HC Deb 31 May 1927 vol 207 cc216-9

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to regulate the methods of slaughtering animals. If hon. Members want to enjoy their dinners, they ought to support the Bill which I ask leave to introduce. It is a Bill to regulate the methods of slaughtering animals for food. Our food is now produced too often under conditions which, if we called them to mind, would be repugnant to us. My Bill proposes to make general the by-law sanctioned by the Ministry of Health known as By-law 9B. This, I think, ought to be a Departmental Bill. We are behind the times in this matter. It is not a subject of popular knowledge or popular agitation, and it would, normally, be a matter for departmental regulation. No charge of cruelty lies on any party; the defect is purely one of the law. Occasionally, light is thrown on this subject as, for instance, the other day when some children in a Northern town were brought before the magistrates because they had obtained access to the lairs connected with a slaughter house, and had occupied themselves by chasing and wounding a number of calves. The magistrate made certain strong reflections upon that state of things, and the Press called a good deal of attention to it. The "Manchester Guardian" said that, probably, there was a greater mass of unnecessary suffering connected with our methods of slaughter than in any other sphere. These children had, apparently, made a sport of attending slaughter houses, and it appeared that they were encouraged to do so by certain slaughter-men, and that it was a recognised practice at a very large number of slaughter houses in that town.

My interest in this matter was aroused during my experience as Minister of Agriculture. The Ministry is responsible for the slaughter of animals suffering from foot-and-mouth disease, and the Ministry has laid it down that animals shall be slaughtered by what is known as the humane killer. If the slaughtering as it is done in England were done in public places, I think it is not an exaggeration to say that the consumption of meat for food would be reduced by 50 per cent. I have visited a great many of these places. It was, of course, unavoidable originally that rough-and-ready methods should be used in killing animals for food, but the desire of every decent person that unnecessary pain should be avoided has found a solution in these days by the improvement in firearms. There are very ingenious weapons of various kinds which are available. There are pistols with which slaughtering is now quite easily and cheaply performed, and local authorities have, very widely, adopted them.

Consumers generally are entitled to be protected from anxiety as to whether or not decency has been observed in the slaughter of the animals. Those interested in the business, the farmers, have shown their concern in many cases, and quite lately the National Council of Agriculture passed a resolution urging on the Ministry that the method of humane slaughter should be pushed forward. We have to sacrifice animals to our use, but the animals for food are mostly animals of high development and a great deal of character, and it is incumbent on us to avoid pain as far as we can. I regret that I have to harrow the feelings of hon. Members. I admired a few years ago a speech of the present Minister of Agriculture when introducing a Bill for the enforcement of anæsthetics in certain operations on horses, and I admired the courage with which he described the necessary details of the operation. In these cases we should remember the methods of killing which are commonly used. There is the poleaxe, which is the common method of killing big animals, and in the hands of a skilful man an extraordinary degree of regularity is obtained. I went with another Member of the House to a slaughter-house where a skilful man was brought in to show us how it was done. At the first blow he failed to fell the bullock. It bellowed and, of course, after that, being much more restive, it was much more difficult to fell.

The matter is much more difficult in the case of bulls, where blows on the forehead cause contusion and a thickening of the skull; to kill a bull with the poleaxe becomes more difficult. What is done in that case is hardly fit to mention in this House; the skin has to be removed before killing. But all this trouble is avoided in those places where the humane killer is in use. The City of London lately obtained a report in which they carefully arrived at the average rate of blows per death, and they found that in the case of 100 bullocks it took 125 blows, but in the case of 100 bulls it took 249 blows. They then obtained exact figures for the killing of 1,255 animals with pistols, and in that case only 1,259 shots, or four more shots than the number of animals, were required to kill straight away. There is another possibility which has been adopted by the Dutch; the enforcement of stunning before blood letting. That is uncertain, but it is an advance. Then there is the knife, formerly much more used and still used very widely on sheep, calves and pigs, and it is used, of course, in all cases by the Jewish method of slaughter. I myself saw at the abattoir at Brighton a bull killed by the Jewish method of slaughter. It was heavily shackled and thrown and then the throat cut. I should certainly form the opinion that the movements of the bull trying to rise were not automatic or reflex and they lasted more than five minutes. Then you come to the modern method of shooting. It is making progress under the revised by-law of the present Minister of Health, but still not many more than 200 local authorities, most of them not large authorities, have adopted the by-law, and some of them only partially to the exclusion of certain animals.

The advance is slow, because authorities feel that it will put them at a disadvantage with neighbouring districts where old methods are still allowed. The Admiralty some years ago made a special Report in which they employed two well-known Fellows of the Royal Society, Sir Michael Foster and Professor Starling, to give an opinion as to the degree of pain from throat-cuffing. They held the opinion that in many cases consciousness remained for 45 seconds, and commonly anything from five seconds to 40 seconds. Again, the City of London issued an interesting report in which they urged that legislation on the matter should be general, because we have arrived at a considerable degree of public support. They said it is not fair to ask one authority to go ahead of others, and that it can only be done by general regulations. Foreign countries are ahead of us. In Switzerland killing by shooting is universal, and in Holland and Germany stunning is now laid down. Progressive authorities are entitled to support, and I urge that we ought to establish a certain standard of decency in this matter. The British are humane, and they ought to be first, and not behind in any reform. I ask leave to introduce this Bill in order that we may remove what is a certain blot on our national life.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Buxton, Mr. Ponsonby, Mr. Duff Cooper, Mr. Riley, Sir Robert Newman, Dr. Drummond Shiels, and Major Sir Archibald Sinclair.