HL Deb 20 April 1955 vol 192 cc451-90

2.37 p.m.

THE EARL OF LISTOWEL rose to call attention to the Report of the Departmental Committee on Foot-and-Mouth Disease (Cmd. 9214); and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I hope I have not inconvenienced many noble Lords by postponing this Motion which was originally placed on the Order Paper before Easter. If I have done so I apologise to those noble Lords who may have suffered some inconvenience; but my reason for the change was that the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, told me that at that time Her Majesty's Government were not ready to express their views about the recommendations in the Gowers Committee's Report. As most of these recommendations cannot conceivably be carried out without the acceptance of Her Majesty's Government, noble Lords will, I think, agree that it was worth waiting until we had an opportunity of hearing the intentions of Her Majesty's Government before we discussed the Report. I am grateful to the noble Earl for agreeing to state this afternoon the views of Her Majesty's Government.

I am well aware that there are many noble Lords who know a great deal more than I about animal disease and the problem of foot-and-mouth disease. We all look forward with particular interest to the speeches we shall hear from the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, and my noble friend, Lord Hungarton, both of whom were members of the Gowers Committee and served on that Committee during the whole time it was making its inquiries. My own remarks, therefore, are really in the nature of a curtain-raiser to the speeches of these noble Lords and others who are expert on this subject, and also to the important statement that we shall hear from the noble Earl opposite.

There is no need for me to dwell on the ravages of foot-and-mouth disease, which are familiar to everyone connected with farming; but, though we all realise that this disease does tremendous damage, I believe few of us knew, until we read the Report of the Gowers Committee, exactly what had been the loss to farmers in this country in the past twenty-five years. That is my own experience and I imagine it is typical of a number of other noble Lords. I knew there had been a few extremely bad years when there was a large number of outbreaks and a good many less bad years with only a small number of outbreaks; but until I read this Report I did not realise the extent of our average loss of livestock every year during the past twenty-five years. The Report points out that the average number of animals slaughtered annually over this period of time has been 5,800 cattle, 6,300 sheep and 3,000 pigs—and that loss has to be taken into account in relation to an increasing population of livestock. It is perfectly clear from these figures that we cannot afford to relax our efforts during short periods when the disease is comparatively quiescent; we must go on fighting it all the time and we must try to fight it more effectively in the future than we have done in the past. Only in this way can we hope to achieve our two main objectives.

The first of these objectives is to prevent the disease from becoming endemic in this country as has happened in all countries that have not adopted an effective slaughtering policy in the early stages of the disease. The second objective, which I consider no less important, is to reduce the loss of food and waste of public money represented by this annual toll on our livestock population. It is true that our proximity to the Continent of Europe, where foot-and-mouth disease is endemic, makes it impossible for us completely to eliminate the disease as has already been done in the case of certain human diseases such as the plague. Unfortunately we are not in a position to take any measures that would stamp out this disease once and for all; but at least we can do more—I believe much more—than we have done in the past to keep it down. Certainly after the advice we have received in this Report we should be in a position to reduce the number of outbreaks and the extent of infection after an outbreak has occurred. By giving us their views on this subject—the most important of all subjects connected with foot-and-mouth disease—the Gowers Committee has rendered a quite invaluable public service. And perhaps I might be allowed to say, in passing, how deeply grateful we are to the chairman of the Committee and all its members for giving up no less than two years of their time to the preparation of the Report. They showed commendable and exceptional zeal by pursuing their quarry to the Continent of Europe and even to South America, and no one can mistake the constructive and reforming spirit that underlies the recommendations they have made to the Minister.

I should like to pick out what I regard as the most important recommendations in the Report, and to ask the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, whether those recommendations are accepted by the Government; and, if so, what action, legislative or administrative, the Government will take in order to see that they are carried out. To my mind, by far the most impor- tant recommendation is that on the subject of first-principle policy. I am particularly glad that the Committee were unanimous in saying that there is no alternative to the stamping-out or slaughter policy. I do not like this policy, any more than any one else does, but I cannot help feeling that it is very healthy and a good thing that the Committee have stated their conclusions so clearly and without any doubt on the part of any of the members. There are still, I believe—certainly there were—some people who think that vaccination to give immunity might be a practicable alternative to slaughter. The Report answers wishful thinking of this kind with quite devastating calculations of cost—into which I will not enter—and of the numbers of animals which would have to be vaccinated. It seems to me that it can do nothing but good for farmers to realise, even if it is an unpalatable truth, that the view taken by successive Governments, that there is really no alternative, whether it be vaccination or allowing the disease to spread, to the traditional policy of slaughtering animals infected or liable to infection by the disease, has now been supported by a committee of experts who studied the most up-to-date methods of dealing with the disease which have been tried in every part of the world.

If more support far this conclusion is required, I think your Lordships will agree that it could come from no more authoritative quarter than from one of our colleagues, the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. I had a letter from the noble Viscount yesterday in which he apologised for his inability to come here to-day to take part in this debate, and he gave me permission to quote from his letter. I should like to quote just one sentence. It is this: With the increase in numbers and value of our livestock, and in view of our relatively confined area, we cannot afford to 'let the disease rip' in the United Kingdom. I infer from that that the noble Viscount, with all his experience, endorses our present policy and the policy supported in the conclusions of the Gowers Committee.

I fear that the only way to prevent slaughter is, in fact, to stop outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease. The Committee make several valuable suggestions on this subject, and as implementation of these suggestions will require action by the Government I am particularly anxious to know whether they are acceptable. First, and to my mind the most important, of the suggestions is the recommendation that all collectors of waste food should be obliged to sterilise it before it is sold and fed to livestock. It is an interesting fact, which was long suspected by the Ministry of Agriculture and has now been confirmed by the Committee, that swill containing waste meat imported from South America, or food contaminated by it, has caused more outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in this country than any other single source of infection.

It is clear from this, I think, that the existing restrictions on the feeding of raw swill to pigs and poultry, such as the 1947 Order about the boiling of swill, have been entirely ineffective, or at least so ineffective that they have not prevented or lessened the number of outbreaks we have had since the Order was made. The case against the use of raw swill is strengthened, as the Committee point out, by the fact that it spreads other animal diseases, such as swine fever and fowl pest. There is therefore an overwhelming case for the compulsory sterilisation of waste food collected in substantial quantities. I leave it to the noble Earl to draw a line between substantial and insubstantial quantities, but I am sure he will agree with me that where a vital principle of policy is concerned, administrative difficulties must not be allowed to stand in the way. Of course, this principle applies equally to local authorities and to private collectors of waste food, equally to the towns and to the countryside. An important additional support to this recommendation of the Committee lies in the fact that it is fully endorsed by the British Veterinary Association. I should like to quote one sentence from a Memorandum I have received—and which I daresay other Members of your Lordships' House have also received—from the Association. The Association say: It is the view of the Association that the requirement that all collected swill should be sterilised on licensed premises should be extended to the country as a whole. Of course, at the moment, these requirements are effective in only a very few places.

The main disadvantage of compulsory sterilisation—and I think we must frankly recognise the difficulties—is that owing to the high cost of sterilisation plant it is more than likely that much less waste food will be collected if a provision of this kind is incorporated in the law. That means that farmers will have to look to imports, at any rate for the time being, for more feeding-stuffs for their livestock. That, again, is a serious problem, at a moment when we are confronted with difficulty in balancing our foreign trade. Surely it is for the Government to decide whether we can afford extra imports or whether, alternatively, they should make some contribution towards the cost of treating waste food so as to make it fit for animal consumption.

I think we can all agree about one thing, whatever the Government may decide—and they have much more information than we have on which to base a wise decision: there can be no possible excuse for ignoring a recommendation that would do more than anything else at the present moment to prevent further outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease. If the Government decided to make the collection and sale of all swill illegal, then it would follow that more waste food would be included among refuse disposed of by local authorities; and therefore it would be essential that such refuse should not be dumped in places where it could be easily got at by dogs, birds and other animals. Again, if the noble Earl answers in the affirmative the first question, the more important aspect of this problem, then I hope he will be able to assure us that he is satisfied that local authorities will take the necessary precautions to prevent contaminated food from being easily reached by animals.

Another quite different proposal of the Committee to which I attach a great deal of importance is that about international action for controlling the disease. As your Lordships are aware, foot-and-mouth disease is already endemic on the Continent of Europe. It flares up in one country and spreads rapidly to its neighbours. A serious epidemic in this country almost always coincides with a serious epidemic across the Channel. Therefore it is essential for the countries of Western Europe to help each other in the fight to stamp out this disease; and they will all benefit to a greater or lesser degree from mutual assistance of this kind. I believe that in 1952 thirteen countries in Western Europe agreed to set up an International Commission for this purpose, but three years have passed and this Commission still does not exist. Its terms of reference have been worked out; its membership has been agreed upon; but these things have not yet been approved by the requisite number of Governments. The gap at the moment is only a narrow one: I believe that five Governments have approved, but the Commission cannot come into existence until one more has added its approval. I should like to know whether the noble Earl will ask his right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary to do his utmost to secure the approval of at least one of our many friends in Western Europe. Indeed, perhaps the noble Earl can tell us whether there is any reason why it is more difficult to secure Western co-operation in facing a common virus than it is to secure Western co-operation in face of a common enemy. We should be interested to hear the answer to that question. It will be a very real gain, in this campaign against foot-and-mouth disease, when an agency of this kind has been set up.

Other proposals in the Committee's Report deserve no less careful consideration, and I hope that the Government will give us a considered opinion about all the main recommendations. It would be particularly interesting to hear the Government's view on vaccination during an epidemic and on the supply of vaccines for this purpose. Do the Government agree with the Committee's strictures about the administration of the Research Institute Pirbright? Do they agree about the desirability of a Veterinary Research Council, a co-ordinating body which would be a parallel organisation to the Medical Research Council? Of course, it is not a matter of the Government's setting up such a Council at the present moment, but I think it would be useful to have the Government's views. What is the Government's view about the suggestions in the Committee's Report for increasing the severity of legal penalties for delay in reporting an outbreak of the disease? These are some of the questions to which I think we should all like a reply from the noble Earl, Lord St Aldwyn.

I hope that I have kept my remarks as short as I intended to keep them. I conclude by appealing to the Government not to miss this opportunity. This Report is probably the most thorough study of foot-and-mouth disease that has ever been made in this country, and therefore it presents a unique opportunity for the improvement of existing methods of dealing with this disease. We are all against disease, animal or human, and it is not a Party matter, in any sense whatever. I can assure the noble Earl opposite that he will have our full support for the positive and vigorous action that is now required of the Government to implement these recommendations. I beg to move for Papers.

2.57 p.m.


My Lords, although the Committee had no substantial changes to recommend, I think we were all agreed on the need to maintain and enlarge the Research Institute at Pirbright. It was disappointing for the Committee to have no substantial changes to recommend. We should all have been glad if we could have come down in favour of a better method of dealing with foot-and-mouth disease. For sixty years we have done it by slaughtering all animals infected and all contacts, but there has been a great improvement in vaccines. Many countries rely on them, and much fundamental research has been done in our own station at Pirbright; so it would seem that the time has come when we could make some trial of vaccines here.

Before the Committee were appointed we had just been through an epidemic in which 40,000 cattle were slaughtered. Most of them were healthy, and if they had caught the disease only a small proportion would have died of it—it is not a disease with a high mortality. If one is accustomed to thinking in terms of human sickness, it is hard to be reconciled to a method of stopping a disease by killing the patient. One has to think quite differently about foot-and-mouth disease, however; the arguments here must be based largely on practical economics. The disease is terribly infectious to cattle. Animals that have had it are usually left with some permanent weakness, and there is a danger that if it became established in this country our milk supply would be halved. The method which we use to keep it in check must be one which will give the maximum amount of safety and will be reasonably cheap to work and not too complicated to apply. We are forced to conclude that for this country, and for the present time, the slaughter policy is safer and cheaper than any other policy would be.

Vaccination is the only alternative which can be seriously considered at the present moment. Other methods have their backers, but when we considered the evidence in support of them it was quite clear that the claims for vaccination were far stronger. It has been tried out on a large scale, and, within limits, has been extremely successful. But the countries which now rely on vaccination are all countries where the slaughter policy would be quite impossible, because there is too much of the disease about. The disease is endemic in most of Europe and South America, and there the best, and in fact the only possible, method of coping with it is by vaccination, and they have found it a great help.

This method, however, still has considerable limitations. No one claims that vaccines give 100 per cent. protection. Young animals cannot be immunised at all, and in adults the dose has to be repeated every six months. There is the usual difficulty with virus diseases, that an unexpected strain may turn up, with the result that the vaccine which has been prepared from the usual strain affords no protection. We can hope that this difficulty will not occur with the new vaccine for poliomyelitis, because there it looks as if the disease is mostly caused by one strain. But with foot-and-mouth disease there are at least three main strains of virus, as well as several subdivisions, and vaccine that will produce immunity has to be prepared from a particular virus, or from a mixture of all the viruses there may be; and then it is less effective.

All these uncertainties do not matter very much in a country where the disease is always about. Vaccination can be a great help there, because it can reduce the severity of the disease when it does occur; and it can also reduce the incidence of the disease. But it could not be trusted to get rid of foot-and-mouth disease completely, which can be done by slaughter. But the slaughter policy is possible only in countries where, most of the time, there is very little of the disease. We are fortunate in belonging to the group of countries which have natural barriers against infection. Foot-and-mouth disease has never become established in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States or here. So we get only occasional infection from the Continent, and then we can deal with it by the policy of stamping out, which is far safer than wholesale vaccination would be.

But vaccination does raise the resistance to infection, and we investigated the possibility of using it as an additional safeguard. Some countries slaughter infected animals and the contacts, just as we do here, but they also build up a ring of immune cattle round the outside of the infected area, or make a protective belt along the frontier to prevent the disease from coming in. We examined that idea, but we could find no clear evidence that a policy of that sort would be effective in the conditions that exist here. However, we were strongly attracted to the idea that valuable herds of cattle might be preserved by vaccinating them and raising their resistance when an epidemic threatened us from abroad. One could tell that an epidemic might be imminent by the figures of infection on the Continent, and there would presumably be time to type the virus and to get stocks of the appropriate vaccine.

Even this limited use of vaccine, however, seemed to be too risky to allow at the present time. Vaccinated animals are more resistant, but for that reason there is some danger that some of them might contract the disease in a form which would be exceedingly mild—too mild to attract any attention to itself, but yet sufficient to spread infection. If we could be sure that vaccinating would give 100 per cent. immunity, then I think it would be reasonable to allow prize herds to be protected in this way; but with only 90 per cent. immunity there is the 10 per cent. risk of what is known as masked infection. It may be a very small risk, but we need more information before we can neglect it. There is really little danger that vaccinated animals or non-vaccinated animals would become perpetual carriers of the disease, as there may be carriers of some bacterial diseases; but in spite of that, they might have this extremely mild attack which would make them infectious for perhaps a fortnight, and they might afterwards carry the dried virus about on their bodies. It can survive in that state and be infective for several months.

It may turn out, of course, that the risks of masked infection are negligible. But at the present time, even if we thought the risks negligible, the countries to which we export our cattle are so convinced of them that they would close their markets at once if we began vaccinating, for whatever purpose. That is the position at present. Vaccination is too risky a method for us to use, and it may never be the right method for this country. On the other hand, we are threatened every few years by the big epidemics that occur on the Continent, and so any improvement in vaccines will be to our advantage. And the more they are used on the Continent the less we shall have to fear a recurrence of the sort of epidemic that we had in 1952.

Although we do not use vaccines ourselves, it is most important that the Government research station at Pirbright should go on experimenting with them. There are peculiar difficulties in research on such a highly infective disease, and it can be done only in laboratories especially equipped to prevent any risk of the infection spreading outside. One does not want Pirbright to become the centre of an epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease in this country, and for that reason the experiments are bound to be tedious and expensive. There are not many research stations of this sort in existence, and Pirbright stands high among them. It has become the recognised authority on the properties of the virus and on the methods by which the various types of virus can be recognised; in fact, we found that it was playing a very worthy part in the international effort to check the disease, and we were convinced that such work deserved all support that it could be given.

Pirbright is not only our research centre: it is also an insurance against possible disaster. There is increased traffic with the Continent, and that may mean that we shall lose some of our natural immunity. It is conceivable that, one of these days, we may be faced with an epidemic coming in from the Continent too severe to be controlled by slaughter. In such an emergency, the Continent would need all the vaccines they can manufacture, and we should have to rely on what we can make here; so Pirbright would have to make it or supervise the making of it. It is to be hoped that that will never happen. It would take us a long time to get back our freedom from the disease. Without vaccines it would be a great disaster, but with them we could expect to reduce the disease until it became possible to deal with it again by our present slaughter policy.

Of course, it is true enough that if we had to plan for all possible epidemics there would be no knowing where to stop, and the research work at Pirbright ought not to be penalised by putting too much emphasis on the emergency side—on the need for turning over to large-scale production if it became necessary. But it would be a mistake to have no plans ready. If we were ever forced to use vaccination instead of slaughter, we should need all the vaccines we could get. I know that the Ministries concerned have already taken steps to enlarge Pirbright Institute, and I hope that they will enlarge it sufficiently. Fortunately, there is a lull at the moment on the foot-and-mouth front, and this seems to be the time when we ought to be able to organise our defences.

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, I count it a very great honour that I am able to be the first to congratulate my noble friend Lord Adrian on his contribution to our debate. His fundamental research on our nervous system has made him a figure distinguished throughout the world, his name is so well known. Within our own country, as President of the Royal Society and as Master of Trinity, he is indeed a tremendous figure who adds much to the status of our House. I sincerely hope that in his busy life he will take many opportunities of joining in our debates, because not only is he this remarkable, intellectual figure in our world, but he is beloved by everybody who comes in contact with him.

I approach this debate with some misgivings, because I am not a farmer and, consequently, I feel rather like an Englishman butting into a Scottish debate. But I am clearly aware of the national less that foot-and-mouth disease entails, and also the fact that, as taxpayers, we are spending a lot of money on research. I take an interest in this subject for one reason only—because this disease is a virus disease. The moment virus is mentioned I get all excited. I must tell your Lordships why. It is because a great friend of mine was suddenly struck down by disseminated sclerosis. Now disseminated sclerosis is a virus disease, and your Lordships may be perfectly well aware of the fact that the moment the medical profession come to a conclusion that a disease is caused by a virus they throw up their hands in complete despair and defeat. By a curious chance, and in desperation, I discovered an eminent doctor who has had a great career in Ireland and who was effecting cures. That was Dr. Crofton. I took my friend to him. I may say she was lame, paralysed in her arms, and had nothing to look forward to but death. After a year's treatment she is as healthy as anybody in this House. I was so delighted at this that I did my best to take this woman to the doctors who had seen her when she was in distress, to show them that a cure had been effected. When I told them what had happened to her and how she had been treated, no doctor would look at her. The only excuse they brought forward was that they had not diagnosed the symptoms rightly. That is wriggling of the worst order, and nothing else.

There have been many notable cures effected by this particular treatment, and I was nothing short of amazed when I found there was a definite medical boycott against the exploration of this system of therapeutics. I consider it a shocking thing that that boycott should exist. It does not exist only in the medical profession, but in the veterinary profession, too. I am not going to give your Lordships a technical lecture, but there are one or two things I must bring forward because they are of fundamental interest. Doctors will not agree that you can grow the bacillus from the virus and vice versa. That strikes at a fundamental truth that they believe—that that is not possible. Your Lordships will read in the Report that it says: If that is true"— that is, that you can grow the bacillus from the virus— then it means the rewriting of all the bacteriological textbooks in all the civilised languages of the world. That is long overdue. We have had a rewriting of all the books on physics during the last twenty years, so why not on bacteriology? Are we so far advanced that we can afford not to investigate some new claim that will rewrite the books? I should think it is high time that they were rewritten.

I say that in a State like ours, where we spend money on investigation, this claim —if it is a correct claim that we can change and get the bacillus from a virus —should be investigated as a piece of fundamental research. It may be that Pirbright is not the right place; but it has to be done somewhere, because a great deal depends on it. There have been cures with this system. May I tell your Lordships what the system is? From the virus is grown a bacillus. The bacillus is bred in quantities. It is then killed and inserted into the bloodstream. Why the bloodstream is benefited by that we do not know. What happens is that the blood stream destroys the dead bacillus with great ease and builds itself up in a way—strengthens itself—in order to deal with the live bacillus and finally with the virus, which is always a very difficult thing to kill. From the point of view of size, if we look upon the bacillus as the size of an oak tree, the virus will be the size of a pinpoint. That is one of the troubles—the minuteness of the thing.

I want your Lordships to know that in these cases it is not a question of giving a mild disease. I think that is always rather a dangerous thing. No harm at all can possibly accrue from injecting the dead bacillus into the bloodstream, and it has been proved absolutely conclusively that this system is a preventive and a strong prophylactic, and it is in many cases a cure. There have been some arresting examples of the efficacy of the system in polio, in hardpad and in foot and mouth; and yet relative to human diseases, to any animal diseases, there is a boycott which cannot be broken down. I raise my voice in asking the Government to see that a fair investigation is made into this matter so that we can know whether we are right on the fundamental basic principles of the turning of the virus into bacillus.

Now I notice that there has been great talk in America over a cure for polio. There there is to be injected into the system the dead virus—again not a live disease but the dead virus. Dr. Crofton advances the fact—and he may be right or he may be wrong—that it is best to put in the dead bacillus rather than the dead virus because, in training the system to defeat the bacillus, the virus will also be defeated eventually. Already in this country there is a growing scepticism against this particular system which has been proved with such enormous success in America. I think we should look upon that outlook as rather prejudicial to a very serious contribution which others are trying to make. I am not a farmer, but I view with some alarm and much misgivings a state of affairs in which a genuine process of cure can be boycotted by the profession for no apparent reason but prejudice. It may affect old-fashioned ideas on bacteriology, but, if it is right, it does offer tremendous possibilities, not only to human beings but to animals.

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, may I first of all thank the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for having initiated this debate. To me, as a farmer, it is a most important debate. Before I proffer some few observations, however, I should like, to add my thanks and congratulations to my noble friend Lord Adrian for the most able way in which he has spoken to us this afternoon. I should like also at this early stage to refer to the excellent leadership which our Committee, the Departmental Committee on Foot-and-mouth Disease, was given by Sir Ernest Gowers, our Chairman. I make that statement because I feel that it is really due to him, not only for the way in which he handled what was probably at times a rather difficult Committee, but also for the way in which he has compiled this excellent Report. I should also like to offer thanks which are due to our secretaries. They were of great help to us. We carried on for two years and got to know each other very well. I thank those good people for the great help which I, at any rate, received from them.

I am not going to speak to your Lordships in any scientific or technical sense—that is rather outside my province, for I am simply a farmer—but I wish to refer for a moment or two to what has happened in this country during the past century, and to remind your Lordships that the first outbreak in this country occurred in about 1839. It spread slowly through the country—it was endemic here—for a number of years until 1871, when there were some 3 million cattle affected by foot-and-mouth disease. The Government at that time, when there were 3 million cattle affected in Britain, began to sit up and take some notice, and they made the disease notifiable. It continued for some years as a notifiable disease, and a certain amount of control resulted from the fact that the farmers all the way round were notified that the disease was in a certain area. It was not until 1892 that stamping out—I use the words "stamping out" instead of the word "slaughter"—came into being. It was not long before this country had complete control of the disease. My father had this disease on his farm. The cattle all got better, and it was nothing. Of course they did well after they had had it, but what did they lose in the meantime? The losses, both to the individual and to the country generally, in the event of a bad epidemic were colossal.

The Gowers Committee went to various countries. We made up our minds to go to at least three farms in each of the countries we visited, and interview the farmers. In every case, even in the Argentine, we were told that their losses when they had foot-and-mouth disease were somewhere between 30 and 40 per cent. of their cattle. That is a terrific loss. We sent a questionnaire round to various countries, and one of the questions we asked was this: "How much loss do you think your country sustained in the epidemic in a certain year? "Let me give you two of the larger replies. We had one from the Ministry in France which stated that they estimated that their losses would be somewhere about £45 million. From Western Germany the figure was higher: they said they thought it would be £50 million. That is from just one epidemic. I would say that it was a very modest estimate, because in France alone in 1951–52 they had 330,000 outbreaks—not 330,000 cattle affected but 330,000 farms affected—and in one year previous to that 390,000 farms were affected. With figures like that, it does not take long for losses to amount to many millions of pounds.

An epidemic comes every few years, as has been so well said by my old friend Lord Adrian. We are just about due for another outbreak. I hope it will not come, but we are getting near the time. I believe that when there is one of these epidemics flying about, the losses throughout the world can be somewhere in the region of £1,000 million in a year. Those seem gigantic and terrific figures, but, taking the two countries which I have just mentioned, which together had a loss of upwards of £100 million, one is not long in arriving at a loss of £2,000 million throughout the world. Can the world afford to lose such livestock? I very much doubt it. I am certain we cannot, particularly when we come to beef cattle, because the world is short of beef cattle at the present time. Something should be done, in so far as we can do anything, to protect those cattle against not only foot-and-mouth disease but other diseases, to which I will refer later.

How is foot-and-mouth disease brought to Britain? At any rate we know that 50 per cent. of the primary outbreaks are caused by infectious swill. That is brought to this country by importing meat or offals from countries which have the disease. Unfortunately, we in this country have to import some of this infected meat. Those countries do their best to see that we do not get anything of that kind coming here, but it is bound to slip through occasionally. It may be that cattle in the first stages of the incubation period come through to the abattoirs. Such meat does slip through; it may get into our shops and be sold to our people, and unless it is thoroughly cooked the infection may be passed on through the swill tub. Then pigs get it, with the result that we have an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. That is the principal way by which the disease is brought into this country. There is little doubt that when there is an epidemic on the Continent of Europe some outbreaks here are due to wind-borne infection or caused by birds' bringing infection. We have no positive proof of this, it is true, but we are most definite in our minds that the disease is carried in this way.

I have spoken of swill. Are we dealing effectively with our refuse? My noble friend Lord Listowel has already referred to that matter, which I am certain requires tightening up. Some authorities are efficient, but many are not. At the present time, licences for the collection of waste food are issued by the Ministry of Health. I think that we ought to consider the question of assigning to local authorities the task of licensing collectors. There appears to be some overlapping in this matter. We already have inspection of boilers and sterilising plant, but one can pinpoint these things much better if there is one body dealing with all of them.

Next we come to the disposal of refuse containing waste food. During the war, waste food was collected in separate bins. Men took it away to be made into such things as "Tottenham pudding"—and very valuable food it was to us at that time. We had some £2 million worth of food from swill. But to-day the authorities are finding it much too costly to pick up this waste food. Some people are picking it up from the larger hotels and places where there is a considerable quantity to be picked up; but the waste food of the smaller people, the ordinary householders, is not being picked up, and a great deal of it is going into the refuse bin. That is where the danger begins, and that matter should be tightened up a great deal.

We see in the Report a recommendation that if the statutory obligations of the local authorities do not already include the disposal of their refuse so that no danger to animal health is involved, the law should be amended. If it is already the duty of local authorities, the Government Departments concerned should make every effort to see that it is carried out. May I refer for a moment to local dumps? I travel through the countryside in one certain direction. Along the route of my travels there happens to be a local dump. During the last week I have seen some twenty cattle roving about over this dump. I am sure that there are a certain number of bones, and so on, amongst this refuse, but I hope and trust that there will be no such thing as foot-and-mouth virus there. At any rate, the dump is there. We have been short of grazing space for our cattle, and people have got permission, no doubt from the local authority or from the person who rents the land for dumping purposes, to send cattle over it; and there they are, walking all over the dump. If it happened that foot-and-mouth disease broke out amongst those cattle, I should feel guilty that something had not been done about it at once.

We are rather loose at the present time in regard to looking after our waste foodstuffs. If we are effectively to check foot-and-mouth disease, we must deal with it from an international point of view. But the only international action of which I am aware up to now took place when the United States and Mexico got together, following an outbreak in Mexico in 1946. The United States thought that this was much too near and that they might be in trouble. They came to an arrangement with Mexico to pay half the cost of eradicating the disease from that country; and after four years of hard work they succeeded if a country like Mexico can be cleaned up, certainly we can clean up Europe. International collaboration is essential for effective control.

This truth first received practical recognition when the International Office of Epizootics was first established in Paris with the support of fifty-three countries—that was just about the time when we discovered that foot-and-mouth disease came from a virus. All the people concerned were on their toes, but little transpired until, in 1952, thirteen Western European countries formed a Commission to tackle the problem. The constitution of the Commission was formally approved by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations on December 11, 1953. Unfortunately, this Commission is not yet working because six countries are required to deposit notification of acceptance, and only five, including Britain, have done so. We were very disappointed about that. We, as a Committee, felt bound to record disappointment at the slow progress that has been made. We hope that Her Majesty's Government will take any action in their power with a view to resuscitating the interest of other European Governments in what promised to be the most encouraging development in the fight against foot-and-mouth disease. I hope that something will be done about that.

Vaccination has been ably dealt with by my noble friend Lord Adrian, but I should like to make this one observation. To vaccinate all our cattle, sheep and pigs, two or three times a year would be a gigantic and expensive task—costing, probably, over £20 million per annum. Compensation to stock owners, however, over the past thirty years has averaged a little over £200,000 per annum.

Pirbright Research Institute has been referred to. All I would say, so far as the Institute is concerned, is that it deserves the reputation it has widely won as the most important centre in the world for research into foot-and-mouth disease. We are proud of Pirbright. Wherever we went abroad, we were welcomed simply because of the position which Pirbright held in the esteem of those countries. I am proud of that. I should like here to pay a tribute to Dr. Galloway and his excellent staff of scientists for the splendid work they are doing. They have been working at Pirbright for twenty-odd years, and I think such a tribute is due to them. Perhaps this matter was not within our purview, but we were not quite happy about the administration at Pirbright. The Ministry of Agriculture and the Agricultural Research Council stand opposite to each other, and the Governors of Pirbright wonder to whom they owe their loyalty—if you like, who is their "boss." At any rate, we think that the present administrative arrangements at the Institute should be clarified. I hope that the Minister will give early consideration to that matter, because it is important that everything should go smoothly and well.

I am not altogether certain that the various bodies which we now have looking after foot-and-mouth disease and other aspects of animal health are quite as they should be. I suggest that another body might come into being to look after foot-and-mouth and other animal diseases. I would term this body the Veterinary Research Council, which would be similar in character to the Medical Research Council. I believe that we have many veterinary scientists in this country well able to do this work. The creation of such a body deserves the careful consideration of Her Majesty's Government. This Veterinary Research Council should be responsible for initiating and co-ordinating research, not only into foot-and-mouth but into all animal diseases. Losses in this country from various animal diseases are at present colossal, amounting probably to something over £80 million per annum. That is not my figure but has been given by men who have much greater knowledge than I of the position in this country and who, as the noble Earl can find out, are very responsible people. If we could save £40 million of that almost frightening total, what a godsend it would be to the country! I am certain that such an amount can be saved and I hope that that suggestion will be carefully looked into.

May I turn to the Ministry's control arrangements over infected areas. At present a 15 miles' ring is placed round an area of infection. The Departmental Committee have suggested that the radius should be reduced to 10 miles, that radius to be held tightly if desired. As noble Lords will know, the creation of that huge area of 15 miles causes great dislocation for some considerable time. All students, particularly young students, should go to the Pirbright Institute to see animals suffering from foot-and-mouth disease. Many veterinary surgeons, even the older ones, have never seen this disease. When my animals had the disease in 1923, the veterinary surgeon said it was not foot-and-mouth disease but wooden tongue. Although I had never seen the disease before, I was suspicious; but he, a man of sixty, had never seen it. Visitors need have no fear about going to Pirbright, for the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, and one of my noble friends have been there and can assure your Lordships that there is no possibility of disease getting out of Pirbright. After the careful way in which we were treated when we got into the Institute we can vouch for the fact that no disease will be passed. There is, therefore, no danger in young men going there for a few days to finish their education; in fact, their education is not finished unless they have mastered foot-and-mouth disease.

I come now to penalties for delayed reporting. As the law now stands, the Minister has power to withhold compensation. We recommend that that power should never be used and should be abrogated at the first convenient opportunity. I am quite sure that the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, will appreciate the reason for that recommendation: the law is considered to be unfair. We recommend, also, that the maximum fine should be increased to £500—noble Lords may consider this a lot of money, but the increase is necessary—or where the offence is committed in respect of more than ten animals the fine should be £50 for each. It is important that immediate action is taken and that it is made clear that there is a duty to report immediately if there is any suspicion of the disease. The present maximum is £50. At present many men do not know that fines can be inflicted, but they would soon be aware of the fact if they suffered such a penalty. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will agree.

To sum up, I am now convinced that one vaccine to combat all the various strains of virus will be found within a few years. But until that time is reached, it would be unwise to attempt vaccination in this country. The Pirbright Institute, with people in other countries, is doing its best to find that one vaccine. I am convinced that if we had loyal international collaboration among the various Governments in Western Europe and really tackled the job, as was done by the United States and Mexico, foot-and-mouth disease could be cleaned up in this part of the world. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will consider giving a lead by inviting Western European countries to a conference to discuss ways and means of combating this dread disease.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all indebted to my noble friend, Lord Listowel, for initiating this debate, and cordially join with him in the fine tribute which he paid to the work of the Departmental Committee on Foot-and-Mouth Disease. I am sure my noble friend and others will echo the tribute paid by my noble friend, Lord Hungarton, to the Chairman of the Committee, Sir Ernest Gowers. This Report exemplifies in a very marked way the teaching of Sir Ernest on the doctrine of "plain words" in both senses of that term; for there are plain words in the recommendations of this Report which Her Majesty's Government would do very great harm to our national economy by ignoring. I regret that I cannot speak with the detailed knowledge of my noble friend, Lord Hungarton, a practical farmer, nor with the great scientific knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Adrian. Mine is a far humbler position. But I well remember, as a railway man, the circulars we regularly received from headquarters prohibiting movements from, to, by or through various areas because of outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease.

My interest in this problem also arises from my experience as a member of a local authority. There was a long debate in your Lordships' House in May of last year, and in view of that debate and of certain assurances which were given, both in the course of that debate and in another place, I suggest that it would not be unreasonable to expect, this afternoon, some definite expression of views from Her Majesty's Government. What is the present position? I am directing my remarks mainly to the problem of the sterilisation of kitchen waste. In the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act of last year, Section 9, we find this: A local authority in England or Wales may, whether in discharge of their functions as to the removal of house or trade refuse or otherwise, collect kitchen or other waste in their area for use as animal feedingstuffs, with or without processing. That is in the Act which has been in operation from last year. But in paragraph 34, on page 18, of the Gowers' Report one reads this: Raw waste food has for years been branded as a danger by the law that forbids its being fed to animals untreated. It seems to us highly anomalous that any local authority (whose duty it is to be above reproach in matters of health and hygiene) should sell it to the public in that condition. Indeed we feel so strongly about this that we think it right to start with the promise that no solution is tolerable that permits this practice, whatever may be the consequences of prohibiting it. They are hard, definite and strong words— "plain words," if I may repeat Sir Ernest's phrase.

May I suggest that it is right and proper also that due consideration should be given to the views of local authorities? I should like to quote two extracts from the Report of a special joint sub-committee of the Health and Law Committees of the Association of Municipal Corporations. The first is this: We considered, however, that it was essential to ensure on grounds both of public health and animal health that all collections of waste food salvage should be subject to proper safeguards in processing. To this end, we suggested that there should be special provision enabling inspection by local authorities of all processing plant to ensure that processing was adequate to prevent the spread of infection. We accepted the principle that plant operated by local authorities should be subject to the same degree of inspection as privately owned plant. What I am quoting are representations made to the Minister at the time that the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill was under consideration. Your Lordships will see from that short extract that the local authorities, or their representative body, are in full accord with the recommendation of the Gowers Report.

May I quote a second extract? Here I come to the hope that we are going to have something definite this afternoon. This is what the Sub-Committee reports to the parent body: The Minister agreed that the present system of licensing in certain areas was a temporary makeshift, but the licensing powers which derived from the Defence Regulations would be reviewed from the viewpoint of the desirability or otherwise of permanent legislation when he received the Report of the Gowers Committee. That, if my memory serves me aright, is what the ex-Minister of Agriculture told the representatives of the Association of Municipal Corporations.

There is still an effective demand for kitchen waste for feeding purposes, and I hope that those of your Lordships who remember him will forgive my reminding you of the tremendous service that the late Lord Morrison did during the 1934–45 War in developing at Tottenham and elsewhere the collection and sterilisation of kitchen waste. I mention that for another reason. I have a letter from the extremely capable and efficient cleansing officer of Tottenham, Mr. Gurney, the man responsible for "Tottenham pudding." Mr. Gurney, summarising the general position in London, writes: Up to eighteen months ago there were six sterilising plants operating in the London area namely, Tottenham, Wembley, East Ham Paddington, Woolwich and Croydon. Paddington, East Ham and Woolwich have since dismantled and sold their plants, Croydon have handed theirs over to a private contractor and Wembley are continuing to operate on a very much reduced basis. The Tottenham plant is still selling approximately 450 tons per week but, since the withdrawal of Directions, we have lost nearly 20,000 tons of waste food per year. The demand for our product is still firm. I hope I am not being unfair when I suggest that the Ministry of Agriculture, in its policy, has discouraged and disheartened local authorities. They feel that the official interest in the collection and sterilisation of kitchen waste is either feeble or hostile. In fact it seems to me that, not unfairly, the attitude of the Ministry may be summed up in Clough's words:

Thou shalt not kill. But thou need'st not strive Officiously to keep alive. Some local authorities are still actively engaged in the work, notwithstanding this apparent lack of interest or this deterrence on the part of the Ministry of Agriculture. Perhaps it is love of my own local authority, on which I served for more than twenty years, which leads me to say that I am glad to mention that only a few weeks ago they circularised all householders in East Ham pointing out that each ton of kitchen waste sold brings an income of practically £4. They went on to illustrate the value of collection from a sanitary point of view by saying that if kitchen waste were not collected and sold then it would cost at least 13s. a ton to destroy. Apparently, my old local authority takes a wider view of its national responsibility than that which seems up to now to have been the view of the Minister of Agriculture. But the snag is this. East Ham is selling this kitchen waste unprocessed and raw to farmers. I know we were referred in the last debate to an old regulation by which it was made illegal to feed this stuff without boiling it. But I wonder how many farmers, even if they know of the existence of the regulation, understand what "boiling" really means, what boiling is required to kill the virus in kitchen waste. Will they let the waste food bubble and say: "That has boiled"? Or will they boil it for sixty minutes, which is right and necessary in order to destroy virus in it?

I venture to suggest that the clear and simple issue with regard to this kitchen waste problem is this. Now that they have the Gowers Committee Report, with its clear and explicit recommendations on kitchen waste, are the Government deliberately to continue taking the risk of serious outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease by continuing the selling of unprocessed kitchen waste to farmers? Are they still going to rely on an old Defence Regulation which most people have forgotten about and do not honour to-day? The prevention of animal disease is a national responsibility, as the Gowers Committee emphasise, and there seems to be no justification for a licensing system (another point about which the noble Earl will be aware) which is not applicable throughout the country but applies only to certain areas at the present time. As we have been told from time to time by experts, by local authorities, by sanitary officers, by veterinary officers, and by the Gowers Committee, only by the proper sterilisation of kitchen waste can the outbreak of disease be minimised. I hope with my noble friends, Lord Listowel and Lord Hungarton, that the noble Earl who replies for the Government will be able this afternoon to give us some positive assurance of how the Government plans to deal with these problems.

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, I rise for only a few moments to express my regret that I was not here throughout the debate and did not have the pleasure of hearing the maiden speech of my noble friend and colleague, Lord Adrian. I also regret my absence because I gathered from the last few sentences of the speech of my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara that he had got into full run and had no brakes on in launching a full-scale attack on the medical profession. I did not know that he was a world authority on the use of vaccines, whether from bacilli or from viruses, or whether alive or dead. If I had known that he was going to deal with the matter, I should have made a point of being present. I rise only to apologise to my noble friend for not having been present, when I should have had great pleasure in joining issue with him. If, on a future occasion, he proposes to launch an attack on my profession, I should be greatly obliged if he would give me notice, and I would then endeavour to "give him satisfaction."

4.4 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the House must be extremely grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for having initiated a debate on the important question of foot-and-mouth disease, and I should like to congratulate him on the very able way in which he dealt with the problems involved. Cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and deer are all susceptible to this disease. Its devastating effects lie not so much in a high mortality rate—the disease is not fatal, as a rule—as in the appalling speed at which it can spread from one end of a country to another, leaving behind it a trail of greatly reduced productivity by way of loss in condition, fall in milk yield, abortion and sterility. My noble friend Lord Hungarton drew particular attention to this point. Cows may become totally unproductive for a while. What is perhaps most alarming is that, once foot-and-mouth gets a firm hold on a country, it is likely to stay for a very long time, possibly for ever.

We in this country are fortunate in having the sea around us. It acts as a barrier against the entry of the virus in a way that no land boundary could. But even that barrier is not impregnable. We get intermittent outbreaks of the disease, mainly through the feeding of unboiled scraps and waste from South American meat. This would not happen if the Boiling of Animal Foodstuffs Order were meticulously observed. Of course, it should be. But to the most law-abiding citizen, throwing a bone to the dog or the scrapings from a bone to the cat may seem harmless enough. Where there are farm livestock around, however, it can be highly dangerous. The odd bone or scrap of meat all too often comes into contact with livestock and leads to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. These intermittent outbreaks cause a great deal of anxiety and loss. But despite thoughtless actions of this sort, the Boiling Order is effective in greatly reducing the risk that foot-and-mouth disease may be conveyed to stock through the feeding of garbage and waste.

A more difficult situation arises when foot-and-mouth is rampant on the Continent, particularly if it coincides with the season of bird migrations. Then the disease can strike our shores in many places within a matter of days, or even hours, and can start spreading across the country from many different sources at once. This is what happened in the autumn of 1951 and in 1952. There is little that we in this country can do to prevent the introduction of disease in these circumstances. Our best hope is to help and stimulate the European countries to secure better control of the disease on the Continent. I shall have more to say about this later on.

Foot-and-mouth disease is endemic on the Continent. I do not want to weary your Lordships with masses of figures, but I think that a few details of the 1951–52 series of outbreaks will serve to bring into sharp relief the sort of problem we in this country should have to face if ever the disease took a firm hold here. As my noble friend Lord Hungarton said, there were over 300,000 outbreaks in France, 200,000 in Western Germany, about 60,000 in Belgium and close on 30,000 in Holland and in Denmark. In Great Britain the number of outbreaks confirmed during the same period was 600–odd. The contrast is certainly striking. It has been estimated by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations that the 1951–52 outbreaks caused direct losses over the whole of Europe amounting to £143 million; and the indirect losses were probably even greater. The cost to France was in the region of £45 million, to Western Germany £40 million, and to Belgium £7 million. So far as this country is concerned, we paid out about £3 million in compensation for the 85,000 animals that were slaughtered.

Although we suffered far less than some of the Continental countries, the number of outbreaks here was greater than at any lime since 1942. Inevitably, public attention was focused on the slaughter policy, and Her Majesty's Government decided to appoint a Committee, under the chairmanship of Sir Ernest Gowers, to review the policy and arrangements for dealing with foot-and-mouth disease in Great Britain and to advise whether any changes should be made in the light of present scientific knowledge and the technical and administrative experience gained in recent years in this and other countries. It is the Report of that Committee which we are debating to-day. I feel sure your Lordships will agree that the Report is an extremely valuable and interesting document. The Committee investigated thoroughly the methods of control in this and many overseas countries, and their critical analysis of their findings is lucid and convincing. Sir Ernest Gowers and the members of his Committee richly deserve the warm thanks of all connected with agriculture. Here I should like to say how delighted I was to hear the two speeches of Members of your Lordships' House who were on that Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, and the noble Lord, Lord Adrian; and I would add my humble praise to the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, on his maiden speech and say how much I hope that we shall hear him on many occasions in the future.

Since the Report was published we have been taking the views of all interested organisations about the Committee's recommendations. I am glad to say that there has been very little criticism of them, and I can tell the House at once that the Government propose to accept nearly all of them—subject, in one or two cases, to slight modifications or adaptations. The majority of the recommendations deal with details of administration, such as, for example, the size of infected areas, the method of disposing of carcases of slaughtered animals, getting information about outbreaks to farmers and others, and so on. Many of these recommendations can be made operative by administrative action, and this will be done in any future outbreaks. In some cases it will be necessary to make a new statutory instrument or amend an existing one, and the drafting of these instruments is in hand. We are, however, unable to accept one or two recommendations in this group that would have imposed additional responsibilities on the already heavily pressed police forces.

On the main issue of policy, the Cowers Committee came to the conclusion that the stamping-out policy (which has been adopted since 1892) is right for this country in normal times. The Committee refer to the many uncertainties associated with the use of vaccination, as well as the probability that, as the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, said, if the stamping-out policy were abandoned in favour of vaccination, some of our most valuable export markets for livestock would be closed to us. The Committee's analysis of the situation should leave no doubt that in the interests of livestock farming, and of agriculture in general, we must continue to stamp out foot-and-mouth disease by slaughtering infected animals and those that have been in contact with them. They go on to recommend that vaccination might be valuable, or even indispensable, in combating an epidemic so serious that stamping out by slaughter was neither practicable nor economic.

The Government accept these recommendations on policy, but I must make it clear that this country has never yet faced a situation in which an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease was so widespread and difficult to control that the policy of slaughter combined with movement restriction broke down. The Government's view is that the circumstances of an outbreak would have to be exceptionally bad—much worse than anything so far encountered—before the use of vaccination would be justified. As the Committee recognised, it would have to be left to the Minister to decide whether, and if so when, to impose vaccination. Frankly, the contingency seems rather remote. The Committee ruled out compulsory vaccination of particular herds in normal times, and also recommended that voluntary vaccination should not be permitted, certainly until we know more than we do to-day about the dangers of vaccination masking infection—that is to say, the danger that vaccinated animals might become unrecognised sources of infection.

While there are differences of expert opinion on this subject, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, in their evidence before the Gowers Committee, went so far as to say that they thought there was a strong possibility that vaccination might mask infection. Your Lordships, I know, will attach the highest importance to an expression of opinion coining from so authoritative a source. As the Committee said in their Report, in the absence of scientific proof the possibility of masked infection of animals vaccinated against foot-and-mouth disease cannot safely be ignored. It is known to be a feature of other animal virus diseases against which vaccination is used, and until we know positively that no such danger exists, I think the risks to the farming community in general that would come from permitting voluntary vaccination of a particular herd would far outweigh any possible benefit which individual farmers might gain. The same opinion is strongly held in the United States and in Canada, and also in Norway. I do not think there can be any doubt that the prudent thing to do is to wait and consider the advice of the Pirbright Institute. The investigations going on there are bound to take some time, so we shall have to wait a bit before we can get a definite answer to this question, and I think we must be patient.

At this point, I feel that I should refer to the work of the Foot-and-Mouth Disease Research Institute at Pirbright. It has been said that if, in these days of rapid scientific progress, we have been unable to improve on the crude method of stamping out foot-and-mouth disease by slaughter, the fault must lie with our research workers. It is sometimes alleged that the Pirbright Institute, in particular, has paid too little attention to the possibility of vaccination and that no serious attempt has been made to find a satisfactory alternative to the slaughter policy. This was certainly not the view of the Gowers Committee. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of what the Committee said in their Report. One or two noble Lords have already mentioned this, but I think it is so important that, if your Lordships will bear with me, I will give it in full. The Committee said: The Institute have long been alive both to the important part that vaccination is playing in reducing the incidence of the disease in Europe, and so lessening the danger to this country, and also to the chance that vaccination might be needed here in an emergency. Within the limited resources that have hitherto been available to them they have devoted much time and labour to the production and testing of vaccines. Indeed, the ready availability of susceptible animals here has enabled them to carry out investigations into vaccination that are not possible in countries where the disease is endemic. The Institute hold the largest collection of strains of foot-and-mouth virus in the world. Over 5,000 cattle have been used there for testing vaccine. Eight different methods of vaccine manufacture have been investigated. Our visits abroad left us with the impression that the Institute is held in unique esteem by veterinary experts in all countries: Pirbright seems to be generally regarded as the most important centre in the world for foot-and-mouth disease research. That was the Committee's view, and I would only add that the Government entirely endorse this tribute.

The Committee made two recommendations affecting Pirbright. The first was that the relationship of the Governing Body of the Institute to the Minister of Agriculture and to the Agricultural Research Council should be more clearly defined—the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, mentioned this point. I can say here that the whole question of the administration of agricultural research and the responsibilities of the Agricultural Research Council and the Minister are at present being considered by Ministers, and I hope that it will be possible to announce decisions before long. The intention will then be to clarify the position in the way desired by the Gowers Committee.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, both raised a query about the Veterinary Research Council. The Committee suggested that it might be worth while considering carefully whether a separate Veterinary Research Council ought to be created. This question was raised some time ago with the Privy Council, but after consultation with the Agricultural Depart- ments it was felt that it would be a retrograde step to separate research in the fields of animal, crop and soil husbandry under different organisations. All these, matters are the responsibility of the Agricultural Research Council, on which veterinary interests are represented. It is to this Council, with its wide community of interests, that we must look for guidance on veterinary research.

The Committee's second recommendation about the Pirbright Institute concerned its capacity to produce foot-and-mouth disease vaccine. A year or two ago it was decided that Pirbright should be expanded to enable it, in case of need, to undertake, among other things, production of vaccine on a commercial scale. The Gowers Committee did not think that, even with this expansion, the Institute would be fully adequate to meet any emergency that might arise. The position now is that the building work for the present expansion is nearly complete, and the additional scientific and other staff are being recruited. The next step will be to carry out trials of vaccine production on a commercial scale. I am advised that this will take some two years. During this time, as experience is gained of commercial production, we propose to review the potential output of vaccine of which the Institute would be capable in a serious emergency. It may be, for example, that no more physical expansion of the Institute will be needed, provided that there is a reserve capacity of output that could be called into use if necessary. I do not think we need make up our minds about this matter at present; we ought to feel our way carefully. It would be wrong to produce, at great expense, large quantities of vaccine which we should be quite unable to use. It would also be wrong to provide the capacity for producing more vaccine than the very limited number of veterinary surgeons that we have in the country would be capable of using in the event of an emergency.

I come now to the collection and disposal of kitchen waste, or swill. There is no question that foot-and-mouth disease does occur at intervals in this country through animals being fed with, or having access to, untreated scraps from South American meat. The virus of this disease can live for up to five months in chilled and frozen meat. From the sole aspect of disease prevention, the ideal method of dealing with kitchen waste would be to have it all treated at central sterilising plants. During the war, local authorities in the larger urban areas were required under Defence Regulations to collect kitchen waste and treat it in this manner, but after the war there came the inevitable, and quite understandable, pressure to remove many controls. Moreover, with the removal of feeding-stuffs rationing and the fall in prices, the demand for processed kitchen waste fell off, and many authorities found that these activities could be carried on only at a considerable loss. Consequently, the Government decided to relieve local authorities of the obligation to collect swill, but under the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1954, local authorities were empowered to collect and dispose of it for animal feeding, with or without processing.

The Gowers Committee gave a great deal of thought to this difficult problem, and came to the conclusion that there should be no compulsion on local authorities to collect. The Government agree with that view. The Committee went on to recommend that all waste food, whether collected by a local authority or privately, to be used for feeding to animals should be sterilised by the collector and that all substantial collectors of waste food, other than local authorities, should be licensed. The Government accept this recommendation, so far as private collectors are concerned, and we propose to make the necessary orders under the Diseases of Animals Act as soon as possible. The position will then be that any private collector or farmer who obtains swill which is to be fed to animals will have to get a licence. He will be required to use an approved sterilising plant, and his plant and methods will be subject to periodical inspection. The only private collector exempt from this licensing requirement (though not, of course, from the requirement to sterilise) will be the small man who keeps just a few pigs or poultry and who collects kitchen waste, probably from his immediate neighbours, to feed to them. This will give substantially more protection than we have now because only collectors operating in the old "scheduled areas"—the larger urban areas—are required to be licensed at present.

I come now to the difficult question of the position of local authorities. In the past, local authorities have collected a considerable amount of kitchen waste for feeding to animals. It seems inevitable that the amount of kitchen waste collected for this purpose by local authorities in the future will be very much smaller, and that the really important thing will be, as we now propose, to control the private collector and processor. The Gowers Committee recommended that local authorities who collect swill should be required to sterilise it. At first sight this would seem to be the safest course, but it might well be, in fact, that to impose a requirement to sterilise would be the surest way of discouraging local authorities from collecting, since in present circumstances it would almost certainly involve the local authorities in a loss. Kitchen waste would then be collected, and in many cases dumped, with other refuse; and, even where controlled dumping is practised, we have found by experience that it is impossible to prevent all risk to animals.

The noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, was very concerned about these dumps, and they do present a serious problem. We have good co-operation from most local authorities, and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government are getting excellent co-operation on this matter. But even with the most perfect system of controlled dumping—in other words, where every few days the dump is covered with earth to a reasonable depth and is compressed—there is always to-day's dumping, which cannot be covered. Frankly, this is a problem to which I can see no complete solution. After all, there is no advantage to animal health if a requirement to sterilise results merely in more potentially dangerous material finding its way on to the rubbish dump. An alternative that has some attraction is that we should ask local authorities who dispose of raw swill to ensure that it goes only to licensed collectors. No doubt local authorities could be relied upon to be most scrupulous in observing any such request, and the processors, by the terms of their licences, would be under an obligation to sterilise the swill. This would do nothing to deter the local authorities from collecting kitchen waste separately and it would provide reasonable and practical safeguards from the point of view of animal health.

The Gowers Committee said that this problem did not admit of a wholly satisfactory solution, and that weighty arguments could be brought against every conceivable course. In this view, I think, there is much truth. It is a very difficult subject, and the Government have not finally made up their minds on the point about local authorities. As at present advised, we are not convinced that the course recommended by the Committee is the right one. We are giving the matter further consideration. We shall naturally pay very careful attention to what has been said on the subject by noble Lords this afternoon.

Noble Lords will remember that the question whether local authorities should be put under an obligation to collect swill was discussed at some length during the Second Reading of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. On that occasior, the noble Lord, Lord Burden, gave a spirited address with which I am afraid we were quite unable to agree. It was, of course, quite sensible to require local authorities to collect kitchen waste in war time, when there was a serious shortage of animal feeding stuffs and when we had to take steps of this kind in order to survive. Even then, many local authorities made a loss. Now that the more orthodox animal feeding stuffs are fairly plentiful and much cheaper than they were, the likelihood that local authorities will incur a loss is very much greater.

The question has sometimes been raised whether a subsidy to cover this loss, either out of the rates or out of the Exchequer, would be justified in the present circumstances. On that question I have no doubts at all. The cost would almost certainly be out of all proportion to the cost of dealing with such minor outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease as might arise from contamination from South American meat. In the past ten years, foot-and-mouth disease thought to be attributable to swill has involved the payment of about £250,000 by way of compensation: in other words, an annual average of about £25,000. It is extremely difficult to estimate what a subsidy on the collection of swill would cost, but it would certainly be far greater than the cost of the disease. In the year 1948–49, the Government paid out £400,000 to subsidise swill collection by less than a quarter of the local authorities in Great Britain, and this at a time when the demand was reasonably good. I am sure your Lordships will agree that we should not be justified in spending such a large sum of public money at the present time.

There is one more group of recommendations which I should like to mention and to which the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, drew attention. The Committee proposed that the penalities for failing to report the disease should be increased, that the twleve months' stipulation in connection with liability for imprisonment for second offences should be removed, and that the Minister's power to withhold compensation in certain circumstances should be abrogated. In general, we feel that the Committee have made cut a good case for changes in these respects, although we have some doubt about the suggestion that the maximum penalty should be increased to as much as £500. These changes would, naturally, need legislation. Your Lordships will appreciate that I am not in a position to say anything about that at the moment.

I have already mentioned that foot-and-mouth disease is endemic on the Continent. The Gowers Committee attached considerable importance to a project initiated by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations for the establishment of a European Commission for the control of the disease. Her Majesty's Government have supported this project from its inception, and I am happy to be able to tell the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Lord, Lord Hungarton, that the Commission has been formally established and is at work. In fact, if your Lordships would be interested to know, I may say that there are eight countries now involved. They are: Denmark, Ireland, Norway, Jugoslavia, Holland, Iceland, Austria and ourselves. Italy and Portugal have definitely signified their intention of joining, too.


The noble Earl will agree that I was right when I said there were only five at the time when we had that information.


Perfectly right. I am not at all criticising. I am happy to be able to give the noble Lord this information.


I am very glad.


As I said, the Commission is now at work. It is a bold and interesting experiment in collaboration between nations, with the ultimate objective of eradicating foot-and-mouth disease by a combination of measures which are most appropriate to the circumstances of the particular country. Her Majesty's Government, as a member of that Commission, will continue to play a full part in the proceedings.

After the large number of outbreaks of this disease which occurred in 1951 and 1952, it became evident that it was time that we took a long and careful look at the policy and methods for dealing with the disease. That is what the Government have now done. We have reviewed the position and have come to the conclusions which I have explained. The general conclusion is that it would be unwise to depart from the broad policy which we have been pursuing for many years. I am sure that this is right. The changes which we are making affect only the administrative details involved in that policy.

Everyone naturally regrets the necessity for a slaughter policy, but I think most of your Lordships will agree that it continues to be a necessity. I should like to emphasise again that we, in Great Britain, can count ourselves very fortunate in being able to keep our losses down to what, by comparison with many other countries, is a very low figure. In countries where the disease is endemic the farmers would, I know, be only too glad if, with the aid of other means, they could progress to a stage at which a slaughter policy would be feasible. The Gowers Committee came to the conclusion that in this country no other policy would be wise, and I hope the House will feel able to agree with the Government's decisions on the Committee's recommendations.

Before I sit down I should like to deal with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara. Doctor Crofton's claim that he is able to produce a preventive vaccine has, as your Lordships know, received considerable publicity. He says, if I understand him rightly, that he can produce this vaccine from dead bacilli grown from the virus of foot-and-mouth disease. He contends that such a vaccine would be cheaper than the orthodox vaccine, would be non-infective and would confer immunity for at least thirteen months (this immunity probably being transmissible from parent to offspring), and that a vaccine prepared from one strain of virus would be effective against all strains.

Doctor Crofton gave oral evidence before the Gowers Committee. As my noble friend said, he himself admitted that if his theory were accepted this would involve re-writing all the textbooks in the world on this subject. It does indeed run counter to generally accepted scientific belief. The Gowers Committee very properly said that they were not competent to express an opinion on fundamental scientific beliefs: their responsibility was to consider whether they should support Doctor Crofton's plea for more exhaustive tests of his theory at Pirbright. I think I should point out that it is not part of the duties of the Pirbright Institute to investigate fundamental bacteriological theories. However, laboratory experiments were made with Doctor Crofton's vaccine at Pirbright in 1939; the result did not support the claim. Doctor Crofton has, I believe, asserted that the tests were not thorough enough to disprove his theory.


Could such an experiment be done somewhere else, if Pirbright is not a suitable place?


I think the sort of place that is most suitable certainly does not come under my jurisdiction.


Perhaps the noble Earl could tell us what is a suitable place.


My Lords, I think that would be more a question for the Minister of Health than for myself. No evidence was produced to the Gowers Committee in support of most of Dr. Crofton's claims, and the Committee came to the conclusion that if the case was put at its highest by ignoring all possible sources of error, and by accepting that the results of certain experiments in South America were correctly observed and reported and that all cases of immunity in vaccinated animals were rightly attributed to vaccination, then the efficiency of a vaccine produced by this method was much the same as that from an orthodox vaccine. The Committee, after having carefully weighed all the factors in the balance, reached the considered view that they would not be justified in pressing Pirbright to reconsider its attitude that in the absence of prima facie scientific supporting evidence there was no justification for diverting the resources at the Institute from the promising research on other lines being carried out there. Dr. Crofton's claims have been referred to the Agricultural Research Council, who consider that, having regard to the great care with which these claims were examined by the Gowers Committee, no further action is called for. That is also the view of the Government. It would be utterly wrong to divert the Foot-and-Mouth Research Institute from its approved programme of research in order to make a prolonged study of claims to have discovered cures and preventives for foot-and-mouth disease for which there is no prima facie scientific evidence.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, it is not customary to make a speech in reply to a debate on a Motion, and I shall not offend. I should, however, like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part for the tone and temper of our debate. I think your Lordships will agree that it is not a bad thing that, at a moment when the Parties are about to plunge into a death or glory struggle far political power, Parliament should still, without the slightest trace of Party feeling, be able to consider problems of national importance such as foot-and-mouth disease. I should like to join those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, on his maiden speech. Whilst it is true to say that in times past we have had many great scientists as Members of this House—we can all call to mind such names as Lord Rutherford and Lord Kelvin—I think that living scientists of this order are most "rare birds." We are particularly fortunate to have one of the greatest living scientists among our numbers at the present time, and all the more fortunate that he is willing, as he has shown us to-day, to take part in our humdrum legislative work. I can assure him that we shall always welcome any help that he may be able to find time to give us in the future.

I find it difficult to quarrel with the speech of the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn. It is always difficult, even for the most carping critic, to complain when he is offered almost all that he has asked for. Your Lordships will remember that at the beginning of his speech the noble Earl said that the Government accepted nearly all the recommendations in the Gowers Committee Report. There is one loophole that causes me a little anxiety—namely, that local authorities will still be able to sell, without treating it, swill which they collect. The noble Earl has said that this matter is still under consideration, and I can assure him that in a few months' time I shall return to the charge and ask him a further Question—indeed, it may be that noble Lords opposite will be asking the same Question of noble Lords who at present sit on this side of the House. Apart from that, I can only thank the noble Earl for his extremely able speech and the Government for their willingness to take the administrative action and legislation required to carry out most of the recommendations of the Report. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at a quarter before five o'clock.