§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ The Minister of Food (Major Lloyd George)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I think it might be of some assistance to the House in its consideration of this Ball if I were to say a word or two about the previous enactments on this subject. Prior to 1938, slaughterhouses were subject to licensing regulations, but the previous conditions under which licences were issued varied considerably. The 1890 Act introduced a system of annual licensing alongside other licensing arrangements of an earlier date, and this situation remained until 1938.
In that year the Food and Drugs Act was passed, and Section 57 of that Act made it an offence to use a slaughterhouse without a local authority licence, and that licence was issued for a period of not more than 13 months at a time. There were minor differences in the licensing arrangements for the three categories of slaughterhouses, but, without going into any of the details, one can say that, broadly speaking, they all became the subject of annual licensing. The 1938 Act became operative on 1st October, 1939. By that time, as the House is aware, we were at war, and because of the meat and livestock control scheme which came into operation in January, 1940, the licensing provisions of the 1938 Act have not been generally applied.
At that time—that is, before the war— the slaughterhouses that were actually functioning in England and Wales numbered 12,000, but the war-time control scheme introduced great and significant changes in the slaughtering arrangements. For the past 14 years it has been illegal to slaughter livestock except under licence from the Ministry of Food. Because of its complete control of the meat and livestock industry, and because the consumer was limited in his consumption by the rationing system, it has been possible in these years for the Ministry to manage with some 600 slaughterhouses, as opposed to the 12,000 in existence before the war. Of these 600, about 200 were originally provided by the local authorities. This is the situation which 1630 applied all through the war and still obtains today.
Since the war, and whilst the present control arrangements have been in operation, both this Government and their predecessor have decided upon a policy of moderate concentration of slaughtering facilities as a long-term objective. There is no disagreement between us on that policy. In February, 1953, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I appointed two committees to prepare a plan for implementing this policy of moderate concentration, and the preparation of this plan is well under way at the moment.
As hon. Members will appreciate, the task is necessarily a long and fairly complicated one, as it involves consultations with a large number of interests, including local authorities. But I want to emphasise that that is the policy to which we are committed, and we shall work steadily towards that goal. Nevertheless, it must be recognised that the policy of moderate concentration cannot be achieved except over a period of many years. Even when the siting plans have been agreed to, it will take some considerable time for them to be implemented, and this can only be done piecemeal.
In the meantime, we have to provide for the new situation Which will arise when meat is derationed and decontrolled. The House already knows that it is the Government's intention to decontrol in July. We have now decided that rationing, price control and Ministry distribution of meat, and also of bacon, will end at midnight on Saturday, 3rd July next. The war-time controls over the purchase and slaughter of fatstock will be withdrawn shortly before to allow the trade to resume its activities without any interruption in supplies to the public. Meat importers, also, will be free to resume their former business, and private importation of meat will begin as soon as the Ministry's contracts are completed. In the meantime, importers will get their supplies from the Ministry's stocks.
I aim sure the House would not wish me to burden it with all the details of this arrangement, but they are of tremendous importance to the trade and we shall shortly be publishing leaflets giving in great detail, for the information of farmers and others, the arrangements for marketing of home-produced livestock 1631 and the working of the new fatstock guarantees. The Farmers' Fatstock Marketing Corporation, which I am very glad to see, from the Press announcement, is being established by the National Farmers' Union, will be entitled to the guarantees just as any other seller presenting animals or carcasses for certification.
I am satisfied that early July is the right time for this very considerable operation. We need a little time for the running in of the new marketing machinery before the livestock entries begin to rise rapidly to the peak, which comes a little later. By "machinery," I do not mean so much the ordinary machinery of paying the guarantees—although that is certainly a not inconsiderable job of work—but rather the whole business of marketing, the organisation of the fatstock markets, the grading arrangements and the organisation of an adequate slaughtering system.
It may be that a few months' postponement would have enabled a local authority to make more detailed preparations, but any such local advantage would be far outweighed by the general inconvenience to the auctioneers, the farmers and the meat trade generally, not to mention the consumers, if the introduction of the new system were delayed for a few months when the presentation of livestock had become much heavier than it will be in early July. Moreover, I doubt very much whether the existing system of control, with its rigidities of allocations and distribution, could go successfully through another peak-kill season.
Therefore, last December my right hon. Friend and I asked the two inter-Departmental committees to which I have just referred to consider what interim arrangements would be necessary to ensure that meat distribution could be satisfactorily carried out on decontrol next summer. The committees, which have taken evidence from local authorities, producers and other trade interests, reported in January this year, and on 17th February the Government announced their acceptance of the committees' reports in all except one particular.
To make sure that local authorities were aware of the situation, circular letters were sent to them all on 24th February and, in more detail, on 24th March, 1632 advising them of their proposed duties and responsibilities, and urging them to enter into immediate consultation with the trade interests concerned in their own areas. In addition, I met their representatives on 3rd March and I further took the opportunity, on the occasion of the annual conference of the Association of Municipal Corporations on 1st April, at Bournemouth, to address them on the problems and difficulties with which they were faced.
I have also had consultations with the trade interests, and only yesterday I addressed the annual conference of the National Federation of Retail Meat Traders on this and other related matters. I am perfectly satisfied that by now all the interests concerned are well aware of the position which will obtain on 3rd July, and I am satisfied that they are getting on with their arrangements.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
Can the Minister give us some indication why he has not yet met any representatives of the trade unions—the workers in the industry? While he rightly refers to his meetings with the trade interests, I should not like it to be thought that they included the workers concerned, whom he has not yet met, so far as I am aware.
§ Major Lloyd George
I need hardly say that consultations have taken place with my Department, though not with me, personally. I should be glad at any time to meet a deputation of that sort if I thought it would be of any value.
It may be argued that this Bill should not have been brought forward at this stage, and that we should delay decontrol until the policy of moderate concentration could be carried out. As I have already pointed out, this policy is bound to take some years to implement, and the Government cannot possibly contemplate continuing the control of the meat and livestock industry throughout the whole of that time. I do not think that the system in its present form could continue to operate successfully with increasing supplies; nor would the public tolerate control devised for years of rationing and scarcity once supplies became more plentiful.
What we have to do, therefore, and what this Bill sets out to do, is to enable local authorities and other interested parties to make suitable arrangements for 1633 slaughtering on decontrol. We are endeavouring to establish a modus vivendi which will enable decontrol to operate successfully while at the same time not doing anything to prejudice the long-term policy, for it must be recognised that conditions in the marketing and slaughtering of livestock on decontrol will differ very considerably from those that have been known to us for the last 14 years.
The private trader, for example, will have to study the needs of his customers, the type and quality of the meat his customers want, far more than was possible under a scheme of rationing and allocation. Stock will not be bought and allocated by one central authority, as it has been over the last 14 years, but by private traders buying competitively, and for this reason it is absolutely necessary to have available considerably more premises than the 600 or so the Ministry has used in England and in Wales. The situation in Scotland, by the way, is rather different. [HON. MEMBERS: "How many?"] Six hundred, but the situation in Scotland is different.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has not quite got the point. I understood him to say that his view is that we shall need more than 600. What we are asking is how many more?
§ Major Lloyd George
I did not understand. I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. It is not easy to give an accurate figure for the reason that much depends on the size of those which will be licensed, but I should say that the figure will be about 2,500. I should think so.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
Does this mean that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is denying the statement made in another place by the Minister of State, Scottish Office, that it would be between 3,000 and 3,500?
§ Major Lloyd George
It is not a question of denying anything. I am not sure to what statement of my noble Friend the right hon. Gentleman is alluding. The figure I have given is the nearest I can give, and there is no question of my denying anything. In the nature of things the number is bound to depend on the size of the slaughterhouses. That will make an enormous difference, as the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate.
1634 Because of the need for more than the 600, many slaughterhouses which have not been used since 1939 will have to be brought back into operation. It may be expected that the needs of farmers and butchers will be to a large extent met by the provision of public slaughtering facilities by local authorities either in premises now used by the Ministry or in other premises acquired or appropriated for this purpose. The demand for slaughterhouse accommodation, however, will not be fully met by this means and private slaughtering will have a considerable part to play in meeting the nation's requirements for meat of the right type and quality at the right place and time.
As for the Bill itself, the House will see that it is divided into three Parts. The first Part relates to England and Wales, the second Part relates to Scotland, and the third contains some general provisions. It has been necessary to legislate separately for England and Wales and for Scotland partly because in many respects the position in Scotland is less unsatisfactory than it is, as far as slaughterhouses are concerned, in England and Wales.
§ Major Lloyd George
We have to face the situation as it is. In Scotland there is just about the necessary number to carry out the scheme.
§ Mr. David J. Pryde (Midlothian and Peebles)
I should not like the House to believe that everyone in Scotland is of the same way of thinking as the Minister.
§ Major Lloyd George
I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman means by that. I should be very surprised if they all were. However, I think the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that the situation in Scotland, as far as the necessary numbers are concerned, is very much more satisfactory than it is in England.
§ Major Lloyd George
Taking Scotland as a whole, the number is pretty near what will be wanted, according to the best advice I can get. Probably my hon. 1635 Friend will be able to confirm that. Apart from the fact that in this respect the situation is better in Scotland than in England and Wales, the law relating to slaughterhouses was consolidated in England and Wales in the Food and Drugs Act, 1938, which does not in this respect apply to Scotland. Accordingly, the Scottish Clauses of the Bill contain a complete code for the provision of slaughterhouses by local authorities, the registration of private slaughterhouses, their closure, and the payment of compensation; whereas in England we have had to proceed by way of an amendment of an existing Act which was not designed to cope with the situation I have outlined.
The 1938 Act covered a situation in which there were widespread slaughtering facilities in England and Wales, some 12,000 premises. The new situation comes 14 years after the commencement of the operation of that Act, after 14 years when, under a rigid control system, there have been only some 600 premises in use; and now it is desired as an interim measure to open some, but by no means all, of the previously existing slaughterhouses. The essential requirement is to ensure that sufficient slaughterhouse accommodation will be available on 3rd July. This is of paramount importance, and Clauses 1 to 7 impose on local authorities the duty of exercising the powers conferred on them by the Bill to secure the provision of such additional facilities as may be required.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
Must the local authority's slaughterhouses be within its area?
§ Major Lloyd George
Not necessarily. If the local authority so wishes, the slaughterhouse need not be within its own area. Clause 1 sets out the means whereby local authorities can provide public slaughterhouses under the powers they already have under the Food and Drugs Act. Clause 2 enables them, with the consent of the Minister of Food, to revise the maximum charges prescribed by local legislation for the use of public slaughterhouses, for in many cases these charges are entirely out of line with present-day costs.
As far as licences in England and Wales are concerned, these have at present to be renewed annually Clause 3. which 1636 deals with the granting of licences, gives the local authorities discretion in certain cases to grant licences up to the end of July, 1959. This should induce occupiers of slaughterhouses to make the necessary improvements to their premises to render them fit for use. All these measures are designed to ensure that there will be sufficient facilities on decontrol.
However, at this stage—and this is very important—we do not regard it as desirable that either local authorities or private interests should build new slaughterhouses which might conflict with the long-term siting plan which is now being prepared. We have to take care that we do not reproduce in a different and in a more costly form the unorganised pattern of the pre-war years. The House will note that, therefore, Clause 3 (2) prohibits the granting of a licence for premises which have not been used as a slaughterhouse during the last 20 years, unless the consent of the Minister is first obtained. The remaining subsections of Clause 3 provide for the refusal of licences where hygiene regulations are not complied with, and in this respect they also bring all slaughterhouses under the same licensing system.
§ Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman refers to the hygienic conditions of the slaughterhouses. Is he thinking of the slaughtermen as well as of the slaughterhouses? If not, will he exercise any powers he may have under the 1938 Act to see that welfare conditions are provided in the slaughterhouses for the men?
§ Major Lloyd George
This refers purely to premises, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate. Regulations made under the 1938 Act will not be interfered with by this Bill. As the hon. Gentleman will know, I hope to get through an amended form of the Act which may cover this point.
Under Clause 4 of the Bill, local authorities are empowered to close private slaughterhouses where they are satisfied that adequate public slaughtering accommodation is available in the same or in neighbouring districts. They can also refuse fresh licences under those conditions. Compensation is provided for in Clause 5, which extends the provision of the Food and Drugs Act, where it is laid down that compensation is payable only 1637 when slaughterhouses are closed because of the provision of public facilities. Under this Clause compensation is payable where the local authority passes a resolution before the end of this year refusing to grant a further licence, resulting in the rejection of an application for a licence for premises which were being used at the outbreak of war.
The basis of compensation is the reduction in the value of any person's interest in the premises or in any land held therewith as a result of the resolution. Doubts as to whether compensation is payable or as to the amount thereof are to be determined by the Lands Tribunal. The Government propose to contribute 50 per cent, towards the compensation paid by local authorities in the exercise of these powers. This is a charge which will become due as a result of improvements made over a period of years, and these improvements will in many ways be in the interests of the public health requirements of the local authorities. It is a charge which we consider should be borne equally by local authorities and by the Government and should not fall completely on either party. As the law now stands, the whole of the compensation bill falls on the local authorities.
Turning to the Scottish part of the Bill, Clauses 7 and 8 deal with the provision of public slaughterhouses by local authorities, and the making of charges for their use. Clauses 9 and 10 deal with the registration of private slaughterhouses and the refusal and cancellation of registrations. The system proposed for Scotland differs from that in England, where we have an annual licensing system. The local authority can refuse to renew a licence if hygiene regulations are not complied with, subject to an appeal to the court, and the court can cancel a licence if local byelaws are not complied with. In Scotland a permanent registration will be granted, but the local authority can cancel a registration if the slaughterhouse is no longer required or if the premises or the occupier are unsuitable. There is a right of appeal in those cases to the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Clause 11 provides for compensation on the same basis as in England and Wales. Cause 12 enables local authorities to make byelaws for the hygienic conduct and proper management of 1638 slaughterhouses, a power which already exists under Section 58 of the Food and Drugs Act for England and Wales. Clause 13 confers rights of entry similar to those available in England and Wales under Section 77 of the Act, and Clause 14 deals with the compulsory purchase of land. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will deal with the Scottish provisions more fully should the House require more detailed information during the debate.
This is a somewhat technical Bill and I hope I have not wearied the House unduly with matters of a complex and technical character. I can assure the House that the aim of the Bill is to provide adequate slaughtering facilities for 3rd July, when meat is decontrolled, while at the same time leaving the way clear for the long-term concentration plan which will be implemented in the years to come. I hope, therefore, that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 4.15 p.m.
Mr. Alfred Rubens (Blyth
): We have listened with great interest to the Minister dealing with what he says is a technical Bill. He suggested that it may well be that hon. Members on this side of the House may have come to the conclusion that there was no need for this Bill at this time. I have no doubt that many of my hon. Friends will develop that argument, but we are anxious that this part of the Parliamentary day should finish a little earlier than scheduled, so I shall deal rather broadly with the Bill itself; although I am sure the Minister will hear from my hon. Friends about the necessity of the Bill at all.
The Minister is correct when he says that the previous Government adopted a policy of moderate concentration, and we are glad to know that the present Government have agreed to carry on that policy and that it is their determination to have moderate concentration for the future. We are having this Bill because of new circumstances which have arisen, due to the policy of the Government to decontrol in July. The main result of that is that there must be a much greater number of slaughterhouses available at that time, otherwise decontrol cannot take place.
I am sure that most hon. Members on this side were disappointed that the 1639 Minister did not appear to know the number of slaughterhouses that will be required. I turned up the Official Report of the proceedings in another place and in answer to a specific question the Minister of State, Scottish Office, said:It is difficult to estimate but the figure is put at somewhere about 3,000 to 3,500."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords. 25th March, 1954; Vol. 186, c. 754.]There is a big difference between that figure and the figure of 2,500 which the Minister now gives us and a very big difference between that and the present number of slaughterhouses in use, which I think he said was about 600. I had a figure of 482, but perhaps I did not include the Scottish slaughterhouses. However, we need not quarrel too much about the exact figure. What has emerged is that the Ministry is embarking on a policy not knowing the facts. It may well be that, because it does not know the facts, there will be absolute chaos when decontrol takes place in July.
Later, I wish to say something about the people working in this industry in order to show what difficulties lie before the Ministry and about which no steps have been taken to obviate them. When the Minister told us that he had met all the interests concerned, my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) asked why the right hon. and gallant Gentleman had not personally met the trade union representatives. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman frankly admitted that he had not personally met the representatives of the trade unions although it is perfectly true that officers of his Department did meet representatives of the trade union movement.
As always, they were very courteous and helpful in every way, but, as the records of the discussion will show, it is a fact that on a number of occasions the officers had to say, "That is a political question, and, obviously, we cannot deal with political questions." But the Minister can, and it is his responsibility to do so. Many people involved in this are very important, because they are the people who are actually to do the slaughtering. Until the beasts are slaughtered there is not much chance of consumers getting their meat from the butchers' shops. I think that ought to be looked at very much more closely.
1640 I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that when he sent out his circular to the local authorities on 24th February he asked them to start.
without delay consultations with the organisations representing farmers and meat traders in their districts to ascertain what slaughtering facilities will be required to enable the distribution of home-killed meat to proceed smoothly on decontrol.There is no mention of the local authorities taking0 into consultation the local trade union officers whose members are engaged in the actual slaughtering of the cattle. The Minister's attention was drawn to that point, and on 24th March he sent out another circular which stated:The Minister hopes that local authorities have already had or have arranged for consultations with the organisations representing the local interests concerned, and, where appropriate, for such consultations to be undertaken jointly with other authorities.A local authority would not gather that that circular was intended to implement the previous circular; and, in fact, the workers' representatives had been left out of the previous circular. I think that it would have been wise if the Minister, when he asked the local authorities to contact the farmers and meat traders, had said quite specifically, "and we want the people representing the workers in this industry."
I hope that, at this stage, the Minister will feel that it is possible to make it perfectly clear, either in a statement or by the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies to the debate, that it is the desire of the Minister that the local authorities should consult not only the farmers and the meat traders but the representatives of the local trade unions which have in their membership a number of those who are actually engaged in the important task of slaughtering.
Some of us feel that it would have been better if we could have had the final report of the inter-Departmental committee. But I take the Minister's point that even if we had had that report on the siting of the new abattoirs, or what is to be the building programme, that it would take some years in the present economic circumstances actually to build the new abattoirs to look after this moderate concentration, and in order that there should be decontrol it is necessary right away to have this Measure. I take it that it is a purely 1641 temporary measure which will disappear when a final Bill is brought to this House to deal with the whole question of slaughtering, after we have had the report of the inter-Departmental committee.
We are anxious that nothing should be done by this Bill to prejudice the future implementation of the policy which the present Government accept, and the Labour Government previously agreed to, of a moderate concentration of slaughtering. We shall have to examine this question in Committee very carefully, in a constructive way, to make sure that we do not produce a Bill which will mitigate against the policy laid down by this Government and by the previous Administration.
I believe—and I am sure my hon. Friends share this view—that it is highly-undesirable to have any substantial increase in the number of slaughterhouses. I think that before the war there were about 11,500 slaughterhouses which were inadequate. I need not go into a description of the conditions in those slaughterhouses which, I think, is well-known. I do not think that there is any difference between the two sides of the House when I say that we do not want to return to the slaughterhouses in existence in those days. Therefore, it is important that in the administration of this Bill, when it becomes an Act, we should insist that the local authorities which now have the onus of providing slaughtering facilities should not licence more slaughterhouses than are really necessary for this job.
It will need all the efforts of the Ministry in the regions to make sure that is not done. I can well understand that, in view of the difficulties which face the local authorities because of this big task which is put on their shoulders, the easiest way will be to licence a whole number of slaughterhouses. They may find, subsequently, that they are not all necessary, and in that case the whole problem of compensation would come back. I hope that the Ministry's regional officials will work closely with the local authorities, giving them the best advice based on 14 or 15 years' experience of running the meat scheme, and that the Minister will see that his officials render all assistance to the local authorities.
The question of slaughterhouses brings us to the problem of clean food and the 1642 clean food campaign with which we are all associated in this House. Mr. Priestley, who is the Chief Sanitary Inspector of Blackpool Corporation, said, in 1943, at a conference of the Sanitary Inspectors' Association:It is generally considered that the ideal slaughterhouse should consist of (1) suitable lairage; (2) slaughter halls for cattle, sheep and pigs; (3) cooling rooms; (4) detention room and inspection room with lavatory equipment; (5) condemned meat room; (6) facilities for the treatment of edible offals and by-products and condemned meat; (7) inspectors' room; (8) staff room with cooking and washing facilities; (9) adequate boiler plant.These were the conditions laid down by a very experienced meat inspector, and I think they are the minimum required in slaughterhouses. I am equally sure that we shall not get that minimum in all slaughterhouses now to be licensed by the local authorities. They do not exist and it would take some time to bring them up to anything like that standard; it is doubtful whether, in many cases, local authorities would want to bring them up to that standard because of the scheme which is to come later.
They are not anxious to build up a bigger compensation account for them to settle or to use money at this stage for a temporary period. Therefore, we are saying to the local authorities, "You must now provide sufficient slaughterhouses to meet the necessity of the trade on 3rd July in your area, and, at the same time, you must also make absolutely certain that meat inspection is as efficient and as well-done as it was before."
In 1954, we are much more concerned about hygiene and cleanliness in relation to food than we were 15 years ago. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary, who is a member of the medical profession, could say a good deal more about that than many of us who are lay people and who perhaps do not appreciate to the same extent the grave danger of dirt and unhygienic methods associated with food preparation.
It is important that we should be certain that the local authorities have sufficient inspectors now to do this job of inspecting adequately, efficiently and thoroughly. We are asking, if we take even the small number mentioned by the Minister, the present inspectors and local authorities to do five times the amount of work—it is really more than five times, 1643 because if they are working in a large abattoir they can get a lot of meat inspected, but if they have to run about to half a dozen abattoirs a great deal of time is taken up in travelling.
I understand that in Stockport, for example, there are two slaughterhouses which have been doing this work during the past 14 or 15 years and the local authority have already licensed, or agreed to license, a further five. It is, therefore, obvious that if there are to be seven slaughterhouses in Stockport, the present number of meat inspectors will be quite inadequate to do this job of inspecting. It will be physically impossible for them to do so. I hope that the Minister, who, I know, is as anxious about this matter as any of us, will make certain that there is no diminution in the standard of inspection by the local authorities.
If ever, as a result of the Bill, T.B. cattle were slaughtered and the meat got on to the market and public disquiet was aroused, it would be a tragedy and a very bad thing for public morale, besides being dangerous for the health of the country. Therefore, it is very important that steps should be taken—the Minister may have to consult his colleague the Minister of Health, who is responsible in this matter—to ensure that the standard of inspection must be no less than it is at present. We should hope to improve it as far as we can.
Turning to the Bill, I share the appreciation expressed by the Minister of the way in which our Scottish friends have looked after their affairs in relation to slaughterhouses. I understand that the majority are owned by local authorities and that by and large not many more slaughterhouses will be required. The problem is, therefore, fairly well solved as far as Scotland is concerned. It is greatly to their credit that they have the machinery already. It is a pity that we have not taken a leaf from their book and had something like it in England and Wales.
In Clause 2 power is taken to substitutea reference to the Minister of Food for the reference to the Minister of Housing and Local Government.I may be wrong, but my impression is that the Minister has for some time been coming to the House and making 1644 speeches in the country, also, in which he has been the joyful mourner of the funeral of his own Department. From time to time he has indicated what a joyful day it will be for him when his Department is closed and he has given the impression that it will not be long before this is done.
Does the substitution in Clause 2 of the Minister of Food for the Minister of Housing and Local Government mean that the Minister has, in his jocular way, been "pulling our legs" and that his Department is not to close? Have the expectations of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and his hon. Friends about closing the Ministry of Food failed to materialist? If his Department is not to continue, it would be strange that the Ministry of Food would want to take power when, very shortly, it will close and the Government must come back to the House for further legislation to put the power back with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. I have no doubt that the Parliamentary Secretary will say something about this when he winds up the debate.
Clause 5 deals with compensation for closure or refusal of licence. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will say exactly what he and the Minister intend in this matter. From my reading of the Clause, it appears that when a licence is refused or a slaughterhouse is closed, the amount of compensation would be the difference between the value of the land and buildings and of the fixtures thereon as between a willing buyer and a willing seller, but not as a going; so that the margin of compensation would be the difference between the value of the business as a going concern and the value of the lands and buildings. I should like the hon. Gentleman to amplify that. We must be extremely careful that the House is not over-generous in compensation, although, at the same time, one always wants to be fair.
During the last 14 or 15 years the Ministry of Food has provided in many of the slaughterhouses which will now go back to private ownership equipment such as electric saws. It may be that provision is not necessary in the Bill and it is purely an administrative matter, but will arrangements be made by the Ministry to ensure that all equipment which has been paid for by the Ministry equally will 1645 be either sold or in some way taken into consideration when slaughterhouses revert to private ownership? It is important that public money should not be given away in the form of capital goods. However, this may well be an administrative matter outside the Bill.
§ Mr. Robens
It was because of that recollection that I should hesitate to introduce a contentious matter like that on such a pleasant afternoon; but I draw the matter to the Parliamentary Secretary's attention and I ask him to note it.
I come next to the workers in the industry. There is likely to be a great deal of difficulty, unless the Ministry takes steps immediately to do one or two things. When the Bill finally becomes law—it has to become law so that decontrol can take place on 3rd July—the ownership of the slaughterhouses will change hands and the employers of the men who are now slaughtering might easily be changed. During the first few weeks, a man might be employed by a local authority as a slaughterman, he might be employed by a contractor or by a private butcher, but certainly he can find himself with a different employer.
§ Mr. Robens
No, I do not think there will be unemployment.
The Minister's problem will be to get sufficient slaughtermen to do the job. A butcher with, perhaps, five or 10 shops may want a good slaughterman and might draw him away at possibly a better rate of pay to do slaughtering in another slaughterhouse that has been opened up. When the skilled slaughterman, of whom there are only 3,000 in the country, are dissipated a little, they may not be sufficient to do the whole job of slaughtering. This is one of the problems with which the Minister will be faced and which he must meet. I appreciate my hon. Friend's anxiety, but he need not worry that any slaughtermen will be out of work. The reverse is likely to be the case.
§ Mr. Thomas
I had in mind more than one possibility. The unemployment might arise even though there is urgent need for the services of these people in different 1646 parts of the country. In many cases it may not be convenient for these men to take other employment where it is available elsewhere, and as a result they may be employed in their own areas.
§ Mr. Robens
I do not think that that will happen.
The important thing is that at present area agreements for wages and conditions cover all these people, and they cover them with their present employers. There is nothing in the Bill at all to protect the wages and conditions of those people who at present know who their employer is, but who do not know who their employer will be in the first week in July, nor what are the arrangements for carrying on the agreements which have been freely reached between workmen and employers.
This is not a matter we want to write into the Bill. It is something on which the employers and the trade union concerned can reach agreement. What is important is that there should be an arrangement before 3rd July about the new agreements on wages and conditions that have already been laid down and how they should continue. Unless that is done the Minister might be faced with the fact that on 3rd July men not covered by their trade union agreements would feel that they could not go on doing their job if those agreements were not continued.
I do not think that many people in the trade would dream of holding a pistol at anybody's head about this, but it is a fair point. The men have been covered for long periods by trade union agreements which are satisfactory to themselves, and there should be some protection for those agreements. A Bill should not be put through this House without the necessary steps being taken to see that the men are no worse off under the new agreements than they were under the old.
I hope that the Minister, having listened to what I have said in this respect, will take the necessary steps. I regret very much that he personally did not see on one occasion the trade union representatives who went to the Ministry. They mot officials and they were well and courteously received. They were giver all the answers to their questions in a very friendly way. But there was no one to discuss the political matters they 1647 raised, and I hope that even now the Minister will find it possible to invite representatives of the T.U.C. to see him on these matters.
§ Major Lloyd George
I need hardly assure the right hon. Gentleman that at any time I shall be only too glad to see any members of trade unions. In various Ministries I have had long and happy contacts with trade union leaders, and I am only too happy to see them if that is desired.
§ Mr. Robens
I am indebted to the Minister for saying that, because it will allay some of the anxieties that were felt in certain quarters. It may be that by this time the officials of his Department have done all that is necessary, but the fact that these trade union representatives will be able to see the Minister, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has now stated, will be helpful.
My hon. Friends will have many detailed matters to raise, as well as some technical questions, and I conclude by urging the Minister to recommend clearly, to the local authorities that they should consult the local representatives of the trade unions catering for slaughterhouse employees. I hope that further consideration will be given to the question of who the slaughterhouse facilities will be provided for, because this raises the important question about which I have been talking. I hope that the Minister will ensure that there are no more slaughterhouses than are really needed, which would mean a waste of financial and material resources, and an increase in distribution costs.
I hope that the Minister will ensure that leaving this task to the local authorities will not result in the duplication of facilities in adjacent districts. What I mean is that local authorities, because of pride in their area, will desire a slaughterhouse of their own despite the fact that in an adjacent area there are facilities which could adequately cover both districts. I want to see joint consultation in such cases. I hope that the Minister will soundly advise local authorities against the reopening of private slaughterhouses on any large scale, which would prejudice the policy of moderate concentration.
1648 We shall listen carefully to what is said in the debate, and particularly to the winding-up speech by the Parliamentary Secretary. On his reply, and how he answers the points raised on the Bill, will depend whether we shall divide against the Bill later in the day.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Captain J. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)
As has already been stated, the situation is different in Scotland; and as I have met local authorities and other interests concerned in my constituency and as I think that it is fairly representative of the general situation in Scotland, I should like to intervene for a few minutes in this debate.
Incidentally, I thank the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) for his congratulations to Scotland. I would add that I do not disagree, broadly speaking, with what he said today. I do not think that at the end of this debate there will be any reason for him to cause a Division to be called, because both sides of the House agree in general outline that we want a policy of moderate concentration. Any difference that there is between one set of interests and another is on the meaning of the word "moderate"
In Scotland, in pre-war days, we had 737 slaughterhouses, 147 of which belonged to local authorities and 590 of which were privately owned. Today we have 88, of which only two are private. The reduction in the number of slaughterhouses has been enormous, and we, as a cattle exporting area, are just a little bit doubtful whether 88 slaughterhouses are going to be adequate, in spite of what the inter-departmental committee has stated. In the end we, as an exporting area, in our own interest would like to kill the cattle and hand over the carcasses to the consuming areas, and it is on that ground that we are worried about these 88 slaughterhouses.
In my own area we would prefer the cattle to go out of our part of the country as meat, provided the railway could carry the meat in such a way that it would arrive in the same condition as it was when it left the farmers, that is to say, in a super-special order. What we are frightened of is that, owing to the shortage of slaughter men and the inexperience of many of them, the meat might 1649 deteriorate not only in the first 24 hours after slaughter, which is the critical time, but that it would deteriorate if the railways did not handle it quickly enough or in an efficient manner.
The local authorities have two other difficulties. They are not going to ask for a subsidy or grant except for the payment of compensation. They want to operate the slaughterhouses without recourse to the rates, but they do not know what their share is going to be under this new system. They are, therefore, in a difficulty about knowing how much space will be required in each slaughterhouse for the private butchers' cattle and for the Farmers' Marketing Corporation's cattle respectively. They do not know what charges to make, nor will they know until they have had some experience of the new system.
Most of the local authorities I have consulted are prepared to play their part and run the slaughterhouses as they are without making too many alterations or improvements. They realise that the situation is temporary. However, they are in a difficulty about knowing what their throughput will be and, on this, what their charges are to be.
Then we come to the question of charges. Some people think that there should be uniform charges throughout Scotland in order to avoid one local authority slaughterhouse from competing with another and therefore drawing the trade. I would regret it if in this Bill we laid down a uniform charge or allowed the Secretary of State for Scotland to do so for all Scotland. I would much prefer that, regionally, local authorities would agree not to compete with each other by fixing charges which would cover them and so in the end not be a burden on the rates. That is important because it may well be that the trade will go to certain slaughterhouses and the others will have to be a charge on the local rates.
Now we come to the conflict between the butchers and the National Farmers' Union. The butchers want local slaughtering and they have a right to get it under the conditions of freedom. None of them wants to operate his own slaughterhouse. In my county there will be no claim for compensation because not one did it in 1939; they all 1650 used the local authority slaughterhouse. It is quite different from England.
§ Captain Duncan
I have said that already, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth has also said it, so I shall not pay any more attention to such an obvious truth. The butchers, however, in many cases still want to use the stalls in the local authority slaughterhouses, whereas the National Farmers' Union have said that they want centralised slaughterhouses. In other words, here there is a conflict between the meaning of the word "moderate," and the future seems to lie in a further small restriction in the number of slaughterhouses but certainly modernised and improved.
Here we come up against a further local authority difficulty. The final report of the inter-Departmental committee is not yet out and I want to ask my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland when we can get it, because, until we can get the siting plan, no local authority can make a reasonable forward plan. Angus has adequate facilities and it wants business. It is prepared to modernise—indeed, one of my towns is prepared to build a new slaughterhouse if it is selected on the site plan, and so we are waiting for that plan to see what can be done.
As I have said, we would like our exporting areas to slaughter on the spot and to transport in carcass form to the consuming markets. Forfar Town is an instance of the size of our exporting areas. In one grading station there last year 8,000 fat cattle and 33,000 fat sheep were graded, and, as there are probably 10 grading centres in the region, the House will get some idea of the enormous number of cattle and sheep going through on the hoof at present to the Midlands and the south of England— indeed, all the way to London in many cases. So this is a big trade of great importance and we must not make a mistake.
Therefore, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth that we must not expect too much raising of 1651 hygienic standards, too much spending of money or licensing of new slaughterhouses, in case we upset the final plan. This is a temporary Bill. The right hon. Gentleman ragged the Minister of Food about having his name on the Bill, but my right hon. and gallant Friend is also the temporary Minister of Food. For the time being, therefore, let us take the Bill on its merits, get on with the job, and tell the local authorities to get on with their jobs, and as soon as we can get the final report, we can formulate the policy for the far-distant future.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
In case later on I am tempted to be unduly critical, may I begin in a congratulatory tone? First, I congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary, who has apparently fully recovered from his indisposition. Secondly I congratulate the inter-Departmental committee on the speed with which it worked and then produced this report in 16 days. I also congratulate it on the report, which is excellent. It is a pity that the committee's speed and excellent work on that occasion has not been a precedent to other committees or indeed to itself, because it has not been able to proceed so expeditiously with the siting plan.
I also congratulate the Government on accepting this Report with the exception that local authorities are not given the power, as recommended by the committee, to take over compulsorily premises on lease. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with that when he replies to the debate, because so far the Government have not said why they feel unable to accept the report of the committee in that regard. And I congratulate the Government on accepting the many reasonable Amendments, made in another place, which will expedite the progress of the Bill through this House and lighten our labours. And it is about as far as I can go.
Now to be critical—and I am being critical of the Government at large, not especially of the Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary, or their Department. Indeed, I want to repeat what I said on a previous occasion when we were discussing the Private Member's Bill on slaughtering which implemented the Northumberland Report. It ought to be 1652 more widely known that the Department has done an excellent job in improving conditions in our slaughterhouses and has gone about as far as it is possible to go under present conditions. The Department has certainly made a big change in the conditions obtaining in our slaughterhouses.
My first general criticism of the Government is that they have failed to face the essential fundamental problem. It is simply this, that the slaughterhouses of this country are a national disgrace. The Government have failed to tackle this problem, and of course they are aware of it They have failed to do so because any real solution demands a considerable capital expenditure. I would urge, however, that we have now reached the position when we can no longer tolerate this situation and we must give a high priority to the physical improvement of our slaughterhouses.
I would remind the House of another excellent report, that of the inter-Departmental committee on meat inspection which was presented in 1951. The difficulty which faced that committee was that it was compelled to realise that we cannot provide for adequate meat inspection with our present unsatisfactory premises. I shall quote only one paragraph from the report:In general, therefore, in many of the slaughterhouses used at the present time physical conditions fall far short of the minimum standard necessary for the effective inspection of meat and for the observance of reasonable standards of cleanliness.The really alarming thing is that this report refers only to the 600 or so slaughterhouses at present in use; nevertheless, the majority even of those are sufficiently unsatisfactory to impair meat inspection.
The second major criticism I have of the Government is that, apart from failing to tackle the real problem, they have been guilty of being inexcusably dilatory in doing anything at all. It was on 1st August, 1951 when, after considerable consultation and inquiry, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, Central (Mr. Webb) told the House that seven new slaughterhouses in addition to Fare-ham and Guildford were to be built, and he then gave the House an assurance that we would extend this emergency programme as fast as we could. What has the Minister done about that? I know 1653 the difficulties and I am criticising the Government more than the Department. What has been done to extend this programme? My right hon. Friend further said that he recognised the need to extend the capacity for dealing with pigs. There has been an enormous increase in the number of pigs since that statement was made. What has been done to extend the capacity to deal with them?
Finally, he announced a policy of moderate concentration. What have the present Government done about that? They have reconsidered the problem. One cannot complain about that. They were entitled to do so, but it was not until 5th November, 1952, that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman announced the Government's decision to continue the policy of moderate concentration announced by the previous Government. I really think that the Government might have been more expeditious about reaffirming that decision. The Minister then announced that the Government would proceed to the drawing up of the siting plan. That was 18 months ago, and we are still told that that is being dealt with. I concede at once that that involves very real difficulties, but I emphasise again that it is a matter that we must now treat as one of urgency.
It seems to me that this consideration is of basic, fundamental importance, because all the time that we are considering this Bill we must realise that these steps are being taken against a background of a policy of moderate concentration, now agreed by both parties. I remind the House that the present Government have said what moderate concentration means. The Minister said specifically that it means "some 300 or 400 slaughterhouses throughout Britain "; that is against the 600 at present in use and against the 16,000 in existence in 1932 and the 12,000 which the Minister has said were in existence immediately before the war.
§ Sir R. Boothby
This is very interesting. I should doubt whether the Minister would confirm that, though I would rather hope that he would. Is it his long-term objective to reduce the number to somewhere between 300 and 400 only over the whole country?
§ Mr. Willey
I remind the hon. Member that I am quoting a statement made 1654 by the Minister in the House and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has not chosen to correct it. Therefore, I assume that, as it remains a statement of Government policy, it is the Government's policy.
§ Mr. Willey
If we are to deal with this problem in that way, I should have thought that it would be clear to both sides of the House that it could only be tackled by a public authority. That was agreed in principle by the De La Warr Committee in 1932. However, whether we are agreed or not about the machinery, it is clear that this programme will involve a considerable amount of reconstruction and new building and, as the Minister has indicated, it will take a considerable time to implement.
May I give an illustration? Sunder-land was in the original emergency programme, but in the case of Sunderland we have still not got a single brick laid. I do not throw any criticism at the Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary or the Department or anyone else. Everyone has tried his hardest to get this scheme going, but the difficulty is that even when the location is decided, siting is a very difficult problem when one is dealing with slaughterhouses. Here we have a case where the location is decided and where the scheme is not yet begun.
When Mr. Pascoe, the President of the National Federation of Meat Traders, came to Sunderland the other day, he toured the slaughterhouses and said that the provision of the new slaughterhouse was a matter of urgency. We agree with him, and it is for that reason that we should get on with the essential, fundamental job of tackling the real problem.
I emphasise that, after all, the question of the re-opening of slaughterhouses has been before the Ministry for a considerable number of years. The Ministry has had seven area advisory committees representative of the meat trade, farmers and the slaughtering industry but, as the Minister told the House on 25th April. 1952:It has been found that less than a dozen could effectively be brought into use."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th April, 1952; Vol.499. c. 41.]That is the result of the Ministry's effort over the past few years.
1655 It is quite clear from that—though some may argue that it is unavoidable— that we are taking a retrograde step today. Indeed the Association of Municipal Corporations in a memorandum to the inter-Departmental committee stated:The Association regret that it should be necessary to re-open private slaughterhouses which have been out of use since the early days of the war. They regard this as a most retrograde step and consider that its scope should be limited as far as possible.Whilst, generally speaking, the Government appear to have been dilatory in dealing with the essential problem, in particular their conduct in facing the specific problem of decontrol seems to me to be quite inexplicable.
On 7th December last, as though by revelation, the Minister of Food first realised that decontrol would mean the opening of a large number of new slaughterhouses. He realised for the first time that the impact of decontrol would affect the slaughterhouse policy considerably, and here we are today within nine weeks of decontrol without any greater foresight having been shown with regard of this problem. That is quite inexplicable. I always understood that the Govment were committed to decontrol. We heard a great deal about it at the General Election, and subsequently they made the point that they intended to decontrol as soon as they felt able to do so. Moreover, I give the Minister the point that as the Government progressively decontrolled it became increasingly obvious that the present system of control with heavy overheads could not continue in the case of meat, but why should it have been as late as December last before the Minister realised that this would bring him considerable problems?
In the light of experience of the disastrous handling of decontrol of eggs and cereals, why should we be taking these steps so late in the day? I have every sympathy with the Association of Municipal Corporations. The Association made a practical point when it said:…before the termination of Government control and the reopening of private slaughterhouses there should be a survey in every area of the slaughtering accommodation needed to satisfy the local demand and the local authority should be authorised to limit the number of licences granted to what the survey reveals to be necessary.Surely the Minister does not believe that the local authorities have a large number 1656 of redundant officials who can be called upon the minute he wants something done. All these officials are heavily overworked people who should have been given greater notice to enable them to carry out the survey which the Association believes to be absolutely essential.
There have been all sorts of different interpretations of the Minister's advice. An examination of the "Meat Trade Journal" shows that different authorities are interpreting this advice in different ways, and it is obvious that there will be a great deal of confusion. I do not want to overstate the case, but in fairness I should call the attention of the House to a statement made in Sunderland by Mr. Pascoe who, addressing Sunderland butchers, said:As I see it, unless immediate progress is made we shall arrive at derationing day in a state of chaos. If that happens it may mean that the price of meat will increase tremendously and it is your duty to make it widely known that the fault is not that of the retail trader but the Government's.On Monday, at the conference to which reference has been made, Mr. Pascoe and the father of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) made it quite clear that inadequate slaughtering facilities, in circumstances of decontrol, may lead to dearer meat and, indeed, to the breakdown of the Government's scheme during July or August.
That is a serious warning. I believe and I hope it is unduly pessimistic, because I assure the House that no one wants a breakdown in the supply of an essential commodity such as meat. It is for these compelling reasons that, however critical we may be of the Government—we are not criticising their decision today; we can do that on another occasion—and of the way they have handled the situation, we should now give every assistance to them in expediting the passage of this Bill, because the sooner this Bill passes into law the better for everyone concerned.
The estimate of the Government a few weeks ago was that the Bill would mean 3,000 or 3,500 additional slaughterhouses being opened. The Minister says today that his present estimate is 2,000 to 2,500 and I hope he is right about that. In any case, however, obviously it will present a very real problem this summer. We have to realise that no slaughtermen will have been in those premises since 1657 1939. Those premises have been used for other purposes since 1939 and equipment will have been removed from them to enable their use for other purposes. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) said, there are only 3,000 qualified slaughtermen. If we had even 2,500 slaughterhouses they would be very thin on the ground.
I am sure that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary appreciate that this is a retrograde step in view of the progress we have made, although they would say it was unavoidable. The Parliamentary Secretary looks rather surprised, but it is obvious that in many of these slaughterhouses men engaged in slaughtering will have had no practice since 1939. I should have thought it needed little imagination to realise that this will bring a whole host of difficulties.
We have to accept the decision of the Government and, in face of these difficulties, we should do everything we can to assist them in getting over those difficulties. We should expedite the passage of the Bill and do all that we can to encourage the local authorities to cooperate with one another and with the trade and to try to make things work as smoothly as possible in this very difficult situation.
The Bill has some advantages. As the Minister said, it improves the position regarding licences. It makes it quite clear that public responsibility lies on the local authorities for ensuring that sufficient and satisfactory slaughterhouse accommodation is provided. The inter-Departmental committee concluded its report by saying:The private slaughterhouses must not be allowed to slip back into the condition of the pre-war disorders and numbers. Traders must, however, be given early notification whether they are to be permitted to resume private slaughtering or whether their needs will be met by the provision of public slaughtering facilities.Accepting the decision of the Government, I think the committee gave us excellent advice, and we have no alternative in present circumstances but to implement that advice as speedily as we can. As far as we are able to do so, we should give assistance to see that any difficulties that can be avoided shall be avoided. We have had the assurance of the Minister that, notwithstanding the Bill, he is determined to implement his 1658 policy of moderate concentration as soon as possible. We are agreed on that in all parts of the House. I hope that when we pass this Bill and get the further report of the committee, the House will join in securing the implementation of the committee's recommendations at the earliest possible moment.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)
I wish to give my blessing to this Bill, which I think a valuable one as far as it goes. I have listened to the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) on many occasions when he was speaking on questions about food and today I heard him use the word "moderate" many times. I think that described his speech this afternoon as it was much more moderate than his speeches on previous occasions. I was glad to hear the qualified support he gave to the Bill.
As long as we all realise that it is an interim Measure, dealing with an interim Report and a short step along the road—a backward step from some points of view—we shall keep the matter in the right perspective. I want to make quite sure that we all remember what the perspective is. What we have to look to in the future is the question of how our home-grown meat supplies are to be dealt with. Here we come up against the question of whether the farmers' plans or the butchers' plans are to be given priority.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North spoke of the lateness of decision, but it was not until we got the White Paper on the future of livestock policy last November that we could hope to have any picture of the future. We have to date it from then. Although we all naturally hoped that there would be decontrol of meat in the early future, it comes a little odd from the hon. Member to charge the Government with not being prepared. When we came to office there was not much hope of decontrol. What is remarkable is that we have advanced so quickly, not that we have been dilatory.
§ Mr. Thomas Williams (Don Valley)
I hope the hon. Member is not suggesting, or implying, that since this Government came into office, and through the activities of this Government, we have had more meat to deal with so that it can now be derationed?
§ Mr. Williams
If that is so, may I inform the hon. Member and the Parliamentary Secretary that there has not been a pound of meat consumed in this country since this Government took office that was bred, fed and reared since they were returned?
§ Mr. Godber
This seems to be becoming a rather general debate. If I may continue and disregard the interchanges between the two front Benches, may I say that I accept the remark of the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) with regard to beef, but, of course, not in regard to pig meat. In any case, imports have gone up and the fact is that there is far more meat about. The point is how the future marketing of meat is to be assured.
I do hope that in pursuing this policy of moderate concentration we shall do so in such a way that if the farmers are successful in their plans for co-operative marketing the new slaughterhouses envisaged for the future will fit in with those plans. I regard that as most important. This interim Measure is dealing only with the immediate present by providing sufficient slaughterhouses so that we can overcome the difficulties that inevitably follow decontrol, the difficulties of freedom which are bound to follow after all these years. But it is to the further future that we must look if we are to make a success of this job.
That is why I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend will think very carefully about the whole question of the siting of these slaughterhouses and whether they are better placed in the producing or consuming areas. I do not think that that question has yet been adequately tackled. I hope that when we get the final report of the inter-Departmental committee we shall receive more guidance on this point; and also whether we are to include adequate provision or indeed any provision for the cold storage of home-produced meat. We shall have to face up to that question in the near future.
Furthermore, we o have to face up to the question of dealing with the byproducts, which are so important. That, I should have thought, is one of the major advantages of moderate concentration, if we are to pursue that policy 1660 at all we must also look at the humanitarian point of improving the conditions; that goes without saying, All these matters tie up together. I realise that they do not perhaps enter into the discussion of this particular Bill, but if we are to succeed, as a long-term measure, in seeing that we have adequate provision of slaughtering facilities to assist our housewives, our butchers and farmers to do their job properly, we must look, in the next report, for some real guidance on these matters.
I hope that we shall go right ahead from there without further delay in building these new slaughterhouses as rapidly as we possibly can. Therefore, in giving my approval and blessing to the Ministry for this Bill, I wish to make it quite clear that I do so on the basis of regarding it merely as an interim, necessary Measure for the immediate present. I hope that we shall go a long way further in not too long a time.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Mr. David J. Pryde (Midlothian and Peebles)
I have no intention of being severely critical of the Measure, but some clarification is required, especially with regard to Scotland, and there are questions to be asked. It irritates and annoys me to listen to the casual way in which Scotland is referred to. One would imagine from the remarks of the Minister that everything in the garden was lovely in Scotland. I wish to correct that impression. We must look at the facts and take this Bill to pieces to examine it in order to make sure that it will work correctly.
We are told that there is adequate slaughterhouse provision in Scotland. I do not want any of the old private slaughterhouses reopened. They should never have been created. In my burgh we had one and we were glad when a labour town council arrived on the scene and disposed of it. From the City of Edinburgh, to North Berwick, however, there are only three slaughterhouses, one at Gorgie, in Edinburgh, which supplies a large part of South-East Scotland, one in Midlothian, at Dalkeith, and one in East Lothian and Berwickshire. I challenge anyone with any knowledge of the topography of the south bank on the River Forth to say that this is adequate provision. Even the Minister will agree, I think, that the slaughterhouses which 1661 are in operation today, especially in Scotland, are most unhygienic and require reconstruction.
The county of Midlothian alone has a population of 100,000, and one old-fashioned slaughterhouse, in Dalkeith, is not sufficient to meet our requirements. The nearest slaughterhouse to Dalkeith is 30 miles east or 30 miles south. The method of transporting the meat—[Interruption.] I said 30 miles east or 30 miles south. I did also mention that there was one at Gorgie, a very fine slaughterhouse but it serves a very large community.
There is no mention in the Bill of the hygienic transport of meat. The Minister will no doubt tell me that that is dealt with under the Food and Drugs Act, but let us remember that what is taking place today in this respect is dangerous. 1 have seen, in my own constituency, lorry loads of meat standing in a narrow street, inadequately covered, with the public passing close by. I do not require to emphasise the danger in summer-time, when insects are numerous. The Minister should take cognisance of these matters and see that ample and adequate provision is made for the transport of food.
The Bill tells us that the local authorities will build and reconstruct the slaughterhouses. Let us see what that means in Scotland. We have in Scotland a Convention of Royal Burghs, which has 196 constituent units. There are four counties of cities, and, so far as expenditure for slaughterhouses is concerned, in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, or Glasgow it means absolutely nothing. There are 20 large burghs with a population of more than 20,000. but many of them today have rates of over £1. There are 172 small burghs whose populations range from 750 to 20,000. Many of them have a population of between 1,000 and 5,000, with a rateable value that means an additional 3d. or 6d. on the rates if a £2,000 bill has to be met.
The House will readily understand the delicate edge on which the local government economy in Scotland is balanced. It is all very well for the Government, with the assistance of their Welsh and Irish allies, to inflict upon Scotland Measures which practically make chaos of the local government economy there; just as they did, for example, quite 1662 recently in the case of the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill. If the Government had kept the Irish and the Welsh away we should have beaten the Government completely, and that Bill would never have got any further—[Interruption.] I am not saying that I am not blaming the English, but that it is because of the Irish and Welsh supporters of the Government that they were not defeated.
That is the position so far as the Scottish local government economy is concerned, and that aspect must be taken into consideration if Scotland's slaughterhouse requirements are to be adequately met. Local authorities in Scotland will never be in a position to tackle the building of slaughterhouses unless they receive ample assistance. In my own constituency one small burgh has a rate of 26s. l0d. in the £. In one area in the county of Peebles the rate is 25s. 6d. in the £.
We feel that this Bill will impose another strain on the economy of our small burghs because in those small burghs the sanitary inspector is usually a man who has several jobs—he is several officials rolled into one: he is the sanitary inspector, he is the inspector of food, the borough engineer and the borough surveyor. That is the position in the small burghs in Scotland, and it simply means that if more duties—
§ Mr. Pryde
Yes, unfortunately for Scotland the position has been greatly determined by what she has had to give to England, both in men and money; it is not going too far to say that.
The Government must bring the Bill under very close review in order to see that Scotland's requirements for slaughterhouses are amply met.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)
I shall say only a few words. We are all agreed on both sides of the House, I think, that this Bill is indispensable, and that the sooner it is rushed through the better.
§ Sir R. Boothby
I think we are nearly all agreed on that point, and are agreed 1663 that if it is not passed quickly there is no doubt that the chaos in the marketing of meat after the beginning of July will be very great indeed. [HON. MEMBERS: "There will be chaos."] Well, it will be greater if the Bill is not passed.
We are also agreed that, in a sense, the Bill is a step backwards because the Minister has announced that the long-term policy of the Government is a moderate concentration of slaughterhouses, which we know to be right; whereas the Bill inevitably provides for a temporary dispersal or enlargement, rather than a concentration, of slaughterhouses. I do not know what word is the precise opposite of concentration; perhaps it is "scattering." We are to have about 2,500 slaughterhouses in the immediate future instead of the ideal, which the Minister has stated to be about 500.
§ Sir R. Boothby
We have already had this matter out on the Floor. One hon. Member stated that that was the figure given by the Minister, and the Minister did not contradict him. I think that is the ultimate objective; and it is the right objective, from the long-term point of view.
What I fear, and what we must all fear a little, is a kind of rash of second-rate slaughterhouses all over the country, with unhygienic conditions, and with a possible danger of food contamination, among other things. There is some anxiety on that count, because we have to set up what might be called an improvised slaughterhouse system.
As has been said, the methods of slaughtering in this country have never been very satisfactory. Before the war they were not satisfactory; they were certainly below the standard which ought to have been reached. I believe the Minister will agree that many of the 600 slaughterhouses we have today are below standard; they do not achieve the conditions which we should reach ideally, and which we should all like to see in our slaughterhouses. These slaughterhouses certainly do not provide the cold storage facilities or the facilities for dealing with by-products on the spot, which I believe to be essential if we are ever to have an efficient marketing system for meat.
1664 There is one question I want to put to the Parliamentary Secretary, if he is to reply. One hon. Member congratulated the inter-Departmental Committee on the speed with which it had produced its Interim Report. I think we must now ask the Committee to exercise even greater speed in producing its Final Report, because it is time we knew what the ultimate objective is, and what the final siting plan is to be. Until we know that I do not see that any of us can do very much. I do not see how the Minister can do very much. He must tell these practical and intelligent and very able gentlemen—I know one or two on the Scottish Committee and they are first-class—that they must sit and sit, and work very hard indeed, to get these plans produced in their final form at the earliest possible moment.
It will take years to implement the programme in full. We want a first-class slaughterhouse system, without which we can never have a first-rate marketing system for meat; and until we get the final plan we cannot even make a start I therefore ask my hon. Friend to give an undertaking that he will bring great pressure to bear on the inter-Departmental Committees, both in England and in Scotland, to produce their final reports as early as possible, so that we all know where we stand.
This morning, the farmers produced their proposal to establish a fatstock marketing corporation. I have always thought that my right hon. Friend underestimated the determination of the farmers to sell their meat on dead-weight and grade according to the quality of the carcass, and not through fiddling little auction marts all over the country. They are quite determined to do it; and, as far as I am concerned, they will get all the encouragement I can possibly give them. They are going right ahead with it, and they are right.
I agree that my right hon. Friend has said in all his White Papers that he will do nothing to discourage the farmers from getting on with it; but I believe he has always thought that, in the end, they would be unable to do it. I am not absolutely sure about the English farmers, who are always rather behindhand. [How. MEMBERS: "No."] They mean very well, but they are not so bright in the head as the Scottish farmers. However, now that so many Scotsmen are 1665 becoming English farmers, I am much more optimistic about the prospects.
Not so long ago I attended a meeting, curiously enough in the constituency of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and afterwards several farmers said they would like to stay and have a talk; and I was astonished and delighted to find that so many of them came from Angus and Forfar and Aberdeenshire. They were farming very well at Saffron Walden, and were making a very good job of it. They had the right ideas about meat. I think the gospel is spreading; and I beg the Government to believe that the farmers of Scotland really do mean business about meat marketing, and mean to sell their meat on dead-weight and grade, on the hook.
This means not only the moderate concentration of slaughterhouses to which the Minister has referred; it also means provision, in the long-term plan, of adequate cold storage facilities. These facilities are totally lacking at present, and I believe that they are perhaps more important than anything else. We must also provide facilities for processing on the spot, as I have already said.
These things will have to come; but what can we do in the interim period? I ask for an assurance that the Government will insist on as high a standard at the slaughterhouses which are to be reopened as is practical. We must not let the standard slip lower than we can help. It should not be impossible to maintain a reasonably high standard, certainly at many of the slaughterhouses which are to be reopened in Scotland, or are to be continued under different auspices.
Here again we are a little more fortunate in Scotland than the people in England, and we should be able to maintain a reasonably high standard. It will require competent inspectors, and I should like some assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary about adequate inspection. Another point on which I particularly want an assurance from my hon. Friend is this: it will also require Government graders, so that farmers who sell on the hook will be able to qualify for the individual subsidy under the Government scheme.
As a kind of subsidiary organization to the Farmers' Fatstock Marketing Corporation, there has been a movement in my constituency, at Buchan, which I 1666 have done my best to foster, for a cooperative marketing organisation for sales of meat on dead-weight. It has made most encouraging progress. In the first phase, I believe, the meat will go to the abattoirs at Fraserburgh and Peterhead; and there will probably be two more slaughterhouses established, certainly one at Turriff, and I hope another at Huntly.
I want to be sure that there will be Government graders to see that the meat is properly marked and graded, so that farmers who prefer to sell on dead weight and grade may have an opportunity of doing so, and of qualifying for the individual subsidy. My right hon. Friend may be interested to know that already farmers in the North-East have established contact with some of the big distributors in the South for sales of meat on the hook, graded and marked by these distributors, who will consign it direct to the centres of the South, as the market dictates and requires.
We have. talked a lot—and at moments I myself have talked a lot—of hot air about marketing; but in so far as marketing means getting the stuff from the producer on to the butcher's counter with the least possible delay and at the least possible cost, surely direct contracts between the farmers themselves and the big distributors who are, in turn, in close touch with the butchers, must be the most economical and efficient way of doing it. If it is done first on a regional basis it can be enlarged later.
§ Sir R. Boothby
If hon. Gentlemen get me on to bulk buying I shall be talking until twenty past six.
My final words are these. Why are we making such progress in Buchan with this marketing scheme, and with the whole idea of co-operative sales organisation? Why are the big butchers coming up to us from England? Why are the dead meat salesmen and the distributors coming up from the south? Why are we negotiating direct contracts? Why am I asking for an adequate staff of graders to grade our meat? There is one simple answer, which will not be challenged from any quarter.
It is that Buchan has for years produced incomparably the best beef in the 1667 world. That is the reason why they all come. I do not put it any higher than that. Aberdeen Angus is the best beef in the world, and we are the centre of the Aberdeen Angus breed. There is nothing more to be said; but it should, and will I hope, be an encouragement to other farmers and especially the farmers of England to copy us—to go and do likewise. It is possible to produce very good Aberdeen Angus cattle in England, as well as in Scotland. When they are crossed with shorthorn, they still make good beef.
This is the example we give. My main concern is simply to see that, in our praiseworthy efforts, nothing will be done by the Government to hinder us, and everything will be done to encourage us.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. McNair Snadden)
I hope that the House will forgive me if I intervene now to deal with some of the points raised by Scottish Members, because the Bill is of considerable importance to our country. Perhaps I might make a few general observations to try to show the difference between our part of the Bill and the English part. The most obvious difference between England and Scotland in terms of the Bill is one of form. Part I amends the Food and Drugs Act, whereas Part II enacts for Scotland an entirely new code, because the Food and Drugs Act, 1938, did not apply to slaughterhouses in Scotland.
For that reason, Part II deals rather more fully with a number of matters, such as the power of local authorities to provide slaughterhouses; conditions under which registration of private slaughterhouses may be held; power to make byelaws as to slaughterhouses; and various other administrative provisions which are not paralleled in the English part of the Bill.
The second difference is one of emphasis. Whereas in England and Wales the chief purpose of Part I is to ensure that enough slaughterhouses are brought into operation when we enter decontrol, by giving encouragement to private owners of slaughterhouses to come forward, we in Scotland are in a different position. Our position is exactly the opposite. Our main concern is to 1668 avoid the unnecessary opening of slaughterhouses on decontrol.
The reason is that of the 88 general slaughterhouses in Scotland all but two are owned by the local authorities. Our information from the inter-Departmental Committee, presided over by Sir John Handford, was that the slaughterhouses under control are coping, and with something to spare, with the existing killing operations in Scotland. Having regard to our long-term aim to effect a moderate concentration we are taking steps to allow new slaughterhouses to come into being only if circumstances fully justify them.
Hon. Members may be interested to know the present position. Today, we have 88 slaughterhouses in use, of which 86 are owned by local authorities, private slaughterhouses having almost disappeared. Only two are in existence, but we must remember that because of the geographical nature of our country we have a large number of what are called sheep-killing stations and of privately owned slaughterhouses mostly at the back of butchers' shops, in the remote parts of the Highlands and Islands. Anyone who is worried about the operation of those facilities will be pleased to have the assurance that normally, unless there is something very far wrong—which I do not anticipate—we intend to carry on in the Highlands and Islands with these small slaughterhouses, because, obviously, we must deal with local needs in those areas.
The only other general point I wish to make is that when the Ministry of Food return the slaughterhouses to the full control of the local authorities we in Scotland see no reason at all to anticipate that we shall not be able to operate them through the local authorities as economically as they have been operated under my right hon. and gallant Friend's Ministry. In this respect we had valuable experience during the war and the 14 years of control, and we shall do our utmost to take the best out of the old sytsem and the new, and to produce the most satisfactory answer. I should also mention that, when we get decontrol, in no case can a slaughterhouse be opened without the permission of the Secretary of State.
I should like to deal with some of the arguments which have been put forward. 1669 My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) was worried about the adequacy or otherwise of the 88 slaughterhouses that we have. No one can be absolutely certain what the position will be under decontrol, but the Bill actually lays a duty upon the local authorities to satisfy themselves that they are, in fact, producing proper facilities to meet the reasonable requirements of the area. Therefore, it is a duty on the local authorities which never before existed.
My hon. and gallant Friend was worried about charges under control and whether there should be a uniform rate. That is a matter for the local authorities. It will be necessary for them to consult all the interests concerned before coming to decisions on charges, but they will not require to refer to the Minister.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
One of my hon. Friends referred to the most efficient slaughterhouse in Edinburgh. That will revert to Edinburgh as a local authority. May I take it that there is no intention that the work of that slaughterhouse should be confined to butchers in Edinburgh? With modern transport facilities and the efficiency of that slaughterhouse, there is no reason why it should not serve a very wide area round about Edinburgh. I take it that there is no purpose in making local authorities monopolise their own slaughterhouses for their own purposes. They will still be open to general slaughtering by people who are prepared to use them?
§ Mr. Snadden
That is true. The local authorities will provide facilities designed to meet the reasonable requirements of the area. The right hon. Gentleman is quite correct.
My hon. and gallant Friend also raised a question about the conflict of opinion between farmers who want a dead-weight and grade system and the meat trade, and so on. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) also raised the rather technical point. I should like to tell him that in this matter of private centres the question whether deadweight and grade guarantees will be made under decontrol has not been lost sight of, but the initiative must be with the producers. It is not with the Government, although the Government have said in the White Paper that they will facilitate 1670 dead-weight and grade guarantees where the producers put up proper schemes.
I can tell my hon. Friend that the National Farmers' Union is closely in touch with us at present. The unions concerned are taking into account not only the requirements which will come immediately after decontrol but longerterm requirements as well. We hope that in conjunction with them we shall come to satisfactory conclusions. They will no doubt choose slaughterhouses where the facilities best suit the dead-weight and grading system, and I imagine that they will be slaughterhouses where there is sufficient hanging space and facilities of that character.
I was asked several times about the inter-Departmental Report and when it will be published. I am sorry to say that I have no authority from my right hon. Friend to give the date. I can however, say that we hope it will be soon. I am prepared to do everything I can to expedite it, but I do not want the Report to be spoilt. We must remember that the Committee has been receiving a great deal of evidence. As far as I know, the oral evidence is now complete, and the Committee is getting down to the job of producing its Report.
As to my hon. Friend's other inquiry about the farmers' new company, it will operate in the free market in competitive buying, and will, therefore, have the same facilities as any other person would have when entering the market.
I have no reason to believe that we shall have any difficulty about inspectors and graders. All I would say about graders is that they will, of course, have to be approved by the Secretary of State when appointed. We shall also take good care to ensure that the guarantee system gives the maximum result and helps everybody. In the Highland and Islands we have a very tricky problem. There are a large number of islands where there are local killing stations but no collecting centres. It will be very difficult indeed to provide guarantees to those farmers, but the Scottish Office is taking special steps to meet the needs of the Highlands and Islands, and there, again, we hope to have a satisfactory answer by the time decontrol arrives.
I think I have now briefly covered all the points which have been raised. I 1671 did not want to detain the House too long because I realise that many other hon. Members wish to speak.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)
A mere Sassenach cannot hope to follow the Joint Under-Secretary in what he has been saying, but I should like to thank the hon. Gentleman for putting what he had to say so briefly. I was rather perturbed when I learnt that three Ministers were to participate in a debate which is supposed to finish about seven o'clock.
Every time the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) intervenes in a debate we are completely refreshed. He has again helped to enlighten the debate. I agree with almost everything that he said, even to the extent of believing that there are no cattle like the cattle which come from his part of the country, and I speak with some authority on that matter.
However, I completely disagreed with his opening sentence. I take him and the Government to task in that respect because I do not believe that the Bill is necessary. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) have spoken hi restrained terms, but I hope that I shall not be restrained about the Bill. To introduce the Bill at this time is a scandal and a very big mistake. The Bill would not be before the House today if it had not been for the unjustified haste of the Government in returning to the pre-war methods of trading. Before supply meets demand, a demand commensurate with reasonable prices, we are having the Bill forced down our throats for the purpose of helping the Government to carry through their pernicious idea of reverting to the pre-war system of trading.
The reversion to pre-war trading is made possible only by the Government's interference with consumer subsidies. We all know—particularly hon. Members on this side of the House, in view of the constituencies from which we come—that very many of our people, particularly those in industrial areas, will certainly not be able to afford meat after 3rd July as a result of the Government's policy. They are finding it hard enough now, but I tremble to think what the situation will be after July.
1672 The Bill becomes necessary because of that policy, and it destroys any possibility of an immediate progressive policy for our slaughtering system which, since the war, many of us have hoped would be brought to modern desirable conditions in an economical manner. We regret that full advantage is not being taken of the existing situation. When thousands of miserable slaughterhouses were closed at the beginning of the war an opportunity was presented for rationalising the whole system.
I regret that the Government are now taking the line of least resistance. We have been told that in 1939 there were about 12,000 slaughterhouses in the country and that the number has been reduced to about 600. We have had the Minister's estimate that as a result of the Bill 2,500 more slaughterhouses will be opened. I do not call that "moderate concentration," whatever the term may mean, hi the long run.
I have been a member of the meat trade for many years. I am probably the only hon. Member who has ever worked in a slaughterhouse, although it is a long time since I did so. I am beginning to wonder whether I ought not to try to help out my Parliamentary salary in future by going back to the slaughterhouse, in view of the fact that there are only 3,000 slaughtermen in the country. Few members of the meat trade ever anticipated that the small slaughterhouses which none of us want opened would be reopened.
As the Minister pointed out, the inter-Departmental Committee was set up in February, 1953, to produce a plan of moderate concentration. Yet the Government have now come along with their pernicious policy of going back to the system which prevailed before the war. The Minister has gone to the Committee and said, "Look, boys, we have changed our minds. We are going to get on with the scrapping of controls much quicker than we had anticipated. We must forget for the time being all that we have ever dreamt about a better set-up for our slaughterhouse system. You must suddenly produce a scheme which will make us ready for July, 1954."
Sure enough, they did it, in 16 days. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North congratulated the Minister. I do not do so. I think it is shocking 1673 that the Committee spent only 16 days in determining what should be the interim policy for slaughterhouses, that after 16 days it should come forward with this scheme, which the Government accept, except for one phrase, with open arms.
What does it do? In effect, it passes the buck to the local authorities to make sure that they do something about it, and the Government sit back behind the local authorities and fervently hope that chaos will be prevented. I do not think that chaos can possibly be avoided. I believe that, in July of this year, we shall see the worst chaos which the meat trade and the slaughterhouses have ever seen. Every local authority has different ideas about what it will do. All of them are worried. Some are determined to preserve or to obtain the highest possible standard in the slaughtering of animals, but others, with some justification in the rural areas, will not be as concerned about the standards that will be obtained in the municipal abattoirs of the larger areas.
I have heard in the last few days of one local authority which has determined that no other slaughterhouse will be allowed to open within 40 miles of a public slaughterhouse, and, when I think about the transportation of meat from that slaughterhouse to a shop perhaps 40 miles away, I dread what may happen in warm weather.
One of my chief anxieties is that there shall be adequate inspection. My thoughts go back over a good many years. When I was a boy in a slaughterhouse, it was our duty to inform the inspectors if we had any diseased meat when we had killed the beasts. The onus was on us, but that was all we ever saw of a meat inspector in our private slaughterhouse. I know that things have improved since, but I suggest to the Government that the supply of fully-qualified meat inspectors at this time is totally inadequate to deal with the situation which will arise resulting from this Bill. I am very concerned indeed about the health of our people, and I want to ensure that there are sufficient safeguards in that respect. On those grounds alone, I do not believe that the Government were justified in bringing in this Bill today.
1674 There are one or two small points to which I should like to refer. Clause 3 (2) provides that those slaughterhouses which held licences between 1933 and 1939 shall now be reopened if the local authority agrees. I should like confirmation of that from the Parliamentary Secretary. What slaughterhouses they were between 1933 and 1939. One could paint some lurid pictures of the conditions which prevailed then, but those slaughterhouses are now small warehouse, garages, dumps for all kinds of junk.
Yet we shall have applications by the owners of these old slaughterhouses to reopen them under the terms of this Bill, and I am afraid that in some areas those applications will be granted. Those slaughterhouses in 1939 represented the country's need at that time, but millions of pounds will have to be spent to make them suitable for modern circumstances. We are only nine weeks away from zero day. What signs are there that everything will be ready when the time comes to carry out what the Bill lays down?
I understand that we have about 1,000 local authorities, which must be ready by 3rd July. We have yet to have the Committee stage, Report stage and Third Reading of this Bill. Have the local authorities any right to anticipate the will of Parliament? Are they sure that this Bill will reach the Statute Book? I know that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has sent out his form M.F./54 instructing them what to do in preparation, but have they any right to act? On a previous Bill which was before the House not very long ago—the Cotton Bill—we remember that the President of the Board of Trade had to apologise to the House for action which had been taken before the Bill became law.
§ Mr. I. O. Thomas
To illustrate the point which my hon. Friend is making, may I mention that only today I have taken up with the Ministry the case of a local authority in my own constituency, at its request? It says that it made definite proposals on 5th April, but that, so far, it has had no word from the Minister. The authority concerned is the Wellington Urban District Council, in Shropshire.
§ Mr. Royle
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for his support. That is the position, and that is why I am asking 1675 now whether the local authorities have the right to anticipate the decision of this House.
What my hon. Friend has just said only emphasises the point I made earlier, that the Government are indecent in their haste to carry out their policy with regard to meat marketing. I think in terms of the present position. Co-operative societies owned slaughterhouses throughout the period of control, and in them the meat of private traders is now being slaughtered. On the other hand, private traders' premises are being used for the slaughtering of meat for cooperative societies. Are the Co-operative societies going to agree to private traders using the floor space of their slaughterhouses? Are private traders going to agree to Co-operative societies using their slaughterhouses? I very much doubt it, and I see confusion becoming more confounded as a result of this Bill. I dread to think of what will happen after 3rd July.
Now I want to put one or two questions to the Minister. Compensation for closure or for refusal of a licence is dealt with in Clause 5. I should be glad if the Parliamentary Secretary will say something more about this compensation question when he winds up the debate, because I have the recollection, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hills-borough (Mr. G. Darling) will remember with me, that when the great new abattoir was opened in Sheffield, the compensation paid to one firm in Sheffield amounted to £9,000.
We do not know where this will end, and I can see the ratepayers making considerable protest when asked to meet large sums for compensation for some of these slaughterhouses, in spite of the fact that the Minister is giving them a grant of 50 per cent. In cases of registered slaughterhouses which date back to before 1872, there will have to be compensation in every case where the slaughterhouse is not reopened.
There is another question which I want to raise on the Schedule. I noticed that the Schedule, in repealing various enactments, repeals paragraph (b) of subsection (2) of the Food and Drugs Act, 1938, and I should like to know whether that means that all registered slaughter- 1676 houses will be abolished, and that, for the future, there will only be licensed slaughterhouses.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Dr. Charles Hill)
§ Mr. Royle
I am much obliged. I think it is very wise indeed.
I suppose that my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North, as ex-Ministers of the Crown, were speaking with a certain amount of responsibility, which I cannot possibly hope to emulate as a mere Whip, but they said that this Bill was not a bad Bill. I suppose they are right. It is not a bad Bill for what it seeks to do, considered in the light of the lack of Government policy.
If slaughterhouses are to be handed back, probably the Bill is the best for that purpose. My criticism is that the circumstances which make the Bill necessary should never have arisen. We are going back 15 years in slaughterhouse policy. This is being done to satisfy the supporters of the party opposite.
The alternative I would put forward is that of an animal commodity commission which would have the job of purchasing all our meat, both home-killed and imported. It would direct the sale to the retailer and would deal with by-products and with everything that applies to slaughtering. That would mean waiting for modern buildings and building up our herds and flocks faster than we are doing at the moment, and subsidies would have to be continued.
Nevertheless, in a few years we should have a slaughtering and marketing system which would be a credit to the nation. Instead of that, we shall go back to chaotic conditions without any preparation, with no one knowing what cattle will cost or what price meat will be in the butchers' shops and with unknown millions of pounds being squandered in deficiency payments, while animals will be slaughtered in all manner of places.
1677 The Government will regret this day and this Bill. They will regret the system which they are reintroducing. Unfortunately, it will fall to the lot of the next Labour Government to sort out the ruins and to rebuild.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Denys Bullard (Norfolk, South-West)
I could not possibly agree with the proposals for a great livestock commission put forward by the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) in his peroration. I think we all agree that it would have been far better had it been possible to avoid re-opening large numbers of the slaughterhouses closed all during the war.
We know that the hon. Member speaks with great authority on these matters and that he has had personal experience, having been concerned in the trade. He rather avoided the real practical issue, which surely is that in order to get a better system we have for the time being to carry out this reopening. The hon. Gentleman attributed the fact that more slaughterhouses have to be reopened to the Government's decision to discontinue consumer subsidies. I should have thought a more potent reason was the decision to discontinue rationing on 3rd July. I believe, contrary to the point of view of the hon. Gentleman, that the local authorities will discharge the rather difficult duty placed on them. I know they are giving a great deal of thought to it.
I want to speak about the long-term side of this matter, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) and subsequently by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby). It is essential to remember that the marketing policy for fatstock has to be decided before we can decide our slaughterhouse policy. That was the reason and the ample justification why the Government could not announce their slaughterhouse policy until after they issued the White Paper last November.
I am firmly of the opinion that a very important step in livestock marketing in this country was made yesterday when the farmers' unions of Great Britain announced their plans for selling on the deadweight basis. I have always believed that that system, and sales by auction, on a liveweight basis, can operate side by side. This is an extremely difficult matter 1678 to get organised, and I congratulate the farmers on their proposals. I shall certainly await developments with the very greatest interest.
I would like to address one or two questions to the Parliamentary Secretary. I am not clear how the deadweight system will operate under the interim arrangements covered by the Bill. This is most important. Will the deadweight system be carried out in the same premises as are being licensed under the Bill and as are being used by other sellers of meat, or will there be some segregation, certain slaughterhouses being reserved for this deadweight system? This matter does not merely arise when eventually the policy of moderate concentration comes into operation, but will actually come into prominence in July when derationing takes place.
I reinforce the plea made for the earliest possible decision on the siting of more permanent slaughterhouses. It will be rather difficult for individual owners of slaughterhouses to know what work they ought to undertake on their premises, because they do not know how long they will be able to operate them. They cannot foresee when the slaughterhouses on the new siting plan will be opened in their areas. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will listen to the pleas which have been made, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire for a speeding up of the report. I say this, though I realise that it is a most important decision that the committee has to make and that it should not be rushed.
I welcome the Bill as an interim Measure and I hope that the interim period will not be too long. I do not think anyone can claim that our pre-war slaughterhouse system was satisfactory. We are not returning to that system as it was, because there are very considerable differences. The difference of numbers alone—2,500 as against 12,000 —is a very big one. I hope that the interim period can be made as short as possible, and that we shall go straight ahead with a more worthy and modern system.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Mr. W. E. Padley (Ogmore)
It is with very great pleasure that I follow the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard). I had come to the conclusion 1679 that the hon. Member for East Aberdeen-shire (Sir R. Boothby) was the only hon. Gentleman on the Government side who knew anything about this subject.
I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman put his finger on one of the fatal weaknesses of the Government's scheme. Perhaps I can anticipate the answer of the Parliamentary Secretary to the question asked by the hon. Member as to how the sale of meat on a deadweight basis fits into the scheme. The short answer is that the Minister and the Government have not the faintest idea. The Government have not the slightest idea how the proposed system will work out in the weeks following 3rd July. It is remarkable that a month ago the Government spokesman in another place gave the probable number of slaughterhouses as 3,500. Today the Minister has cut the figure almost by half. It reminds me of the old game which we used to play as children—think of a number, divide it by two, multiply it by six, and the answer is a lemon.
The hon. Member for Norfolk. South-West was also right when he recognised that this Bill cannot be considered in isolation. If we consider it in isolation, then it is not a particularly bad Bill. But it must be read in conjunction with the whole of the Government's policy on agricultural marketing, and the fact remains that that policy is a retrogressive policy.
There can be no question whatever that the system of public control of slaughtering, importing and wholesaling benefited the farmer, the consumer and the distributing and slaughtering workers alike. It achieved substantial economies, and, in addition, raised standards of hygiene in the handling of the nation's foodstuffs.
I agree with the Minister that, given an increase in home killing, some adaptation of the system would have been necessary effectively to meet the peak period. Since one of my duties in the trade union field is to preside over the annual trade union conference of slaughtering workers, I know some of the problems which have arisen in recent years with regard to the peak kill. But the answer is not to abolish the whole system of public control; it is to create a more flexible form of public ownership and control, the kind of public commission to which my hon. 1680 Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) referred in his speech.
If there is one field in which a national and regional approach is required, it is the question of the siting and ownership of slaughterhouses. I do not believe that 1,000 local authorities with no formal machinery of consultation and policy-making can be the most effective instruments as regards slaughterhouse policy, but at the same time I am prepared to recognise that if we cannot have public ownership on a national basis, then public ownership on a local authority basis is a second best.
It is to be regretted that the Government have not only ignored the advice of the practical people in the meat industry, the farmers and the trade unionists, but have in addition, ignored a good deal of the advice tendered to them by the Association of Municipal Corporations. Reference has already been made to its statement of policy, and I must draw the attention of the House to three points in it. First, the Association agrees with hon. Members on this side of the House in regrettingthat it is necessary to reopen private slaughterhouses which have been out of use since the early days of the war.It goes on to say:It is important that the period of transition should be as short as possible.I may have misunderstood the Minister earlier this afternoon. When declaring his belief in a policy of moderate concentration, he implored the House to remember that it would take many years to carry out that policy. Certainly the problem of providing adequate new slaughterhouse facilities will take a considerable period of time, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's remarks do not mean that we shall have to wait a very long time before we get the final report of the inter-Departmental committee and that thereafter we shall proceed slowly by degrees.
I wish to emphasise a third point made by the Association of Municipal Corporations. It emphasises the need for what is done in the coming months and years being linked with the long-term policy of moderate concentration, and it affirms its belief that the compulsory lease is an affective method by which local authorities can not only do their job under the Bill of securing adequate 1681 slaughtering facilities in the localities, but can also link up the transitional plans with long-term plans for a moderate concentration of slaughterhouses.
I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary replies he will at long last give us a convincing answer as to why the Government have rejected the recommendation of the inter-Departmental committee in favour of local authorities having the power to take a compulsory lease, as distinct from purchase, of existing slaughterhouse facilities, because in the discussions which have gone on up till now we have had no answer of any consequence from the Government as to why that recommendation was rejected.
I have already referred to the guess of one member of the Government that the number of slaughterhouses will be between 3,000 and 3,500 and to the guess of the Minister today that it may be 2,000 or 2,500. I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary—and, in view of his association with the medical profession, I am sure that he is deeply interested in this issue—what provisions in this Bill give any guarantee that there will not be a relapse into the abominable conditions that existed before the war.
A month ago, when I was presiding over the slaughtermen's conference of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, representatives from the localities expressed the gravest concern about provisional arrangements being made in rural parts of the country with regard to the opening of slaughterhouses. One delegate from Gloucestershire said that he had been informed that steps had been taken to licence a slaughterhouse without a drainage system and which would have to rely on a cesspit. We informed that delegate and others that if there were any local authorities which were so careless of the public health as to commit deeds of that kind, then, on the report of the matter to the central office of the union, we would certainly press the Minister to intervene, and would create a first-class public scandal.
If we look at the inter-Departmental committee's report we see that the danger is apparent. In its conclusion, it says:It would not be practicable on decontrol to apply a national uniform code of hygiene in regard to the structure and design of private slaughterhouses.1682 I want an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that the least efficient rural district council is not going to be allowed to endanger public health, as happened in the pre-war period.
While on this point, I wish to refer to the rather puzzling situation in which we find ourselves. At the present time there are three Bills going through this House dealing with slaughterhouses. There is the Private Member's Bill sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) entitled Slaughter of Animals (Amendment) Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his initiative in the matter. Among other things, it provides that the Minister can issue regulations governing the licensing of slaughtermen.
Again, I ask the Minister whether it is the intention of the Government to facilitate the passage of that Private Member's Bill, and if not, whether they are prepared to include a new Clause in the Bill which we are now discussing governing a proper system for licensing slaughtermen. Make no mistake—if two, three, four or more thousand slaughterhouses are to be opened, with the backyard slaughterhouse reappearing, when there are only 3,000 or so skilled slaughtermen in Britain, there is a real danger of quite unskilled people being employed, thereby inflicting unnecessary suffering on animals and not doing the job as the public, the consumers, require.
Second, we have the Food and Drugs Amendment Bill. In Committee on the Private Member's Bill to which I have referred, it was pointed out that under the Food and Drugs Amendment Bill the Minister would have the power to issue regulations governing the provision of proper washing and sterilising facilities and so on in slaughterhouses. When I look first at the draft of the Food and Drugs Amendment Bill and then at the Slaughterhouses Bill, I am left wondering. Clause 6 (2) of the Food and Drugs Amendment Bill says:…regulations made by the Ministers may make provision—(a) for imposing requirements as to the construction, layout, equipment, maintenance, cleanliness, ventilation, lighting, and use of premises in, at or from which food is sold…I find that that is repeated verbatim in the Slaughterhouses Bill, but if we refer back to the Food and Drugs Amendment 1683 Bill we find that Clause 6 (2, b) talks about regulations:for imposing requirements as to the provision, maintenance and cleanliness of sanitary and washing facilities in connection with such premises, and the maintenance and cleanliness of apparatus, furnishings and utensils used in such premises.That that is omitted from the Slaughterhouses Bill may be an accident, but I confess that the inference I draw is that the Government do not, in fact, intend to apply the Food and Drugs Amendment Bill provision for regulations for washing and sterilising facilities and so on to slaughterhouses. It must be remembered that in the Food and Drugs Amendment Bill the provision is general and covers the whole of the food trades, whereas the Slaughterhouses Bill deals with slaughterhouses only.
I would ask for an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that it is the Government's intention to bring forward regulations regarding washing and other welfare facilities in the slaughtering industry similar to those issued under the Factories Act. I emphasise that though this issue seriously affects slaughtermen, it is also a vital public interest. If hon. Members will refer to the inter-Departmental committee's report on meat inspection, they will see that my union gave massive evidence to that committee and was so successful in convincing the members of the committee that very stringent recommendations are made in that respect.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) referred to the expenditure of public money on private slaughterhouses. During the past few months I have put down a number of Questions on this issue to the Minister of Food. It has emerged that £150,000 has been spent on the provision of electric winches and electric saws. So far from criticising the Ministry about that, I congratulate it. I am strongly in favour of that and believe it should be carried further. In reply to another Question, it came out that the annual expenditure on maintenance, structural alterations and extensions to the 300 to 400 private slaughterhouses has been £125.000 over the past five years.
In view of this Government's record in regard to road haulage and other indus- 1684 tries, we are entitled tonight to a firm assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that the electric winches and saws will be sold at fair market prices to any private owners who take back slaughterhouses into their possession. We are entitled also to an assurance that where structural alterations, improvements and extensions have been made, there too a payment should be made by the private owners to whom the slaughterhouses are returned.
Finally, I would say that this Bill is not the ideal solution of the slaughterhouse problem. What is needed is public ownership on a national basis with regional devolution of authority. Since local public ownership is a second-best, the Bill needs strengthening first as regards the right of local authorities compulsorily to acquire leases of private slaughterhouses, and secondly regarding the working conditions of slaughtermen, which is of great importance not only to the slaughtermen but to the consuming public.
§ 6.36 p.m.
Mr. C. N. Thomton-Kemsley (North Angus and Mearns)
In a debate which has, on the whole, been comparatively non-controversial, one fact of very great importance has passed unnoticed, or at any rate without comment. The Minister has stated that we are coming off the ration and that meat is to be decontrolled, on Saturday, 3rd July. If that is not welcomed by all hon. Members, I am sure that it will at least receive a wide and very great welcome throughout the country.
There has been some sort of suggestion, although I do not think that it has been widely made in this debate, that because the present slaughterhouse capacity has been sufficient it will therefore be sufficient for the immediate requirements after decontrol. I think that there is a fallacy there. If one is controlling the whole of the killing of meat, it is possible to direct stock which has to be graded and slaughtered to this or that slaughterhouse and to see that the through-put is even throughout the week.
Under decontrol the trade will want to carry through most of the slaughtering in the early part of the week in order that the meat may be in condition for sale at the weekend. There will therefore be 1685 a greater demand, as I understand it. for slaughterhouse capacity in the earlier part of the week and a lower demand towards the end of the week. For that reason alone, more slaughterhouses will be required than under the present tightly-controlled system. The immediate plan, of course, is to have rather more slaughterhouses than we have at present.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
The hon. Member asks how many. I do not know. The Minister does not know. No one can know. Any hon. Member who talks about so many slaughterhouses—2,500 or 3,500—is talking out of relation to facts if he does not specify the size and capacity of the slaughterhouses. One might have 3,500 very small slaughterhouses with less capacity than 2.000 large, centralised slaughterhouses.
§ Mr. Thomas
The hon. Gentleman scouts the idea of any estimating in regard to the necessary number of slaughterhouses. I would respectfully point out that even the Minister has to bring forward a number, which is something in the region of 2,500 to 3,000, as compared with over 12,000 slaughterhouses before the war. I am only asking what is the hon. Gentleman's own guess in regard to that.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
My guess is not of importance to anyone. I did not say that it is impossible for the Minister to make an estimate.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
Certainly. 1 did not say that it was impossible for him to do so. Of course, a responsible Minister must make an estimate, but it is only an estimate. Nobody can do more than make an estimate, without knowing what the size of slaughterhouses are to be, or, to take another example, what is the future shape of marketing in this country.
We are anxious to know how successful the National Farmers Unions' Fatstock Marketing Corporation is going to be. If that is successful, it will obviously have an effect on the number of slaughterhouses required. My hon. and gallant Friend and neighbour the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) is 1686 anxious, as I think most of us who come from what I would call "exporting areas" are anxious, that the slaughtering should be done within our own areas so far as it is reasonably practicable. We do not like to see our fine cattle moving long distances by road or rail to slaughterhouses. Therefore, so far as it is reasonably practicable, we want to have adequate local slaughterhouses.
Having said that, let me enter this caveat. Local slaughterhouses are, in my view, no real substitute for the modern, fully-equipped and adequate centralised slaughterhouses, and I want to see more of those. I think that the requirements which were listed, from an authoritative source, by the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) can only be met in the modern centralised slaughterhouse. We could not expect to find those facilities in the local abattoir owned perhaps by a small local authority.
I have just spent a very interesting morning in the modern slaughterhouse in Guildford. I went unheralded. I did not announce that I was going. I did not divulge that I was a Member of Parliament, but I was shown round with great courtesy. I was given a very interesting morning. One of the things that impressed me greatly was the very full use that is made of all by-products. I saw there the glands from the beasts immediately after slaughter being carefully removed, some of them preserved in liquids and kept in different places. The adrenal, thyroid, pituitary and pancreas glands—the latter, I believe, being in great demand for making insulin for the treatment of diabetes and so on—were all removed and carefully preserved.
In addition, I had no idea that the spinal cords were used. I understand that an average sized beast will have a spinal cord which weighs from six to eight ounces. These are used for medical purposes. There is no waste at all, neither of any offal nor of any of the glands which are an important by-product from the slaughter of cattle. In these centralised slaughterhouses it is possible to make full use of all these valuable by-products.
There is only one question that I want to direct to the Parliamentary Secretary. If as a result of the reports of the two inter-Departmental committees we are to have more of these modern centralised slaughterhouses built in the country, are 1687 the Government going to give any financial help towards their ejection? With the cost of building as it is at present, the expense that would fall upon a local authority is very heavy indeed. I am not suggesting that there should be any grants of money, but I do suggest that it might be desirable for Government loans to toe made to facilitate the erection of the slaughterhouses, repayable as the dues fall in from the letting of the slaughterhouse facilities by the local authorities.
I believe that the problems to be faced as we move into a free system of decontrol are such that the Government ought not to want to administer the whole scheme. I have been seeking an opportunity of advancing my view that the time is ripe for the reappointment of a livestock commission to carry out all the administrative details of fatstock marketing under a free system. If we had something like a fatstock commission, one of the advantages would be the proper control of slaughtering, and we would be sure that there would be full utilisation of all the by-products from the slaughtering of animals.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I shall be as brief as I possibly can, having thrown most of my notes away.
I think it is desirable that the Parliamentary Secretary should know that there is a rather larger volume of opinion on this side of the House that the Bill is unnecessary than he may have imagined from the course that the debate has taken. The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) said that rather more slaughterhouses than we have at present will be opened. Something like five or six times as many slaughterhouses will be available, and, so far as we can see, most of them will be small, wasteful, inefficient and unhealthy, and, what is worse, a handicap to a proper system of meat marketing which ought to develop from the Government's proposals.
I do not know where to apportion the blame. I do not know whether to say that the blame rests with the previous Government who failed to bring forward proposals for the opening of new slaughterhouses and abattoirs after the 1688 war, or with the present Government who are now rushing along too quickly. I do not know where the blame lies, but it seems to me that any Government ought to be condemned if they miss this opportunity of bringing forward quickly, before they do anything about opening slaughterhouses of any kind, a properly planned scheme for dealing with meat marketing, slaughtering and meat processing in this country.
There has been agreement on both sides of the House about the virtues of having a proper system of public abattoirs, factory abattoirs or centralised slaughterhouses as the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns has called them. We know what substantial savings would come from having the job done in a big and organised way. We know that at each centralised abattoir there could be adequate cold stores, the absence of which is part of the present problem. I am sure that we shall not have cold stores at these fiddling little slaughterhouses which are to be opened under this Bill. There will be a considerable amount of wastage of byproducts because of the failure to make savings by doing the job in a big way. The appalling waste of by-products, which will be a great burden upon the community, could have been avoided if a proper plan had been brought forward. We are going back to an uneconomic, costly and unhealthy system, and I regret that my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) is supporting the Bill. I believe that we ought to oppose it.
In opening the debate, the Minister tried to paint a picture of all the difficulties with which the Ministry has to contend. He said that this is a difficult job, which will take a great deal of time, and will mean employing people to go round the country finding out where abattoirs should be situated, and so on. But this is not a new problem. The decontrol of meat was anticipated hi 1940, and people should have been working on this problem ever since. I am not saying this as a matter of hindsight; I wrote a book on the subject in 1940, and suggested that the job should be started then. I do not suggest that anybody should take a great deal of notice of what I write, but I had the right point of view at that time.
1689 We have to remember that this problem does not date merely from 1940. The first committee was set up to deal with this matter in 1929, and reports on the subject have been made from 1930 onwards. It is completely untrue to suggest that this is a new problem, which it will take a lot of time to sort out. The job could have been done a long time ago, and it can still be done quickly, with the information which is already available. With a proper plan we should know where the new centralised abattoirs are needed. The experience we gained in the war wild help considerably, and we could now go ahead with a proper system to deal not only with the slaughtering of cattle but with the problem of livestock marketing, by helping the fanners to institute a system of meat marketing on a deadweight basis, such as will be brought into operation by the new Farmers' Fatstock Marketing Corporation.
This Corporation will deal with one-fifth of our cattle and livestock. We now have 200 public abattoirs which, with the new fatstock organisation which the farmers are proposing to set up, will be dealing with nearly half of the home-produced meat. To carry our plans forward to deal with the other half should not be very difficult, without setting up fiddling little abattoirs which should not be brought into existence again. I hope that in Committee we can make the Bill a little more workable by putting a handicap on the slaughter-houses the building of which it will facilitate.
The Government should take back the Bill and look at the practical problem once again. It is not as difficult as the Minister tried to make out. A practical plan could be evolved to cover the country with centralised abattoirs, not necessarily exclusively public ones. There could be co-operative ones, operated by private traders working together. We could have about 200, 300 or 400 centralised abattoirs to cover the whole country.
Let us get all the economies we can from that kind of large-scale operation. Let us get all the by-products we can, and have an adequate system of cold storage and processing of meat which is now wasted but which could go on the market in one form or another. That could be done quite easily, without a 1690 great waste of time. It would be far better to delay the decontrol of meat, by throwing out this Bill for the time being and going ahead with the job, than to go on in the chaotic way which is now proposed.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)
I am very much in agreement with what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling). In spite of the fact that this Bill is only an interim Measure until the final report of the inter-Departmental committee is published, it is merely tinkering with the problem. In spite of the two circulars which have already been issued by the Ministry, and the instructions which have been given to the municipalities, there will be chaos in the industry on 3rd July, when decontrol becomes an established fact, because none of the municipalities, especially the rural authorities, knows what it has to do.
This Bill is now in course of its Second Reading. It has to go through the Committee, Report and Third Reading stages, and, in view of the opinions expressed by my hon. Friends, I can visualise that there will be some energetic attempts to amend it. It will take some time for the Bill to pass through all its stages and become law. With the best will in the world, I question whether the Government can organise the slaughtering industry in a matter of four or five weeks after decontrol takes place. Therefore, can the Minister give an assurance that he will do something as quickly as possible to bring together the interested parties, so that the slaughtermen, who are as confused as the municipalities— and possibly the Minister himself—will know precisely what will take place in respect of their employment? At the present time no one in the trade unions knows who is to negotiate with whom if the Bill becomes law.
If the Bill goes through there will be such chaos and confusion in the slaughtering industry in July that the service to the consumer will be curtailed. The Minister will have to do something for those people who will be responsible for wages and conditions in the industry and for the trade unions, in order that the chaos in which the municipalities find 1691 themselves does not become extended into the world of labour. I hope that we shall have a reply to that point tonight.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
Everything I have heard in the course of this debate has increased the apprehensions I had before it began. In support of my argument, I take as an example my own home, the urban district of Camborne and Redruth, in Cornwall, with a population of 36,000. On reading the local newspaper today, I found that two nights ago the urban district council decided to grant 17 out of the 24 requests for licences which have been made. I know that before the war only between 10 and 15 per cent, of the meat coming from slaughtered beasts was inspected. What are the difficulties going to be with the small staff of sanitary inspectors? I believe there is great difficulty now in recruiting staff, as well as difficulty in retaining the sanitary inspectors we have.
I am appalled at the state of affairs that is likely to arise when decontrol takes place in July. I blame the Government for the indecent haste with which they have pursued a doctrinaire policy. Everyone who is concerned about clean meat and the possibilities of food poisoning cannot but be alarmed by the state of affairs. If the number of additional licences that are to be granted in my home town is any indication of the state of affairs in the country generally, the estimate of 2,500 slaughterhouses that has been given today is very much below what the true figure is likely to be.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Dr. Charles Hill)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens)—I hope he will forgive me for saying so—made a helpful and constructive speech.
§ Dr. Hill
He did not think it worth while to repeat the views that we know he holds on the general issues, but accepted the debate as an opportunity for practical consideration of certain steps that need to be taken within the ambit of the Government's policy. My right, hon. and gallant Friend, in an intervention, dealt with consultation with the 1692 trade unions. I want to stress that if the T.U.C. wants to see my right hon. and gallant Friend at any time, he will be glad to see its representatives. As for the unions particularly concerned, as my right hon. and gallant Friend said, there have been useful discussions between them and officials of the Ministry. If at any time in the future they ask to see my right hon. and gallant Friend, he will be glad to see them, as he would have been had they asked to see him.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that nothing should be done to prejudice moderate concentration. An hon. Friend of mine asked, "What is moderate concentration?" I hesitate to define the word "moderate"—unless it is a word we apply to the self-approbation of certain Scottish members in the debate. I would say emphatically to the right hon. Gentleman and others who mentioned the matter that we are firmly attached to the policy of moderate concentration, and we shall do our utmost to see that the interim arrangements do not in any way prejudice the policy of moderate concentration.
As my right hon. and gallant Friend pointed out, by the Bill itself certain steps are taken towards moderate concentration, for certain of the problems arise in relation to the new slaughterhouses built in the last two or three years The Bill empowers the Minister in certain circumstances to prevent the opening of new. slaughterhouses, and it extends to areas not themselves provided with public slaughterhouses the power, subject to certain safeguards, to close redundant slaughterhouses.
The right hon. Gentleman expressed the fear that there would be a substantial increase in the number of slaughterhouses. I am hazarding a guess, but we fear that there may be too few rather than too many, judging from the angle of meat distribution. Neither of us, I think, would wish to engage in the dangerous art of prophecy. He may well be right, but our view is that, because of the use of what were formerly slaughterhouses for other purposes, because of the hygienic standards properly applied by local authorities, we may find ourselves with too few rather than too many. In any case, we are seeking by the Bill to take the moderate course of certainly not opening too many, for that would, perhaps, prejudice the moderate 1693 concentration, and of not opening too few, for that would endanger meat distribution.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to deal with the question of clean food. Another hon. Member also did so. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) raised a separate matter with which I shall deal separately. Even in this modest Bill there is an advance in the matter of clean food. The Act of 1938 did not specify hygienic standards as a reason for refusing to grant a licence or to continue a licence. In Clause 3 (3) a beginning is made with putting teeth into the rather general provisions of the 1938 Act. I yield to no one in my belief that a good deal remains to be done and that a great deal must be done in this field of clean food, and I will give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that we shall do our utmost to see that this rather awkward, inconvenient but necessary phase is not one in which the standards of hygiene are lowered.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to give assurances, and we are grateful even for the limited assurance he is now giving, but what we are more interested in is what practical methods will be taken to ensure proper inspection of the unsatisfactory premises which, by the Bill, will be put back into commission? The inspectors simply are not there.
§ Dr. Hill
If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself with fortitude for a little while, he will find that I shall come to the question of inspectors. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the additional burden on local authorities. Clearly, there must be an additional burden. One hon. Member seemed to cast doubt on the wisdom of returning these functions to local authorities. He used the phrase, "Passing the buck to the local authorities."I am certain the whole House is with me when I say that this responsibility properly belongs to local authorities, should remain with local authorities, and that even in this intervening period nothing should be done to interfere with the local authorities' responsibility. I agree that this means more meat inspectors, and I agree that there is a very real problem there, a problem that we may well have an opportunity of discussing further at a later stage. I do not disguise for one moment the fact that some very 1694 awkward problems are raised by this Bill, which is itself an attempt to deal with a very awkward problem.
Then the right hon. Gentleman passed to Clause 2, and in skittish fashion drew attention to the future of the Minister of Food. There is a Minister of Food at this moment, and with him the responsibility will lie. Whatever happens to the Minister or the Ministry of Food in the future, this responsibility will remain on the Government, in the Ministry of Food or elsewhere. This responsibility is one of a number of responsibilities of the Department. I listed them in a written reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) about a fortnight ago. We are now dealing with the position as it is today, and the right hon. Gentleman, I am sure, will not read into the mention of the Minister of Food either the realisation of his own fears or the achievement of the hopes of my right hon. and gallant Friend, or any other conditions superfluous and irrelevant to the argument. It means that the responsibility must belong to the Minister of Food now, and as to its future destination, the right hon. Gentleman will no doubt be content to wait.
Next, what is the principle of compensation? Under the 1938 Act—perhaps I should use the exact words—compensation in respect of both "owner and occupier" was payable for any loss sustained by them by reason of it being no longer lawful to use these premises as a slaughterhouse. That has been the legal basis of the position so far. Under the Bill, let it be admitted, compensation takes a different and narrower form. There will be no compensation for goodwill. Compensation will be based on the difference between the value of the property as a slaughterhouse and its value when not being used as a slaughterhouse. Compensation for goodwill is specifically excluded. There are some words to which I should draw the attention of the House—(no regard being had to any matter not directly based on the value of the land);Compensation is deliberately restricted and closely defined. There is the further difference that in case of doubt or dispute the compensation will be fixed by the Lands Tribunal.
§ Dr. Hill
Although this matter can perhaps be more appropriately discussed in Committee, it is laid down in the Bill thatRule 2 of the Rules set out … in the Acquisition of Land … Act, 1919, shall apply …That means the sale between a willing seller and a wiling buyer. I do not pretend to be expert enough to delve further into this question, but it will be on that basis and it will be restricted in the terms which I have described to the House.
§ Mr. Robens
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for that. There were about 11,500 slaughterhouses in use before 1940. Presumably every one of them would be entitled to apply for a licence. Whether the final figure is 2,000 or 2,500, that is a very big difference from 11,500. If all those people apply, 7,000 or 8,000 will automatically be turned down. Will all those people be compensated?
§ Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)
Before my hon. Friend replies, may I point out to him that many of the slaughterhouses which have been closed are now in more profitable use than was the case when they were slaughterhouses?
§ Dr. Hill
It will be appreciated that if there is a closure of a failure to renew a licence on the ground of hygiene, that does not come within the scope of compensation. That is excluded. We are considering only redundancy, to use the simpler term. Where a local authority providing a slaughterhouse in its own area, having provided such a slaughterhouse, passes a resolution approved by the Minister, then there will be eligible for this limited compensation any slaughterhouse which was licensed and working and any slaughterhouse which was not being licensed and working and which applies before the end of this year, within seven days of the passing of the resolution, to the local authority. We are considering a limited field of compensation.
§ Mr. R. E. Winterbottom
What of the slaughterhouse not now in use and not having been in use since 1939 but which has continued to be licensed for its own purposes? What of such a slaughterhouse which is being used at the moment for other purposes? Will compensation apply to that type of case?
§ Dr. Hill
If we consider that very small group, then, following decontrol on 3rd July, the owner of such a slaughterhouse may make application for licensing. If he does and the application is turned down on grounds of hygiene, no claim for compensation will lie. If, on the other hand, he is accepted as a slaughterer— and the hon. Member will recall that only those who have been open in the last 20 years can be candidates—if a licence is given and a resolution is passed by the local authority, and if that slaughterhouse is open and working, then he will be eligible to claim compensation. If, on the other hand, he has not made application by the end of this year, his claim falls to the ground. If he has not made application, but between July and the end of the year the local authority passes a resolution, then within seven days he can make application, and, if there is no objection on grounds of hygiene, in return for refusal to licence he can obtain compensation.
§ Mr. Winterbottom
I was thinking of those who continued to be licensed even though the slaughterhouse was not used. Will there not be some inclination on the part of the municipality to continue to license, because the slaughterhouse has been licensed for many years, and then to be faced with the problem of compensation?
§ Dr. Hill
That is a matter for local authorities. If a local authority, even though the premises have not been used, has kept the licence in active existence year by year, and if in fact those premises are then used, it is right and proper that there should be a claim for compensation, as with those premises which have been used by the Ministry of Food throughout.
§ Dr. HILL
I must not weary the House. I have gone into this fairly fully and I suggest that I should now turn to other points.
1697 One point raised by the right hon. Gentleman concerned the question of equipment. The equipment will be sold for the best price which can be obtained. It will be sold to those who take over the slaughterhouses, be they local authorities or otherwise. I cannot guarantee that each piece of specialised equipment will be purchased by the particular slaughterhouse authority, but it may be taken that we shall pass on at an appropriate and proper price to those who are responsible for slaughterhouses in the future the excellent equipment which has been installed in recent years.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to a difficult issue but one of considerable moment to him—the conditions of the workers. The hon. Member for Bright-side (Mr. R. E. Winterbottom) raised the same point. We shall be happy to discuss with them ways and means of meeting the situation which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. We are in considerable difficulty; we do not employ the slaughtermen, who are employed by contractors, and we have not hitherto been involved in their terms and conditions of service. If there can be thought out some way in which we can properly help and intervene, we shall be glad to consider it. I cannot go beyond that at the moment, for I am impressed by the practical difficulties of our intervening.
I turn next to the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey). I knew when he began with his complimentary observations that we were in for a little trouble, but it was surprising how soon he extracted himself from his usual rhetorical swiping and returned to constructive suggestions at the end of his speech. The hon. Member suggested that we wore dilatory. He will forgive me for saying: Yes, I suppose we were dilatory. When we came in there was no siting plan being prepared. We had to set up a siting committee. There were six years in which that preparatory work could have been done. I do not want to raise the temperature, but I think that I should remind the House that seven Government slaughterhouses have been built. No doubt a great deal of planning went on before, but they were all built after the present Government came into office. I know that there can be an argument about who laid the first brick. I am trying, like the hon. Member for 1698 Sunderland, North, to be on my best behaviour, and I am not in the belligerent mood in which I tussle with him late at night.
The hon. Member went on to refer to confusion, and so on. He raised the question of compulsory leasing, which was also raised by the hon. Member for Ogmore. He asked why the Government do not accept this particular recommendation that local authorities should have the power compulsorily to lease premises. The local authorities are enabled to hold premises requisitioned under the Defence Regulations for this purpose. A proportion of the slaughterhouses are leased to us. Where we are not precluded from assigning these to local authorities, we propose to do so. We do not think it necessary, and we do not like the idea of unnecessarily extending compulsory powers of this kind when existing powers suffice for the purpose.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
The powers to which the Minister now refers as being vested in the local authorities are subject to the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, which has to be renewed annually. Is that a satisfactory basis on which these powers are to be used?
§ Dr. Hill
It was an unsatisfactory basis for the previous Administration and for this Administration. I can assure the House that such powers are there, and I think that in such circumstances even the hon. Member for Sunderland, North might have thought it unnecessary to indulge in this additional and rather dangerous form of compulsory leasing.
§ Mr. F. Willey
I raised this matter to get an explanation from the Government, which we have now obtained. I feel that there is still this difficulty that the inter-Departmental committee of experts felt it necessary to make this recommendation. In view of that, I think that the Parliamentary Secretary should deal with the matter a little more seriously.
§ Dr. Hill
I have dealt with it, I hope, with full seriousness. Even an inter-Departmental committee can have a recommendation revised by the Government in the light of further consideration. This is considered in this case as being unnecessary, and on the whole undesirable. The hon. Member said something 1699 with which I warmly agree. He congratulated the inter-Departmental committee on the character and speed of its work. Another hon. Member criticised it for having done the job in 16 days. I do not know which line to accept—to congratulate it on being so speedy or to commiserate with it on having taken so short a time.
Then I come to the remarks of the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle). He was disturbed about the constructive line adopted by his right hon. Friend, and he determined "to have a go." The line he took was: "The Bill is unnecessary and it only becomes necessary because of decontrol." He went on to say that circumstances should never have arisen which made this Bill necessary. The circumstances are a sufficient supply of meat enabling rationing to be brought to an end. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh. yes. I would put it in this way. Perhaps it will touch a chord of memory on the past of hon. Members.
In the second half of last year it was remarkably difficult to sustain a system of rationing and distribution devised for a period of scarcity. It became almost unworkable in that period of plenty, and, whichever Government bad been in office in the second half of last year, it would have experienced that difficulty—[HoN. MEMBERS: "No."]—for that particular reason, and for the general reason that this dilatory Government delights in making possible the derationing of foodstuffs. Those were the reasons which made this Bill necessary.
The hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. G. Darling) was very frank with the House. He quite frankly said, "I would rather wait until a vast and comprehensive new scheme could be brought into being, and until the new slaughterhouses are here, in two, three or four years, before derationing meat." We cannot wait to decontrol and deration meat. We must do it now, for now is the appropriate time. If it is said to me, "I want to wait until the new slaughterhouses are up and until new marketing schemes and premises have been arranged," I say that if we wait until then, what do we do in the meantime—carry on with the present system or do what is here proposed and decontrol the distribution of meat?
§ Mr. G. Darling
I was reckoning on the new slaughterhouses coming along gradually, and that there was no need to wait two, three or four years for them to be put up. We could have a decontrol system working while the slaughterhouses were being built up, because there will be a gradual easing of the situation. I was not suggesting that it would take so much time. I think that the Government have exaggerated the problem with which they are dealing.
§ Dr. Hill
Clearly we cannot decontrol in geograpical areas and stages as new slaughterhouses become available. We must reach a decision as to whether, there being now a sufficiency of meat in prospect, the Government are ready to discontinue the rationing of meat. The Government have decided that they cannot continue the rationing and control of meat in the present supply situation. They are glad to be able to reach that decision, and this Bill follows inevitably from that decision.
§ Mr. Robens
Is it not a fact, as 1 am advised by my practical friends in the trade, that it is possible to deration without upsetting the present distribution system?
§ Dr. Hill
If we deration and so leave people entitled to buy what quantity of meat they like, they will naturally want to express consumer choice in buying the kinds of meat they like, and we cannot maintain the system of allocation under which the Ministry, buying the meat, home and imported, divides it up among the wholesalers. We cannot have a system of Government allocation of meat —
§ Dr. Hill
If he does not want rationing and he does not want allocation, then the hon. Gentleman wants the decontrol which is coming after 3rd July.
I will pass to the question raised by the hon. Member for Ogmore concerning standards in relation to premises and utensils. Clause 3 (3), to which the hon. Member referred, is, as I have said, a Clause which gives teeth to the 1938 Act. I would say to the hon. Member further that the answer to his question is in the first few words:Where under any enactment regulations are in force.…1701 The hon. Member will realise that when the amending Bill, to which he referred, passes into law, there will reside in the Minister the power to make the regulations covering both the sets of circumstances to which he referred in his question.
§ Dr. Hill
Yes; the power will reside there for that purpose. The hon. Member for Hillsborough referred to his general planning proposals. I regret that I had not read his book, but I think he will agree that I have sought to cover the general points that he has raised.
In short, the Bill deals with an interim situation. It has to -be dealt with in a way that will secure that a sufficient number of slaughterhouses are available for the killing of animals and so for the distribution of meat. It has at the same time not to prejudice the policy of moderate concentration in the future. It raises a number of problems which, in the atmosphere created by the right hon. Member for Blyth, who spoke for the Opposition, we can consider more fully in Committee, but it gives us an opportunity to do swiftly something that is really necessary if decontrol is to work smoothly on 3rd July.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Standing Committee.