§ Mr. FFRENCH
I desire to apologise to the House for having to refer to a matter that has been under consideration by the House on several previous occasions. My excuse for my action is that I represent an Irish agricultural constituency. I wish to call attention to the restrictions and the manner in which they prevent the working 1041 of the Irish cattle trade. I belong to the county of Wexford which is largely interested in the cattle trade. Not only do we rear our own cattle, but we buy all we can get from other counties and from the rearers of small cattle. My brother farmers and myself feel very keenly the restrictions that have been placed upon the Irish cattle trade. All the public bodies in my own county, the farmers' associations, and the branches of the United Irish League have passed resolutions condemning the action of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture. I know his action has been approved by a narrow section of the British people, and I have heard in this House, recently, speeches on that side of the House, and on this side of the House, stating that suspicion and distrust in relation to Ireland exists in this country. The Irish farmers were suspected of cloaking the disease, and it has been implied that the Irish Department of Agriculture and their Veterinary Department were incompetent. The Irish farmers have given every facility that possibly could be given to the Board of Agriculture to stamp out the disease. The Irish Department of Agriculture and the Irish police are the best agents to be found in any country in the world to stamp out foot-and-mouth disease, or any other cattle disease. You have nothing like them in this country. I do not believe that anything exists like them in any other country. We have done everything that possibly could be done in Ireland to avoid the suspicion and distrust which we are told exists on this side of the Channel. What have you been doing? There is also suspicion and distrust on our side of the Channel of the President of the Board of Agriculture. There has, been scare-mongering in the Press of this country. There has been scare-making at farmers' clubs, and agricultural associations—yes, and in the House of Commons too. A certain section of the British people were seized with panic, and they carried the President of the Board of Agriculture along with them, so that restrictions were imposed upon the Irish cattle trade that the circumstances of the case did not seem to warrant.
The Irish farmers claim to be British subjects. They claim the rights and the privileges that British subjects possess. The Irish peasant soldier has carried your flag to victory on many a hard-fought field. Irish farmers therefore claim the same right, freedom, privilege and facility 1042 to market their cattle that the British farmers possess. if there is an outbreak of cattle disease in this country a cordon is drawn around that neighbourhood at a distance of twelve or fifteen miles—I do not exactly know the number—and the rest of the cattle trade of the country goes on as if nothing had happened. What happens in Ireland? There is an outbreak of disease at Swords, a cordon is drawn around the whole of the island, and the whole of the Irish cattle trade is held up. It is not fair, right, or just to the Irish farmers who claim to be British citizens? There is no meaning in restricting cattle from Wexford county and other counties in the provinces of Munster and Connaught, and preventing these cattle being exported to this country because there is foot-and-mouth disease in some other part of the country several miles away—indeed, a great many miles away. Again, at the present time suppose we sell fat cattle in Wexford, and those cattle are consigned to someone in London, Manchester, or some other place, we consider that there is no meaning in detaining those cattle on this side of the Channel at the port of debarkation. We say that they should be trained immediately to their purchasers. We maintain also that store cattle purchased by British farmers who are feeders in a large way, guaranteed by the Irish veterinary inspectors as free from disease, and with a clean bill of health—and the same, of course, refers to fat cattle—should be allowed to go forward at once. Irish veterinary inspectors have, to say the least of it, proved themselves equally competent with English veterinary inspectors. Our inspectors have shown that they know the difference between foot-and-mouth disease and other cattle diseases of that nature. We cannot say so much for the English veterinary inspectors. There is no reason why, when cattle are certified on our side of the Channel to have a clean bill of health, that when they are disembarked they should not be sent immediately to their destination.
There is another phase of the cattle trade that has not been referred to by anybody, and that is the dead meat trade. We have a dead meat trade in Ireland, but it is only in its infancy, and it is only a very small infant. If Ireland, however, is to be confronted with these vexatious restrictions this trade will grow and expand. When I was last at home I was told that in Wexford they were slaughtering about 200 head of cattle per week. Suppose every county in Ireland does the same thing— 1043 and they can do it if they like—that would mean a great many cattle. Continental countries, Germany and Austria, for instance, pay a higher price for their meat than the British people. The difference between the price, we are told, would pay the cost of transit. So that it would seem there is a great future before the dead meat trade of Ireland. I hope, however, there will be found another way round the difficulty; that we shall not be forced to all this expense and trouble of establishing on a large scale a dead meat trade, but that trade will flow freely and naturally in the usual course between the British and the Irish people. Both Irish and British Members of Parliament should d their best to allay the distrust and suspicion that exists on both sides of the Channel. It has been a curse to both countries. Feeling has run very high in Ireland on this matter. We have been requested over and over again to vote against the Government until these restrictions were removed. That, of course, is what we never thought of doing and what we do not think of doing now, and there are several reasons for that. The first is because we trust to the reasonableness and fair-mindedness of the British people to remove these restrictions when they come to grasp the situation and when they know the successful exertions made in Ireland to stamp out the disease. And another reason is that we were sent here to win Home Rule, and now that we are on the threshold of Home Rule we have no idea of turning out a Home Rule Government, and certainly we have no idea of putting in a Unionist Government which presumably would reduce the Irish representation and give us, perhaps, twenty years of coercion. We stand or fall by the present Government, and we trust to the reasonableness of the British people to remove unnecessary restrictions.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Runciman)
As the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down is the only one who gave me notice upon this subject I think perhaps I had better reply to him at once. For my part, I do not resent in the least the case from the Irish point of view having been brought to the notice of this House either in Committee of Supply or on the Second Reading of the Appropriation Bill. I quite realise that feeling has run high in Ireland, and I know the loss to which Irish farmers and breeders have been put has been very con 1044 siderable throughout the whole of last summer and winter. But I do not think it is fully realised in Ireland that we have at the earliest possible moment been reducing the restrictions placed on the Irish cattle trade. When I took the first step in the way of reducing the restrictions in the first week of last October, there was a protest raised from organised agriculturists all over England and Wales. When I cut down the restrictions on store cattle to four days' detention at the English port it led at once to a very large increase in the number of Irish store cattle coming over here. I can justify that reduction by what happened since, for certainly as a result of that reduction there has been no introduction of disease into Great Britain, and we have gone through the whole of the winter and spring without any single case being traced to the reductions of the restrictions, embarked upon so long ago as last October. Now we have come down to the comparatively small limit of twelve hours. I must repeat what I said in Committee of Supply, that a detention for twelve hours is by no means a new departure. In many English ports far more than twelve hours' detention had been the practice. In Liverpool the bulk of the cattle arrived on a Sunday morning and were detained for at least twenty-four hours before being put upon the market. What we have done is to make the detention uniform and compulsory, but on a much smaller scale than obtained in Liverpool in the past, and I hope Irish public opinion will realise that a twelve hours' detention, so far from doing harm, has already restored British confidence in Irish cattle trade, which I suggest is to the interests of the Irish farmers and cattle breeders.
The hon. Gentleman quite truly says there has been a good deal of resentment in Ireland against the steps taken over here. Rut let me assure him and his Friends whatever steps were taken were taken purely with the object of preventing the disease spreading to our flocks and herds. I am not casting any suspicion upon Irish farmers and stock owners when I say we were bound to take that precaution as against Irish cattle. In the same way Ireland in the past has been forced to take similar precautions against us, and I have not the least doubt if foot-and-mouth disease broke out here that the Irish Department would be bound, not because of panic or that they wanted to prevent the competition of British animals 1045 in the Irish market, but in order that there might be no chance of infection being introduced among Irish herds, to put on restrictions not less severe but more severe than we have imposed. The hon. Member and his Friends must realise that it was to the best interests of the Irish farmers and breeders, whether small or large, that there should be no infection coming into Ireland from England. Similarly we were bound here to take all necessary precautions. I hope there will be no further resentment at the steps we were compelled to take. The hon. Gentleman said that a good deal of the heated feeling in Ireland was due to exaggeration with regard to the disease. He said that the resentment against Irish cattle over here was due to what some of his hon. Friends described as slanderous statement with regard to Irish cattle. I never indulged in anything of the kind, and I have carefully stated in this House and outside that so far as the Irish Department could ascertain the Irish Department had done their duty to let us know fully of the infected districts in Ireland, and had taken strong steps to prevent the infection from spreading. He said that the suspicions aroused here had been due to rather groundless attacks made on the part of some Gentlemen.
There was a tendency on the part of some hon. Members to declare that the cases of foot-and-mouth disease certified were not foot-and-mouth disease at all. That really is a great mistake, and only does harm here and creates the impression among people who have not followed the whole history of the case that in Ireland there has been a tendency, certainly represented by one hon. Member in Committee, as if the matter was of no account, but Irish Members have admitted that it is a serious matter for Ireland as well as England. We must face the facts that there were 300 cases suspected and very nearly eighty confirmed after the most careful examination. We have had even a larger number in England: we have had a large number of suspicious cases, some of which I am glad to say turned out not to be cases of foot-and-mouth disease, but it would be absurd to say that there had been no cases. One thing we can congratulate ourselves upon is that the disease, so far as we know at the present moment, has been completely stamped out, and that for about three months there has not been a single case either in Ireland or England. We now find England, 1046 Wales, Scotland, and Ireland freer from foot-and-mouth disease than for many a year past. Ireland, I am glad to think, had a very good record before these past years. I trust our own record may rival hers in the years to come. One consolation I can offer to hon. Members for Ireland is that the cattle accommodation over here in British ports is largely on the increase, and is far more than the requirements of the trade demands. I am now speaking of the landing stager. The railway companies and most of the shipping companies are co-operating gradually with us, and will in a short time have provided us in England, Scotland, and Wales, with all that is required, not only for the present flow of cattle from Ireland, but for a very large increase as the demand goes on. The hon. Gentleman made reference to the fact that the nature of the trade had been modified owing to the tendency to send over dead meat instead of live cattle. I offer no comment upon that, but the necessity for the purchase of Irish stores has not diminished, and the demand is still great. One of the things we in this country would desire more than any other, is that we should have to make our purchases of store cattle in the market free from all disease. Ireland is free from suspicion at the present moment. Long may she remain so.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. LARDNER
I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman did not give me an opportunity of putting my views before him before he got up to reply, especially as he must have known I was one of the Irish Members who on Saturday wished to speak on this matter. I only want to deal with one point, and that is the question of the twelve hours' detention on this side. Speaking for the part of the country which I represent, the effect of the twelve hours' detention has been to practically paralyse the trade there. I made that statement before. The right hon. Gentleman controverted it, but I repeat it now in the light of further inquiry I have made. Let me make myself perfectly clear. I am not one of those who suggested that there has been no foot-and-mouth disease in Ireland. I do not say that the Departments were always absolutely justified in what they did, but I take it that on the whole they certainly succeeded in stamping the disease out. What I say is there is no justification now for the twelve hours' detention. I do not object to a period of rest for food and water and inspection, but I say you have no justification for a 1047 period of twelve hours' detention. The only light I derived from the right hon. Gentleman's speech on Saturday was that he did not regard twelve hours as sacrosanct. I will tell him why I think he should reduce it. His argument is that twelve hours inspection has restored confidence here. I cannot see how that is so at all. He says four days is not enough to find out whether disease exists or not, neither is twelve hours. All the twelve hours does is to give a period of inspection. We do not object to the period of inspection, but we object to twelve hours. Why I say that the period of twelve hours paralyses the Irish northern trade is that the majority of cattle coming from the province of Ulster are raised by small farmers, who bring them into the fairs and markets, sell them to dealers and ship them here on the speculation of having them sold in the English market. What is the result of twelve hours' detention? They are bought in the northern fairs on Monday, they are shipped on Monday night, they are held up for twelve hours, and they are not upon the English market until Wednesday. The additional difficulty is owing to the system of lairage. The right hon. Gentleman laid stress on the fact that 36,000 cattle and sheep are shipped. What is the experience in Belfast? Cattle are being penned up in Belfast for as long as six days and why? Because they are advised they cannot get any room in the lairage over here. Cattle bought in the country have been kept, almost for a week in Belfast. I strongly appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to recollect who are the people at whom he is striking. They are the people less able to bear it—the small farmers and the small dealers. The result is this, that at the present moment you have got people depending upon their investments in cattle to realise the money for their rent and for their ordinary household budget. They have not been able to do it, and the right hon. Gentleman tries to console us by saying that the trade in store cattle has been maintained. That is true, but it has been done under very exceptional circumstances. In this country you have been clamouring for stores, and in Ireland we have been clamouring to get rid of our cattle. I am not in favour of doing anything that would shake confidence in the Irish cattle trade on this side of the Channel. It is all very well to say that 1048 one or two Members below the Gangway have said that there was no foot-and-mouth disease in Ireland, but they are very suspicious of the whole method which has been adopted. If confidence in the Irish cattle trade has been shaken over here, I have no hesitation in saying that Irish confidence in the English administration of these restrictions has been very seriously shaken in Ireland. If I could have it from the right hon. Gentleman that this restriction was merely a temporary provision, and that there was some meaning behind his statement that the figure 12 was not sacrosanct, I should be more contented. We are most anxious to keep up the good reputation of the Irish cattle trade. We have no foot-and-mouth disease, and we do not want it, and we will take all the necessary steps to stamp it out, but my contention is that you are practically choking the neck of the bottle by insisting on this twelve hours' quarantine after landing. You are preventing cattle getting through to the markets, and the result will he that you will absolutely kill the store cattle trade so far as that particular part of Ireland is concerned.
§ Mr. O'DOWD
As the representative of a constituency in the West of Ireland and as a member of the Council of Agriculture who has taken some little trouble in regard to this question, I feel that I should be wanting in my duty to my Constituents if I did not enter my protest against the continuance of this vexatious protective quarantine of twelve hours, against which my hon. Friends on these benches have protested. I attended several meetings in the county of Sligo and elsewhere during the month of September in regard to this question of foot-and-mouth disease at which we considered the restrictions imposed by the English and Irish Departments, and I can assure this House that the universal feeling in the county from which I come, and the Constituency which I represent, is that the restrictions to a great extent are entirely unnecessary. I am one of those individuals who, whatever may have been the mistakes of the past, would wish to "let the dead past bury its dead." Ordinary individuals who have studied this matter will conclude that a continuance of this twelve hours' detention is a wholly unnecessary proceeding on the part of the Board of Agriculture. Those most competent to judge and most experienced in the trade will tell you that a rigid inspection at the port of embarkation would be sufficient. 1049 In any case, public opinion in Ireland is strongly formed from this point, and they do not believe there is any necessity whatever for twelve hours' detention on this side of the water As for a portion of the county which I represent, it is a fine store-raising county, and on the deputations on which I have served since this outbreak took place I have had the honour to be associated with the Lord Lieutenant of the county, and men of all classes and creeds, whose views on political matters are not my own, and we have all come to the conclusion that the twelve hours' detention is unnecessary. On this point we are all united. I would appeal to the President of the Board of Agriculture even now to reconsider his decision in regard to this restriction. I think the right hon. Gentleman will get tired of this thing himself in a day or two, and I hope he will decide to remove this restriction. The majority of my Constituents are small farmers, and they have suffered considerably by these rules. Unfortunately, they have had a bad season owing to the overflowing of rivers in the county, and the fact that we had a wet season last summer and during the early autumn. From these occurrences they suffered terribly, and these restrictions came as a crushing blow, because when they had their stores ready for the market, which would have helped them to meet their losses, they found that the markets were closed against them. Consequently they could not pay the shopkeepers or the Estates Commissioners their annuities, and the situation became very grave, and it is very grave at the present time. One small farmer with whom I am acquainted, who is engaged in the rearing of store cattle and who owns about four acres of land a man who won the county cup from the aristocrats of the county for three years in succession, even he was shut out from selling his cattle at the fairs because they were closed. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to think over this matter, and see if he cannot remove this vexatious rule, which is such a stumbling block in the way of the Irish cattle trade.