HC Deb 30 June 1954 vol 529 cc1478-88

Read a Second time, and committed.

9.48 p.m.

Sir Charles Taylor (Eastbourne)

I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clauses 60 to 62 The object of Clause 60 is to license certain premises for the slaughtering and dressing of poultry, Clause 61 gives the Corporation powers to make certain byelaws, and Clause 62 exempts certain premises, such as hotels and catering establishments, from the necessity of applying for licences in respect of the dressing of poultry.

Such Clauses as these three have never previously been used in any corporation Bill. I know that a number of hon. Members representing Manchester believe that what happens in Manchester today will happen elsewhere in England tomorrow, but I do not see why three such Clauses should be necessary. To parody the phrase of a great statesman, "Manchester has some chickens which have some necks." Probably all of us, during our lifetime, have wrung the neck of a chicken. I fail to see why it is necessary that the Manchester Corporation should have specially licensed premises for the slaughtering of chickens.

In Clause 60, the first of the offending Clauses, it is provided that the Corporation shall not grant or renew a licence unless an authorised officer has inspected the premises named in the application and has made a report thereon; I am one of those who believe that we want to do away with some of these inspectors, that there should not be the necessity for having inspectors to inspect premises for the wringing of chicken's necks.

One very potent reason which I would give for asking the House to agree with me about this Instruction is that there is now before the House the Food and Drugs Amendment Bill, which, in my opinion, goes far too far in many respects in dealing with the cleanliness—I was going to say the cleanliness of food, but that might be misinterpreted—far too far in making regulations and instructions dealing with the cleanliness of food.

I believe that food should be scrupulously clean, but that that should be done more by education than by legislation, and if the Food and Drugs Amendment Bill contains no Clause about the need for the inspection of premises for the slaughtering of chickens, I fail to see why the Manchester Corporation should ask us to allow them to have this Clause in their Bill.

I am not necessarily concerned about Manchester. I am concerned that this is a precedent that may be set throughout the whole country. Some of my hon. Friends and myself have had considerable experience of these Private Bills, and we find that, once one corporation has obtained various Clauses in a Bill, every other corporation automatically asks for the same Clauses to be inserted in their Bills. It then becomes a precedent for all sorts of piecemeal legislation throughout the whole country. I believe that if such a Clause as this is necessary to the community as a whole, the House should tackle the problem for the whole country, and not only for Manchester.

Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)

Manchester always leads the way.

Sir C. Taylor

I have said that already, but, if the House believes these Clauses to be necessary, then we should tackle the problem nationally and not piecemeal. I do not believe that these Clauses are necessary. Clause 60 makes it necessary for certain premises to be licensed. Then, Clause 61 gives a power of making byelaws, but Clause 62 seems to exempt nearly everybody, except the professional slaughterer of chickens.

There is one final point which also relates to Clause 62, which provides that the dressing of poultry in hotels restaurants cafes clubs canteens or other catering establishments shall be exempt from the provisions of this Clause, for dressing purposes only, but it does not mention slaughtering. If the provisions of Clause 62 became the general practice throughout the whole country, it would mean that every little village inn which did a bit of catering, every little village hotel which kept a few chickens in the back garden, would have to have a licence before it would be possible to wring a chicken's neck so that it could be dressed, cooked and served at table, which is quite ridiculous.

Mr. Harold Lever (Manchester, Cheetham)

The village would have to promote a Bill first.

Sir C. Taylor

If this Clause becomes general practice, as it will if Manchester obtains the right to have it in the Bill—

Mr. Lever

Would the hon. Gentleman tell us the number of villages that have promoted Private Bills in this House during the last century?

Sir C. Taylor

That is not the point. Eastbourne Corporation still includes villages, and what applies to Eastbourne Corporation will apply to those villages. We still have countrymen who keep chickens in the back garden.

Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)

Is not the hon. Member misleading the House on this matter? If he will read the Clause he will find that those people are exempt.

Sir C. Taylor

The hon. Member has not read the Clause himself. The dressing of chickens is exempt, but not the slaughtering. If the Clause is allowed, dressing will still be permitted, but people will not be allowed to wring chickens' necks unless they apply for a licence, and their premises will be inspected. If they did so inadvertently, not knowing the law, they would be liable to a penalty not exceeding £10 for the first offence and for any subsequent offence to a penalty not exceeding. £50 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

After the first offence they would know that it was an offence.

Sir C. Taylor

The right hon. Gentleman is quite right. Clause 62 goes much too far. The three Clauses will set a precedent for the whole country which is unnecessary and will impose more inspectors and Regulations upon us. I therefore ask the House to support me in this Motion.

9.58 p.m.

Mr. F. J. Erroll (Altrincham and Sale)

I beg to second the Motion.

The Motion has been ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor). I would remind hon. Gentlemen that we are settling this question not only for Manchester but for the country as a whole. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Once the Clauses are granted to Manchester in 1954, that fact will be cited by promoters of Private Bills in future years as a justification for their writing substantially the same Clauses into their Bills.

That would apply not only to big cities like Birmingham and Newcastle, or to the London County Council, but also to other county councils—this may perhaps assist the hon. Member for Cheetham (Mr. H. Lever) who raised this point with my hon. Friend—and we know that county council Bills very often seek the same powers as are ordinarily granted to cities. On that basis, these powers may be used as required by all local authorities within a county, such as non-county boroughs, urban and rural district councils, or county districts.

Therefore, the fact is that if the Clauses are passed today in their present form, we shall be setting the shape of licensing for this type of thing for the whole of the country in the future, in large towns, small towns, country inns, and all the rest. In my study of Private Bills over the last few years, I have noticed how frequently county councils pick out Clauses which have been introduced for large cities and adapt them to their own purposes on the ground that they have medium-sized towns as well as villages, and that all must be catered for in a county council Bill.

Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)

How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile his present argument on this narrow point affecting the slaughter of chickens with the votes he has given this week in support of the Government who are seeking to enlarge the number of slaughterhouses from 600 to an estimated figure of 4,000 in the next month?

Mr. Erroll

I must admit that I did not follow the debate in such detail as I should have done, but I should have thought that the two subjects were in line with each other—more slaughterhouses for animals, and complete free dom to slaughter chickens. It really seems unnecessarily detailed for one to have to get a licence in order to slaughter a chicken and to sell the carcase, but that is what these Clauses propose.

I know that a certain concession has been given to caterers in the Manchester area because they very rightly objected. I know that one should not turn one's back on a concession, but it serves to show the weakness of Manchester's case that, when pressure is brought to bear on the corporation by the caterers, it says to them, "In your case, it is not necessary for you to be licensed for dressing, but only for killing chickens." If dressing is to be free, why should not the operation of killing be exempted from licensing as well? The two operations go very much hand in hand.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

I gather from what has been said by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor) that he has no knowledge at all of the fact that sometimes quite considerable skill is called for in the killing of chickens. Is he or is he not concerned to see that there should be humane killing of chickens as well as of other types of animals?

Mr. Erroll

I cannot speak for my hon. Friend, but I would certainly subscribe to the view that there is an element of skill both in the killing and in the dressing of poultry. But the inspection is of the premises and not of the personnel, and the class of inspector who will be called upon to carry out the inspection will not, in fact, be qualified to say whether or not the slaughterers are themselves skilled, so that the Clauses would not have the effect which the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) hopes for, namely, that of ensuring the humane slaughtering of poultry. They would only lead to the inspection of premises and to a cumbersome procedure for obtaining licences or a renewal of licences which, in our submission, is quite unnecessary.

That brings me to my next point, which is that the need has not been proved. Somebody in Manchester had a bright idea—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and nobody has had the courage to stop it. It is one of the hardest things in the world to stop bright ideas when they happen to be had ideas, and one of the purposes of this House is to stop bright ideas which are also bad ones. Somebody had the bright idea of licensing all establishments used for the slaughtering of poultry, and no one dared to say that this was a bit of nonsense and another bit of bureaucracy.

If Manchester chooses to inflict upon itself this restrictive licensing system it is inevitably setting the pattern of licensing in this particular field for the rest of the country. We who object to these Clauses are objecting not just on behalf of those Manchester citizens who feel already that this is an unnecessary extension of the licensing system, but on behalf of the whole country.

10.5 p.m.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) speaks for the whole country, but he does not tell us for what section of the whole country. He certainly does not speak for the consumers of poultry. Furthermore, if I may introduce fish into the chicken argument he has dragged red herrings across the trail by suggesting that the case has not been proved. It is not here that the case needs to be proved, but in Committee.

We have here to examine why the Manchester Corporation should put down this Clause. It is not just a bright idea—that is the sort of slick, "smart alec" argument that one associates with the two hon. Gentlemen in all their actions in this House. There is the same good reason for bringing under control the slaughter and dressing of chickens as there was for the case we were making out last night on the Slaughterhouses Bill. Before the war, in the glorious 'twenties, it was the practice for diseased meat and chickens to be sold in every market place.

I raised with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food last night the question of what steps the Government were taking to ensure that where there was bad slaughterhouse practice the local authorities would have power to deal with it. He said that the matter would be dealt with by national legislation, by the introduction of certain standards. A local authority, whether it be Manchester or elsewhere must act if it is aware that as in the past hordes of diseased chickens are being brought within the bounds of the city. In the past hordes of chickens have been brought in by, I do not doubt, a large number of the constituents of the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale. That is why he is here today. And I would not be surprised if a large number came from Eastbourne.

There is no doubt whatever that what I called last night "slick meat" was a terrible problem, but diseased chickens are just as bad. One knows that the modern practices used in raising chickens make them very liable to disease and if the breeders, for whom the hon. Gentleman speaks, suspect that those chickens are diseased the slick thing is to knock them across the head, pull off their feathers, sell them in the nearest town and leave the local authority to discharge the bill. I would never have chicken in a restaurant. I have seen too much of what goes on. May I say that as a result of the Government's food policy as a whole I am not so sure that I shall not become a vegetarian, Certainly, I shall buy no more processed meat or sausages.

Mr. Erroll

May I point out that the provisions of these Clauses would not prevent the operation which the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned? It would still be possible for dead, diseased, chickens to come into Manchester. It is only the slaughtering within the boundaries that would become illegal.

Mr. Wigg

I entirely agree. The hon. Gentleman and his friends are fully aware of the loopholes through which the diseased animals can reach the market. They have obviously worked it out.

We had an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food last night that when the Government become aware of the increase in tuberculosis and other diseases carried by diseased meat they would do something about it. We are trying to prevent these diseased animals coming on the market at all, and the only way is to give the local authority power, within its own boundaries to supervise the dressing of these goods. I would have thought that any hon. Gentleman who is not representing some special interest but is concerned with the public good, not only in Manchester but in the country as a whole, would agree that what Manchester does today the rest of England ought to do tomorrow.

10.10 p.m.

Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)

The main objection to these Clauses seems to be that they create a precedent. I suggest that the precedent of ensuring adequate sanitary conditions in premises where slaughtering takes place is a good one. This Bill applies to Manchester and not to Eastbourne. Of course, I appreciate that what Manchester does today the rest of England may do tomorrow, but that is beside the point. Much as I value the opinions of my hon. Friends who have already spoken, I respectfully suggest that those of us who have the honour to represent the City of Manchester know rather better than they do what are the needs of Manchester.

Sir C. Taylor

It is one of the duties of all hon. Members of this House to examine these Bills. That is why they come before the House. They do not come before the House only for the consideration of the 'Manchester Members. Surely other Members can examine corporation Bills; otherwise, those Bills would not be brought here.

Mr. Johnson

I accept what my hon. Friend says. I am merely pointing out that the fact that hon. Members who represent the City of Manchester are unanimous in supporting these Clauses should carry a good deal of weight with the House when the Bill is examined. I suggest that those who oppose these Clauses must be inadequately informed about the conditions prevailing in Manchester where the slaughter of poultry is concerned. A considerable trade in poultry is carried on in Manchester. The present safeguards are quite inadequate, and this point of view is shared by all hon. Members who represent the City.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

Is it the hon. Gentleman's view that Manchester is worse than any other city in this respect?

Mr. Johnson

I did not say anything about Manchester being worse. This is a Manchester Bill, and, in the opinion of the Corporation, the safeguards are most inadequate. The purpose of the three Clauses is to ensure that premises used for the slaughter of poultry are satisfactory and that they are kept in a sanitary condition. I find it very hard to see what possible objection there can be to that. If it is not possible under the Food and Drugs Act, 1938, to regulate the conditions of premises on which poultry are slaughtered, I feel that steps should be taken to provide the necessary legislation.

I do not want to go into the details about the slaughter of poultry, but there are eight different premises in Manchester which are used for this purpose, on a large scale, and conditions there are far from satisfactory. I do not know whether I should explain some of the methods used in the slaughtering of poultry; I do not want to go into any unpleasant details, but there are many matters which need to be put right, and this can only be done by an adequate system of inspection and of ensuring that the premises are properly kept. There have been innumerable complaints, and we feel that there is every justification for legislation to give power to require that these premises are kept in a more satisfactory condition and to insist that they are regularly and properly inspected.

I suggest that these Clauses are in the best interests of public health. I hope the House will retain them and allow the Bill to go to Committee, where I am sure that the objections which have been raised will receive very full consideration.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)

I can understand the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor) having certain ideas about this matter, because of Eastbourne's lack of propinquity to the City of Manchester, but I thought that Altrincham was near enough to Manchester for the hon. Member who represents that constituency to be able to understand the virtues of the case which Manchester seeks to present through the medium of this Bill. Manchester seeks power to take certain steps to protect the purity, cleanliness and lack of contamination of its food, which may be endangered if the Bill is not passed.

It is surprising that any hon. Member should object to a local authority wanting powers to protect the food of the people. This is not a party issue; it is not brought forward in any narrow partisan spirit. The Manchester City Council unanimously decided to seek these powers. Not only did all the parties in the council approve of the decision, but the Government Departments concerned also indicated their approval. Both the Home Office and the Ministry of Food have made reference to Clauses 60 to 62 in the reports they have presented in connection with the Bill.

The Home Secretary has stated that, subject to certain Amendments being made—which Amendments have been incorporated in the Bill—he would not wish to object to the form of the Clauses. He recommended that they should be allowed if the promoters could show evidence that these powers were needed in Manchester. The Minister of Food intimated that he understood there was a considerable trade in the slaughter and dressing of poultry in Manchester and said that, subject to the local need for the Clauses being proved, he would not wish to raise any objection to them.

After very careful scrutiny of the powers sought by the city, both Government Departments have come to the conclusion that there is need to protect the purity and lack of contamination of chickens in the City of Manchester. That city is a very large place. It requires these powers not only to protect its own citizens, but to protect the citizens of Eastbourne, who must inevitably visit Manchester. These powers will protect citizens from every part of the country, including those from Altrincham, who come daily to Manchester.

In seeking these powers the Manchester City Council is not acting merely to safeguard the health of its own citizens. It is safeguarding the health and welfare of the citizens of Britain, because Manchester is a great city whither men and women come from all parts of the country and the Empire and the world. Surely the hon. Member for Eastbourne and the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) will not wish to be guilty of a grave dereliction of duty in not safeguarding the health of the citizens who go to Manchester from their parts of the world?

No petition was presented to the other place against the Clauses, and no petition against them has been presented to this House, and the time for presenting petitions has expired. I think we should say to hon. Members what is said at the marriage service, that, having said what they have, they should, in the interests of safeguarding the general welfare of the public, henceforward for ever hold their peace.

Mr. Errollrose

Mr. Lever

I am not giving way.

Sir C. Taylor


Mr. Erroll

But the hon. Member referred to me.

Mr. Lever

I am not giving way. I am not anxious to assist the arguments of those who are indifferent to the health of the citizens. The Lord Chairman of Committees in another place, who is responsible for reporting on the Measure, has also given authority for these Clauses to proceed.

I think that every fair minded Member concerned with public health must conclude that Manchester Corporation, which is one of the largest and most responsible authorities in the country, in taking this step is taking a step designed to promote the health and welfare of the citizens, and I hope that all hon. Members, irrespective of party, will recognise the need to give Manchester these powers for the health and betterment not only of the citizens of Manchester but of those who visit it.

Sir C. Taylor

Coming from such a salubrious place as Eastbourne, I had not realised until now, and hearing hon. Members from Manchester, what insanitary conditions prevail in Manchester.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

Order. The hon. Member has spoken once already.

Sir C. Taylor

Therefore, I do hope that the Committee upstairs will take note of my remarks about Clause 62, and I beg to ask leave—

Mr. H. Lever

On a point of order. Is the hon. Member entitled to elaborate his request to withdraw his Motion, if he proposes to ask leave to withdraw his Motion?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member cannot make a second speech without the leave of the House.

Sir C. Taylor

I was not thinking of making a second speech—

Mr. H. Lever

The hon. Member is making a third speech.

Sir C. Taylor

—and was just coming to the point that I now reach. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.