HC Deb 26 January 1954 vol 522 cc1702-22

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. R. Allan.]

8.10 p.m.

Mr. Percy Wells (Faversham)

The matter about which I want to detain the House is primarily a constituency question, but in view of the Government's proposals for fat stock marketing it may carry a much wider interest.

About 72 years ago the Sittingbourne Co-operative Society built a slaughterhouse, which is the subject of this debate. It was intended at that time that it should cope with a weekly maximum kill of four to five beasts, 12 sheep and 35 pigs. This maximum was reached prior to 1939, and it was then the intention of the society to build an entirely new, re-sited slaughterhouse, but in 1939 the slaughterhouse was requisitioned by the Ministry of Food as part of the scheme for the centralisation of slaughtering.

The area of supply included the whole of the Urban District of Sittingbourne, part of the Swale Rural District, and the whole of the Isle of Sheppey, with a total population of well over 50,000 people. From that day, all animals intended for human consumption in that area were slaughtered and dressed in this single, inadequate slaughterhouse. In 1941, certain additions were made. A part of the garage was taken in to increase the size of the slaughterhouse, and minor repairs to the floor and the drainage were executed subsequently. Even so, the condition of the slaughterhouse remains absolutely deplorable.

The maximum daily kill at the present time has been agreed at 10 beasts and 50 smalls, or nearly twice the amount of the weekly kill that the slaughterhouse was built to cope with. The position of the slaughterhouse is about as bad as it possibly could be. Both the co-operative society and the local council have for many years past been anxious to close it and erect a new slaughterhouse in Sittingbourne, but all their representations to that effect have been turned down. I am not making a party political point, because the representations were made by the council and myself both to the Parliamentary Secretary who is now on the Government Front Bench and to his predecessors, and we were no more successful then than we have been since.

The slaughterhouse is situated behind the Co-operative Society's main store on the east side attached to stables. On the west side there is a clothing factory, part of which, as a matter of fact, overlaps into the slaughterhouse itself. There are female and male employees in the clothing factory. The main offices of the society are within 33 feet of the slaughterhouse. On the south side is a large grocery department, and facing the entrance of the slaughterhouse is the entrance to the lavatory accommodation provided for female employees. Passing through the yard are not only the society's employees but members of the general public, and on "divi. Day" one can see queues of women and children lined up to receive payment of their dividends.

The slaughterhouse consists of three compartments. There is a combined killing and hanging chamber, with a floor area of only 379 square feet; a hanging room for sheep, calves, pigs, offal, and the storage of skins and hides, together with condemned meat and offal, with a floor area of 592 square feet; and there is lairage accommodation of 661 square feet.

The slaughtering procedure is as follows. A beast is led from the lairage into the killing chamber and there slaughtered. It is then dragged across the floor for bleeding, the head is taken off, and the hide partially removed. After that the animal is raised by tackle and dragged to another part of the killing chamber where the hide is completely removed and the internal organs extracted. The carcase is then split and each side is hung in the killing chamber until removal on the following day.

Whilst those operations are taking place, another animal is being similarly treated. After six or seven beasts have been dealt with, the animals which have to enter the chamber brush up against the hanging sides of those previously slaughtered. As more and more animals are dressed the working space becomes more and more confined, and carcases are often soiled by animals brushing against them, by being kicked, or by the splashing up of the mess that is to be found in a slaughterhouse, when slaughtered beasts are in their death throes.

The conditions are made more unsatisfactory because the gut board is stuck away in a comer of the building, and gut emptying results in the splashing of many of the sides already dealt with, sides adjacent to the gut board being thereby very much soiled. In the killing chamber also all stomachs are emptied down the drain and the stench is almost unbearable. Owing to the limited space, the sides of beef hang very close together, thus retarding the cooling process which is so essential, and that is undoubtedly responsible for some of the bone taint which sometimes results. All this certainly makes the job of the meat inspectors much more difficult than it otherwise would be. It is also possible that sound carcases may be contaminated by diseased ones.

Conditions in the hanging chamber for smalls and offal, at the rear of the slaughtering chamber, are even worse. That chamber has a corrugated iron roof except where a short section is covered by wire netting. Ventilation is very unsatisfactory and artificial light is always necessary. In this room, in addition to the sound carcases, are stored condemned meat and offal, hides, calf and sheep skins and tripes. In the warm weather the place swarms with flies, making the contamination of sound meat a very real danger.

It has been suggested that such contamination would be rendered harmless by the subsequent cooking, but this is not very reassuring. If it be so, what is the need for meat inspection at all? Meat inspection is carried out under the most difficult conditions. Fortunately, we have very conscientious meat inspectors, who do the job very well by working overtime and sometimes on Sundays, but they have protested for years against the conditions under which they work.

In his Report for 1950, the Medical Officer of Health said: Conditions at the slaughterhouse remain very unsatisfactory. The premises are much too small and badly laid out to cope with the number of animals dealt with. Further, owing to lack of proper hanging accommodation, meat inspection has to be carried out under exceptional difficulties. In this year 40.4 per cent. of cattle and 53.8 per cent. of cows were found to be diseased other than by tuberculosis; 12.4 per cent. of cattle and 38.5 per cent, of cows had tuberculosis.

In his 1951 Report he said: The premises are obsolete and the condition under which meat is prepared for human consumption is unsatisfactory. It will continue so until a modern abattoir is provided. It is regretted that in spite of the Council's efforts to this end it does not appear likely that such an abattoir will be provided for a considerable time. In his 1952 Report he said: No alterations have yet been made in connection with improving the accommodation and the conditions at the slaughterhouse, and although 100 per cent. inspection of all animals presented for slaughter was maintained, throughout the year, the conditions under which such inspections are carried out are still very difficult. That such inspection is very necessary is evident from the fact that it was found necessary to condemn 24,591¼ lb. of meat and offal during the year. The anxiety expressed by the meat inspectors is certainly not groundless, as the following figures show. The 1952 Report—the last one available to me—says that 1,115 cattle, excluding cows, were inspected. Thirty-six per cent. of these were found to be diseased; 26. 9 per cent. were found to be affected with disease other than tuberculosis, and 9. 1 per cent. with tuberculosis, and either the whole or part of each of these carcases had to be destroyed. Of the 174 cows inspected that year, 66. 3 per cent, were found to be diseased; 47. 1 per cent, were diseased other than by tuberculosis and 21. 2 per cent, had tuberculosis. Of 2,975 sheep and lambs slaughtered, 11. 4 per cent. were found to be diseased, but none had tuberculosis. Of 963 pigs, 11. 9 per cent. had disease other than tuberculosis, and 1. 6 per cent. had tuberculosis. Of the total carcases examined, amounting to 5,431, disease was present in 958, and 24,591 lb. of meat and offal were condemned.

This is a serious matter. I hope the Minister will not think that Kent farmers are sending their cattle to this slaughterhouse in order to save their lives, although I must admit that the incidence of disease found is very disquieting. That is a matter which I shall seek to raise subsequently. In the meantime, it is causing very much concern. The Sittingbourne and Milton Urban District Council has secured a site for a new market and slaughterhouse in Crown Quay Lane, adjacent to the railway, and this is an ideal spot both for a market and a slaughterhouse. It is considered that this is something that is long overdue. I hope that we shall be more successful on this occasion than we have been in the past in getting sanction to go forward with what is agreed to be a very necessary scheme. Sittingbourne fat stock market is the second largest fat stock market in the county of Kent, and the slaughterhouse is the only one in the district at this time.

The need is urgent, and I hope I shall not be told to await the report of the inter-Departmental committee which, I know, is imminent, but that something will be done. I do not raise this matter in any party spirit. It is a matter of concern to thousands of my constituents. If they knew the conditions under which their meat is slaughtered and prepared, I am quite certain there would be a great increase in the number of vegetarians in that particular district. I hope that the Minister will give us an encouraging reply, because this really is a scandal, and it should have been dealt with much before this time.

8.27 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

In fairness to the Parliamentary Secretary I should say at once that I have not had an opportunity of giving him advance notice of the points I wish to raise. I did not anticipate that we should have this amount of time for the debate. Indeed, I told my hon. Friend that I should not intervene in it, because I was anxious that he should have full opportunity to put the facts of his own case before the House.

I am sure that the facts about our slaughterhouses, when they are revealed. will not cast any reflection upon or cause any criticism to be made of the Parliamentary Secretary. I am sure he has done everything possible that could be done, as we endeavoured to do what we could do at the time when we were in the Ministry. However, this is, as he will agree, I am sure, a very vexed problem that causes constant anxiety. I was very happy to note, on Monday, that at last we are soon to get at any rate the committee's interim report. I hope that once we get that report the Minister will be in a more effective position to compel his colleagues to allow him greater resources to tackle this very serious problem.

I think everyone with any knowledge of the slaughterhouses of this country will agree that they are hopelessly inadequate, and that in one form or another we shall have to tackle this problem. I am not trying to make party points tonight. I am quite sure that when we have this inter-Departmental committee's report those of us who are conscious of the problem will be in a much more effective position to compel action.

I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary one or two questions that, I hope, he is in a position to answer, although I shall not complain if he is not. When I was at the Ministry of Food, in the late Government, we put forward a very limited scheme of seven new slaughterhouses, apart from the experimental slaughterhouses at Fare ham and Guildford. What progress has been made with that limited scheme? I am not trying to anticipate the report, but, in general terms, what experience has been gained from the experimental slaughterhouses? Has the experience gained been worth while?

Further, because this is a special problem, what progress has been made regarding pigs? Last Session we discussed a Private Member's Bill dealing with pig slaughtering. My own impression is that that is a particular problem within the general problem. There was need for something to be done urgently about that. Has that particular problem of pigs been tackled?

I mention my difficulty, in as much as this White Paper is now being printed. Nevertheless, I invite the Parliamentary Secretary to take the opportunity, if he can, of stating, without embarking on the political considerations, whether his view is still that the solution will lie along the path of moderate concentration. That was the view which we took at the time, and it would be reassuring to know that it remains the view held by the present Government. If there is a change of view, it is always an occasion for delay, whereas if we continue to take the same view, there will be a better opportunity of making more effective progress. Again, I am not seeking to anticipate the committee's report, but does the Parliamentary Secretary agree that whatever steps are taken—and I am not discussing those steps tonight—whatever form the control of slaughterhouses takes, there will have to be a national plan for slaughterhouses?

Finally, I wish to raise a constituency point—the question of the Sunderland abattoir. Frankly, I believe it is not proper to embarrass the Government too much about these matters, because I concede that everything possible is being done by the Ministry, and I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary is doing all he can to tackle this problem. As I have pleaded for a national plan, it is particularly difficult to stress a constituency case, but in Sunderland we are outside the category of being a purely constituency case because it was agreed, under the limited plan which I have mentioned, that Sunderland should have an abattoir. All I wish to do is to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what is the progress timetable for that slaughterhouse.

This is a very good example of how difficult it is to carry out decisions. This was in a scheme under the late Government, but no beginning has yet been made with the building. I know something of the history of the case and I know that the present position is no reflection upon the Ministry, or upon anyone in particular. It arises from the difficulty of getting a proper site for an abattoir. Such difficulties take a long time to overcome, but we have overcome them and I understand that tenders have been sought. I am not sure whether I am right about that.

It would be reassuring to us in Sunderland to know when the building is likely to be completed. We have waited for more than two years after the comforting decision that we were to have a new slaughterhouse. I know the Parliamentary Secretary will give an assurance that he will do all he can to speed up the Ministry of Works in constructing this abattoir, but if he can tell us when he expects it to be finished and to be brought into operation it will be a real comfort to the local authority. The Parliamentary Secretary will be shocked, as we were when we learned of them, to know the conditions which obtain.

We were one of the fortunate authorities, with a decision in our favour for the provision of a new slaughterhouse. If the Parliamentary Secretary can give some general indication of when we are likely to see the opening of this abattoir, which has been an issue in Sunderland since well before the war, it would be a great comfort to those whose patient interest and determination will at last bear fruit.

8.34 p.m.

Mr. Denys Bullard (Norfolk, South-West)

I regret that I was not in the Chamber when the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. P. Wells) opened the debate. I heard the end of his speech and I gather that he was complaining about the conditions in a slaughterhouse in a particular area. All of us, I believe, have similar problems and I feel very strongly with him in what I heard of his speech.

I do not think that we can lay the blame for the conditions which exist on any particular Government Department, especially the Ministry of Food, because they have been administering the slaughterhouses under a war-time policy. A great number were closed down during the war and this put a heavy burden on those that remained. The result is that a problem has arisen which did not arise when fewer animals were slaughtered in these places, some of which are quite old. This has certainly increased the problems of sanitation and all that goes with it. I hope that we shall soon be able to move away from the present conditions.

My reason for intervening in the debate is to try to get information, if possible, of where we go from this point onwards. It seems to me that we are now about to embark in the coming year in a change-over in our slaughtering policy, and this seems an appropriate time to come to a definite decision as to what is to be done. I have had this problem put to me in my own constituency by butchers who are particularly concerned to know what they ought to be doing about their own places.

I think that at the moment everyone is waiting for everyone else. There is a committee sitting and we hope to have a report shortly, but in the meantime those who would like to carry out improvements are inhibited from doing so because they are wondering what may be coming along later. They think that if they do something now their efforts may be superseded by what may follow. I hope that the slaughtering of cattle in the future will at least be done partly on the dead-weight basis as proposed by the National Farmers' Union.

I think that there is an opportunity for that method to operate alongside other methods, but to work out that scheme, even if it is only a voluntary and partial scheme, there must be improved slaughterhouse facilities. That will require a lot of financing and thought if it is to be developed, and I hope the Government will give every possible encouragement to see that the scheme is enabled to work.

Quite apart from that, it seems to me that such a scheme cannot possibly cover all the slaughtering done in this country. Therefore, I think that individual slaughterhouses—the smaller establishments—although they have their disadvantages will be required in the future, particularly in the small towns, although it is in the smaller towns that often the worst conditions exist.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, as soon as he is able to do so. will give a lead to the people who really want to bring about improvements. Two or three years have passed since anything fundamental was done to change these places. I feel quite sure that there are many private owners of slaughterhouses who want to bring them up to date, and who would be prepared to spend money on them if they could be fairly clear as to what the future slaughterhouse policy is to be.

Therefore, while I share the feeling of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) that probably my hon. Friend will be limited in what he can say tonight, I hope that at the earliest opportunity he will make clear to these people what they can be getting on with, and what the broad outline of the future slaughterhouse policy is to be.

Mr. Percy Morris (Swansea, West)

Is the hon. Member suggesting that the appalling description of the position at Sittingbourne is typical of the position throughout the country? Does he regard that as a commonplace example? If so, the Parliamentary Secretary has a tremendous indictment to answer. I am glad that I have already dined, because I could not possibly have had any enjoyment after listening to what has been said.

Mr. Bullard

If I may be allowed to reply, I think that the hon. Gentleman did rather over paint the picture. I am sure that everyone who works in these places does his utmost to keep them in the best possible condition; but the places are not very good. I cannot praise highly some of the slaughterhouses which exist in my own constituency, but I cannot speak for the position throughout the country.

8.40 p.m.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

I wonder whether I may clutch the flying coat tails of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. P. Wells) to plead, quite unashamedly, a constituency problem of my own. I should not have intruded into my hon. Friend's Adjournment debate had we not had the time at our disposal that we have tonight. I think he will feel when I have finished what I have to say that, so far from weakening his case, I am putting a cutting edge on it, if that is necessary.

We have, in Cardiff, a very real problem. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris) that if he wants to spoil his meals for a good many days, he should come and look at our slaughterhouse in Cardiff.

Mr. P. Morris

No, not Cardiff.

Mr. Callaghan

As the Parliamentary Secretary may know, I have had correspondence with the Minister of Food on the question of our slaughterhouse in Cardiff. I have also had correspondence with the Minister of Health about what I regard as a menace to public health in the slaughterhouse at Adamsdown, and I have asked Questions of the Minister of Food since I had the opportunity of seeing the conditions that exist in the Adamsdown slaughterhouse last September.

I went there on a warm September morning, and when I was there I saw swarms of flies feeding on rotting flesh within 30 yards of houses. When I said to the Minister of Health that this was a menace to public health, he replied that those responsible admitted that that was the case on the day I went there, but said that that was the only day on which it had happened. Who am I to say that it was not? I do not know, but it seems to be a remarkable coincidence that that should be the only occasion on which I happened to go, after I had been asked to go by the meat traders of Cardiff and by some of the local residents.

I should like to bring it home to the Parliamentary Secretary that my interest is a purely constituency one, in the sense that the residents who are living around the slaughterhouse in Adamsdown feel that the present position is quite intolerable. I hope the House will forgive me if I use the time that we have at our disposal to explain why. There is a slaughterhouse in a heavily built-up industrial area in Cardiff, which is surrounded on three sides by houses and is bounded on the fourth by railway sidings. The houses are merely on the other side of the road. Adamsdown has some 10,000 people living in it as a ward, and I have often said in my speeches down there—they are getting tired of hearing me say it now—that in Adamsdown there are only three open spaces. One is occupied by the prison, the second by the cemetery, and the third by the slaughterhouse.

There are 500 or 600 people living within yards of the slaughterhouse. Quite apart from the menace to public health, as I regard it, from these large fat flies feeding on the flesh lying in the open. [Laughter.] It may sound amusing, but I assure my hon. Friend that I found it quite revolting to see it. Quite apart from this, there is all the noise and disturbance of animals at night, in the lairage there waiting to be slaughtered, when people and young children are trying to sleep. Men who work on night shift are having to put up with all this inconvenience. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to look into the case most carefully.

I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Bullard) that one authority seems to be waiting on another. The Cardiff City Corporation, whom I have approached on the matter, say, "We agree that the conditions under which men are working are really very bad." Some of the machinery, I am told, is upwards of 100 years old—indeed, it looks like it. Some of the men complained to me that it was dangerous to be working there. Certainly, they have few sanitary conveniences. There is a dirty little shed in which they have to eat their meals. There is cold water about 100 yards away in which they can wash the blood off their arms and hands. Instead of using that, they stay in the slaughterhouse, as I have seen, and wash off the blood under the hot taps where the animals are being slaughtered. I really thought it was one of the most nauseating spectacles I had come across.

But the Cardiff Corporation says: "How can we spend money on it when we do not know what the future policy is to be?" I do not know enough about it to say to what extent the Ministry is responsible for this, but certainly the old rhyme seems to be apposite: The Earl of Chatham, with his sword drawn, Stood waiting for Sir Richard Strachan. Sir Richard, longing to be at 'em, Stood waiting for the Earl of Chatham. That seems to be the case with the Cardiff Corporation and Charlie Hill. That was a figure of speech, but the Corporation and the Parliamentary Secretary seem to be waiting for each other.

I am told that the Cardiff City Corporation has considered a new site, and it now proposes to recommend one. I was astonished to learn it is to be beside one of the newest housing estates on the edge of the city, in Rumney. It also happens to be near some railway siding, but it puts up the proposal to the Parliamentary Secretary and he decides it, I hope he will quash it straight away. I know that the Cardiff City Corporation do some odd things. Once they built a wall to separate one lot of residents from another lot. But there is no reason for them to repeat their folly in connection with the slaughterhouses.

I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that there is a perfectly good site for the new Cardiff slaughterhouse if it is decided that there must be one. It is down at the docks, well away from the residential area. There is a big open space for it, known in the vernacular as "the Prairie," because it is a large open space with plenty of railway sidings, and with the docks close by. In this place the whole of this business could be carried on without any undue interference with the proper working of the meat trade and no interference with those who do their business there.

I am much obliged to the House and to the Parliamentary Secretary for listening to me with such patience. I have been informed that present slaughterhouse inconveniences seriously distresses many local families. I saw the conditions for myself during the Recess, and the Parliamentary Secretary has received, within the last three weeks, a petition that was spontaneously organised by the people living immediately around the slaughterhouse. This is a very real problem from the point of view of those engaged in the trade and those who live around this place and who will be occasioned distress and disappointment unless something is done. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can do something to help us.

8.49 p.m.

Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)

I had no intention of intervening in this debate, but in view of the trend which it has taken and the hour I thought I would make a contribution. I believe that this is only the first of many debates about our slaughterhouses that we shall have in the months ahead. Sometime during the summer my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be announcing a different system for the sale of our fat cattle, and I am very concerned about how we are to deal with those cattle unless we get an early announcement about slaughterhouse policy.

Before the war, we had several thousand slaughterhouses; today, it is only a few hundred. I do not advocate for one moment—indeed, it would be a physical impossibility for the Ministry of Food or any other Government Department—the building of sufficient new slaughterhouses to cope with the position which will arise probably in July. We have to see that there is a sufficient number of slaughterhouses throughout the country to deal with the cattle as they come from the farms. Hon. Members are well aware of the conditions under which the animals are slaughtered. They are rushed from the grading centre and many of them are killed hot. That is one of the reasons why meat has not been of such good quality. In other cases they are kept a day or two in the lairage before they are slaughtered.

Coming to the constituency problem, my butchers feel that instead of each opening his own slaughterhouse, as was the case before the war, they could kill their own meat if one slaughterhouse were opened in each of several small towns. Certain work would have to be done before the slaughterhouse was ready, but they feel that this would be a much better arrangement than each man having his own.

While that would work well in the country areas, something larger is needed in the large consuming areas. The slaughterhouses could be municipally or privately owned, but large ones are needed, capable not only of dealing with the meat as it comes in from the farmers, but also to see that there are ample refrigeration facilities to keep the meat there, so that during the flush period it can be held back a little. At all times, of course, meat is improved by being kept a while in a refrigerated room.

Another problem which must be faced is the question of the calf trade. It is not generally realised that calves cannot be kept about long after they come off the farms, in fact, they should be killed the day they come from the auction market. So, whatever arrangements are made, we must have the Wholesale calf dealer back in operation as he was before the war. These men rendered great service to the farming community and to the consuming public in the way they presented calves quickly after the auctions in pre-war days.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) referred to the conditions of slaughterhouses and to sites. For a change, I want to congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on his wisdom in selecting the site at Uddens for the new slaughterhouse to serve Poole and Bournemouth and North-East Dorset. My hon. Friend has gone right out into rural Dorset and has chosen a good site. When the slaughterhouse there is brought into operation, its effects will be felt over a large surrounding area. I am not suggesting that my hon. Friend can build slaughterhouses of that typo throughout the country, but I hope that in selecting sites the same course will be followed as was adopted in that case.

8.54 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Dr. Charles Hill)

I think it will be generally agreed that circumstances have provided an opportunity for leaving Sittingbourne for a while and examining some of the larger problems involved. If the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. P. Wells) will forgive me, I will deal with certain of the general issues which provide the background and then come to the case of Sittingbourne.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey) began an examination of the general picture by asking about our experience in the two experimental slaughterhouses at Guildford and Fareham. The hon. Gentleman will not wish me to go into great detail, but I can say that many representatives of local authorities, and their specialist officers, have found from visits to Guildford and Fareham immense advantage in the preparation of the plans that many of them have made in the hope that soon they will be able to build their own slaughterhouses.

Sunderland is, I suppose, the last of the series of nine new slaughterhouses that have been or are being built under Government auspices and which were commenced when the hon. Member for Sunderland, North held my office. I will come to the specific details as regards Sunderland in a moment, but, sticking to generality, let me come first to the hon. Gentleman's second question.

In effect, he asks when the report of the siting committee is to come out, and he even asked me what it would contain. May I remind the House that before the war there were some 12,000 slaughterhouses, whereas today there are only about 600. In the early days of the war it was decided for a variety of reasons—not for the most part hygienic reasons, but for reasons of concentration and of Government policy in those difficult days—to use but a relatively small number of the 12,000 slaughterhouses. There has been a variation in the number both up and down since, but let me take the figures of 12,000 and 600. I do not pretend for one moment that all, or indeed the majority, of the 600 are very satisfactory establishments by modern standards.

Now comes the new phase. Some 18 months ago was published the statement of Government policy, of moderate concentration combined with a restoration of the responsibility of local authorities, co operative societies and other bodies, of ownership and administration. That policy of moderate concentration—and here I answer the hon. Member for Sunderland, North—still stands. In order to give expression to that policy an inter-Departmental committee was set up, the so-called siting committee, in order to determine where those relatively few slaughterhouses could best serve the needs of the community.

I know that the report of that committee has been anxiously awaited, particularly by those local authorities who cannot believe that any sensible committee would do other than recommend their area as a site for a new slaughterhouse. We have reached the stage of an interim report of that committee. In answer to a Question yesterday, I said that the report would shortly be published as a White Paper, and I can tell the House that it is expected to be published on Friday.

Obviously, it would be improper to reveal what is in the report, but I think I can properly say that it deals with certain interim problems created by the decision to deration meat some time this year. If we look at the situation that results from derationing, it will immediately be evident that pending the building of those new abbatoirs which will no doubt follow from the main part of the committee's report, the siting part of the report, there is the problem of the provision of sufficient slaughterhouses to meet the needs on and after the derationing of meat. The interim report concentrates upon those interim problems of the interregnum between the event of derationing—the return of freedom—and the building, where building is recommended, of new abattoirs where they are needed. That is the general background.

In reply to the constituency points which have been made, let me say at once that the slaughterhouse position, taken generally in the country, is unsatisfactory. There are, of course, exceptions; some are better than others. I would just say to the hon. Member for Faversham, with the greatest gentleness, that it is easy to arouse horror in people's minds in describing a perfectly satisfactory slaughterhouse, by concentrating on the morbid details and processes that transpire.

I am not intending this as a rebuke or a criticism, but I think that a recital of the normal processes of the post-mortem room would of itself arouse a horror which did not necessarily justify a condemnation of the practice or procedure of those rooms. We have to be particularly careful to separate the legitimate hygienic grounds of criticism from the natural distaste of many people of a description of the process of destruction.

When the hon. Member, in describing the slaughterhouse to which he was referring—and I shall not for a moment pretend that it is wholly satisfactory—introduced the statistics for diseased meat, for diseased animals, in his area, no doubt he was properly referring to a problem—the problem of disease in animals—but it had nothing to do with the conditions of that slaughterhouse. Do not let us be too horrific in this matter. Do not let us create too many vegetarians by the language we use. Many people prefer to eat such modest quantities of meat as they can obtain without necessarily having a detailed knowledge of the various destructive processes that have gone to its preparation.

Even so, I say to the hon. Gentleman that there is a real problem at Sittingbourne. It is essentially a problem of congestion. It is not—I am now speaking within my general admission of a slaughterhouse position which is far from satisfactory—too bad by comparison with the general average level. It is congested, as the hon. Gentleman quite fairly pointed out. We arranged in 1949, after discussions with the local authority, to limit the daily kill to 10 cattle and 30 "smalls," if I may use that word in relation to the slaughterhouse and not to the clothes line. We have, by limiting the amount of the kill there, sought to meet an admitted problem of considerable congestion.

What should happen? The hon. Member—I am not criticising him; he has done his task particularly well in pressing for this new abattoir—is really putting in a plea for a new abattoir in Sittingbourne. I think that is a fair summary of the position.

Mr. P. Wells

Because of the conditions.

Dr. Hill

He has not omitted one word that could be used in criticism of the conditions in order, quite properly, to press his case for a new abattoir. It would be open to us to close Sittingbourne slaughterhouse. If the local authority were to press us to close Sittingbourne slaughterhouse because of those conditions, it would be very difficult to resist that pressure. We do not particularly want to do so because we have the interim problem of carrying on between decontrol and the creation of new slaughterhouses. The siting committee which it is hoped will report at or before the middle of the year will make proposals for naming the areas in which new slaughterhouses should be built under the policy of moderate concentration.

Mr. Callaghan

On Friday?

Dr. Hill

No. Friday's report is the interim report dealing with certain pressing interim problems as between decontrol and the appearance of new abattoirs. The main report which will not be available for some months will name the areas. There is a great deal of work involved. I appreciate the need for haste, but that report will name the areas.

Mr. P. Wells

We were told that two years ago.

Dr. Hill

In that case, the repetition may hurt but at least it will inform the hon. Member. There is an inter-Departmental committee now in its final stages of preparing a report naming the areas. I do not know whether Sittingbourne will be one of the areas. I do not speak with any knowledge of the recommendations when I say that it would not surprise me if it were decided that the new abattoir at Canterbury could take on the work hitherto done at Sittingbourne. It would not surprise me if the Medway area were selected as a more appropriate area, some eight, nine or 10 miles away.

All I have to say to the hon. Member—and he would not wish me to mislead him in any way—is that I cannot give him any assurance that Sittingbourne will be one of the recommended centres. All I can say is that the policy of moderate concentration will find expression in the report of the Committee which will appear some time this year; I hope at or before the middle of the year. I cannot hold out any hope that it will be Sittingbourne. I do not know the trend of the recommendations of the committee, but I know the geography of the area, and I am trying to suggest to the hon. Member that, in terms of Sittingbourne, he may not be a successful candidate for the favour of the siting.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) described the position in Cardiff. I have not seen the Cardiff slaughterhouse. I saw the Newport slaughterhouse which is 100 years old—probably of the same kind of age—and in the heart of the town. I say to the hon. Gentleman that I do not pretend that there is not a serious problem there as in many other towns; there is. Many slaughterhouses are old, out-dated and out-worn. I accept his statement as to the description of Cardiff. When the hon. Gentleman came to the question of the siting of the new one, he said something that I have heard before. Those in the centre of the town advocate with great conviction the advantage of its being on the outskirts of the town, and those who live in the residential areas on the outskirts adopt an air of superior disdain at the very thought of so lowly an establishment being situated there. But, thank goodness, the decision does not belong to us. It belongs to the planning authority of the area after consideration of the recommendations of the local authority.

Mr. Callaghan

Who is the planning authority?

Dr. Hill

No doubt it will be the planning authority for the area as a whole. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press me too much on that point. I content myself by saying that the selection of the site, thank goodness, is not a responsibility of my right hon. Friend or myself.

Mr. Callaghan

If it were, the hon. Gentleman would have a very easy get-out. He would agree with me that it should be sited in the docks where nobody lives but everybody works.

Dr. Hill

I have always found it easier to agree than to disagree with the hon. Member, but I resist the temptation, for this is not a subject on which I have to say anything at all.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch) began to praise me. I thought for one fearful moment that I was going to have to disclaim responsibility for the selection of the site of the slaughterhouse to which he referred. But I rejoice to say that he was referring to one of the fortunate areas, like that of the hon. Member for Sunderland. North, though I make no suggestion as to how it came to be so fortunately selected as one of the areas for the nine slaughterhouses which were decided upon by our predecessors, with the erection of which we have continued.

In the case of Sunderland, I can add no more than the hon. Member for Sunderland, North knows. The project is at the tender stage. There have been great delays in the selection of the sites and in securing planning approval. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North, who puts many points to me in vigorous party vein, has been good enough tonight to approach this question in a non-party spirit. We have a fearful problem. In part it is a problem of old slaughterhouses. In part it is the problem that we have reduced the number to 600 and that with the end of the Ministry of Food ownership of meat Ministry of Food responsibility for slaughterhouses ends. There is created immediately a need for more slaughterhouses, and that is at a time when the general policy is one of moderate concentration and the building of new slaughterhouses which conform to new, modern standards.

We have two problems to face at one and the same time. One is the problem of the relatively few, good slaughterhouses and the other, in the interregnum, the need for a larger number of widely distributed slaughterhouses to secure the efficient distribution of meat. I frankly confess that we have the difficult problem of pursuing a long-term policy which will be commended by all and of meeting the immediate position after de-control of securing that enough slaughterhouses are temporarily opened or reopened for the purpose of meeting the public need in the meantime.

The interim report faces this problem of an interregnum and to that extent meets a problem which is causing a considerable anxiety among the farming community, the butchers and those who are responsible generally for the distribution of meat. We shall need a good deal of thought and, if I dare suggest it to my old political adversary, the Member for Sunderland, North, we shall need a good deal of co-operation in order to solve a serious problem. It is a temporary problem, but one which will remain with us until the policy of moderate concentration finds expression in new, up-to-date, modern slaughterhouses conforming to scientific standards and to the public conscience of the day.

Adjourned accordingly at Fourteen minutes past Nine o'Clock.