This Bill is designed to permit of the replenishment of the Cattle Diseases Fund. That fund has its origin in a statute that was originally passed into law in 1878 and the Diseases of Animals Act, 1894, provided that local authorities might strike a rate not in excess of 1/2d. in the £, per annum, wherewith to keep that fund replenished. It was the practice in that Act and in the subsequent Acts passed in 1914 and 1932, while authorising the annual levy of ½d., to fix an overriding maximum of varying sums. The overriding maximum prescribed in the Act of 1932 has now been reached and it is necessary to permit of local authorities replenishing the fund for a continuing period. The Seanad will notice that the period provided in this Bill is limited to four annual contributions of ½d. whereas heretofore it was customary to provide for ten, 12 or even 20 annual contributions. The reason for shortening the period in this Bill is that it is not intended to introduce a similar Bill in the future because long before the exhaustion of the 2d. here provided it is anticipated that we will have brought before Oireachtas Eireann proposals for the reorganisation of veterinary services on an entirely different and more comprehensive basis which will make this procedure for compensation anomalous and unnecessary. The principal compensatory charge upon this fund is the payment of compensation to farmers whose cattle are destroyed, at their own request, on condition that the county veterinary officer is satisfied that the beast is suffering from tuberculosis in any degree. When speaking yesterday in the Dáil I was describing the rates of compensation available and I trust I may make this vicarious apology that in respect of one figure I mixed them up and I take this occasion, if I may, to correct that error on my part. I said that if a beast were affected with advanced tuberculosis the owner would receive 50 per cent. of its market value. That is not correct. If the beast is allowed to go on to the stage of extreme emaciation and chronic cough the owner will receive only 25 per cent. of its market value. If it is found to be suffering from chronic cough and, therefore, to be in a reasonably grave condition, the owner will still receive 75 per cent. of its market value. If the veterinary officer, suspecting tuberculosis, secures the consent of the owner to the destruction of the beast, and on post mortem it transpires that the diagnosis was mistaken, the farmer is entitled to receive 100 per cent. of the full market value of the beast, plus £1.
I thought it necessary to mention those figures in detail and to emphasise them, in order to direct the attention of farmers to the fact that they should have no hesitation in calling in the county veterinary officer if they have the slightest suspicion. In no conceivable circumstances can they experience any loss or injury as a result of the destruction of their beast. If it is destroyed in error, they get 100 per cent. of the market value and £1 to boot, while if it is in a very early stage of tuberculosis, they get 75 per cent. of the market value—whereas, if it is allowed to survive, it would eventually, of course, die without any compensation, but not before it had contaminated all the rest of the live stock on the place and very possibly the children of the household as well.
I wish to emphasise the figures for a second reason, so that I may reiterate in public what I have done already in the course of my official duty, that is, to desire the county veterinary officers to know that I believe I correctly interpret the will of Oireachtas Éireann on all sides if I say they should not be unduly solicitous about making a mistake, that nobody would condemn them if the funds were called on to meet 100 per cent. of the value of a beast mistakenly destroyed, so long as we were satisfied that the veterinary surgeon had exercised reasonable care and had destroyed the beast through an excess of solicitude, lest contaminated milk might endanger the health, probably the life, of some child who would consume it.
Section 2 is designed to give me a power by Order to widen a definition which sub-section (3) already widens to some extent. The necessity for that is that the word "fowl" heretofore was deemed to have a somewhat limited meaning. It is proposed to make the extension that our experience has shown us to be necessary in sub-section (3), but we are asking for additional power to widen it still further if the necessity should arise in order to protect the country against the possibility of the introduction of diseases from abroad from which, heretofore, by a policy of restriction, we have managed to protect our poultry-keepers. In that connection the Seanad may desire to have an example, and the outstanding example of recent times is the arrival in Great Britain of what now has come to be known as the Newcastle disease. It was long known to poultry veterinarians that a disease called "fowl pest" was widespread on the continent of Europe and constituted a very serious problem. As a result of reciprocal precautions which Great Britain and this country constantly maintain in consultation, we have availed of the sea to prevent the entry of contaminated materials which bring such diseases within our shores. Sometimes these regulations appear to the man in the street to be extremely pernickety and irrational, and I have great sympathy with that view, because unless you know the background it is easy to think that they are pernickety and unreasonable.
Senators will understand our solicitude in the Department when I say that "fowl pest" on the Continent has always presented itself as a very acute condition, with dramatic external symptoms which the veriest tyro can recognise at a glance. That meant that the veterinary authorities who were on their guard could instantly put a cordon sanitaire around the affected region and take effective measures to stamp it out in situ before it spread. When the disease was carried from the Continent to Great Britain a not infrequent complication presented itself, that while it was an acute and dramatic disease on the Continent, it arrived in Great Britain in a very low, chronic type, with the result that no one who was not a trained observer could recognise it at all and it could very easily escape the attention of a casual inspection. Before an outbreak was detected and notified, very often material that had come in contact with the diseased birds had been spread all over the country—and to follow it and beat down the outbreak became extremely difficult.
I welcome the knowledge that the British veterinary service with very exhaustive measures are getting the business under control. We hope that we will never have to share the task that they have been called upon to undertake, here in Ireland; if we have, we will. The means are available to deal with it. It is in order to make it as unlikely as possible that we would have to face difficulties of that kind that we are asking for this rather unusual power in Section 2. I do not wish the Seanad to think we are asking for these powers in informed anticipation of any impending danger. Thanks be to God, despite the immense increases in the number of our fowl, we have been phenomenally fortunate. We have had no serious outbreak of disease of any kind. We have managed to organise a veterinary preventative service for bacillary white diarrhoea and if we have not succeeded 100 per cent. we are making encouraging progress. I would not wish the Seanad for a moment to feel that I was asking for powers in the knowledge of, and in anticipation of, some secret disease of which I did not wish to speak. There is no unknown disease or unknown threat or impending peril abroad and there is no difficulty or delicacy on my part to furnish Senators with any information they may see fit to require in any matter relating to the veterinary health of fowl or any other type of live stock in the country. I make that reservation, because sometimes, when you ask for powers, people begin to ask themselves: "Is there something up that we have not been told about?" Nothing whatever. We are just being cautious, because we are sufficiently middle-aged, I suppose, to accept the wisdom of adages and believe that "a stitch in time saves nine" and that "there is no use in shutting the stable door after the horse has gone".