have been raised. First, there is the question of small boats and yachts. Although the volume of small boat traffic from abroad is not great compared with passenger ferries, Customs and harbourmasters keep a keen surveillance over it. The owner or captain of a vessel is required to sign a Customs declaration form and to confine animals on board while in port. Posters emphasising the dangers from illegally landed animals and the penalties for contraventions are on display in small harbours and coastal marinas. We have arranged for special publicity through the yachting associations to remind boatowners that animals taken abroad, whether or not they have landed, are subject to importation controls and quarantine on return to this country.

The noble Earl. Lord Mansfield, spoke about oil rigs. The Rabies Import Order controls the landing of rabies-susceptible mammals from any place outside Great Britain, including oil rigs. As the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, will remember from when we had a Bill in the proceedings on which he took some part, an oil rig is a "place". Animals landed from these structures are subject to the normal six months' quarantine requirement, whether or not they come from outside territorial waters or have had contact with "foreign" animals. Customs and the relevant port authorities are well aware of the situation, and have taken appropriate measures to deal with these cases. We have no evidence to suggest that there is any problem in relation to pets from oil rigs and like structures. I should now like to deal—


My Lords, I think there is passage of animals from Ireland. Is the noble Lord certain that the regulations are sufficiently stringent in the case of Ireland?


Yes, my Lords. Both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic have regulations very similar to our own, and we keep very closely in touch with the authorities. The noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, expressed concern about the Isles of Scilly. There is also, of course, the question of the Channel Islands. The rabies legislation in both Jersey and Guernsey has recently been brought up to date and is now in line with that of the United Kingdom, which of course applies to the Isles of Scilly. The harbour authority in the Isles of Scilly is the Duchy of Cornwall. I understand that they can and do direct boats to specified moorings, but local conditions—for example, the weather—are such that boats cannot always be moored "off". The authorities in the Scillies are particularly concerned about the uninhibited and unsupervised "off islands", where both foreign and native animals might be landed and exercised. But, of course, this is also a Channel Islands problem.

I can assure noble Lords that the authorities in the Isles are very conscious of their local problems, and are most active in pursuing all possible steps that might be taken to improve their defences against rabies and to deal with any outbreak should it unfortunately occur. I can also assure noble Lords that the Ministry of Agriculture are equally aware of the local problems in the Isles, and it would be wrong to get the impression that Whitehall's interest diminishes as the distance from it increases. On the contrary, in view of the comparatively isolated situation of the Isles, the Ministry of Agriculture is making arrangements for the provision of a facility to hold any suspect rabid animal that might appear out there.

In the event of an outbreak on the Isles, the Ministry of Agriculture would not hesitate to declare that the Isles were an infected area as appropriate under the Rabies (Control) Order. Animal movements would certainly be restricted. I must stress that this should be easier to implement than in a mainland situation. The problem of tracing contacts of an initial rabies suspect would, of course, be no different from that which would apply to any part of the United Kingdom. It would be uneconomical while the Scillies remain rabies free for a Ministry veterinary officer to be stationed permanently there. In an emergency, if normal civil air and sea transport were not available, an aircraft might be chartered, or the Services might be asked whether they could provide a helicopter. The noble Lord, Lord de Clifford—


My Lords, if the noble Lord has finished with the Isles of Scilly, may I say that I am most grateful for the thorough way with which he has dealt with the points I raised. If there are further worries, may I ask the noble Lord whether the Ministry in London would be prepared to see officials and councillors from the Isles of Scilly who are still concerned about this problem and who, despite what he has said, will not be wholly reassured?


My Lords, I will most certainly give that undertaking. Turning to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, concerning the need for lorries entering the country to be searched, he suggested that certain rodents might get into the country by these lorries. The position is that all lorries entering the country are subject to search by Customs officers, but it is not the policy of Her Majesty's Customs to disclose the proportion of vehicles which are actually searched. In any case, undoubtedly this proportion would vary, according to the circumstances. While we make every possible effort to prevent the entry of "self-concealed" rodents such as rats, the possibility of such a stowaway escaping into the country cannot be entirely ruled out. However, although rats, like all warm-blooded animals, are susceptible to rabies there is no record of their acting as a vector, that is to say, passing on the disease to another species. Veterinary opinion is that the chances of an outbreak arising from this source are remote.

The noble Viscount, Lord Long, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, asked about vaccination. So long as we remain free of rabies, we have no plans to permit vaccination except for dogs and cats in quarantine, which is compulsory. There is no known vaccine which guarantees immunity, and to vaccinate in a rabies-free situation would not only be wasteful but could give rise to a false sense of security. This in turn could lead to reluctance to comply with our quarantine regulations. Our policy on this is entirely in line with the World Health Organisation's recommendations for rabies free countries. Where rabies is endemic, however, the situation is different. In that case, vaccination can provide a degree of protection to uninfected annals, and in the event of an outbreak here we have the power to order compulsory vaccination in the infected area, and after vaccination every animal would be tagged.

The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, is quite correct in supposing that there is at present only one animal anti-rabies vaccine authorised for use in this country. This is manufactured in France and marketed here to cover the normal demands for quarantined animals. To stockpile this vaccine, which has a limited shelf life, would be unacceptably costly, bearing in mind that we hope it will never be used, but emergency measures would be considered, including the immediate temporary licensing of additional suitable vaccine and the stepping up of production of the French vaccine.

The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, mentioned the problem experienced by the Belgians in their anti-rabies measures of creating a vacuum area which tends to encourage the movement of wild life back into it. Our wild life experts are well aware of this characteristic effect which presents a major problem if one is protecting a land border with a rabies-infected wild life population on the other side of it. In this country, should a rabies outbreak occur in wild life our intention is to contain and eliminate it by destroying the foxes, which are the vector, within the initial infected area. Once this is done, movement back into the area would be of rabies-free animals and would be desirable—I am sure the noble Earl would agree—to re-establish the natural balance of wild life.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, can the noble Lord answer another question. I am sorry to interrupt him again, but several noble Lords have asked him what research was being undertaken to improve vaccines. I do not think he has covered that point.


My Lords, concerning vaccines for human use, the supply of rabies antiserum, together with vaccine and immunoglobulin, has recently been reviewed and is being increased in the light of the developing situation on the Continent of Europe. Stocks of vaccine and antiserum for post-exposure treatment of human cases are constantly available at selected public health laboratories for the treatment of travellers exposed to the risk of infection abroad and to meet emergencies. Our medical and veterinary advisers have the matter of research continually under review and, of course, keep in close touch with other countries.

I do not want to go on too long, my Lords. The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, asked me about equipment and I can tell him that it is well in hand. The Ministry is currently engaged in an important programme of purchasing the necessary equipment, such as carrying crates, clog graspers, cat nets, and so on, and is training the Ministry of Agriculture veterinary staff.

In conclusion, I must assure the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley—who does not seem to be familiar, if I may say so, with any of the legislation that has come about during the last two or three years—that the Government do not accept that a rabies outbreak is inevitable. Indeed, such an attitude would indicate a weakening of our determination to apply rigidly our importation controls to keep out the disease as we have done successfully for over 50 years. I can also assure the noble Lord that there are sufficient Ministry veterinary officers to meet the requirements in an outbreak situation, and that provision is made in our plans for manpower in the field for fox control in an infected area.

I hope I have answered all the points, but if there are any that I have not covered I shall be glad to write to noble Lords, because this is a very important subject. In conclusion, I stress that the Government are acting on the potential rabies threat with resolution and vigour. Our primary aim is to keep the disease out of the country and we shall strive to the utmost to achieve this. The contingency aim is to be ready to contain and eradicate any rabies outbreak should it nevertheless occur. Our contingency plans are now well advanced; we stand ready and will spare no effort to continue to improve those plans. Through the media we shall strive to keep the public constantly on the alert.