HC Deb 12 July 1938 vol 338 cc1209-15

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

8.26 p.m.

Mr. Kelly

I should like the Minister to explain why the Port of London Authority and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board should be exempted from the provisions of the Bill. If they are not to be subject to inspection by the municipal authorities may we know who is to inspect these two places under the Diseases of Animals Acts? I think it is about time that bodies which receive powers and charters should come under the inspection of municipal authorities when it is a case of seeing that food and meat are sent out in a condition fit for human consumption. There are too many of these bodies outside the regulations of municipal authorities, and it is not good that they should be in this privileged position. It has been the practice to hear representatives of certain companies say that they do not speak for their constituency but for the particular undertaking in which they are financially interested. I hope that day has gone, and I hope that bodies like the Port of London Authority and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board will be placed directly under the control of the municipal authority.

8.28 p.m.

Colonel Sandeman Allen

I hasten to say before addresing myself to this Clause that I have no financial interest whatever in the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board or in the Port of London Authority. I am interested in this matter as one of the representatives of Birkenhead, which has a landing for cattle coming from Ireland. The inspectors of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture are thick upon the ground. The amount of inspection which the cattle undergo is tremendous, and the inspectors sometimes are not able to agree as to the age of the animal or its condition. There is no danger whatever of cattle coming in which are unfit for human consumption, the inspection is so considerable. Obviously, the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) is not aware of the conditions. There is no danger whatever as every precaution which can he taken is taken by the Government Departments.

8.29 p.m.

Mr. Duncan

I happen to be a member of the Joint Select Committee which included the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards) and the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley) who, I am sorry, are not here to explain to hon. Members opposite the real position. As the Bill was before the Joint Select Committee the Port of London Authority was not included, and it was at my suggestion that it was included in the Bill. The reasons for it are these. We asked the question which the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) has asked—why the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board should require special permission to be outside the control of the local authorities, and it is in the evidence given on the second day that hon. Members will find the reason. Mr. Horner appeared for the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and it was his evidence which convinced the Joint Select Committee, including the hon. Members opposite, that it was justified. Perhaps I may be allowed to read the evidence as it will completely satisfy the hon. Member for Rochdale: The Birkenhead Corporation Act has a specific exemption in favour of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, and so far as bylaws are concerned, the Birkenhead Corporation I do not think have ever sought to enforce by-laws in their borough with reference to slaughter-houses, and the Wallasey bylaws contain a specific exemption for the Merseyside Board. The Merseyside Board appreciate that that is not the reason why they should continue to be exempted but they would like me to point out to you that whereas they are not at present subject to the licensing provisions or the by-law provisions in Birkenhead or Wallasey, they are, nevertheless, subject to very stringent control by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. The premises at which cattle are landed in the port of Liverpool comprise what is known as the Mersey Cattle Wharf. This consists of one or more landing stages, which are connected to very extensive lairages, and in connection with these lairages the board have a number of slaughter-houses and knackers' yards. By orders made by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries under the Diseases of Animals Acts this wharf has been appointed a wharf for the landing of foreign animals. It has also been appointed an approved landing place for the Canadian cattle by an order of the Ministry in 1933, and it has also been appointed an approved landing place for the importation of animals from Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. That means that these premises can only be carried on in accordance with the requirements of these orders, and I think I am right in saying that the requirements of these orders covers all the points in the bylaws which the local authorities would make and, in fact, they cover additional points as well. That really deals more with live animals, but so far as slaughter-houses are concerned the board must comply with the requirements of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. If they do not the Ministry can withhold their approval for these premises to be used under this Act. So that so far as the supervision and control is concerned the board submit that they are under possibly more stringent supervision than they would be if they were under the local authority. So far as the local authority is concerned the medical officers of health of both local authorities and their meat and sanitary inspectors have constant access to the premises so that they can see that the requirements of the Public Health Meat Regulation, 1924, and the Slaughter of Animals Act, 1933, are complied with. So that in effect both local authorities have access to these premises. The board's contention is that if the local authorities here are to have power to license these premises and to make by-laws relating to the premises you will get an undesirable overlapping of jurisdiction. That is the evidence on which the Joint Select Committee were convinced that as far as the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board was concerned they had proved their case and that no alteration of the present law, which has worked with great success for many years, was desirable. I will now quote my own remarks on that occasion: The witness seems to have made such an extremely good case out, not only for the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, but in regard to every other port, that it strikes me that we might have somebody from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to find out whether the saving with regard to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board might not be carried in general terms to all ports. On another day, we had further information which showed that only in Liverpool and London was there any considerable amount of landings of cattle from foreign countries and slaughtering, and on those grounds it was considered desirable to include the Port of London Authority. For these reasons, I think this Clause is justified.

8.37 p.m.

Mr. Elliot

I think the Debate on this Clause proves the merits of the procedure that was adopted with regard to this Bill. The procedure of examination before the Select Committee, where a full discussion could take place, and hon. Members of all parties, including the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley) and the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Richards) could take part—a procedure which has been explained by my hon. Friend the Member for North Kensington (Mr. Duncan)—amply supports the case for these exemptions. My hon. Friend explained to the House what the saving is, and why that saving, after very full consideration, was incorporated in the Clause.

8.38 p.m.

Mr. Poole

Are we to understand that the Port of London Authority made no application for the exemption which is given in the Bill? We accept the explanation as far as the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board are concerned, but why has it been given to the Port of London Authority? If the Port of London Authority desired these powers and thought that the lack of an exemption would cause any hardship, we know that they would be the first authority to make an application. It seems to me that the exemption is being foisted on to an authority which has never asked for it.

Mr. Elliot

I am advised that both bodies were represented before the Select Committee, and satisfied the Committee.

8.39 p.m.

Mr. Kelly

It seems to me that the hon. Member for North Kensington (Mr. Duncan), having discovered that the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board were being given this exemption, did not like the Lancashire and Cheshire people to have it without the Port of London Authority also having it. Surely, it is time that, instead of this duplication of examination, we should have one method of examination for all cattle, whether it is landed at the ports and slaughtered there, or whether it is slaughtered in other places in the country. In this matter, the closest investigation is required. From the little responsibility which I have had in regard to cattle in different parts of the country, I know that it is often the case that an animal which before slaughtering no one would have dreamed of suggesting was unfit, has been found, after slaughtering, to be such that the authority would not allow it to be used for human consumption.

I think that instead of there being this duplication of inspection and investigation, the local authorities should be responsible to us and to the people in their areas for seeing that there is the utmost purity in food. I am sorry that a London Member should have followed the bad old practice of getting certain authorities exempted in this way and that he should have brought the Port of London Authority into it. I hope that we shall soon come to an end of that sort of thing. In the past railways and other bodies have claimed exemptions from all sorts of things in order that they might do as they liked without having any regard for the local authorities. I feel that this exemption ought not to be given at this time, despite the constitution of the Select Committee.

8.41 p.m.

Mr. Duncan

In my opinion, the strongest point which came out in the evidence was that by leaving the Bill as it now is, there will be an avoidance of duplication. If the local authorities were given jurisdiction, there would be concurrent and overlapping jurisdiction. As a London Member, I do not want to have that, in the interests of efficiency in local administration.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Clauses 64 to 100 ordered to stand part of the Bill.