Front Page Titles (by Subject) 12. The Cattle Diseases Bill  14 FEBRUARY, 1866 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868
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12. The Cattle Diseases Bill  14 FEBRUARY, 1866 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868, ed. John M. Robson and Bruce L. Kinzer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988).
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The Cattle Diseases Bill 
PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 181, cols. 488–92. Reported in The Times, 15 February, p. 7, from which the variant and responses are taken. This, Mill’s maiden speech in the House of Commons, was delivered in the debate on the second reading of “A Bill to Amend the Law Relating to Contagious or Infectious Diseases in Cattle and Other Animals,” 29 Victoria (12 Feb., 1866), PP, 1866, I, 423–44. Mill says in his Autobiography that the speech “was thought at the time to have helped get rid of a provision in the Government measure which would have given to landholders a second indemnity, after they had already been once indemnified for the loss of some of their cattle by the increased selling price of the remainder”
(CW, I, 277n).
mr. j. stuart mill said, that in the course of the discussion on the Bill many important points had been raised, respecting some of which he was not in a position to form an opinion; and that being the case, he thought it better that he should leave all other topics to Her Majesty’s Government, who had the best means of information, and who were responsible for the failure or success of the measures they might introduce. There was one question, however, which it required no agricultural or special knowledge to understand—that of compensation—it was a purely economical question, and upon this part of the Bill alone he thought himself competent to speak. This question had been raised by his honourable Friend the Member for Birmingham,1 and as his honourable Friend had been rather severely dealt with by the right honourable Gentleman behind him (Mr. Lowe),2 he thought that any one who shared the sentiments of his honourable Friend would be acting unworthily if he did not stand forward and avow them. (Hear.) He did not object to the principle of compensation, but he did object, in the highest degree, to the amount proposed in the Bill, and to the manner in which it was proposed to be provided. It was perfectly true, as his right honourable Friend (Mr. Lowe) had pointed out, that the farmers were to receive compensation, not for their losses as such, but for what they lost through the interference of the Government.3 He (Mr. J.S. Mill) quite agreed that there could not be a more just claim for compensation than this; and, moreover, the grant of it was expedient on account of the inducement it would give not to evade the provisions of the Act. He quite adopted the conclusion of his right honourable Friend, that the farmers who might be the owners of diseased cattle ought not to be placed under the temptation of concealing the fact. But, on the other hand, the more reason there was for granting compensation, the more necessity was there for taking care that the compensation should not be excessive. If, on the one hand, the owner were not to be compensated at all for his loss, there was a strong inducement for him to do, what it was the very object of this Bill to prevent him from doing—namely, to keep the infected animals as long as possible, and thus to be the means of propagating the infection. If, on the other hand, the compensation were excessive, an inducement would exist to be careless as to the spread of the disease; because if his animals on becoming infected were ordered to be slaughtered, he knew that he should get an exaggerated compensation for them. The compensation provided by the Bill for diseased animals slaughtered was two-thirds of the value, when that sum did not exceed £20. But what were the necessary conditions to render that sum a just compensation? It was that the animal should have two chances out of three of surviving, because if it had a less chance of recovery than this, the owner would be an absolute gainer by the compensation he would receive on its slaughter by authority. The value of an animal in the market was its value in its existing astate and with its existing prospects (murmurs)a ; unless, therefore, the marketable value of an animal after infection was two-thirds of its value when healthy, the compensation proposed by the Bill was excessive. Whatever the chances were of the animal’s surviving, that would be the measure of compensation which a reasonable person would propose. He came now to another question—in what manner, and at whose expense, the funds for compensation ought to be raised. In order to judge of that, they ought to consider what would be the natural working of economical laws, supposing no compensation were granted at all. If, setting aside merely momentary effects, they took into consideration the ultimate, and indeed speedy, result, there could be no doubt that in whatever proportion the supply of cattle was diminished, in that proportion the price would be enhanced; and, therefore, in the end, the whole burden of the loss would be borne, not by the producer, but the consumer. Farmers and landlords would indeed suffer, but only to the same extent as other members of the community—that is to say, as consumers. As far as it was the whole community which suffered, no class of the community, as a class, had the smallest claim to compensation from the rest. Some, indeed, were less able to bear the loss than others, and it would not have been surprising if a proposal had been made to compensate them; but now, on the contrary, it was proposed to tax them, in order to compensate those who were able to bear the loss much better. It appeared to him that the farmers as a class had no claim whatever to compensation, and the only reason for granting compensation at all was, not that the loss fell peculiarly upon the agricultural interest, but because it fell upon that interest with such extreme inequality. He apprehended that in real justice the compensation ought to be paid to the less fortunate by the more fortunate of the class: thus establishing what would be equivalent to a compulsory system of mutual insurance amongst the owners of stock. This Bill did the very contrary—though he did not blame the Government for introducing it, considering the way in which the House was constituted. It compensated a class for the results of a calamity which was borne by the whole community. In justice, the farmers who had not suffered ought to compensate those who had; but the Bill did what it ought not to have done, and it left undone that which it ought to have done,4 by not equalizing the incidence of the burden upon that class, inasmuch as, from the operation of the local principle adopted, that portion of the agricultural community who had not suffered at all would not have to pay at all, those who suffered little would have to pay little, while those who suffered most would have to pay a great deal. The only argument of any validity which he could anticipate against the opinion he had expressed, was that a portion of our cattle supply is not derived from home production, but from importation; and, as far as that portion was concerned, the compensation which the consumer would pay through the enhanced price of the commodity would not be received by our own agriculturists, but by the importers. This he must admit; but the importation of cattle, though considerable and increasing, bore so very small a proportion to the entire consumption, that it would diminish the indemnity reaped by the home producers only to a very small extent; and this being the case, it would be unworthy of the landed interest to lay any stress upon so small a matter. An aristocracy should have the feelings of an aristocracy, and inasmuch as they enjoyed the highest honours and advantages, they ought to be willing to bear the first brunt of the inconveniences and evils which fell on the country generally. This was the ideal character of an aristocracy; it was the character with which all privileged classes were accustomed to credit themselves; though he was not aware of any aristocracy in history that had fulfilled those requirements. (Laughter.) It might also be said that the farmers would derive no benefit from the ultimate high price, because one of the effects of the cattle plague was by making them bring their cattle prematurely to market, temporarily to keep down the price. This, no doubt, was the case, but after the grant of compensation, it would no longer be so, since the inducement to hurry cattle to market would then no longer exist.
[The Bill was read a second time, and committed for the next day.]
[1 ]John Bright (1811–89), Speech on the Cattle Diseases Bill (14 Feb., 1866), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 181, cols. 476–80.
[2 ]Robert Lowe (1811–92), M.P. for Calne, like Bright a Liberal, but increasingly critical of the party’s leadership and direction, criticized Bright (ibid., cols. 483–8).
[3 ]Ibid., col. 484.
[a-a]TT] PD condition
[4 ]See the General Confession in the Order for Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer.