TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE DEBATE ON THE CATTLE PLAGUE.
PARLIAMENT has met and has lowed. Our readers, though not usually silly persons, will probably suspect us of an absurd and personal pun, but we are expressing in its simplest form the exact truth. Neither House on the first night of its assembly would attend to any question what- ever, Reform, or Jamaica, or internal legislation, or anything else except the health of the cows. The members were quite right. Nothing presses for an immediate solution, for instant and strong action, if action be possible, so much as the spread of this unintelligible murrain. If it be true that many land- lords will experience a reduction of half their rentals, and that all landlords in the infected counties fear a failure to pay rent equivalent to an increase of 20 per cent. upon their income-tax, no other difficulty has anything like the same political importance. Questions of suffrage, of justice, of humanity can wait, but questions of property cannot, in England at least, and this cattle plague with all the peers and most of the county members is a question of property. The noble lords and members for counties who one after another rose on Tuesday to attack the Government felt that their revenues were in danger, and so feeling, were excusable for the zeal with which they thrust every subject affecting human beings aside to complain that Government had not acted with sufficient energy for the preservation of cattle. Only they are bound even when rents are in jeopardy, when the dif- ference between twenty thousand and ten thousand a year is visibly involved, when the disparity between Château Margaux and Mr. Gladstone's claret comes home to every country gentleman, to attend in some slight degree to fact and argu- mentative decency. And this they did not do. The one cry from all parts of both Houses was that Government ought to have assumed the leadership, to have proposed some plan for " stamping out " the pest, and to have forced that plan upon the country. Well, we agree with those who hold with Earl Grey that the use of leaders is to lead, that Ministers who will neither lead public opinion, nor face public opinion, but only hold on to the tail of public opinion, are rather con- temptible Ministers, but there is a limit to this doctrine. To lead, one must have followers, and we deny that up to October there would have been for any decided course any followers whatever. "Local self-government," or, in better English, the government of the people by the owners of land, is in Great Britain a reality. There does not exist in this country a machinery by which an Order in Council,—except for a tax, —opposed to the wishes of the country gentry could by any possibility whatever be made to work satisfactorily. Suppose Government had ordered inspectors to slaughter every herd in- stead of every beast suspected of disease. In the first place, the counties would have appointed inspectors devoid of that disgust- ing quality suspiciousness; and in the second, if inspectors so ap- pointed had manifested it they would have been kicked by the farmers ; and in the third place, the magistracy, who are simply local self-governors passed through a sieve, would have finedthe kickers a shilling for the sake of legal decency. After October we admit the law would have been more operative. Local self-governors had become alarmed for their rents, and began to sympathize with the excessive bitterness manifested by tenants who are supposed to govern themselves, and have rather less to do with administration than artizans in towns. They would have carried out the law then, if they had not happened to believe in vaccination, and to have been fettered by the opinion of the cities. The first idea, sound in principle,—for there is a cure for every epidemic, or there is no law of nature which preserves mankind,—influenced many, the general interest of the cities weighed with many more, and what basis of combined action was there to hand ? A report from the majority of a Commission whose leading member never owned a cow, or spoke to a cow, or did anything whatever with a cow except drink its milk in his life, recommending that the locomotion of beasts should be prohibited. Upon that loco- motion depends first the peace of the great towns—which cannot be kept quiet, as Viscount Melville once recommended in his place in Parliament, by artillery—secondly, the great grazing interest ; and thirdly, the interest of every farmer in England who wants to replace fat stock by lean e., to have manure without paying cash for it,—and all these interests were to be destroyed, the great cities filled with riot, the graziers ruined, and the farmers harassed out of their wits, in order to prevent a disease which was even then not killing as many beasts as an ordinary epidemic.. Nay, not to prevent it, but simply, by the Commissioners' own showing, to throw impediments in the way of its further spreading, which might or might not be successful. It is all very well for rent-receivers to be wise after the event, but is there one of them, except Mr. Lowe,—who reasoned a priori, and did not care a straw if all the farmers were rained, pro- vided he had a credit for foresight,—who would have dared to act on the recommendation of the Commissioners I Would they have ventured to do more than Government did do I Government said in its Orders in Council, " Gentlemen, your profess to govern, govern. Let the squirearchy in every county, which claims all power, and monopolizes all adminis- tration, do what seems right in its own eyes." Each county was invested by successive Orders in Council with sovereign authority. If there be such a thing on earth as a prima facie oppression it is a law which prevents John Smith of Norfolk selling a bullock to George Brown of Lincolnshire, yet Lincolnshire squires were authorized to treat the move- ment of that bullock as a penal offence. The squires first raged, then, as the disease became worse, submitted, and then as it became dangerous actively carried out the law. So- immense were their powers that the example of Aberdeenshire and Lincolnshire were quoted in the debate as instances justi- fying any stringency of legislation. What possible increase Government could have made to these powers, short of em- powering the squires to eat any drover found with his cattle- on a high road, we are unable to conceive, and they would have granted this had the public appetite urgently desired it.
Then came the brief spasm of belief in vaccination—a theory not yet disproved—and then the wild panic which found ex- pression in the Houses on Tuesday night. Of course Govern- ment must go a great deal further. A panic is a fact like any other form of popular emotion, and a free Government which does not recognize it to the full fails to perceive the first conditions of its own existence, but what is the Govern- ment to do / It is " to carry out the unanimous desire of the country gentlemen." Very good, but what is that desire? The Aberdeenshire system V Why do they not carry it out without appealing to the Government on the subject V Aber- deenshire has no powers which Cornwall or Kent does not also possess. Or the Lincolnshire system ? Or the Yorkshire system ? Or the Liverpool compromise Or what ? Nobody says, and Earl Grey declares that the business of a Govern- ment is to take the lead. So also Say we, and more especially in legislation calculated to moderate the violence which springs of terrible individual loss, in the legislation which is to benefit or to relieve a nation and not only a class. And therefore we trust that the measure, when it is produced, will be one which, while enabling the counties to act, will not place the cities suddenly face to face with tire problem of a. famine of meat, as a Bill founded directly on the report of the Commissioners would certainly do. It is neither they nor the country gentry who have to keep London in order with meat at two shillings a pound. If suspension of locomotion is to be of any use it must be accompanied by the suspension of importation, and that means starvation as to meat for the me- tropolis. Let those take that risk who will, it is clear no Govern- ment organized like our own will do it, and there must there- fore be some compromise of some kind. The farmers could bear very probably a month's interruption of the regular trade, but the great cities certainly could not. Providence in its unwisdom has made food a matter of twenty-four hours, and though with bread and water nobody could starve, still a sen- tence of prison diet for the population of London for even seven days is not one any Government is likely to inflict. We agree with Lord Cranbourne that a little too much has been made during the discussion of the freedom of the subject, Par- liament never scrupling to interfere with it to any extent the in- stant it deems interference unavoidable, but still there is a limit to its authority. Even a Czar must have willing instruments, and if the Hampshire squires think the Aberdeen measures oppressive they will not carry them out heartily, and who else is there to do it ? Is Lord Cranbourne wishing for their supercession by sous-prifete 7 The measure to be proposed should enable the Home Secretary to " proclaim" any county, or number of counties, which desired such proclamation for a limited time, and to order that no fat beast brought for sale to a city should leave it alive during that same time. Even this would enormously raise the price of meat by prohibiting importers and graziers from running any risk of glutting the market, but it would leave time for the trade to re-arrange itself, and for the consideration of some plan for the killing off
Of infected or menaced beasts. After that time, if the disease still continued, it might be possible to prohibit importation, and leave London to be fed at extravagant rates on the leanest of foreign meat, and then the disease once arrested, it might be dealt with if it re-entered without greater national loss than an infinitesimal tax per head would suffice to meet. But this is the farthest to which it is possible to go, further than it seems to us as yet prudent to go, even with the example of Ireland and West Scotland as a guide. The prohibition of import has there prevented the spread of the murrain, but there is no proof whatever that in a country where import has been -a habit, where it will pay to smuggle beasts from county to county, and where the free locomotion of other animals, such as dogs, cannot be prevented, it will have any adequate effect. It is the will of the agricultural interest to try something of the kind, and let it be tried most fairly, but with due con- sideration for interests nearly as important as theirs; and then if it fails, if the restrictions are found intolerable, and the country is once more driven back to search for means of cure, us in every other disease human or bovine, at least the blame will not rest with the Government, which is now abused by every county in England for having allowed that county to do what seemed to it best.
On one point, and one only, does it appear to us that 121overnment have somewhat failed. They ought to have 'appealed more formally and decidedly to science for aid, to have employed the first men in the kingdom in searching for the primary truth, the character of the disease, and to have -offered heavy rewards to the discoverer of a successful remedy. The master motives of all surgeons, reputation and the relief of human suffering, are wanting in this case, and their place ' should have been supplied by an ovally effective stimulant. It would injure a great physician lo have it known that he was engaged in experiments on cattle, and the profession will -not risk practice without the inducements held out in every other branch of professional inquiry. Legislate as we will, it is to a preventive that we must ultimately look for safety, and a preventive will never be discovered by veterinary 'surgeons pledged to the poleaxe as the only adequate recipe.