HC Deb 26 February 1959 vol 600 cc1429-51

10.12 p.m.

Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Slaughter of Animals (Prevention of Cruelty) Regulations, 1958 (S.I.. 1958, No. 2166), dated 17th December, 1958. a copy of which was laid before this House on 23rd December, be annulled.

Mr. Speaker

I would draw the attention of the House to two other Motions on the Order Paper, one in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison): That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Slaughterhouses (Hygiene) Regulations, 1958 (S.I., 1958, No. 2168), dated 17th December, 1958, a copy of which was laid before this House on 23rd December, be annulled. and the other, at the end of the Orders of the Day, in the name of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey): That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Meat (Staining and Sterilization) Regulations, 1959 (S.I., 1959, No. 20), dated 6th January, 1959, a copy of which was laid before this House on 20th January, be annulled. If the House agrees, I think it would be advisable to discuss all three Motions together in a general debate.

Mr. Royle

I am glad, Mr. Speaker, that you have suggested that the House might consider the three Motions together. I wish to concentrate on the first, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent. Central (Dr. Stross), if he succeeds in catching your eye, will speak about the second.

During the Second Reading debate on the Slaughterhouses Bill we decided that it was not wise to divide the House on that occasion but that we should endeavour to make the Bill more reasonable and sensible during the Committee stage discussions. For a week or two we met on several mornings each week to try to do something to make the Bill a better Measure.

Our concern is about the necessity to bring in Regulations to achieve what we term moderate concentration. Hon. Members on this side of the House have made clear that we believe in a policy of moderate concentration. The Government have indicated that they also believe in that policy, but we differ about how it shall be achieved. Our past discussions have centred round this point.

We believe that the way to attain moderate concentration was for the Government to lay down how many slaughterhouses there should be, and the type. We are concerned that the Government's attitude has not been to do the thing sensibly and honestly but to try to achieve moderate concentration by backdoor methods. We wanted to fix the requisite number of slaughterhouses and, in so doing, to decide how many public slaughterhouses there should be and to what extent there should be permitted to be private ones, particularly in the rural areas where there is difficulty in establishing the larger public slaughterhouses. We felt that adequate space should be provided in these slaughterhouses so that private traders could carry on their work.

Had we adopted that plan, it would have been quite honest. Municipalities would have known where they stood and what provision to make. Meat traders who desired to kill their own animals would have known to what extent they could go. Conversely to our argument, the Government decided that they could achieve moderate concentration of slaughterhouses by the introduction of Regulations. Those Regulations are before us tonight and we are praying against them.

We are dealing with a very complicated Act of Parliament, a lawyer's paradise and, so far as the trade is concerned, a nightmare. The problem of the Regulations is terrible for the butcher. How does he carry them out? What does he use for money in order to carry them out? The Regulations may be very good in some respects and quite desirable but, having passed the Regulations and given full liberty to the trade to work them, the Government should recognise that the trade still has to pay for the slaughterhouses with all these Regulations attached to them.

In passing, I suggest that if this had been an agricultural Measure we should have seen Government money available in very large amount to subsidise the agriculturists on any development that they decided to make. The Government are saying to the trader, "We will build slaughterhouses on certain conditions, with the local authority and the Minister, but we are trying to stop you by making it too expensive for you. "My hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) told me the other day of an instance in his constituency. The local authority decided to pull down a very old slaughterhouse and erect a new one. There will be a period when there will be no slaughterhouse in the area. Nine local traders are at the moment using the slaughterhouse, but when the new one is built it will not be available to the nine local butchers but only to the Fatstock Marketing Corporation which is evidently putting money into it.

This is what comes out of the Act. The Regulations are not putting matters like that right. They could have been put right during the passage of the Bill.

In the few minutes at my disposal, I want to deal particularly with the first of the Statutory Instruments we are discussing, No. 2166. I wish to direct the attention of the House to Regulation 3 in Part II. If in future we are to have the right type of building for the production of meat fit for human consumption, these things may be necessary. I think they are, but to do it all properly will cost a lot of money Regulation 3 says: The occupier of a lairage shall cause the following requirements to be complied with: —

  1. (a) The lairage shall be suitable for its purpose and adequate in size and construction for the number of animals laired therein.
  2. (b) The lairage shall be so constructed as to provide shelter from the sun and adverse weather for every animal laired therein.
  3. (c) The lairage shall be so constructed, and the floor thereof so channelled, as to enable it to be thoroughly cleansed.
  4. (d) The lairage shall be provided with adequate racks, mangers or other suitable equipment to contain food, and with adequate drinking troughs, for all animals laired therein; such racks, mangers, equipment and troughs to be fixed if reasonably practicable."
What is "suitable"? Perhaps the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies to the debate, will define for us exactly what the Ministry means by" suitable". Will he also tell us what" adequate" means? What is meant by" thoroughly cleansed"? What is" reasonably practicable"? In the end, who decides all these questions of what is adequate, suitable and reasonable?

Regulation 5 says: This regulation shall apply as respects any existing slaughterhouse from such date as the Minister may by order under these regulations appoint, but otherwise shall apply forthwith. In other words, the old slaughterhouses, the undesirable ones, are to continue until such time as the Minister makes up his mind that something must be done about them. There are no stunning pens in them at the moment. When he considers the hundreds of old-type slaughterhouses and wonders when it is to be suitable and when it is to be practicable to put the new ones into operation according to these Regulations, the Minister will have a really big headache.

Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will be good enough to give an indication tonight as to when the Minister intends to get on with the job of dealing with the old slaughterhouses. The new places must be absolutely super places. We on this side of the House want to see these perfect places as far as is "reasonably practical "and" reasonably possible. "I also draw attention to Part III, Regulation 10, which says: The occupier of a lairage shall ensure that within the lairage—

  1. (a) horned cattle and fractious animals are kept apart from other animals; and
  2. (b) if two or more horned cattle or fractious animals are kept together they are restrained so that they cannot injure one another.
For the purposes of this regulation fractious' means likely to injure other animals. How on earth does the small man do that? I think in terms of the butcher killing a couple of bullocks a week. What sort of premises and what sort of land does that man possess to be able to put into operation that kind of stipulation? I repeat—and shall return to it later— that this is not the honest way of doing it. It should have been made clear to the trade from the very beginning that the time had come when there should be moderation in the number of slaughterhouses in this country. Everybody concerned in the trade should have known the position without these fractious Regulations which will cost such an awful lot of money.

I will refer briefly to Regulation 13, which speaks about conditions on the slaughterhouse floor, where it is likely that an animal might slip or fall. I know something about slaughterhouses. After one animal has been disposed of and the carcase hung up, the slaughterhouse is washed down before the next animal is brought in, or it should be. Are we now to go further than that and bring in an electric fan to dry the floor after the water has been swilling down the slaughterhouse, so that there is no risk of an animal slipping as it is brought in?

One must remember that, even according to these Regulations, for a long time there will be hundreds of slaughterhouses in this country that have not got a casting pen. There is a grave danger of slipping. I suggest that some impossible conditions are being imposed on the trade through these Regulations. Whilst we on this side of the House want to see everything carried out as perfectly as it possibly can be, the way to have done it was not by bringing in all these Regulations, but by having as few slaughterhouses as the country could possibly manage with. Some good things may be contained within these Regulations. Some of them are practicable. Very many of them are exaggerated and impracticable.

I return to my first point and then I finish. These Regulations—I say this deliberately—are part of a most dishonest piece of legislation. By making these provisions through Regulations in the way in which it has been done, it is not legislation by regulation. It is dishonesty by regulation.

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

Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may I ask you whether, as we have agreed that all three Prayers shall be taken together, I need to move one formally? Only the first Motion has been formally moved.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

If the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) will second the first Motion, that will be sufficient.

10.29 p.m.

Dr. Stross

I beg to second the Motion.

I propose to confine my remarks to the Slaughterhouses (Hygiene) Regulations, 1958. These Regulations fall into five parts. I do not propose to discuss Part I, which deals with interpretation. Parts II, III and IV are very important. Part II deals with construction of slaughterhouses. Part III deals with equipment, Part IV deals with hygienic practices, with which I am particularly interested. Part V deals with offences, and I shall not touch on that part at all.

It will be seen from the Explanatory Note that the Regulations are being made in relation to new slaughterhouses. It is made quite clear, too, that Part II. dealing with construction, and Part III, dealing with equipment, and that section of Part IV which deals with diseased animals and diseased meat, will not affect existing slaughterhouses till the dates appointed by the Minister.

Therefore, the first question I must put to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture is this. Will he accept that, as we stand today, at this date, the Regulations do not specifically have any value for us, since no dates have yet been appointed by the Minister for existing slaughterhouses? We do not know when these dates will ensue. Of course, we appreciate that the Ministry is waiting for information and that, according to what we were told when we discussed the legislation in Committee, must be dependent upon the speed with which the local authorities can send it in. However, I think we have a right to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he can give any information about how long it will be after the information has been received before all the existing slaughterhouses are brought inside the ambit of these Regulations. We must know that, for till that is done, the Regulations are not of much value. for they will not come into effect.

I must say in passing that we are delighted to see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health is sitting on the Government Front Bench. We were denied the pleasure and the advantage of his presence throughout the whole of the most interesting Committee proceedings on the Measure under which these Regulations are made. I know he will not complain that we complained bitterly at his absence. We knew it was not his fault, for he was not a member of the Standing Committee which considered the Measure, but we felt that, as in all those most interesting sittings we discussed public health, we were denied most valuable advice. Upon a Bill which was almost entirely by reference to previous legislation we did not even have the advantage of the presence of a Law Officer of the Crown. Still, now some remedy is available, and now when we are going to discuss hygiene we have the ear of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health.

We shall be entirely dependent upon the dates at which these Regulations will come into force—though not for new slaughterhouses which, perhaps, have not yet been built. We beg the Parliamentary Secretary to give us full information when he replies to the debate. How many have been built since Second Reading of the Bill or since we discussed the matter in Committee? Has anybody had the temerity to risk capital in that way? Are any being built? Can he make any guess? Can he give any information whatsoever on this? We shall be most interested to have any information on this matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) was right when he said that this is an attempt to achieve some form of moderate concentration, albeit through the back door. For this I do not blame the Minister and Parliamentary Secretary. One would have to be insane not to accept that moderate concentration is the only reasonable thing to aim at in this country in this matter. We argued it very fully in Committee on the Bill, and if this is the only possible way which they can find for it, we have to say that it is probably better than nothing. It would, however, have been more honest and of greater advantage to the public, to the local authorities and, I think, strangely enough, to the meat traders and the occupiers of slaughterhouses had it been done openly and not by this method.

We on this side of the House believe that only through moderate concentration can we have good hygiene practice. If we cannot scrutinise what is happening, if we have a multiciplicity of small slaughterhouses scattered everywhere, if we cannot completely control both ante-mortem and post-mortem inspection, then there is not good hygiene practice.

We also feel that the attitude which was adopted by some hon. Members opposite in support of the Parliamentary Secretary is difficult to understand. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir A. Baldwin) in his place. He laughed at me when, in Committee, I suggested that we ought to have ante-mortem inspection. He thought it was absurd to believe that anyone could possibly tell, before it was killed, that a cow was ill. This view on the science of veterinary practice was astonishing to me, as I am sure it was astonishing to most of us. I sincerely hope that it is now astonishing to the hon. Member for Leominster.

Without ante-mortem inspection, what is the value of Regulation 19, which reads: No person shall bring or permit to be brought into a slaughterhouse any animal which he knows or suspects to be diseased unless he takes such animal or causes it to be taken to that part of the lairage provided for the segregation of such animals. How are we to expect the diligent slaughterman, as we called him during the Committee debates, to know whether the animal is diseased unless a veterinary surgeon has told him? If, as the hon. Member for Leominster said, it is impossible to diagnose disease in animals, how can a slaughterman know? Why put into a regulation something which obviously would not be worth the paper on which it is written in the way in which it is written? Will the Parliamentary Secretary give us his opinion on that point?

The Government have refused to allow for what we call flexible planning. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), who is to wind up the debate, knows what I mean by that because I have taken the term from him as he used it in Committee. Do not the Government think that, because they show themselves remarkably allergic towards this term and will not allow flexible planning, they have been grossly unfair to the trade? If I were a butcher, I should not buy any cattle in the market without a veterinary surgeon standing beside me or unless I had a regulation to protect me to the effect that all animals being sold for the purpose of slaughter should carry veterinary certificates with them to show that they were fit to be slaughtered. Without this, if the cattle is found on inspection to be diseased, it is the buyer who loses a substantial amount of money. If there were a certificate from a veterinary surgeon there would be much more protection. If, after that, it were found that the veterinary surgeon had been mistaken and that the animal was diseased, an arrangement could be reached by which the vendor and the buyer could halve the loss between them.

Mr. Royle

What about the Ministry?

Dr. Stross

I am not prepared to bring the Ministry into the matter at this stage although I have no doubt that it would be possible to bring in a third party in this way. I am only making suggestions. I will, however, leave that point. For some reason, Sir Gordon, you seemed to be restive and I may have been slightly out of order. If I was out of order, it was not my fault. I was being tempted, and I now resist the temptation.

May I quote Regulation 19 (3)? Here I do not think we are dealing with diseased animals or diseased meat. It reads: Subject to the provisions of paragraph (2) of this regulation, no person shall bring or permit to be brought into a slaughterhouse any undressed carcase unless it is accompanied by a certificate of a veterinary surgeon stating—'". The Regulation then gives paragraphs (a), (b) and (c), namely, the reasons for slaughter, whether to the best of his knowledge it was suffering from any disease which would render it unfit for human consumption and, thirdly, the particulars of any drugs which might have been given to it.

Surely, this will apply to all slaughterhouses now? I am delighted to see that the Parliamentary Secretary agrees, because that helps me somewhat, but will he now look at the proviso? That means that the undressed carcases of sheep or lambs will not be so treated. In their case, no veterinary certificate is needed from a skilled or qualified veterinary surgeon. All that is asked is a certificate from the owner, or the person in charge of the animal. He has to state the reason for the slaughter; that the animal has not recently been treated by a veterinary surgeon, and he has to give particulars of any drugs recently administered.

What an extraordinary proviso. We are to be protected from eating large diseased animals, but in regard to the smaller ones, the sheep or the lambs, we must rely on the skilled knowledge of the owner, or whomsoever is in charge. That is absolutely absurd. It tends to offer an incentive to people—who have a financial interest in getting rid of these beasts at a price that means no loss to themselves—to become dishonest. That is unfair, and I do not think that it will protect the public health.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health will give us his views on this. He cannot expect that the people mentioned in the proviso will be able to give us reliable information. With the best will in the world, they cannot. An animal may have been ill and about to die when it was slaughtered, dressed and brought in. It may never had had any medicine or care, and no veterinary surgeon may have been called in. If an untruth is told, what protection has the public? It has none at all.

The Parliamentary Secretary should take up the cudgels on our behalf. He should say that this is not good enough, and that his Ministry does not think it fair. It is all very well to protect certain interests, whether they be farmers, owners of animals, vendors or buyers, but the Ministry of Health has to protect all human beings in the country. We look to the Minister of Health, and to the Parliamentary Secretary to do their duty by us.

We think that these Regulations are disappointing, and we must firmly express our disappointment. We are very sorry that something better has not come from all the work that we did together.

10.44 p.m.

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

I want more particularly to refer to the Regulations relating to meat staining and sterilisation. I am glad to see such a re-awakening of interest in this subject of slaughterhouses and knackers' yards. There are here tonight faces that we did not see in our earlier discussions. I hope hon. Members will all be as eager as I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health is, to ensure that the highest standards are observed for the protection of the human being. That, I hope, is the major common interest of us all, even though it may involve a certain amount of extra expense for those who are buying for pets meat which is unfit for human consumption.

I am concerned that the Meat (Staining and Sterilization) Regulations, which are contained in Statutory Instrument No. 20, of 1959, should have been laid in a form which still leave a considerable loophole for those who may sell unfit meat which may contaminate meat which is being used for human consumption in the home. This is an anxiety shared by the public health inspectors throughout the country and by their official organisation. I believe that the public health inspectors have made representations to the Ministry calling attention to what they regard as an unfortunate mistake or an unfortunate decision on the part of the Ministry.

The broad object of the Regulations, of course, we all welcome. They tighten up to some extent the provisions, among other things, about the sale of meat from knackers' yards which, in the past, has caused a great deal of anxiety. In the past, it has been possible for this meat, which may not in itself be diseased but which may very well come into contact with diseased meat, to be brought into the home and there contaminate other meat or food which is being prepared in the home. This has given rise to much anxiety among those concerned to suppress outbreaks of food poisoning.

We had hoped that the Ministry would, in introducing its Regulations, have been able to overcome this difficulty completely. Unhappily, it has not done so; it has largely, though not entirely, met the problem. The point is that these new Regulations differentiate between meat from knackers' yards, which is classed as unfit for human consumption, and that which is—to quote from the Ministry's own circular, though these words are not actually used in the Regulations themselves— technically fit for human consumption. I am not quite sure how anybody could define what those words really mean. Presumably, though it is technically fit meat, it is not meat which anybody will ever consume. But the difficulty here is that, under these Regulations, apparently, such meat which is regarded as technically fit for human consumption— although open to great suspicion—could be sold stained but not sterilised, although other meat from knackers' yards will be both stained and sterilised.

It is the strong view of the public health inspectors, who, after all, have a very grave responsibility in this matter, that all this meat should be both stained and sterilised. They think it wrong that there should be this gap in the defences of the public. We feel that the gap has been allowed in some way in order to meet pressure there may have been from some pet shops or other interested parties, because it may be feared that, otherwise, some of those who buy meat for their pets at home may have to pay a rather higher price.

Surely, if there is this anxiety which is voiced, as I say, by a very responsible body, we should try to meet it, and meet the case presented, when we go to all the trouble to introduce these new and, on the whole, very desirable Regulations. The danger, therefore, is that it is quite possible that as a result of this loophole which the Regulations provide, there will, in effect, still be contagion in the home. It is still possible to pass on the contact from the knacker's yard to the home and to food used in the individual house.

I very much hope that we shall have an assurance from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It would be even more delightful if the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, to whom I making a special appeal, would agree that this is a serious matter and, even if he cannot meet it straight away, if he would agree that it should be considered again in view of the source from which it is raised, to assure us that there is no possible danger of the contamination that the public health inspectors say we must fear. We should not pass these Regulations in their present form tonight without greater assurance that the public is being properly protected.

10.52 p.m.

Mrs. Harriet Slater (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

I wish mainly to obtain clarification on the third set of Regulations, S.I., 1959, No. 20, dealing with meat staining and sterilisation. Before doing so, however, I reinforce the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) that there should be veterinary supervision, even in the interests of butchers themselves, when animals are brought to be slaughtered.

I say that because recently the butchers in Stoke-on-Trent have made application to the local authority that the local authority should pay them when meat is condemned. It seems foolish that they should buy unfit animals, without any protection at all, and then expect the local authority to pay them when they have made that mistake.

There are two points on which I should like clarification. Paragraph 2 (1) states: 'meat' includes offal and fat, but does not include bones, blood, whalemeat or a whole dead animal". Exactly what is meant by a "a whole dead animal"? Does it mean that of somebody can slip through a dead animal before it has been stripped of its hide, that is one of the back-door methods that might be used to try to slip some of this meat through?

The other point on which I should like a definite statement from the Minister concerns Regulations 7 and 8. Regulation 7 states: Where any meat has been stained in accordance with the requirements … no person shall cut away any part of such meat or otherwise treat it in any manner calculated to conceal the fact that it has been stained". Regulation 8, however, states: No person shall sell or offer or expose for sale by retail any meat which is unfit for human consumption unless it has been sterilized". This is what we ask the Minister to make quite clear. Is it at all possible that meat can at some stage be condemned as unfit for human consumption and then stained and that then a butcher or somebody else can have it and sterilise it so that the stain can be removed so that, somehow, the meat finds its way on to the shop counter where it may be sold for human consumption? The Parliamentary Secretary looks a little puzzled when I ask that question, but the Medical Officer of Health of Stoke-on-Trent has raised this question with the City Health Committee.

He did so because the General Secretary of the National Federation of Meat Traders has suggested that it will be possible for butchers to be able to buy meat which has been condemned as unfit for human consumption. The Meat Trade Journal has also suggested that that might be so, even within these Regulations. The Town Clerk of Stoke-on-Trent says that he sees nothing in the Regulations which would permit a butcher to resell meat which had been condemned as unfit, but the medical officer of health asks, in view of what has been said, that the Minister should make a statement about the position.

Is it possible for meat which has been condemned, has been stained, but has been sterilised so that the stain can be removed, to be sold, or, much worse, to be made up into pies, and sausages and similar things, in the way that unfit meat used to be passed on to the public in the old days? There is enough evidence to prove that that sort of thing still happens today. If it is possible, I ask the Minister to reconsider the Regulations and to tighten them and to make it clear that that sort of thing is not to be allowed.

It is not fair to local health authorities that that sort of thing should be permitted, for they have passed through many bitter struggles in the past to prevent unfit meat being sold to the public, and much has been done to cure the diseases caused by unfit meat. Medical science has advanced a long way and it is our duty to ensure that with these Regulations we prevent those diseases, thus making it unnecessary for large sums of money to be spent on their cure. It is not fair that housewives should be sold meat which they might have no means of telling to have been condemned.

I stress that Regulations 7 and 8 give rise to much uncertainty and make it appear that there is a back-door method open to unscrupulous people. Let there be no doubt about the fact that there are still unscrupulous people for whom a fine of £100, for which the Regulations provide, will not act as a deterrent if they think that they can get away with it.

10.59 p.m.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

I want to put only one short point which arises from Regulation 8 (i) of Statutory Instrument 20. I cannot see what process of reasoning made zoological gardens, menageries and mink farms exempt from these provisions. I think we are all aware that there are other categories, not only among animal lovers, but among those who earn their living from animals, who might be included in Regulation 8 (i). My hon. Friend will be aware that those who keep registered kennels and get a living from breeding dogs are very concerned at the increased costs which these Regulations may impose on their food bills. I appreciate the difficulties of indiscriminate exemptions, but it has been put to me—and I pass this on to my hon. Friend—that registered kennels could, without losing too much of the purpose of these Regulations, be added to zoological garden, menagerie or mink farm so that those who earn their living from dogs as well as from minks may receive some consideration from the Regulations.

11.1 p.m.

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

I wish to reinforce the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) that the Parliamentary Secretary should pay attention to the request of the Association of Public Health Inspectors that all meat which is unfit should be properly stained. I believe we all feel that such a procedure should be followed, and we are glad that an improvement is to be effected fairly quickly.

During the long Committee stage of the Slaughterhouses Bill last year we learned from the Parliamentary Secretary that he hoped by these Regulations to be able to achieve some measure of concentration of slaughterhouses and thereby to improve the percentages of meat inspected before sale. I am particularly interested in this matter because in the town in which I live in my own constituency, a town of 35,000 people, it transpired quite recently that last year, of 143,000 animals slaughtered, no fewer than 21,000—that is 14 per cent.—were sold to the public uninspected. In two export slaughterhouses 24 per cent. went out uninspected.

Slaughterers and the public health committee of the council are very concerned about this state of affairs, and they hope that some improvement will be obtained. Although I may be out of order in saying this, they feel that the abolition of Sunday slaughtering is the only answer, and they hope that the Minister will soon do something to ensure that the public get clean and inspected meat.

11.4 p.m.

Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)

I should like to refer to one matter which has not been mentioned so far in the debate. I am particularly pleased to see these Regulations because I understand that owing to the discontinuance of the Emergency Regulations which were similar to these, there has been a period when slaughterhouses and knackers' yards have not been obliged to pin-point meat that is unfit for human consumption.

I asked a Question about this a little time ago and the Minister said that Regulations were forthcoming. I should like to know if he feels that these Regulations are drawn tightly enough. We in Liverpool have been observing the Emergency Regulations; their discontinuance has made no difference to us. There is one loophole in Liverpool. Some imported meat is unfit for human consumption. Is there any possibility of making arrangements to ensure that the country of origin should have such meat stained before it is accepted here?

The other question I wish to refer to is that of the whole dead animal, which is exempt from being stained or sterilised. A whole dead animal has to be cut up at some time, and I should like to know what guarantee there is that that animal will not eventually be used for human consumption. One of the difficulties about this matter is that some local authorities have not continued to carry out the provisions of the Emergency Powers Regulations, and that means that there is the possibility of meat which is unfit for human consumption finding its way into factories, to be turned into meat paste and sausages.

I hope that the Minister can give us some assurance that he will make certain that these Regulations are sufficiently strict to ensure that that sort of thing cannot happen, and that they will be enforced in any port where meat which is unfit for human consumption may have to be dealt with.

11.7 p.m.

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

We have had a very useful debate on the three Prayers, and I shall seek to deal with as many as possible of the points which have been raised. The fact that we are debating three sets of Regulations, some of which are very complicated, makes it impossible for me to deal with them as fully as I would like, and the House will understand my difficulty.

I will start by dealing with some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle). I was a little disappointed about his approach. We had tried very hard to please him and his right hon. and hon. Friends. They were doubtful whether we should bring the Regulations in in time. We gave them an assurance that we would do so within six months of the Act coming into force, and we have done so well within that time. We hurried things along to try to oblige hon. Members opposite, but not one word of thanks have we got from them. That is very depressing.

We have tried to take account of the various points raised by hon. Members opposite, and have brought forward Regulations which mark a considerable advance in the way in which hon. Members opposite wish us to go. The hon. Member for Salford, West made the point that we were producing a form of moderate concentration by dishonest means. There is nothing dishonest about it. I proclaimed to the hon. Member and his hon. Friends in Committee, time after time, that this was exactly what we were going to do, but his hon. Friends refused to believe it. The hon. Member himself was the only one who did believe it, and I hope that his hon. Friend will realise that these Regulations will have the effect of bringing about moderate concentration in some form.

The hon. Member referred to the Slaughter of Animals (Prevention of Cruelty) Regulations, No. 2166, and particularly to paragraph 3 thereof, which he seemed to feel, was lacking in precision, to put it mildly. I would point out that this is not a new provision. These Regulations are a re-enactment of the 1954 Regulations, with certain important additions. This paragraph 3 is an exact reiteration of one of the paragraphs in the 1954 Regulations.

Mr. Royle

I grumbled about that.

Mr. Godber

The hon. Gentleman grumbles about them again now, but they have proved reasonably effective and we have had no serious complaints about their effectiveness or the difficulty of in- terpretation. I think it was right to continue them in the form in which they were in the 1954 Regulations, which were brought in, incidentally, under an Act brought forward by the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle), and supported on both sides of the House.

Regulation 5 is a new Regulation, and the hon. Member was right to call attention to it. It is an important one and will do much to help lessen the possibilities of cruelty in slaughterhouses. It imposes a considerable burden on the small slaughterhouse operator—he was right in saying that—but there is provision in the Regulations for an extension of time in regard to existing slaughterhouses. There is a strict limit to that extension, four years—the time stated in the original draft Regulations in the White Paper.

That is a maximum period, and it is entirely in the local authorities' hands as to how long they allow that period to continue within the maximum. While I hope that they will be reasonable in their approach in the case of many small slaughterhouses, I feel confident that as soon as they think right they will refuse to continue certification.

It is encouraging to know that since the passage of the Slaughterhouses Act, the manufacturers of these particular stunning pens have been particularly active in bringing forward new types of stunning pens, less elaborate than those proposed originally to suit the needs of the small slaughterhouse operator. When we were discussing that Bill, the only pens offered cost about £400, which is a lot of money for a small operator. But I am advised that there are now several satisfactory pens at about £140 to £150, and one being offered much lower than that even. So these practical points are being effectively dealt with, and the news there is very encouraging.

The hon. Gentleman referred to Regulation 10, dealing with the fractious animal. I can see his point. It is easy to poke fun at the word "fractious" when used in this connection, but we had to find a word to define what we meant and this was the best we could achieve. He spoke particularly of the small man, killing two beasts a week, but I could not really follow his thoughts on that example. My arithmetic tells me that he will presumably kill one straight away, and there is only one left. How the first can be fractious I do not know.

Mr. Royle

It has to live overnight.

Mr. Godber

But he has only two, and surely it is not a burden on a small man to tether them apart. I think that this Regulation will not be unduly burdensome to the operation of the small man.

As to Regulation 13, on which the hon. Gentleman poured a certain amount of ridicule, it has been in operation since the passing of the 1954 Act, and has been intelligently interpreted by the local authorities responsible for this. We have to pay tribute to them for the way in which they interpret these Regulations, and we have had no serious criticism. It was pointed out that in many cases these new Regulations will not apply until the date is announced. It is rather complicated. There was to be an appointed day, which, we assured hon. Members, would be brought in reasonably soon after the passing of the Act. The appointed day, we have announced, will be 2nd November next. After that period local authorities can send in their reports as soon as they will, but there is to be a period of at least two months for consideration. So one could say that the earliest possible date for receipt of the report is 2nd November and the earliest date of operation after that will be two months later. This is a complicated matter, but that will be the starting point.

I must turn to the points raised by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), who dealt with Order 2168, on food hygiene. He made the point that this was of little value because a number of the Regulations are not in operation for the same reason as the one I have been dealing with in answer to the hon. Member for Salford, West. I can only say that in the same way we hope a number of them will be coming into operation in twelve months' time and we hope things will move fairly rapidly then. I think that they are of value. Slaughterhouse operators will know what is expected of them and no doubt will be preparing for the Regulations coming into force. I believe that they will prove very valuable.

The hon. Member referred specifically to Regulation 19 (1), which has not come into force, and spoke of the difficulty of enforcing such a regulation. There are many forms of disease which can be easily detected. At least it is better than the existing position in which there has been no regulation of this sort. Although we are not going so far as the hon. Member would wish, I hope he will agree that we are travelling on the same road, perhaps a little slower than he would wish.

The point about Regulation 19 (3) is the question about sheep and lambs being exempted. That is to take into account particularly lambing, a time when there is a large number of casualties with which it would be quite impossible to get vets. to deal. For the moment we must make this exemption. We shall see how we get on. but I have taken note of the hon. Member's point and will bear it in mind when considering future action.

Other hon. Members have related their remarks to Regulation 20, on meat staining. I do not propose to go into detail on the points that hon. Members have raised, because my right hon. Friend and the Minister of Health have received a number of representations about these Regulations since they were laid and a number of hon. Members have been concerned about them. This evening my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) has made a point which, I know, is in the minds of a number of my hon. Friends. Hon. Members opposite have taken a different view, but have also been rather critical about these Regulations.

My right hon. Friends have considered most carefully the complaints they have received and I have taken note of those made tonight. My right hon. Friends have come to the conclusion that it will not be possible to bring these Regulations into force from 1st April. While my right hon. Friends are still of opinion that regulations on this subject are necessary, they consider that more time is required to enable them to be put in a form such as will cause the least possible hardship to those concerned. They propose to allow more time for consideration by all the interested parties in the hope and expectation that revised regulations can be prepared which will have the good will and backing of everyone concerned.

Because my right hon. Friends propose a little further time for these consultations they will take steps to revoke the existing Regulations. Before revoking them they will follow the procedures prescribed in the Food and Drugs Act, 1955, and consult all interested parties, including, of course, the Food Hygiene Advisory Council.

I thought it right to give the House that information tonight so that it would be aware of the position. Of course, when the revocation Order is laid it will be for hon. Members to take the matter further if they wish.

Mr. Royle

The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that only the last of the three should be withdrawn?

Mr. Godber

Oh, yes, only the one dealing with staining and sterilising. The others have the full support certainly of my hon. Friends on this side, and I hope and believe that, with a certain measure of criticism, hon. Members on the other side of the House still desire to make progress and that, with all their misgivings, they will still support us in those.

11.21 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

We are obliged to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for the last statement he has made. I would urge upon him to consider this matter as one of great urgency because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) has pointed out, we want an effective regulation as soon as possible. I do not myself object at all that the matter should be reconsidered in the light of the discussion we have had tonight, but I hope that the Department will regard this matter as one of great urgency.

To turn to the other two sets of Regulations, we can understand why the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health has been silent. To have intervened would only have embarrassed him. I do not want to be unduly harsh to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I will not declare him black, but really he is one of those grey persons. We have far too many of these grey persons about these days who avoid doing good.

It was agreed on both sides of the House that something really drastic had to be done about slaughterhouses. It is one of the little-known scandals in this country that our slaughterhouses are in an absolutely shocking condition, far worse probably that those of any other continental country. It was for this reason agreed by Ministers and leaders of both sides of the House that a really effective, radical approach had to be made. In their greyness the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister ran away.

We are in this difficulty. I would concede at once that these Regulations will improve matters. What we are disappointed about is that they will not improve matters sufficiently. However, it would be difficult for us to divide the House against the Regulations. I would myself concede not only that they will improve the present position, but that the Government have paid some attention to the discussions we had in Standing Committee on the Slaughterhouses Bill. There are one or two improvements incorporated in the Regulations which, I think, owe their origin to the discussions we had in the Standing Committee.

The failure of the Government, as demonstrated by these Regulations, is that they have abandoned the policy of moderate concentration. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary knows quite well that these Regulations will not provide for moderate concentration in any reasonable time.

Mr. Godber

I thought that the hon. Member's hon. Friend was making the point that they would.

Mr. Willey

My hon. Friend quite explicitly and clearly said in more forthright terms than I will use that this was a retreat from the policy of moderate concentration.

This is really worse than that. I would remind the hon. Gentleman of the first recommendation from each of the two relevant Reports. Let him turn to the Report of the Interdepartmental Committee on Meat Inspection and take its first recommendation. It is this: That all animals should be inspected ante mortem at the place of slaughter. That is not provided in the Regulations. If we go no further than the first, minimum essential requirement given by the Interdepartmental Committee, it is that slaughterhouse buildings must not adjoin or form part of a building used as a dwelling-house. Even that is not in the Regulations. These are two simple, elementary requirements which are not in the Regulations. For this reason, we are bound to be disappointed with them.

They have the further disadvantage, which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary cannot conceal, that because of the present condition of slaughterhouses they are necessarily written in very vague terms. In the Slaughterhouses (Hygiene) Regulations we find in one paragraph alone that the words "suitable and sufficient "are used five times. What "suitable and sufficient "will mean is obviously conditioned by the premises as they are. Any public health inspector must interpret such a provision in the light of existing circumstances. This is the weakness of the Regulations.

As I have said, we have to recognise that if we prayed successfully against the Regulations conditions would be worse still. We want to improve them. We are sorely disappointed that we are not radically improving matters, but we hope that the public health inspectors will make the best they can of these inadequate Regulations. I believe that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will join me in hoping that they will do something to improve the conditions of our slaughterhouses, which are deplorable.

I hope that this will be a modest beginning to much more effective Regulations and that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will not rest here. It is comforting to recognise that there have been consultations on all these Regulations and that two have been referred to the Food Hygiene Council. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will ensure that the condition of slaughterhouses is kept fully alive before the Council, and that we can expect before long more effective and stringent regulations to be laid. Meanwhile, I advise my hon. Friends that the better course is to withdraw the Motion, and to hope that the public health inspectors will enforce the Regulations as vigorously and effectively as they can.

Mr. Royle

While I am not at all satisfied—indeed, am very disappointed—I should not like to ask the Vice-Chamberlain of the Household to go to the Palace tomorrow to increase Her Majesty's burden by asking Her to annul the Regulations. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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