HC Deb 01 August 1951 vol 491 cc1463-7
The Minister of Food (Mr. Maurice Webb)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to tell the House what plans the Government have for slaughterhouses.

The House is aware that to meet the urgent need for more slaughterhouses, we have decided to build seven new ones in addition to the two experimental ones at Fareham and Guildford. We shall extend this emergency building programme as fast as we can, but, as will be realised, our building resources will not let us do all we want.

In any case, these new slaughterhouses must be of the right sort and in the right places. I have, therefore, during the past few weeks consulted the organisations concerned to see if it would be possible to prepare a national plan for slaughterhouses which could fit into any of the alternative long-term schemes for the distribution of meat and livestock, which are now being considered by the Government.

There is the one extreme of a few factory-type abattoirs of the kind used in North and South America, and there is the other extreme of a return to the pre-war system of slaughtering in thousands of places, some with good conditions and some with very bad. Having considered all the views put to us, the Government have decided that the requirements of hygiene, meat inspection, humane slaughtering and economy, will best be met by a plan that lies between these extremes. Such a policy, which we might call one of moderate concentration, will require some central regulation of slaughtering, and a national plan for siting the slaughterhouses.

While the Ministry of Food continues to control livestock and meat distribution, as at present, it will remain the authority for regulating slaughtering, and in conjunction with other Departments and interested organisations will immediately establish machinery for considering the location and general administration of the necessary slaughterhouses. Separate arrangements will be made for dealing with the special needs of Scotland.

Many slaughterhouses are owned and managed by local authorities, Co-operative Societies and private traders. The Government hope that this will continue, and will do what they can to encourage the building of new ones by local authorities, or by any suitable organisations of producers or traders who may be prepared to build provided they do so in accordance with the general scheme.

These arrangements, of course, apply to slaughterhouses used mainly for sheep and cattle. There will also be a need to expand our capacity for dealing with pigs, and my Department is now discussing with the organisations concerned how we can best meet this and relate it to the general plan.

The Government are not committed to any particular number of slaughterhouses or to any particular size, design, or siting. These will be left to be determined as the plan is worked out to suit the different needs of different areas. The House must not expect any sudden revolution in this matter. With our present limited resources the plan will take some years to put into operation. I hope, however, that it will be agreed that we are proceeding as fast as we can on the right lines.

Mr. W. J. Taylor

With regard to the type and standard of slaughterhouses the Government propose to erect, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the advice of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has been taken in this matter, as distinct from any advice his Department may have received from professional veterinary surgeons?

Mr. Webb

I could not say whether it has been taken so far, but I should be quite happy to take it in the later stages of the operation.

Mr. Hurd

Will the slaughterhouses for the time being be operated by the right hon. Gentleman's Department, and is he making emergency arrangements for this immediate autumn to have slaughter arrangements for cattle coming off grass?

Mr. Webb

For the time being, they will be operated by my Department, as they must while rationing continues, but we are making emergency arrangements to deal with the exceptional difficulties of this autumn.

Mr. Mitchison

Does my right hon. Friend's statement mean that he will now entertain applications from local authorities who happen to be in need of additional slaughtering facilities and that such applications can and should be made with promptitude?

Mr. Webb

We are constantly entertaining them and will entertain more. It does not necessarily mean we shall accept every one of them. We shall have to consider all these competing claims in relation to this general plan, but it would be a good thing if any local authority which has ideas about this would put in a plan.

Mr. W. J. Taylor

Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is willing to take the advice of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons?

Mr. Webb

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Taylor

At the same time, will he take advice on the conditions in existing slaughterhouses, where there is very much room for improvement?

Mrs. Braddock

Is my right hon. Friend sure that the up-to-date slaughterhouses under the control of local authorities are being fully used, because Liverpool has been making complaints for some time that its facilities have not been properly and fully used, although there is a very modern and up-to-date slaughterhouse?

Mr. Webb

It is true that quite a number of modern slaughterhouses are not being used because of the absence of labour. That is one of the difficulties— [An HON. MEMBER: "Absence of meat."] Oh no; we have had the meat, but not the labour to process it in certain areas. Having announced this new policy, what we want to work out is where Liverpool or any other area fits best into the new siting plan we are going to carry out.

Commander Maitland

I understood the Minister to refer to expanding our capacity to deal with pigs. Does that mean more bacon factories? Would he elaborate that statement? I was not quite clear.

Mr. Webb

We are in discussion with the two boards concerned, the Bacon Marketing Board and the Pig Marketing Board, about their ideas on the way we can expand their capacity to handle what we hope will be an improvement in the supply of pigs in this country.

Mr. R. V. Grimston

The right hon. Gentleman has stated that local authorities should put in their suggestions. Should that be to the committee which is being set up or to the Ministry?

Mr. Webb

To the Ministry.

Mr. J. T. Price

Will my right hon. Friend give special consideration to the need for much greater safety in respect of the workmen engaged, if not the animals? Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is still great doubt among authorities whether or not the Factory Acts apply to slaughterhouse premises, and is he aware that there is a great deal of laxity in slaughterhouses in the operation of overhead railways, steam winches and other apparatus, which is often used in a most careless fashion?

Mr. Webb

On that matter the unions constantly make representations and are able to do so. The new slaughterhouses that we are building take account of the need to protect the workers from any undue damage in this rather hazardous occupation. I think that we shall learn a good deal as we go along. We should like to have the unions co-operating with us in any aspect of this problem.

Mr. Crouch

Can the Minister state where it is suggested there shall be additional slaughterhouses. He mentioned Guildford and Fareham as two centres. Is he in a position to say where any of the others are likely to be?

Mr. Webb

I cannot say offhand. They are listed and available, and I will let the hon. Member know. They are on record.

Mr. Frederick Elwyn Jones

Has consideration also been given to the allocation of slaughterhouses for horses which are at present rather over-concentrated in my own constituency, to the distaste of the population?

Mr. Webb

I am afraid that that does not arise on this question.

Sir Herbert Williams

Is the Minister aware that if his Department had resisted the efforts of the R.S.P.C.A. and the Labour Party about undue centralisation, this problem would never have arisen?

Mr. Shurmer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that while the Opposition are calling for more slaughterhouses, as they have on many occasions called for other things that could have been done previously, this matter could have been dealt with over a number of years before the war by the Opposition, when labour and materials were available?