HC Deb 15 December 1958 vol 597 cc897-906

10.0 p.m.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Slaughter of Pigs (Anaesthesia) Regulations, 1958 (S.I., 1958, No. 1971), dated 24th November, 1958, a copy of which was laid before this House on 28th November, be annulled. There are very few, if any, Statutory Instruments that I have awaited with greater interest than this. My hon. Friends and I are very happy to have this opportunity of discussing it. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary will remember that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) raised the matter in Committee, on 5th March, 1958, and that I had a few words to say at that time. Tonight, we wish to take this opportunity to ask some questions of the Parliamentary Secretary, and to request certain assurances.

Before anything else, we welcome the opportunity to say how grateful we are, as I am sure are the Parliamentary Secretary and all his hon. Friends, to all those who have been responsible for inventing the machine that we are to discuss, and those who have effected improvements upon the type of machine that we discussed in March. We ask the Minister to make it clear to individuals and organisations—in particular, to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare—that we are deeply grateful to them. We hope that the hon. Member will let those organisations know without delay that we have been deeply interested in their work, and feel that we have cause to be grateful to them.

Although I have been on my feet for only a few minutes, the Parliamentary Secretary may have realised by now that I do not possess an electric goad and have no intention of driving him into the Lobbies, either on a conveyor belt or on his own feet. We do not propose to divide the House; we are using this opportunity to ask questions and to try to obtain further reassurances.

When we discussed this subject in March we had before us the description of a machine to which was attached a moving belt upon which pigs were to be delivered to the machine itself, which stood in a chamber. We understood that in this chamber there would be a release of carbon dioxide gas, and we were advised that animals would be rendered unconscious by it within twenty or thirty seconds. We knew that it cost only about 1d. per animal to bring about anaesthesia. We had a discussion about the use of the electric goad to drive the animal on to the conveyor belt, and was asked for a proper training of attendants. Some hon. Members made remarks not entirely complimentary to certain hon. Members who are termed Whips, and who drive us from place to place. We asked for people who were not likely to become excited, who were well experienced, and had had proper training.

We note that under the Regulations specific modifications have been made to the details of the machine we were discussing, which had been used in the United States in the first place and also, in an improved form, in Denmark and Holland. I have noted four modifications in the Regulations. The first is that every pig is now to be confined in a separate compartment of the machine. This was not made apparent to us before. If this be a new modification, and a new British modification, we are glad to hear about it. Secondly, a visible and audible warning to the operator will take place if the concentration of carbon dioxide gas rises above 70 per cent. or falls below 62 per cent. I should like some information about this. Why is it that the ideal concentration has been found to be within a limit of 62 per cent. to 70 per cent.? Human beings exposed to carbon dioxide gas lose consciousness in about a minute if there is a 10 per cent. concentration. The Parliamentary Secretary will remember that a concentration of about 65 per cent. which we discussed last March must be pretty cold, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman has information which is not available to me and will tell us about it.

The third modification which we like very much is that means of access to each animal is to be available in every part of the machinery. I had hoped that something like this would be done, that it would be possible to stop the machine or rescue the animal from any part of it if something was going wrong. The fourth modification I note—if it is a modification—is that there will be means of rapid extraction of the gas from the chamber if and when that is required.

I wish to put these questions. First, may we have a specific reassurance about what will happen to animals in the machine? When I spoke about this in March, I asked whether an inspection chamber could be fitted so that we could watch. We had been advised that in an experiment conducted in connection with this technique in anaesthesia, observers noting 60 pigs passing through an electrically operated type of machine—not the one we are now discussing—had remarked that one in 15 or 20 animals had screamed. and that two out of the 60 came out of the machine bleeding at the mouth. It was thought that they had bitten at the containing bars and hurt themselves. I wondered whether something had happened to make them panic.

At that time we discussed the grading of the animals and decided that a difference in height of even two inches— if the pig were two inches higher than the average height of animals being put through the machine might prevent the animals from being anæsthetised. Carbon dioxide gas is an inert gas and the action is that of asphyxiation by the prevention of the inhalation of normal oxygen. The gas lies at the bottom of the machine, and to obtain ideal results pigs must be of an even graded height. That brings me to one reason why we cannot use the machine for birds or for cattle at the present stage, because we could not guarantee to grade cattle and birds, and so we know that the operation would not be successful. I ask, therefore, what grading for height is thought necessary and whether the conditions are as before?

Another question is, what percentage of failures occur? The Regulations make clear that steps are to be taken to ensure that if there is a failure, something can be done at once. The Regulations say that there should be someone standing by with an electrical stunning machine at his disposal, in good order and ready for use at once. I presume that this is in case something goes wrong. Will the Parliamentary Secretary advise us whether there is any possible likelihood of failure with the type of machine that we now have in mind, and if so what percentage of failures he thinks there may be? I am assuming that the machine runs perfectly and is licensed by the local authority as being in good order.

I should also like to know whether research is being continued to bring about further improvements. In discussing this, all of us hoped—and I think that I spoke of this myself—that if we continued with our research and experiments there was no reason why we should not ultimately achieve a machine which was quite foolproof, something perfect, and something with which we could all be completely content.

Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us whether any films have been taken? I think that a film could be taken inside this machine, using infra red photography, to show what really happens. If this has not been done, will the hon. Gentleman take the matter up to see whether it can be done because continuous inspection of that kind would teach us a great deal.

We believe that this is a very real step forward in the slaughter of animals. Many thoughtful people are not very happy at our having to use the flesh of living animals for food. We do not talk much about it, but we are not always happy about the thought. It may be that in 10,000, 50,000 or a million years' time the practice will cease altogether; but today, and until such happy event, it is essential that we shall take every possible step that we can before slaughter, as I am advised, and I think that it is true, that most of the pain and suffering can happen to the animal at the point of slaughter and we should do everything in our power to minimise all possible pain and suffering.

Of all our discussions on the Bill—and we had a number—this was, I think, one of the most pleasant that we had. The Parliamentary Secretary knows that we always enjoy coming back to this subject, with him sitting in his seat. It is rather like a reunion of old boys. He knows that, if ever we made him perspire a little as a result of our efforts, we meant it in good heart as we wished to improve the Bill.

On this matter the Minister himself mentioned on Second Reading—I am speaking of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer—this type of anaesthesia. We are very happy to know that we now have what may well be the best type of machine available in the world. Therefore, I say that we should continue with our research, never ceasing to take every possible step that we can because ultimately we can achieve almost the ideal.

10.14 p.m.

Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)

I beg to second the Motion.

I would say, at the outset, that it always seems rather odd that when one wants to say something in praise of Regulations of this kind one has to speak on a Motion to annul them. There is no need for me to say very much, except to say that we on this side of the House are very grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for bringing forward these Regulations so soon after the Slaughter of Animals (Amendment) Bill was passed.

I must admit that it was a very great shock to me to learn that there were considerable doubts about the efficacy of the electric stunning of pigs, particularly because there are two bacon factories in my constituency. When I learned of this method through the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare I was rather staggered at the newness of the approach.. During a Committee debate on the subject we found there were doubts even about that procedure. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) assures me that the new Regulations will provide the finest machine of its kind in the world, and we hope that it is so.

On a non-controversial subject of this sort we congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on submitting these Regulations.

10.16 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. J. B. Godber)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) for saying, at the outset of his speech, that in praying to annul these Regulations that was the very last thing that he had in mind and that he wished them to be continued.

I am grateful to the hon. Member and also to the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) for the points which they have raised on the Regulations and what I take to be their clear welcome for them. The Regulations will provide a definite improvement, as the hon. Members have rightly said, in our methods of dealing with the slaughtering of animals and I believe that they are a very big step forward.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent. Central was kind enough, in his reminiscences, to refer to the happy time that we had together in Committee on the Slaughterhouses Bill. Those who had the privilege of serving on that Committee look back upon it with interest. Had we had the benefit of this anæsthetic at that time it might have made the occasion even more pleasant for some of us. I shall be happy, if any hon. Members wish, to take them through the new installation, so that they can test it anæsthetically for themselves.

More seriously, perhaps, I might deal with the points which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central raised—important points. He welcomed one or two new matters brought forward in the Regulations, such as the provision for separate compartments. I was glad to have his welcome of it, and also of the provision for visible and audible warning. This will prove very helpful. It takes the place of the need for an inspection chamber, to which the hon. Member referred. It is quite an effective counterpart for it.

We went into this question of the inspection chamber with great care. We took the advice here of the R.S.P.C.A., who felt fairly strongly that it would be unwise to put in an inspection chamber, because the chamber would need lights which would tend to irritate and alarm the pigs. It was thought better not to have them. We therefore have the visible and audible warning, which will provide the same benefits without that danger.

Dr. Stross

I am sure that the advice given to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is correct. I had in mind not an inspection chamber for the machine in the abattoir, but for purposes of research.

Mr. Godber

Yes, that was the point which the hon. Member raised. It is one which I would wish to look into, to see whether we can interest any of the welfare bodies in carrying out something of that sort. We will welcome any further information we can get on that matter.

The hon. Member asked me about the percentage of 62 per cent. to 70 per cent. which we have laid down. We have done this on the best advice we could get from countries which are already using this type of anæsthetising chamber. We find that they have reached the conclusion that something between those two figures gives the best results. There is a rather interesting article, incidentally, in the Sanitarian for this month, in which it is stated: If the concentration of carbon dioxide in the chamber is too high, it may irritate the mucous membranes of the nose and throat, and pigs tend to scream and struggle. If it was over 70 per cent. that would be the sort of occasion when that would happen; but it is the experience of those other countries that those particular percentages are the most suitable.

The hon. Member asked about the grading of beasts for size. This is something at which we looked carefully after the comments made in Committee. In these Regulations we are providing for a uniform type of chamber and it is the normal custom, we find, for the type of pigs which go through to be of the normal bacon size. There is a rough standardisation and animals over a certain size would not be able to go through. For instance, large sows and boars would not be able to go through. We think that from our present knowledge this is an adequate safeguard, but, again, it is something we shall watch. This method of slaughter will be done in a relatively small number of cases and we are asking local authorities to let us know where these installations are set up. We shall make it our duty to be satisfied that in this respect. as in others, all is well.

The hon. Member asked about the percentage of failures and did so on the basis of the fact that under Regulation 5 (b) we are requiring a mechanically operated instrument. That provision is purely as a safeguard and not because we believe there will be failure. From the inquiries I have made there are no reported cases of failure from any of the countries which are using it. I should have thought the likelihood of failure is very small. Nevertheless, we felt it right and proper to make this provision that there should be a mechanically operated instrument ready in case anything wrong should happen. It is a sort of double check. I think that it would be welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House to know that we have made that provision.

Those were the main points to which the hon. Member referred. I emphasise again that we are anxious to learn more about this method and that we shall keep the closest watch and check on it. If we find any need, we shall not hesitate to come back to the House and ask for amendment of the Regulations. We are entering a new field, something of which we have no previous experience in this country. We have taken advantage of all the knowledge we can obtain from other countries, but, as I say, we shall keep the closest watch on it so that we may satisfy ourselves that under the conditions obtaining here we have made adequate and proper provision for this method.

As to the possible use on other animals at a later stage, we must see how we get on. That is a time-honoured phrase in this House and it is not unfitting here. If we find that there are possibilities of being able to make further progress in this way, we shall certainly not hesitate to come forward with fresh regulations.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne for reminding us that we have brought the Regulations forward as soon as we conveniently could after the passing of the Act, because we are anxious, as I am sure all hon. Members are, to try to reduce any element of unnecessary suffering in slaughterhouses. We think that these Regulations are a useful contribution to that end, and I am most grateful to hon. Members for the way in which they have received them.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland. North)

I am sure that the whole House is greatly obliged to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary both for the replies and for the assurances he has given. For once, we are praying not to criticise, but to acknowledge what the Parliamentary Secretary has done. He will remember that in Committee when we discussed this provision we were anxious that there should be full consultation with the manufacturers, the trade unions and the animal welfare societies. It is clear from what the hon. Gentleman has said that there has been consultation and that it has been beneficial. It is a good thing to bring in these bodies to participate in legislation when it takes this form.

We had one or two doubts when discussing the matter in Committee, particularly concerning the inspection provisions. I have had an opportunity of speaking both to the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare and the R.S.P.C.A. They are both satisfied that the provisions which the Regulations make are right and that any form of inspection window might make the pigs less docile and make the arrangements less effective.

The Parliamentary Secretary will remember that we were also concerned about the use of the machine. The Regu- lations contain provision for instructions and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will keep in touch with the trade union about these instructions and consult the union in due course about them. It is important not only that we provide this new form of slaughter, but that we should ensure that it is used as humanely and efficiently as possible. I also remember the point about uniformity. From what he has said, the hon. Gentleman has probably taken the most effective step in ensuring uniformity. Again, however, I hope that this will he kept under review and, if necessary, supplemented in the instructions.

I am pleased also to see the provision for the certificate of approval. This, too, was a point we discussed in Committee. We were anxious that the manufacturers should be brought into this. It is clear that such a provision will make the manufacturers anxious to ensure that they obtain the necessary certificate of approval and that the appliances will tend to be standardised, therefore giving a greater degree of certainty that they will be humane.

One final point that the hon. Gentleman touched upon was the use of similar appliances for the slaughter of cattle. He appreciates, I believe, that the animal welfare societies have some considerable doubts about this. From what he has said, however, there is no question of an extension of this provision to other animals until tests have been conducted and have satisfied those who endeavour to provide the most humane conditions in our slaughterhouses.

We are greatly obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary. We are not all vegetarians in this House, but we want to ensure that the most humane conditions apply in the slaughterhouses. The Regulations will help to ensure this.

Dr. Stross

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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