HC Deb 17 July 1925 vol 186 cc1782-92

Order for Second Reading read.


I really must protest against taking this Bill to-day. It is only a short time ago that I was able to obtain a copy of it at the Vote Office, and I do not think it is reasonable to ask the House, in these circumstances, to take the Second Reading to-day.


I was about to rise and to apologise to the House for the fact that the Bill was not available until rather more than an hour ago. If there be any opinion expressed that it is not desirable to proceed with the Bill, I shall not press hon. Members to do so, but I would suggest to the House, as my right hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir H. Craik), who has quite properly raised the point, will see if he looks at it, that the Bill reproduces almost textually the Financial Resolution on which it is based and on which we have had two discussions. If, however, any other hon. or right hon. Members take the same point, I shall not ask the House to proceed with the Bill at this stage.


I am glad that my right hon. Friend has made that statement. This Bill provides for contributions to be paid out of moneys provided by Parliament as compensation for the slaughter of cattle in England and in Northern Ireland, but there is no such provision for Scotland, and I think we ought to have time to study the Bill.


I should like to support what the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir H. Craik), has said.


Order! There is no Question at present before the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, ''That the Bill be now read a Second time."—[Mr. E. Wood.]


I am particularly interested in Sub-section (2) of Clause 2, which is an extremely complicated question. I ventured to raise the question in the early hours of this morning and was unable to get a satisfactory answer. I intended to study it carefully, but I have been unable to do so in the time at my disposal, and in order to understand it I should like to have time to consider it further.


I should like to raise a point on Clause 1.


I am not sure whether I formally moved the Second Reading or not, but, if not, I will do so.


I did put the Question to the House.


I approve of what there is in Clause 1, but there does not appear to be enough there. Would it be possible to have some words giving the meaning of the word "cattle.''? Probably the Minister will be able to say that the other cattle to which I am going to allude are provided for in another Act. No provision is made in this Bill with regard to pigs, and I do not know why they should not be included, because I believe the general desire of the Government and the Ministry is to prevent diseased meat from getting to the people at all. If it is right, as I believe it is, that any cattle suspected of suffering from tuberculosis should be slaughtered and compensation allowed, I also believe it is right that, if pigs are known to be suffering from swine fever or any other disease, they should be slaughtered and compensation allowed. I hope that, if pigs are not provided for in another Act, the Minister will see that they are included with the other cattle dealt with in this Bill.


I should like to ask the Minister, with regard to the provision as to the slaughter of cattle in case of the existence or suspected existence of tuberculosis, what evidence he requires that the case is one of tuberculosis? Is it to apply to tuberculosis of the udder, with the consequent production of tuberculous milk and the danger of communicating tubercuiosis to children, or is it to apply to tuberculosis of the lungs, and, in that case, will reliance be placed simply upon the tuberculin test, or what evidence will be required before animals are ordered to be slaughtered and compensation paid? I should also like to ask the Minister if he will bear in mind the possibility of vaccine treatment for these cattle? I believe an experiment in this direction is just about to be commenced, and, if that is successful, it would probably effect a great saving to the State in a few years' time in compensation for the slaughter of tuberculous animals. My special point, however, is: what evidence of tuber- culosis will be inquired before an animal is ordered to be slaughtered and compensation paid.


I should like to say a word or two in order to clear up a small point affecting myself, which arose out of a question the other day. A question was asked with regard to this Bill, and a further question was asked by one of the hon. Members for West Ham, as to what was done with tuberculous meat. It seemed to me so absurd that anybody should ask a question like that, in view of the provisions of the law relating to public health, that I remarked, more or less to myself, "Oh, they send them to the West Ham Board of Guardians!" I think the hon. Member did not hear the first two words, but heard the rest, and thought that I was making a serious proposal to that effect, and I find I have been subjected to an attack in the Press which is a little unfair, although, no doubt, I was somewhat unwise in making the interjection, and was rightly reproved for it. I thought I would take the opportunity afforded by the Second Reading of this Bill just to say a few words in order to clear my character.

Commander WILLIAMS

I see that, as far as this Bill is concerned, the local authority, as I understand it, has to find one-fourth and the Treasury three-fourths. The position of England is quite clear, and the position of Northern Ireland is quite clear, but I am not at all sure that under this Bill Scotland might not get off and get the whole of the four quarters, without having to find their one quarter; and, knowing of the fine efforts that Scotsmen make in these directions, I should like the Minister to be quite certain that they are fully paying at least their fair quarter under this Bill.


I have already spoken in the House on this question twice, and I do not want to go over the same ground again, although this is, perhaps, the most appropriate occasion for saying all that needs to be said upon it. On the Committee stage of the Money Resolution I put several questions to the Minister, and I do not wish to repeat them, but I am interested at the moment in the fact that we have one or two medical Members of the House pre sent, and I should hope that to-day, on the Second Reading of this Bill, they would support strongly from the medical point of view what we have been pressing upon the Minister during the Committee and Report stages of the Money Resolution, namely, that the provision made by the Government for dealing with this question of tuberculosis in cattle should be such as to make it impossible for any beast which is condemned and for which Government compensation is paid on account of tuberculosis, should be used in any way for human consumption.

We are told that the Minister is in sympathy with us on this point, and that, as he said last night, he has refreshed himself as to the Departmental position, the instructions sent by the Ministry of Health to local authorities, and so on, and is satisfied that under the arrangements made by the local medical officers of health no actually tuberculous meat unfit for human consumption is allowed to get into the channels of distribution for human consumption. We are, however, not satisfied on that point at all. We have evidence, in fact, that in many places the remains of carcases which have been condemned, and for which, under this resurrected proposal, compensation will be paid, do, in fact, reach certain classes of the population for human consumption. We are told that there is difference of opinion among medical men and other scientific authorities as to whether it is actually harmful to the human physique to eat part of a carcase which has not shown on examination external signs of the disease.

We only speak on this as laymen, but there is a difference of opinion, and many authorities consider that it would be far better in the interests of the State to destroy absolutely a carcase which is condemned for tuberculosis, and not run any risk of it getting into the channel of human consumption. But, speaking as laymen, we cannot get out of our minds that, in any animal which has a circulating blood system which has become so infected by tuberculosis as to come within condemnation by the authorities acting under this Bill, every part of the system covered by the circulation of the blood is liable to be infected with the germ of tuberculosis, and we regard it as a public scandal that, in any circumstances, any part of a carcase which has been condemned for tuberculosis should be allowed to reach any part of the market of the consumer. The Minister has spoken very sympathetically to us, but I want him to go much further. I want him to say definitely whether he will consider, in Committee, the acceptance of an Amendment to this Bill which would provide that no part of a carcase in respect of which public money has been voted by the House in compensation shall be used for human food. If he will give us an assurance that he is likely to meet us on that point, I think our opposition to the Bill would die away. On the general principle of attacking bovine tuberculosis, he knows he will have the sympathy and support of all those who act with us in this matter. I would say to the right hon. Gentleman who raised a caveat with regard to taking the Second Reading to-day that it is perhaps inconvenient to Members, in the circumstances, to deal with all the points in the Bill at short notice, and I recognise that, but we are anxious to assist the Government in this direction, that in the interests of public health the provisions of the Milk and Dairies Act, 1914, for Scotland, and 1915 for England and Wales, are to come in operation on 1st September, and it seems to be a vital corollary of those two Measures that we should have this compensation in operation from 1st September, and we are anxious to assist the Government to get the compensation arrangements complete.


I should like to clear up a little point raised by the last speaker, on the question of the danger of eating meat from an animal that is infected. The tubercle is of two kinds. There is a distinct form of tuberculosis which may be absolutely local, which may not be circulating in the blood at all, and which in no way affects the eatable parts of the food. The muscle of the body, which forms the largest portion of the food, is very rarely infected with tubercle-at all. There are, of course, cases in which the udder of the cow, which is infected and produces tubercular milk, is practically the only part of the cow that is affected, and cows suffering from tuberculosis of the udder might be the most important class of animals to destroy because they are the most potent source of tubercle to children. But those cases may be entirely confined to the udder, and the rest of the carcase may be entirely free from tubercle and absolutely innocuous to the community. It would be a great waste that an animal should be completely destroyed which is quite harmless from the food point of view, and which, therefore, as long as the infected parts are removed, might be quite safely used for food.

Lieut. - Colonel FREMANTLE

The questions raised by the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) are extremely important to the health of the community, and on certain points mentioned by the hon. Member there would be. the danger that he apprehends, but, as the hon. Member for Derby (Sir R. Luce) pointed out, there are at the same time cases to the contrary, and I think any sweeping generalisation such as was suggested by the hon. Member for Hills-borough is going too far. I prefer to err on the side of safety, but, at the same time, consistent with the need for safety, a generalisation of the sort suggested is going too far. This involves a very great expenditure, and it is a reflection upon the administration of science at the present time. It seems to me ridiculous that we should have to go in for a policy of slaughter in these cases, when we are on the brink of discoveries which will absolutely eliminate the necessity of slaughter. When we are talking so much about economy hand in hand with this proposal, we must recognise that, in the first place, it is allied intimately with the question of research, which we have been considering in the last Bill, and it is a matter in regard to which the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health ought to work in co-operation.

If meat were properly butchered and marketed in this country, as is often the case in other countries, there would not be the same danger of meat unfit for consumption being exposed as food. If we took better precautions we could allow a great deal more latitude. The danger which has been pointed out by the hon. Member for Hillsborough is a serious one in this country because of the appallingly backward state of butchering, marketing and veterinary inspection here. Although I believe this Bill is necessary, and that the compensation to be paid is necessary, I maintain that hand in hand with it. the Ministry of Health should go forward with the policy of seeing that we are going along on proper principles towards the controlling of butchering animals and, at the same time, of better veterinary inspection.

May I give one instance which will meet the point raised by the hon. Member opposite. It is quite possible that tubercle may show itself in certain glands in the body—one or two glands only. If the lines suggested by the hon. Member opposite were taken in such a case it would mean that the whole carcase must be condemned as food. That particular gland is simply a filter which may be filtering off the early points of tubercular infection. Those who wish to sail near the wind will strip the meat from near the gland and sell the carcase as being a sound carcase. If we had proper veterinary inspection, which is not possible under the present system, in all the little scattered slaughter houses throughout the country, that could not happen. If you had proper veterinary inspection you could be sure that any meat passed by the veterinary inspectors as safe for consumption is safe for consumption. I hope that the Regulations in this Act will be most carefully framed so that if meat slaughtered under the circumstances mentioned, where there is any risk at all, is to be allowed to be consumed, it shall be allowed under the strictest regulations and under conditions whore there is a proper system of veterinary inspection.


I support the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Hills-borough (Mr. A. V. Alexander). Although the carcase may be free from infection in the case of tuberculosis of the udder, the animal is in a very emaciated condition, and the carcase, to my mind, is unfit for human consumption. That has been the case in certain instances which came under my observation. Furthermore, we have not efficient veterinary inspection. I have had frequent experience of eases in which our veterinary inspectors prevented the sale of this meat in Bradford, and it has been immediately taken to some other place for sale. The only safe way for public money to be paid in compensation for animals affected with this disease which are slaughtered is for them to be destroyed. If we will not pay for veterinary inspection we must pay in another way, because the meat is not good though it may not be tubercular. I am quite satisfied that it would be only the poor people who would get that meat. Certainly not a single Member opposite would purchase meat of this description.


I cannot pretend to have attained to the level of general knowledge which has been shown in the speeches to which we have listened in this Debate. I am sure there would be no difference in any quarter of this House that where there is any doubt we should all wish the Minister to regulate on the side of safety. As I told the hon. Gentleman who raised this matter last night, I urn satisfied, on such inquiries as I have been able to make from the Minister of Health, that if the local authorities do their duty, as I have every reason to think they do, there is no meat passing into human consumption that is or may be prejudicial to human health. So far as this matter concerns central administration, it, is within the province of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health. For the rest it is the concern of the local authorities, acting in discharge of their sanitary duties, and I have every reason to believe that they are as jealous in the discharge of their obligations as we could be in this House. But there is no difference of opinion between us as to the extreme importance of the matter which is being raised, and I would like to suggest that the best place to consider the matter would be when we get into Committee.

The hon. Gentleman has asked me whether I would accept his Amendment in Committee. He will not expect me to give an answer on that point now, but I hope I have said enough to show him and other hon. Members that if any case be established to show that there is any doubt at present., and that there is any chance of meat prejudicial to health passing into human consumption, I should be very willing indeed to try, in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, to take effective steps to stop it. I think that I cannot very well say more at this stage. The hon. Member for Torquay (Commander C. Williams) is in some anxiety lest our Scottish neighbours should get too much money out of this Bill. I can assure him that, as far as I know, the Bill is so drawn that even a Scotsman cannot get too much out of in in spite of the fact that our Scottish friends are not satisfied, though that is not an astonishing fact. Another hon. Member raised a point as to the evidence that would be taken, in the course of the inspection, of what constituted tuberculosis. If he had had time to study the Order in conjunction with which this Bill is drawn, he would have seen in almost every Clause a precise definition of tuberculosis and the tests that are to be applied.

The hon. and gallant Member for South Hackney (Captain Garro-Jones), to whom I apologise for not having replied to his inquiries last night, raised a point with regard to Northern Ireland. The position with regard to Northern Ireland is really quite simple, although I agree that the draughtsman has done his best to make it appear obscure in the Bill. The Diseases of Animals Acts are a reserved service for Northern Ireland, and, in consequence of that, the Home Secretary here is the Minister of Agriculture. The work is done by the staff in Northern Ireland of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Legislation dealing with diseases of animals in Northern Ireland has to be passed by this Parliament, and, accordingly, compensation would be paid by the Imperial Exchequer to the Northern Ireland local authorities through the Home Office. But that is not the end of the story, because whatever compensation is paid will be deducted from the Northern Ireland share of reserved taxes, and the net result is that Northern Ireland pays for its own compensation. That is a subject on which we are bound to legislate, but Northern Ireland is financially responsible for the compensation that is paid.


Is the amount of compensation paid to the Government of Northern Ireland two-thirds until it is recovered from the residual share of reserved taxes, or does the Bill authorise the Treasury to pay the whole amount pending its recovery?


No; the position is exactly the same as to amount as claims with regard to local authorities in this country. The Imperial Exchequer pays, up to 75 per cent. or whatever the amount is. and that sum is recovered from the Northern Ireland share of taxa- tion. An hon. Member raised a point about pigs and asked why they were not brought in the definition Clause. The reason is that this matter has to be taken in conjunction with an Order issued under the Milk and Dairies Act, and that obviously concerns only cows, and other bovine animals that are in direct contact with cows. As a matter of fact pigs can be condemned under meat inspection orders and their case is already covered, and the hon. Gentleman may rest assured on that point. I hope I have replied satisfactorily to all questions.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Commander Eyres Monsell.]