HC Deb 11 November 1958 vol 595 cc327-44

10.20 p.m.

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

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Slaughterhouses (Meat Inspection Grant) Regulations, 1958 (S.I., 1958, No. 1606), dated 26th September 1958, a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st October, be annulled. These Regulations arise out of the debate on the Report stage of the Slaughterhouses Bill in 1954, as reported in HANSARD, Vol. 529, c. 1261 to 1266, of 29th June, 1954. I had the honour then of moving an Amendment to a proposed new Clause moved by the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, now the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. An Amendment had been moved in Committee asking for this principle of a grant on export meat for local authorities which had to incur fairly heavy expenses on the inspection of meat for slaughter. It was withdrawn when the Minister promised consideration of it. No Amendment was put by the Government on the Report stage. We therefore put down an Amendment and we were thankful that the Minister accepted it in principle. In a Written Answer on 29th March, 1956, the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said the Government had decided to offer a contribution when inspection of meat not for local consumption laid an unduly heavy burden on a local authority.

Circular F.S.H. 2/57 from the Ministry of Agriculture to local authorities on 11th April, 1957, headed "Exchequer Grants towards the Cost of Meat Inspection" had on its reverse side an explanatory memorandum which laid down that export meat from areas where local authorities found the cost of inspecting an unduly heavy burden would attract a grant based on a system of inspection units, at 2d. per unit. The Government contribution would be half—1d. per unit, and the grants would operate for the financial year, 1956–57. These new Regulations against which we are praying were laid on 26th September this year and operate from 2nd October. They seem to follow the previous Regulations with no substantial alterations.

We had many long discussions on meat inspection during consideration of the Slaughterhouses Bill in 1957, and in a letter I had from the Parliamentary Secretary on 17th March, 1958, he agreed that there was about 5 per cent. of meat emerging from slaughterhouses uninspected in county boroughs, about 25 per cent. from areas outside county boroughs, and an average over the whole country of 20 per cent. This morning I received from a constituent a copy of the Camborne-Redruth Packet of 4th November, 1958. It carries this heading about meat inspection: Diseased Meat: Council Hold Secret Discussion. Councillor Davis is reported to have said that last year there were reported 47 cases of a form of tape worm in cattle.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

These Regulations are very limited. The hon. Member cannot enter upon a general discussion of meat inspection. This is purely a question of the grant.

Mr. Frederick Wiley (Sunderland, North)

Further to that point of order. This is a matter which we have discussed on other occasions. As I understand it, my hon. Friend's constituency is one of the areas affected, since it is a meat exporting area. Surely my hon. Friend is allowed to deal with the state of meat inspection in his locality, which is one of those affected by the Regulations.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

We can deal only with their financial aspect.

Mr. Hayman

Camborne-Redruth is an exporting area and, although we have five qualified meat inspectors, we are unable to inspect all slaughtered meat. The discussion reported in the paper arose because at its previous meeting the council had decided that condemned meat should be stained, but the chief public health inspector said that with the staff at his disposal it was not possible to do that.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but he is going beyond the scope of the Regulations.

Mr. Hayman

Local authorities like Camborne-Redruth, where unemployment is already 6 per cent., find it difficult to raise sufficient money from the rates to provide for additional public health inspectors qualified to inspect meat. In St. Just Urban District Council, a small urban district in the far southwest, the last in England, there was a very serious case which came before the London courts twelve months ago. Far more meat is exported from that area than is consumed within it, and yet the rate product is only £50. The Regulations now submitted to the House are inadequate to deal with the problems which arise in such cases.

10.29 p.m.

Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)

I beg to second the Motion.

Our procedure is such that it is not possible for hon. Members to move Amendments to Regulations of this kind, and so to discuss a matter like this we are compelled to pray against all the Regulations. We sympathise with the principle of the Regulations, and throughout our discussions on last year's Slaughterhouses Act we pressed for proposals to bring about 100 per cent. meat inspection. There is no doubt about the desirability of achieving that.

Members of Parliament, veterinary inspectors and meat inspectors and the meat trade are determined that that goal shall be attained. I readily appreciate that the Government's intention in these Regulations is admirable, and I congratulate the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on it. We are quite ready to accept the principle which has been enunciated. But in our examination of them there are several things on which we should like to have some light thrown.

Time and time again in the Standing Committee it emerged that in rural areas such as those mentioned just now by my hon. Friend, real difficulties arise as a result of their having to inspect very many more carcases than are consumed in the area. In many cases, the carcases are exported to larger counties. As a result, the exporting authorities are put in financial difficulty, and there is some reason to think that there is not the full meat inspection that we all desire.

We appreciate that a very real burden is put on those local authorities, and in that respect we support the Government. Nevertheless, whilst the principle of making meat inspection grants to those authorities is right, there are certain questions which, perhaps, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will answer.

The Regulations, as they stand, are not practicable. This is public money, and hon. Members have a duty to watch expenditure very carefully and to make sure that it does not go astray. Let us think of a case near my own home. The large Manchester abattoir slaughters cattle, pigs and sheep not only for Manchester but for the large Lancashire conurbation, which includes such towns as Salford, Stockport, Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Stalybridge and Hyde. A large proportion of the trade at that abattoir is done with butchers in the outside areas.

Will these Regulations now result in the Manchester Corporation being compensated in proportion to the amount of meat that goes out to the towns in the conurbation? Is that what the Regulations mean? It is excellent to look after the deep rural parts of Cornwall mentioned by my hon. Friend, but is the Manchester Corporation to be compensated because it inspects meat that ultimately goes to Salford, Stockport or Oldham?

Let us take the case in reverse. In some of the towns I have mentioned there are private wholesalers who slaughter in their own private slaughterhouses. They live in these towns, which are not quite so large as Manchester. If they happen to have a retail customer who has a shop in Manchester, is the outlying authority to be compensated for the meat sold to the butcher in Manchester? As I read the Regulations, that is precisely what will happen. Is every purchase by a butcher to be checked for its geographical destination so as to compensate the authority where the beast has been killed? We are entitled to some kind of reply to that sort of question before we agree either to the passing of the Regulations or the withdrawal of our Prayer.

There are other problems raised by the Schedule. I take it, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I shall be in order in discussing the Schedule, and I wish to draw attention to paragraph 1 (a), which lays down what the inspection units will he and the proportion which shall be paid in respect of a particular animal slaughtered in Manchester and ultimately finding its way to Stockport, for instance, or Salford. We have even had Manchester reaching Stockton, surprising though that may be.

I invite the hon. Gentleman to consider the proportions. One cattle beast or one horse is classed as being equivalent to 10 inspection units. A calf or a pig is three inspection units, and a sheep is two inspection units. As I think the House knows, I have had some association with this trade during the course of my life, and I know something about it. I am beginning to wonder about these proportions. According to my experience, the average beast carcase weight is 60 lbs. I am sure that that cannot be challenged.

The pig or calf will have only three points, three-tenths of the beast carcase. If my arithmetic is right, that is 180 lbs. weight, according to my average reckoning. It will be a fairly big pig weighing 180 lbs., suitable for the bacon factory only; it is not suitable for the retail trade. In addition, there is a proviso in the Schedule about bacon factories. As regards calves, an animal is no longer a calf if it weighs 180 lbs.; it is very near the stirk stage.

A sheep is reckoned at one-fifth of the beast or bullock carcase, and that will be 120 lbs.—a great big bit of mutton, as fat as butter, which no self-respecting butcher would put in his shop. It ought only to go to the manufacturer.

I do not consider that the proportions are quite right, and it is worrying me somewhat. The matter is very complicated. It is almost as bad as one of the Clauses we had in the original Bill which the hon. Gentleman had to agree to take out. He did not understand it.

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

I much resent that remark of the hon. Gentleman. I spent hours learning about it, and I was deeply disturbed when the Committee did not accept it.

Mr. Royle

Of course, I accept that assurance.

Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West, is wrong. The Parliamentary Secretary probably did understand it, but he could not explain it.

Mr. Royle

It was one of those very difficult things which legislated by reference. It had us all dizzy, and ultimately it was agreed to withdraw it and put something else in its place. These Regulations we have before us tonight are very nearly as bad. They are full of complications which need explanation before we can agree to let them pass. I wonder whether the answer is not the very simple one, that we should take meat inspection out of the hands of the local authorities and hand it over to the State as a whole.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman may not debate that tonight.

Mr. Royle

That was my last word, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

10.40 p.m.

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

I think the House will agree that these are most interesting Regulations and that every hon. Member present, particularly the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir A. Baldwin), to whom I am going to refer in a few minutes, will agree that we are doing no more than our duty in praying against them.

I agree with my hon. Friends on this side of the House that the intention of the Minister and of the Parliamentary Secretary in bringing these Regulations before the House is, on its face value, to be applauded. When one looks superficially at their reason for so doing, how can one object to what appears to be at the back of their minds? They say that it is not right or proper that areas which undergo considerable expense in order to export meat after the slaughtering of cattle, sheep, pigs and even horses—[Interruption.] I am not sure who eats the horses now, but in the olden days we used to eat very bad, diseased meat. As a result of a more happy situation we now eat fairly good meat, and the local authorities take good care that we do.

The Parliamentary Secretary says that if local authorities have to bear an unduly heavy burden so far as the ratepayers of the district are concerned, then he is going to find 50 per cent. of the extra cost imposed upon them. That is obviously a very laudable thing, and, on the face of it, one would think that we would support it completely. Why do we not?

As far as I am concerned, I do not support it because I do not think that the Minister is going far enough. I think there are anomalies even in that for which he proposes to bring about a remedy. I know that the Minister remembers better than I the discussions we had together on the Report stage of the Bill. I know he remembers that we used the word "inspection" and divided it into two parts, namely, post-mortem and ante-mortem.

The question of expense is involved here, and I am going to speak about the expense because, of course, I have nothing else in my mind. How much does it cost to inspect a beast in order to see if it is fit for human consumption after it has been killed? Has the Parliamentary Secretary any conception as to how that cost would compare with the cost of inspecting the beast before it is killed in order to see if it was so diseased that it should not be taken into the abattoir?

Has the Parliamentary Secretary added those two costs together, and does he think that there is so much impoverishment in the country, in his Ministry and among those who run the Ministry that we cannot afford to inspect the beasts before we slaughter them as well as afterwards? As I have said, this is a matter of expense and I am only concerned with the financial aspect. I know that if I were concerned with anything else I should be out of order.

Everyone knows full well—the Parliamentary Secretary has answered Questions which I have put to him on the Floor of the House on the subject—that it is the desire of the Ministry, firstly, to get 100 per cent, inspection, and, secondly, having done that, to pay for it, to assist local authorities to find the necessary money in order that the beasts shall be inspected ante-mortem as well as post-mortem.

I am not sure, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether I am in order in discussing the expense of ante-mortem inspection as well as of post-mortem inspection, but no doubt you will advise me on that point.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am afraid that the hon. Member cannot discuss that matter.

Dr. Stross

I had a vague suspicion that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, might be right on this point and that I might be wrong. That, of course, is why I asked you, and I naturally accept your Ruling.

I therefore come to the following point. I should like to know, purely to appease public conscience, why horses and cattle beasts are linked together. Is it customary for local authorities to slaughter horses and export to other areas horse meat for human consumption and ask for a rebate from the Ministry for these purposes? If so, I am not particularly complaining at the moment. We want to know whether it is true. We would like to know how much the Joint Parliamentary Secretary thinks it will cost the taxpayer to slaughter horses instead of beasts, which most people think they tend to eat, and to export the horse meat from one area to another, the local authority making a profit or, rather, getting a subsidy as a result of doing this.

The hon. Member for Leominster will remember very well that he took a strong line about ante-mortem inspection and possible expense incurred with it and said that in his view it was impossible. I did not tell the hon. Member at the time that that was an extraordinary attack upon the science of veterinary surgeons to assume that they could never diagnose anything until their patient was dead.

Mr, Deputy-Speaker

I am afraid that this is out of order.

Dr. Stross

I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. It is a little difficult to keep strictly within the bounds of order.

I think I understand, and I would support, the intention of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, but it falls far short of what the country needs. We are so far behind everybody else in this provision which is dealt with in the Regulations that I feel a little ashamed about it. I urge the Joint Parliamentary Secretary tonight, when he answers, to say that we will move forward to something better. He knows that we on this side believe, and many of his hon. Friends agree with us, that a terrifying mistake was made about the whole of the Bill. In the Regulations an attempt is made by the hon. Gentleman and by his right hon. Friend to make some amend. In so far as the Regulations attempt to make that amend, I understand them and would support them, but because they fall so terribly short of what we ought to have done, I deplore them and I would, if necessary, vote against them.

10.48 p.m.

Mr. Sidney Dye (Norfolk, South-West)

I want to raise one simple matter. Provision is being made to pay those local authorities in whose areas more meat is slaughtered than is consumed. I have in my constituency one such authority. That authority, however, does not have a sufficient staff of inspectors to do all the inspections. Therefore, it borrows from the neighbouring authority. The neighbouring authority then charges the exporting authority for the services of its inspector and it wants to make the charge on the same basis as the exporting authority receives the grant, which seems fair enough. The exporting authority, however, is refusing to pay on that basis, which does not seem fair.

My question is whether, in paying that authority a grant on this basis and that authority not having the staff to do the work but having to borrow from the neighbouring authority, the Ministry will stipulate that in such circumstances this also should be the rate at which the exporting authority pays for the use of its neighbour's meat inspector. It seems to me quite fair. Curiously enough, two authorities, Swaffham Urban District Council and Swaffham Rural District Council, just cannot agree over the matter, and whether the auditor or somebody else will decide it, I just do not know. But there are two authorities at loggerheads over a simple matter like this. I know these are new Regulations, but they are based on what has been happening under the Act, and if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary could give some advice on this matter I should be grateful.

10.51 p.m.

Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)

I, too, want to raise a constituency matter arising out of the interpretation of the Regulations. There is a provision that assistance from the Treasury will be made available, as I see it, to an exporting authority only where the expenses impose an unduly heavy burden on the ratepayers of that district. My own authority in Newcastle, which is intending very shortly to build, as soon as it gets permission, a new abattoir which is to be designed to deal with the slaughtering for the whole district, a very wide district outside of Newcastle, would not therefore come within the original interpretation. It is going to build in those circumstances. I want to know whether an authority of the sort of size and standing of Newcastle is likely to come within this interpretation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) raised the question of Manchester. I imagine there will be many large cities—we hope so—where large, efficient, modern abattoirs will be built and where the small ones will be destroyed. We think it would be most helpful if we could get some interpretation from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary of just what he is likely to mean by this phrase unduly heavy burden on the ratepayers". I would be delighted if some assistance could come to Newcastle—unlike my hon. Friend, who seemed to be anxious to insist that Manchester did not get anything.

Mr. Royle

I represent Salford.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Yes, of course.

Newcastle would be very grateful if we could be brought within the terms which might assist us. I hope, in parentheses, that the hon. Gentleman will do what he can to speed that scheme forward. It is hanging fire at the moment. But that is in brackets, one may say, and I have now closed the brackets.

Mr. Royle

My hon. Friend has put the brackets round the parentheses.

Mr. Blenkinsop

It would be helpful if the hon. Gentleman, when he replies to the debate, could give some indication of what kind of interpretation will be given to that phrase.

10.53 p.m.

Mr. R. E. Winterbottom (Sheffield, Brightside)

I want to make one observation and to ask one question. I shall be brief, because I think that the case which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has to answer has been put by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle), though my hon. Friend oversimplified the case of the cattle slaughtered in the Manchester abattoir and going to Salford, Oldham and places like that. Administratively, what would happen if a multiple butcher in Oldham bought cattle from Manchester abattoir and then sent the cattle from his own warehouse back again to Manchester? Or perhaps sent only the forequarters instead of the hindquarters. What would happen administratively, in a case of that kind, to the local authority's claim in respect of meat inspection?

This is the question I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary—if I may have his attention for a moment. How does the Joint Parliamentary Secretary arrive at the figures of 10, 3 and 2 inspection units? Where do these figures originate? I cannot envisage any butcher arriving at conclusions of that kind. It is possible that the hon. Gentleman received them from a university where cattle are not slaughtered or from some academic expert who has not the slightest knowledge of what takes place in a slaughterhouse. We are entitled to know how the Ministry has arrived at these figures. They seem out of relation to our experience of weights and similar matters relating to the slaughter of cattle.

10.56 p.m.

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

This is a very happy occasion. It seems rather like a reunion of the old boys of Standing Committee A, and it is very pleasant indeed to see so many of my old friends in such very good heart on this fascinating topic. I have certainly enjoyed every moment of reliving our experiences of last Session. I will endeavour to deal with some of the many questions put to me. Some are very detailed and involved but I will do my best to explain the position.

Firstly, it is important to get it straight that the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) was quite right when he said that this was an extension of a system which has already been going on under other arrangements and that these payments had started before the Slaughterhouses Act was passed. They were started by arrangement with the Treasury for payment under the Appropriation Acts, but it was felt that that was not a right and proper basis for the payments to be made. We therefore took advantage of the Slaughterhouses Act to include provision for a more satisfactory arrangement.

Therefore, what we are doing in these Regulations, against which hon. Members seek to pray, is to carry into effect under the Slaughterhouses Act the arrangements which we already had and which were announced in Circular F.S.H. 2/57, 11th April, 1957. That circular started these grants and we are carrying them on in almost identical form. There is a slight difference in that we referred in that case to "one cattle beast." We did not refer to horses. I have been asked why we now do. The reason frankly is that we were asked to do so by local authorities of one or two large conurbations. I will not take it any further than that.

I have been asked about the number of inspection units involved. The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle), who is an acknowledged expert on these matters, indicated that he felt that the figures were wrong. I think that he was relating them primarily to weight and size of carcase. When one considers this matter on the basis of the time it takes to inspect, the size of the carcase is not really the relevant consideration. A large number of small carcases, adding up to the same weight as one big one, could obviously take longer in point of time.

Mr. Royle

Then why not treat them all alike?

Mr. Godber

That would be taking it to the other extreme and saying that one small carcase is exactly the same as one large one. I would say that the right answer is somewhere in between the two. We think that this is a fair basis in relation to the time that we have found it actually takes on these carcases. I have had no representation made to me that we are unfair as between one type of carcase and another. Therefore, the basis worked out is probably fair. It has been worked out pretty carefully and has been working fairly smoothly now over the past considerable number of months.

The hon. Member for Salford, West also asked about the position of his neighbouring authority, Manchester, which might be exporting to Salford. The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) took up the same point, projecting it into the future in relation to the abattoir that he hopes to see and about which I can say nothing tonight. The position is simple in that the words in Regulation 3 are "any local authority". That is the key to it. Any secondary local authority —borough, urban or district authority—or a county borough would come into that category and would be entitled in relation to slaughterings in its area. Therefore, Newcastle would qualify, and so would Manchester.

Mr. Royle

I am loth to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but can he envisage what this means? In a huge abattoir, who will stand there and check where the meat is going? Can he imagine hundreds of butchers with their vehicles outside an abattoir taking meat off to other authorities? How many people will be employed checking where it is going?

Mr. Godber

If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself a little longer I will try to explain. I was hoping to do so but in his keenness he rather prevented me from doing so. The position is not that one ascertains exactly where the meat is going. One works out in advance the notional amount of export meat that there will be. It is possible to work out the amount which it is estimated will be exported in relation to the total killings. The local authority estimates what quantity there is in excess of the amount required normally for supplying its own area. On the basis of that—

Mr. Winterbottom

That is risking it with butchers' weights.

Mr. Godber

We have a check. It is not a matter of where the meat actually goes; it is the fact that there is meat over and above the amount normally required for consumption within the local authority's area, and the 50 per cent. grant is paid on the basis of the amount over and above that figure.

Dr. Stross

Does that mean, if I may offer an illustration, that in an area like my constituency in Stoke-on-Trent, where the local authority has its own municipal abattoir and there are also a Co-operative abattoir and five or six fairly large private abattoirs plus the rash of new ones which may—I hope not—arise as a result of recent legislation, the sum total of exports will be taken into account and the payment made only to the local authority as a result of inspection?

Mr. Godber

Of course. It is the total inspection. After all, it is the cost of inspection with which we are concerned. Regulation 3 reads: …in cases where the Minister is satisfied that, by reason of the extent to which the meat appears to him to exceed in quantity what it appears to him should be regarded as required for consumption in that authority's district, those expenses impose an unduly heavy burden on the ratepayers of that district.

Mr. Hayman

If one is considering that great conurbations like Manchester and Newcastle may benefit by the words: …those expenses impose an unduly heavy burden on the ratepayers of that district. then surely small local authorities such as those of which I have spoken should be entitled to some greater rate of grant than is given to the big authorities?

Mr. Godber

I will deal with the point in a moment.

I want to make this clear. It is not a new thing that we are now introducing; it has been operating for some time. All we are doing is providing some portion of the cost—not the whole—of inspecting such meat as we believe is not needed within the local authority's area. It is only fair and right that the local authority itself should have the responsibility in relation to the meat for consumption in its own area, but we felt there was a case for making some payment in respect of the export meat, and that is why it has been dealt with in this way.

In reply to the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman), I quite agree that in relation to widely spreading rural areas it is more difficult to say that the amount of money we are making available is adequate for this work, but we have had to find some basis we could apply nationally. We have brought this forward as the best basis we could operate fairly, rightly and honestly, using public money, as the hon. Member for Salford, West reminded us we were doing. I know that impinges on some rural local authorities. I admitted that when we discussed this on a previous occasion. This is a point which quite frankly worries me to some extent, but I cannot at the moment see how we can overcome it, certainly on the basis we are seeking to operate now.

I am just as keen as other hon. Members to attain the objective of 100 per cent. meat inspection. The rate of grant is partly connected with that, but it is not only that. It is for that reason that senior officers of my Ministry have been engaged in a very considerable amount of consultation with the representatives of the butchers, local authorities and everyone else concerned during recent months. I am hopeful that these discussions will be finished within the next month or two. Then I shall want to consider carefully the results of this study to see what is the most appropriate way to proceed further. I am thinking in terms of the problems which hon. Members opposite have raised. In doing that I shall take note of all the various points brought forward tonight. This is not an easy matter; it is a difficult one to try to get a really fair basis. It is a matter I am as anxious as any hon. Member to press on with, but the very questions hon. Members have asked are an indication of the complexity of this subject.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) endeavoured to ask me something about other than post mortem inspection. I think our primary objective is to satisfy ourselves that we get 100 per cent. post mortem inspection. Then will be the time to go further. Clearly I must not go further at this moment.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West asked an interesting question about two local authorities in his area. I do not think we can lay down to one or other of those local authorities what should be the arrangements between them. Having set our national standard we must leave it to the good sense of the people of Norfolk, aided and abetted by the hon. Member, to overcome the difficulty. I would not try to settle the hon. Member's question for him. I do not think it would be right for us to deal with a problem of that sort. I feel sure it can be solved.

Those are the main points put to me tonight. I repeat that these Regulations are carrying into more satisfactory legislative form the arrangements we had provided before we had the powers under the new Slaughterhouses Act. The objective is still there; we wish to obtain 100 per cent meat inspection. I would point out that although the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne mentioned a letter of mine referring to roughly 80 per cent. inspection, subsequently we have been able to tell the House that the figure is now round about 90 per cent. We are moving in the right direction, and I hope that in a not too long period we shall reach the objective we all seek.

Mr. Hayman

The Camborne and Redruth area, with two bacon factories which twelve months ago were working to only 30 per cent. capacity, has to bear the cost of the salaries of the meat inspectors for the whole year. Could not some concession be made in cases of that kind?

Mr. Godber

That merely indicates the complexities of this subject, and I cannot take it further at this moment.

11.10 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I intervene partly because I am sure that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary would be grievously disappointed if I did not do so, and also to persuade my hon. Friends in due course to withdraw the Prayer. I notice that the Patronage Secretary is not with us, and I should not like to embarrass his assistants by forcing a Division. We must also recognise that this is a dim light in the murky record of the Government on slaughterhouse legislation. We have tried desperately hard to make this light a little brighter and have repeatedly failed.

I suspect that the Ministry of Agriculture contains the same calculating machines which the Ministry of Food had, and that one of the worries of the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend is to keep those machines fully occupied. We were discussing small farmers yesterday. A difficult system of calculation was produced and no doubt those calculating machines will be called into use for that. Here again we have an elaborate system of inspection points and no doubt those will be processed by the calculating machines.

The Ministry and the hon. Gentleman should deal with these things a little more reasonably. These are human problems. We will not solve them by intricate calculations on calculating machines. This is a matter of helping an authority to provide an additional meat inspector where to do so will impose an undue burden on the ratepayers of the area. Why can this problem not be settled sensibly? Why do we have to have an elaborate formula which is largely fictitious?

As has been pointed out, the hon. Gentleman is now bringing large local authorities within the ambit of these Regulations. How is Sunderland, when eventually we get our abattoir, to determine whether meat slaughtered there is for export? This is a matter which can be discussed by officials and members of local authorities. I appeal to the hon. Gentleman to stop trying to decide these matters, which are essentially political, on a calculating machine.

I apologise for dealing with this matter so late at night, but I remember that we discussed it in Standing Committee at about the same hour. It was incorporated in a new Clause to which the Government were driven as a result of Opposition pressure. We recognised that it was much better and more secure to have these provisions in the form of a Section in an Act of Parliament, but difficulties still arise.

The position remains obscure and the hon. Gentleman has not helped. He has not lived up to the promise which we had in Standing Committee. He has admitted that he was hoist with his own petard and he may be wary, but he had led some of us to hope that the Regulations would provide provisions better than those previously obtaining.

The Parliamentary Secretary said this evening that this is no more than identical with the definitions which have been obtained. This is disappointing. We do not get any definition of what would be an unduly heavy burden on the ratepayers. We have these calculating machines going into action, but the essential decision is one on which we get no guidance at all. What consolation have my hon. Friends who have raised this point? I had hoped that the Parliamentary Secretary would come to the House contrite, disturbed at the discussions we had in Committee and the effects that those discussions have had on those concerned with slaughterhouses, and that he would have said he was prepared to make a change, that he was doing something which would not leave the position as it is, but would lead to the appointment of more inspectors in these local authorities than exist at present. But my hon. Friends have had no consolation, and he has held out no hope. He has said only that we would get these calculations, that he would examine them and decide whether or not there is an unduly heavy burden on the rates.

Someone is apparently having consultations with someone; but this is past the need for consultation. This is the need for more inspectors. These Regulations recognise the particular difficulties of those areas which are slaughtering, not only for their own consumption but for consumption outside the local authority areas. In the light of that, the Parliamentary Secretary's reply is disappointing.

We face the difficulty that we so often face upon Prayers: we cannot prevent the Government, or seek to prevent them, doing the good that they are doing. We would wish only that the good were more than it is, and that the Parliamentary Secretary would show greater proof of his earnestness regarding the need for fuller inspection. I hope he will recognise that, even in this limited field, there is scope for doing more than the Government are doing at present. With that hope, knowing that our protracted discussions had an impression on the Parliamentary Secretary, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) will feel that he need not pursue this matter to a Division. Instead, we will look forward to the next Regulations affecting slaughterhouses which are made.

Mr. Hayman

Although not satisfied with the Parliamentary Secretary's reply, because some of the matters raised are tremendously serious, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.