§ LORD STRACHIE had given Notice to call attention to the numerous and widespread outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease, and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I feel that the noble Earl the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture will agree with me that the present condition in regard to foot-and-mouth disease in this country, in fact, I may say in Great Britain, is very serious indeed. As I understand it, the present outbreaks began on August 24 last. Up to November 13 there were twenty-nine separate centres; 245 farms were affected in twenty-five counties in Great Britain; and there have been seventy-five outbreaks since October 31. I noticed in The Times this morning that there are further outbreaks and that, unfortunately, another county, that of Kent, has been included. That shows that the present situation is very serious.
§ I want to ask the noble Earl the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture specifically about the Cheshire outbreak. No doubt he has had that matter brought before him at the Ministry and is, therefore, well aware of the position. The particular outbreak to which I wish to direct his attention occurred at Fleetwood. Cattle arrived at Fleetwood on August 28 from Belfast. I would like to draw the attention of your Lordships to the fact that the outbreak began on August 27. These cattle were examined on August 28. They had been landed, no doubt, a day or two before, it might have been only a day before, but they were examined and found to be healthy. What happened? On August 28 a local veterinary inspector was called in by the railway company to the Fleetwood lairage to examine a cow that had milk fever. It seems that on August 27 there had been an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease at Blackpool, and the local veterinary surgeon who had been asked to attend this cow with milk fever had also been called in with regard to that outbreak at Blackpool. I suppose he had been consulted so that he might see 7 whether or not the trouble was foot-and-mouth disease. Some of the cattle left Fleetwood docks on the 31st, but a certain number—perhaps the noble Earl will explain why—were detained there, and they never left. Subsequently, on September 1, forty cattle were found to be affected by foot-and-mouth disease and were slaughtered at Fleetwood docks.
§ I should like to ask the noble Earl why these cattle were detained from August 28 till September 1. These cattle, I understand, came from Belfast. If they had all been passed as being healthy on August 28 it is curious why some of them at all events were detained until September 1. I understand that the explanation that has been given by the Ministry to the Chamber of Agriculture of Cheshire is that they do not think the cattle were infected before they arrived at Fleetwood but were infected by the veterinary surgeon. That seems very unlikely because one knows that veterinary surgeons take every possible precaution. I have always understood, too, that the Ministry took every kind of precaution and that everyone who visited the premises where infected animals were kept had their clothes and boots disinfected, the idea being that, that having been done, they could not carry infection. Rut, apparently, in this case the Ministry seem to think that the local veterinary surgeon was the cause of the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease at Fleetwood which necessitated the slaughter of forty cattle on September 1.
§ In reply to a question by the Chamber of Agriculture for Cheshire, I understand, the Ministry replied that exhaustive inquiries had demonstrated beyond question that the disease was not introduced from Ireland where the Ministry say it does not exist at present. The date of that letter was October 4 last, at which time, they say, there was no supposition that there was any disease in Ireland. Yet we find that since then there has been an outbreak, apparently, in Ireland: whether a small or a largo one we do not know. There was an outbreak at Merklands, which was reported in The Times on November 9 last. The Times correspondent in Dublin reported that the affected animals were shipped from Belfast on October 26 or 27, but the outbreak was not discovered until November 6 when the lesions were only three 8 days old. There seemed to be some doubt as to where the disease was contracted. Apparently, the Ministry have not much doubt about it because, according to The Times statement, no cattle coming from Ireland are now allowed to be, landed in this country. I suppose that Order is still in force.
§ I should like to put a question to the noble Earl regarding this outbreak. I notice in the Report of the Departmental Committee that sat upon foot-and-mouth disease and reported last December it is stated that the disease as a rule appears within three days, but in this particular case it would seem that the cattle were shipped from Belfast on October 26 and that no disease was discovered till November 6; yet the lesions, according to The Times report, were only three days old. That means that before the foot-and-mouth disease was detected something like seven or eight days elapsed. That circumstance seems to break down the contention put forward by the Departmental Committee that it is only a matter of three days before affected cattle show symptoms of the disease. Personally, I am inclined to think that up to now there has been a misconception as to how soon this disease appears. I remember that when I was at the Department of Agriculture we were always told by those admirable veterinary officers who were so competent that you could always tell in from three to five days at the latest whether a cow was infected with the disease. I think there is one report in which it is stated that ten days may elapse before the disease may be apparent. I am not sure that it may not be longer than ten days before the symptoms show themselves, and it is a question whether the Ministry ought not to reconsider their attitude in regard to allowing cattle to be sent widespread over the whole of Great Britain in the way that they do now. It would appear that, instead of keeping them for ten hours for examination at the ports where they disembark, it would be desirable to detain them a much longer period in order to make certain that they have not the disease. In this Merklands case there was a very much longer period than is generally accepted by the veterinary-experts of the Ministry of Agriculture.
§ I should also like to ask the noble Earl whether the Ministry have come to any 9 decision to hold an inquiry into this matter. Doubtless, the noble Earl is aware that the Cheshire Chamber of Agriculture passed a resolution asking that there should be an inquiry into the source of the infection of this particular outbreak at Fleetwood and as to how it was spread subsequently, and that the members composing that Committee of Enquiry should consist mostly of laymen. The noble Earl is also aware, no doubt, that the Central Chamber of Agriculture a few days ago passed unanimously a resolution to a similar effect, hoping that the Ministry would see, fit to have an impartial inquiry into this matter and ascertain whether it really was the fault of the local veterinary surgeon that foot-and-mouth disease was introduced into the Fleetwood lairage and that it did not come from Ireland. It looks rather as if it might have come from Ireland—from Belfast. The report in The Times has never been contradicted that cattle which bad been shipped from Belfast were found suffering from foot-and-mouth disease. I hope the noble Earl will be willing to grant the inquiry which has been asked for by so important a body as the Central Chamber of Agriculture.
§ Another point to which I wish to draw your Lordships' attention is very germane to this matter It is the question of the importation of hay and straw; I do not mean, of course, for fodder purposes. I am glad to think that I was successful, after the Edinburgh outbreak in 1908— which it seemed to me (though I believe it is not entirely agreed) was caused by foreign hay or straw that the rattle had got at in some way—in having the importation of hay and straw stopped from any country in Europe, because in all European countries foot-and-mouth disease to a more or less extent always exists. Hay and straw which is used for packing purposes, however, is permitted to come into this country. There is a very strong feeling among agriculturists that we ought to have gone a step further and have prohibited the importation not only of hay and straw required for feeding purposes but also hay and straw used for packing purposes.
Not so long ago the county agricultural committee for Somerset passed a resolution which was sent to the Ministry asking them to forbid all articles brought into this country from Europe being
packed in hay or straw on the ground that it was believed that that might be a cause of the introduction of foot-and-mouth disease into this country. This was the answer of the Ministry to the Somerset Agricultural Committee:—
The importation of hay, straw and fern used as packing for foreign merchandise is not prohibited, and the Ministry has decided that in view of (a) the very slender evidence against this material as a source of infection, (b) the dislocation of trade which would be caused by any attempt to prohibit the importation of the material as packing for foreign goods, and (c) the impracticability of enforcing such a prohibition effectively, oven if it were imposed, he [the Minister] would not be justified in adopting the course suggested in the resolution of your agricultural committee.
§ The Minister, it will be noticed, does not say it is quite certain the disease cannot be introduced in this way, but that it is possible it is not introduced in this way. He thinks it would hamper trade, and that it is undesirable to adopt prohibition for that and other reasons. The Ministry of Health, in their journal of last month, take much the same line. They say that it is quite possible foot-and-mouth disease may be introduced into this country by the hay and straw in which goods are packed, but that it is not desirable to prohibit this packing because to do so may hamper trade. Agriculturists do not agree with that view.
§ I have given the noble Earl notice of a question with regard to Jersey also. In Jersey, although they do not prohibit goods coming in packed in hay or straw, they insist that all the hay and straw shall be burned at once and not distributed over the Island. I have been informed—I do not know whether the noble Earl has the same information— that an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease has occurred in the Channel Islands, in the Island of Sark, and that the outbreak is attributed to the fact that the hay and straw in which a piano was packed was given to some of the animals in that Island. The noble Earl may know nothing about it, but I would ask him to inquire into the practice in the Channel Islands and also whether there has been this outbreak in the Island of Sark.
§ In the very able article written by the Chief Veterinary Inspector of the Ministry of Agriculture, I notice he does not deny that it is possible for foot-and-mouth disease to be brought into the country on 11 the clothing of persons coming here and also in the hay and straw in which imported articles may be packed. He is, however, inclined to say that in some cases it is imported into this country by birds. That is a new theory entirely and requires further consideration. In the present most serious conditions, when we are losing a large number of most valuable cattle and breaking up men's business—in some areas of two or three thousand acres each there is not a single live animal left— I ask the Ministry of Agriculture seriously to consider whether they had not better stop every possible source of infection. I am not complaining, because I believe that the only way to stamp out infection is by slaughter. At the Council of the Royal Agricultural Society the other day it was stated that over 11,000 cattle had been slaughtered and it would be interesting to know exactly the number of cattle, sheep and swine that have been slaughtered already, and the amount of compensation paid. I urge the noble Earl to consider whether in the present dangerous condition of things it would not be desirable, as a temporary measure, to take every possible precaution, including a long quarantine for cattle imported and the destruction of all hay and straw packing. I beg to move.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
My Lords, I agree entirely with what the noble Lord has said with the one exception of his remarks as to infection being carried in hay or straw packing. If that is the case then it is very simple to alter it. You have only to order all hay and straw packing to be burned. I am, however, sceptical altogether on that point. I am afraid you will never exterminate this disease by slaughtering animals. It is endemic in this country. I have spoken to a very able chemist on the point and he pointed out that there is everything to show that this may be the case. When there is an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease—there is one in Norfolk at the moment—an embargo radius of fifteen miles round the centre is drawn. That is very good, but within a few days anybody can get an order to move his cows across the road. I myself sold some bullocks last Thursday and they were taken away. An order was given by someone and they were taken away a distance of some two and a half miles. Would it not be far better to have a smaller area and really enforce it? Then 12 you say that dogs are not to run about. You stop hunting, but you do not stop shooting, in connection with which dogs run all over the place. If there is any danger in dogs running about surely you must stop shooting as well as hunting. As long as you adopt the policy of slaughtering everything, a policy with which I do not agree, then you should take every possible precaution in order to limit the number of cattle that must be slaughtered. That is all I ask.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (THE EARL OF ANCASTER)
My Lords, I am sorry to say that the noble Lord who has introduced this Question was perfectly right in what he has said. Undoubtedly, the present outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease is very serious indeed, and it is so viewed by the Ministry of Agriculture. Every precaution that can be taken is being taken, and every possible method we can think of is being considered in order to try to discover the sources of infection and how they can be avoided. The unfortunate thing, as the noble Lord knows well, is that this is a most dreadfully contagious disease, and a most baffling disease to understand and follow. The doctor is to blame when the patient is not cured or when the disease spreads, and there are always many suggestions made as to what steps ought to be taken. The methods adopted by the Ministry no doubt come in for criticism, but I believe that at the moment we are taking every precaution it is possible to take and at the same time attempting not to interfere with the farmer's business. I say that because the noble Earl seems to think that sometimes measures are too lenient and at others too severe.
I think it would interest your Lordships if I made a few remarks on the points which Lord Strachie actually made. The first thing I should like to say is that the figures he gave as to the different centres where outbreaks have occurred are correct. He gave the total twenty-nine, but he is right in stating that there is now another centre in the County of Kent, which makes thirty different centres where outbreaks have occurred—a very serious position indeed. I will only add that whenever these fresh outbreaks occur the most careful inquiries are made into their source by the Ministry's inspectors. In a great many 13 places it has been possible to trace the source of the outbreak and to show that cattle, have come from an infected area, but there are many cases where this disease has suddenly broken out in a way which seems to be utterly beyond explanation by veterinary knowledge. These mysterious cases occur in places far removed from any other centre of infection and with no apparent cause whatever.
The noble Lord first referred to the outbreak at Fleetwood, and I think he gave very nearly the same description of that which occurred there as has been put before me. I think I had better read the description of what happened so far as it has been ascertained by the Ministry. The outbreaks at Fleetwood landing place, in Cheshire, in Bucks and in Shropshire were directly traced to the Blackpool case, which, I think, was the case mentioned by the noble Lord. A local veterinary practitioner who had attended one of the suspected animals concerned in the Blackpool case on August 27 was on the following day called in by the railway company who are the owners of the Fleetwood landing place to attend a cow under their charge suffering from milk fever. It is believed that this practitioner was the means whereby infection was taken into Fleetwood, where the existence of the disease was confirmed on September 4. The noble Lord is aware that when a veterinary inspector who knows his job attends a suspected case and finds traces of foot-and-mouth disease, tremendous precautions are taken as regards cleaning and disinfecting his clothes, and so on. In this case, unfortunately, sufficient precautions do not appear to have been taken. This was not an inspector of the Ministry of Agriculture.
In the meantime, one or more of the Fleetwood animals, without any visible sign of disease but in the light of subsequent knowledge believed to have been contaminated, left for Shavington, Crewe, Cheshire, on August 31, where the disease was confirmed on September 4. These cattle had evidently infected the railway docks at Crewe, as sheep which passed over those docks immediately after the cattle en route to Shropshire and Bucks became infected and were the means of carrying the disease into those counties. Pending the completion of the inquiries which elicited these facts the landing of animals from Ireland was entirely pro- 14 hibited, inasmuch as the Fleetwood animals had been landed from Belfast early on August 28, and it was deemed expedient as a precaution to suspend the normal flow of the Irish trade until exhaustive inquiries had been made by the Irish authorities as to the health of animals in those parts of Ireland from which the Fleetwood animals had originated. These inquiries failed to discover any indication of the disease in Ireland, and the Ministry concluded from the evidence that the infection had been brought from Blackpool. The suspension of the Irish trade accordingly terminated on September 7.
I may say also—I do not know if the noble Lord is aware of this—that it is now much easier to trace animals landed from Ireland than was formerly the case, because I believe that every one of them has an ear punched with a number, I think on a little lead disc. Thus every farm from which these animals come can easily be traced, and when inquiry is made it is possible to go to every one of the places from which the animals came to find out whether there is any trace of foot-and-mouth disease there. In addition to the suspension of the landing of Irish cattle from September 4 to September 7 in connection with the Fleetwood case, the traffic was again suspended on November 7 owing to the discovery of foot-and-mouth disease among some Irish cattle killed in the Leeds abattoir on November 6 which had left Birkenhead on October 24, October 31 and November 2, and had been shipped to that port from Londonderry and Belfast on October 27. Here, again, inquiries failed to find any evidence of disease at the places of origin in Ireland, whereas there seemed to be a probability that infection had been taken into the Leeds abattoir from one of the many infected farms near Leeds. Further, an outbreak occurred on November 7 in the Glasgow (Merklands) Irish animals landing place amongst animals landed there on October 27 and October 28 which had been detained at the landing place owing to disease in Renfrewshire and near Glasgow. This outbreak at Merklands seemed clearly attributable to infection carried there from the infected centre only three-quarters of a mile away. Inquiries were, however, made by the Irish authorities, as in the other cases, as to the possible existence of 15 disease at the places of origin in Ireland, but no evidence of such disease was found. It appears from this evidence that the disease had not been brought from Ireland, and it is anticipated that the Irish trade will be resumed at once, subject, however, to certain additional restrictions to prevent the circulation of imported animals through markets in Great Britain in consequence of the serious position as regards foot-and-mouth disease.
Most of your Lordships know the present rules governing procedure when an outbreak occurs, but in answer to Lord Kimberley I may say that I am informed that the advisers of the Ministry are most loth, in the first instance, in any way to reduce the 15-mile radius. They regard this as absolutely necessary in the first instance, but later on the restrictions are gradually withdrawn and, under licence, cattle can be moved about after a certain time within part of that radius. That is to say, the radius contracts eventually to three miles, and the country outside the three-mile radius remains what is called a controlled area, though not a prohibited area. I honestly think that we should be very rash if we were to alter these restrictions. With regard to what the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, said about dogs, I am informed that an Order has been made that where these outbreaks take place people are required to take their dogs out on a lead.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
I do not know whether the Order is enforced, but I am told that an Order to that effect has been issued. The noble Lord asked for the actual figures of animals destroyed and of the cost. I am sorry to say that, even up to date, the numbers are rather more serious than those which he quoted. The number of animals slaughtered, including those authorised to be slaughtered, from August 27 to November 12, is as follows: Cattle, 7,254; sheep, 7,549; pigs, 4,736; and goats, 13. Those seem very alarming figures when one reads them out, but the percentage of slaughtered animals to the animal population of the United Kingdom is as follows: Cattle, 13 per cent.; sheep, 04 per cent.; pigs, 17 per cent.; so that the 16 totals, though they are very serious, and I do not wish to belittle them in any way, are not so alarming in relation to the population of animals in this country as they might appear to be. The other figures for which the noble Lord asked are somewhat alarming—I mean the figures of the cost of the outbreaks. The net cost to the Exchequer to date is estimated at £202,500.
I now come to the question which the noble Lord raised concerning straw and hay used for packing. This is a contentious question, and the suggestion that this packing straw and hay may cause infection is one which, like a great many other theories about the cause of infection, really cannot be proved. I think the noble Lord gave the effect of the Regulation which exists at present, that no hay and straw for feeding purposes shall be imported, except from countries which are known to be absolutely free from foot-and-mouth disease. I think the noble Lord was responsible for that Regulation. But the suggestion is made that all packing material from abroad should be destroyed, so as to prevent the possibility of the spread of infection from that source. Some people think that that is a likely source of infection. Well, of course, it can be suspected, and there are cases, as the noble Lord has mentioned, which have occurred in the past, where such a suspicion existed, but I think I may say that there has never been in this country a case of foot-and-mouth disease where it was certain that packing hay or straw-was the source of infection.
The destruction of packing hay and straw was advocated before a Departmental Committee in 1912, but the Committee came to the conclusion that the enforcement of this course was not practicable. The interference with trade would be very great, and would hardly be justifiable, in view of the lack of evidence as to the introduction of disease by this source. As regards prohibition of the importation of such straw, it is improbable that the Customs could undertake the necessary measures to make such a prohibition effective. The Committee, however, recommended that agriculturists should be warned of the element of danger, and of the risks of allowing such straw to come in contact with animals. This warning has been given by public notice. Copies of this 17 notice have been issued by the Ministry to farmers, and others, warning them that there may possibly be danger from this hay and straw, and advising them to destroy it and not to allow it to be used on their farms.
The Departmental Committee which sat under the Chairmanship of Captain Pretyman, M.P., in 1922, also considered this question, and they reported that:—Imported packing materials have been introduced to many premises without any outbreak occurring and are imported at many ports. But when it is remembered that save for an isolated outbreak in Edinburgh in 1908 Scotland was entirely free from foot-and-mouth disease between 1892 and 1922, and that many parts of England and Wales have likewise been entirely free from disease for a prolonged period, the suggestion that disease is commonly introduced by packing materials appears to lose its force. It is also the fact that several primary outbreaks have occurred in which the circumstances definitely exclude such materials as possible sources of infection. Bearing in mind the serious effect of any additional restrictions upon the trade and industry of the country we are of opinion that in the light of existing knowledge as to the manner in which infection is conveyed, no additional restrictions could he imposed which would afford an added measure of security in any way commensurate with the dislocation of trade and the expense which would be involved. On the other hand we do not recommend any relaxation of the existing precautions. It is true that in the case of hay and straw we arc unable to ascribe any recent outbreaks to these articles, yet at the same time agricultural opinion, as expressed before us, is averse to taking the risk of the importation of these materials from any country in which disease exists, and we support these views.Your Lordships will see from this Report that the Committee did not recommend that such a prohibition should be absolutely put in force, and indeed, if I may say so. I am afraid it is impossible to do it.
The noble Lord has quoted the case of Jersey, and he was perfectly right there. I understand that in the Island of Jersey there is a regulation or law that hay or straw arriving as packing shall be destroyed, but let the noble Lord imagine, if such a regulation applied to London, how difficult it would be to enforce. I think it must be palpable to all that such a regulation or law would be most difficult, and I might say impossible, to carry out. Again, as regards evidence of this packing material being a source of infection, one would 18 imagine that if it were a likely source of infection a great number of these cases of the disease which have occurred would have occurred near big trading centres, where large numbers of goods arrive packed in hay and straw, and where, to a large extent, I believe, this packing is used on the farms as litter or even as food. But again, so far as that is concerned, there is nothing to show, in the whole history of foot-and-mouth disease, that that is the case. In those circumstances, and after what has been reported, the Ministry does not feel able at the, present time to take the drastic step of either requiring the destruction of all imported hay or straw, or entirely prohibiting its importation into this country. As to the question of the Island of Sark, which the noble Lord mentioned, I had not heard about it, but I will make further inquiries at the Ministry.
As I have already said, the question of this disease is a, matter which is giving the Ministry the very greatest anxiety. I honestly believe that every possible precaution is being taken, in the light of past experience, and the Ministry is quietly trying to discover by what means this horrible disease is or can be communicated. At the present moment that is one of those mysteries which science has not yet solved, and the only thing we can do is to go on trying to find out how it is that this disease can suddenly and mysteriously break out. Nobody regrets more than I do the fact of these outbreaks, which are undoubtedly a source of great loss not only to the people who have their stock affected, but also to those who are prevented from moving their stock and from dealing in their recognised markets. I repeat that everything possible is being done. Of course, there are always people who say that they know how it is that these outbreaks occur; who are ready to say that the disease comes from Ireland, or is brought here by birds; people who not only have a certain cure, but also a certain preventative—but when you really go into the cases and examine them you find that the source of them is most obscure. I am sure the noble Lord will share my view that if we can eradicate this disease we shall be only too happy. At the present moment I think that the Ministry are taking all the precautions which it is possible for them to take.
§ LORD ARMAGHDALE
My Lords, in view of the fact that it is admitted that there is not the slightest evidence of any single case of foot-and-mouth disease in any part of Ireland, will the noble Lord take steps to get the Ministry of Agriculture to rescind the Order prohibiting the importation of cattle from Ireland, which is a very serious matter indeed for the cattle dealers and for the farmers?
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
I cannot really tell the noble Lord whether the Order prohibiting the landing of cattle is in force or not.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
I am not quite certain. But I can tell the noble Lord that, if it is, it is going to, be withdrawn to the extent of allowing animals to be landed and sold at the ports. They will not be allowed to pass to inland markets, but will go straight from the port to the farm. Before the present outbreak the cattle arrived at the port and were given a licence to go to the inland market, where they were sold, and sent to the farm. As a precaution, we still intend, for a short time, that the animals shall go straight from the ports of landing to the farms.
§ LORD STRACHIE
I am much obliged to the noble Earl for his reply. He did not, however, say whether the Ministry had yet come to a decision about the holding of an inquiry into the Fleetwood ease. Perhaps no decision has yet been reached, but the feeling among agriculturists, as expressed at the Central Chamber of Agriculture the other day, is that there ought to be an inquiry, and I would press the noble Earl to consider seriously whether it is not desirable, in order to allay public anxiety. I am glad to hear that there is to be this 20 further restriction on cattle coming from Ireland. I hope that it will be very severe indeed, because, rightly or wrongly, English agriculturists believe that the disease does come from Belfast.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
I am sorry I cannot answer the question of the noble Lord with regard to an inquiry. I recognise that it is believed by the Ministry that this outbreak originated owing to this veterinary surgeon very stupidly not taking the proper precautions to disinfect himself and his clothes. I will ask the Minister whether he will consider the desirability of holding an inquiry on the subject.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [From Minutes of November 13.]