HC Deb 21 November 1960 vol 630 cc909-31

10.9 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Meat (Staining and Sterilization) Regulations, 1960 (S.I. 1960, No. 1268), dated 21st July, 1960, a copy of which was laid before this House on 28th July, in the last Session of Parliament, be annulled. I am sure that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will not be surprised that we are praying against these Regulations. In fact, he might have thought us somewhat ungracious if we had not prayed against them. These Regulations are consequential to a debate on a Prayer we had some time ago. Following that debate, the Government subsequently revoked the Order in question and undertook to bring in a new one. The first point with which I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to deal is this. Why has there been such an inordinate delay in introducing this Statutory Instrument? We debated the earlier Regulation concerning staining and sterilisation as long ago as 26th February, 1959, yet it is not until November this year that we get the Statutory Instrument which we were promised.

This is quite intolerable for two reasons. First, all that the Parliamentary Secretary's predecessor asked for was a little further time for consultation. More than 18 months have passed, and we cannot consider that a little time for further consultation. This is endemic in his Department. If the hon. Gentleman consults HANSARD, he will discover that he has commented on this matter from a more independent position in the past. When a comparatively simple job like this is voluntarily imposed on the Department, it should be much more expeditious in producing the Statutory Instrument which we were promised.

The second reason why we must criticise this delay is that these are important Regulations. We had provision for the staining and sterilising of meat under the Defence Regulations. We had the Statutory Instrument that was introduced in February, 1959, and since then we have had no protection at all. This is quite intolerable. The whole country nowadays accepts the importance of clean food Regulations. These are Regulations which will impose obligations on local authorities that they welcome. I am sure that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will accept the fact that there is a very heavy burden on him to explain to the House why the country has been without this protection over this considerable period, and why a matter, which was regarded as being no more than an occasion for further consultation, should take this inordinate time.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary will recall that two points of criticism were made when we debated the previous Regulations on a Prayer. Hon. Members on this side of the House spoke in favour of the housewife, the human consumer, and hon. Members opposite spoke up for the pets.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

Why not?

Mr. Willey

The hon. Member is entitled to determine his priorities, but in fact neither he nor myself received satisfaction under those Regulations The pets—to take the hon. Member's first priority—received no satisfaction either. I remember that the hon. Member made an impassioned plea for the kennels. So far as I can see—and perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will enlighten me about this—the only pets, if they can be so designated, and I think that it is arguable—the only non-human creatures which may apparently benefit from these Regulations; are trout. We have the significant words "or trout farm" introduced into the Regulations, but I do not see anything about kennels. I expect hon. Members opposite, therefore, to make themselves heard again in criticising the Regulations.

That was one of the reasons why the former Regulations were taken back to see whether it was possible to provide Regulations less invidious to pets. We on this side raised a substantial point. As several of my hon. Friends pointed out, the Association of Public Health Inspectors believed that the provision should be for staining and sterilising action. I welcome the present Regulations as an improvement concerning sterilisation. I would say, in passing, that this is a reflection on knackers' yards, because we know that in their case the provision is staining or sterilisation, because often they do not have the facilities for sterilisation. At least, it is a happy situation to accept the position now that all slaughterhouses can provide for sterilisation. That is progress.

As I understand the Association of Public Health Inspectors, however, they believed, and so argued at the time, that the provision should be for both staining and for sterilisation. The safeguard of staining is obvious. I recognise the disadvantages of staining from some points of view. Some owners of pets may not like buying stained meat. With all respect to the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), however, we have to put the human consumer as top priority. I should have thought that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary would again accept the burden that he must satisfy the House that it was not possible to provide for both staining and sterilisation.

Those are the matters which we raised on the earlier Prayer. I accept that the new Regulations are an improvement on the earlier ones—in several respects they are much more specific—but we must remain disappointed that we do not have provision for staining as mandatory. The hon. Gentleman's predecessor undertook to have staining as mandatory. The Regulations provide for sterilisation as mandatory. The public health inspectors believed that both should be mandatory. That is not met by the Regulations. At least, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary should accept an obligation to inform us of the discussions he has held.

In the Regulations, we have the safeguard of consultation with the Food Hygiene Advisory Council. I should be obliged if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary would tell us, not only that consultations were held—we assume that—but that the Advisory Council agree with the Regulations as being the only effective steps that can at present be taken. I should also like to know whether, quite apart from the Advisory Council, in the light of the further consultations the Association of Public Health Inspectors is satisfied with the Regulations.

Behind these Regulations is the all-important question of inspection. This is a matter we make no apology for raising again. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us that progress is being made towards complete inspection. Until we get complete inspection, even such provisions as these cannot provide a proper safeguard.

I move the Prayer in this spirit. I am not advising my hon. Friends on this occasion to press the Government, in spite of their inadequacy, to withdraw the Regulations, because I should not like to feel responsible for the public not having this safeguard for such a long period. Let us have these Regulations. Let us have an assurance from the Government that there have been full consultations and that the bodies consulted are satisfied that this is as far as the Government can go. Let us have the further assurance that the Government intend not to rest content with these provisions but to re-examine them in due course and to provide an even more adequate safeguard.

10.19 p.m.

Sir Richard Glyn (Dorset, North)

I should like to deal with one or two of the points which have been raised by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey). I should like to deal first with his point that there has been a long delay in the consultation with the various parties. The hon. Member seemed to think that that was a point of criticism. I wonder whether he appreciates the number of parties whom the Minister is statutorily obliged to consult.

Has the hon. Member considered whether it is not the Government's duty to consult these bodies and, if I may put it crudely, not to dictate to them, and that consultation with a large number of bodies which may have widely different points of view, if it is to be properly and democratically done, must obviously involve a certain lapse of time? I, for one, am glad that the Government have not sought to impose upon the parties concerned a dictated decision without having given due consideration to the large number of points which no doubt have been raised with them.

At this point, I must declare that I have a very limited interest in this matter, because although I no longer own, exhibit or breed pet dogs of any kind, I have for many years been an officer of the Kennel Club and of Cruft's International Dog Show, both of which organisations are concerned in this matter, though personally I am not.

I should like to take up the second point raised by the hon. Member which is that he suggests that his hon. Friends speak for human customers—and I think that he said the housewives are the human consumers—and that the objections on this side of the House were made on behalf of pets. It is fair to say that everyone, on both sides of the House, would agree that if there were any real evidence of any danger to health that consideration would immediately override all other considerations and all considerations of convenience or expense to pet lovers or pet owners or anybody else concerned.

My first point is the question whether or not there is really any evidence of danger to the human consumer in present circumstances. I have done my best to try to get what evidence there is on this point, which I believe to be a fundamental point of the utmost importance. As far as I can understand, the motivation behind the agitation—if I may so call it—for Regulations of this kind stems from a report made seven years ago by a committee which was to consider the sale of horse meat. That committee made a valuable report which was absolutely relevant to the facts at that time, but that was seven years ago and since that date two important things have happened which have changed the situation a good deal.

First, meat has become derationed, which means that there is now no temptation at all for any human being knowingly to consume unfit meat or knacker meat. The second relevant point is that bovine tuberculosis which seven years ago was the principal scourge has been virtually eradicated. I will not say that it has been completely eradicated, but we hope that it very soon will be. These two factors are worth consideration.

I have tried to ascertain what at present is the degree of risk to what the hon. Member for Sunderland, North rightly calls the human consumer. On 15th February this year I had a Written Answer from the then Minister of Health which gave figures for the outbreaks of food poisoning the causes of which were known for each of the previous five years. I thouht that they would be relevant. These figures show that of the food poisoning outbreaks where the food concerned was known, an average of 56.6 per cent. were due to canned or processed meat which, of course, would not include unfit meat or knacker meat. A further 18.4 per cent. of outbreaks were due to reheated meat, which, again, would not include unfit meat or knacker meat, and fresh meat, which would include unfit meat and knacker meat, caused 1.7 only of the outbreaks. Therefore, from these figures it is clear that reheated meat caused about eleven times as many outbreaks as fresh meat and that processed and canned meat caused about 33 times as many outbreaks.

Reinforced by these figures, I pressed the Minister of Health of those days to give me any tangible evidence which his Department had of any illness or fatality in the last seven years which had been traced to knacker meat or unfit meat. I was informed that there had been one death. Naturally, we always regret any death, however caused. But one death, and one only, was provisionally attributed indirectly to infection caused in this way. It was believed that that infection was due to the use of a utensil for cutting up human food which had previously been used for cutting up knacker meat which might have been infected.

Dr. Edith Summerskill (Warrington)

I find it difficult to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. Why could not reheated pies contain knacker meat?

Sir R. Glyn

It would be entirely illegal for knacker meat to be sold for the purpose and for it to be made into pie meat. The evidence that that is not done would, I agree, not be very strong in the days when meat was rationed and when there was some temptation for manufacturers—perhaps the less responsible manufacturers—to act in this way. I say that there is no evidence that they did, but it is a possibility, for they would be under a temptation to do so.

But now that meat is no longer rationed, there really could be no possible temptation for manufacturers to do that, and I think they would be restricted by the very definite knowledge that should anyone be taken ill as a result of eating their pies their custom would immediately evaporate. They would have every reason for using every possible device to ensure that they used the best and the safest meat for their pies. I can only say that the Ministry of Health had no evidence whatever that any such knacker meat in pies has led to any outbreak or, I am happy to say, to any death.

There was a good deal of evidence on this point, and I have been to some trouble to collect it because the House must pay great attention to the welfare of the consumer. I would not dream of speaking as I am doing if I had not fully satisfied myself that the present risk to the human consumer is practically negligible.

My next source of information—I think it should carry some weight—was the figures published annually by the Ministry of Health. The Ministry has a monthly bulletin, and every autumn it has an article on the causes of food poisoning during the preceding year. I have studied the articles for the last two years. In these articles, the Ministry gives a list of what it calls in rather technical language "the vehicles of infection and presumed causal agents." As I understand it, that is a medical way of saying "the sources of infection". The Ministry gives figures of food poisoning of all types for each of the last two years, and the figures make it perfectly clear that in the last two years infection attributed to canned and processed meat caused more than forty times as many food poisoning outbreaks as did infection due to fresh meat, which would, of course, include knacker meat.

I notice—I consider it a matter worthy of notice—that there is no move from the other side of the House to impose any controls or restrictions whatever on the sale of canned and processed meat which creates forty of these causes of infection to every one due to fresh meat, which might well include knacker meat. Those figures are relevant, and it is because of that overwhelming evidence that I feel I am justified and, indeed, that it is my duty to put forward not only the point of view of the pet owner, but the general importance of other health considerations.

The necessity to stain or sterilise knacker meat must have an effect of increasing the cost of meat sold for pets. It cannot fail to do so. We have these doubts as to the effect on the numbers of outbreaks of food poisoning. That is a matter of opinion, but the figures I have quoted show that it cannot be very great. However, without doubt it would increase the cost to cat and dog lovers of their pets' food.

It has been estimated that the cost of sterilisation, which, I understand, certain hon. Members opposite favour, would be no less than 6d. a pound, which is a substantial sum, especially bearing in mind that so many pets are kept by retired people and pensioners who do not have a great deal of money to spare and whose pets are their principal companions and solace for old age.

When it is realised that even 2d. or 3d. a pound, which is likely to be the cost of staining, will probably cost a cat owner £1 a year, the owner of a terrier £3 a year, and the owner of a larger dog £5 a year, and when one remembers what has been said about the impossibility of increasing the dog licence fee by even a small sum and what has been said about the reaction on pensioners even if it were to be increased by only a few shillings, one has a measure of the effect of the cost of meat sterilisation, which some hon. Members opposite advocate, to every cat and dog owner in the country.

We have also to consider the effect on people who breed dogs and run boarding kennels. They would be grievously hit if sterilisation of knacker meat were introduced. It would have a crippling effect on them. If there were clear medical evidence that it was necessary, no one would resist it, but that evidence is so slight that staining is as far as any responsible Minister ought to go.

There is another factor which concerns countrymen, especially farmers. I refer to the important but unostentatious work which goes on so automatically that many people never notice it. It is done by the knackers who perform a vitally essential rôle in the pattern of our country life. It falls to them humanely to slaughter animal casualties, animals injured on farms, and to remove and dispose of the carcases of animals however killed.

Knackers are highly skilled men. They are able and have to be able to recognise that real danger to health and to life—anthrax. One may say that exposure to anthrax is an occupational risk of knackers, and that would not be much of an exaggeration. Every year knackers recognise and report great numbers of cases of anthrax to the Minister. The bodies of the animals are burnt and buried in out-of-the-way, deeply dug graves which are protected so that no carnivore can possibly get to them and spread this killing disease.

If knackers are interfered with by over-severe restrictions and over-severe controls they will not be able to do their work. If they are so interfered with that it becomes impracticable for them to do this job which they are doing so well and so quietly; if they are prevented from collecting carcases from outlying farms, as they do at present, because it is uneconomical to do so, sooner or later an anthrax animal will not be identified. It will die without being burnt. Instead of being burnt and buried in quicklime 10 ft. deep, it will be buried in a shallow grave to which many small carnivorous animals will have access and there will be an outbreak of anthrax which will not merely give people tummy ache, but will kill them.

This risk to health should be seriously considered by the Government and by the Minister. This Regulation, which imposes the duty of staining, which will be an expense and a trouble, but which will be tolerable, is as far as any well-informed and conscientious Minister could possibly go on the evidence which I have quoted, and if there is any conflicting evidence I will be the first to listen to it.

I have done my best to collect medical evidence on this point, and on the balance of the evidence that I have found I cannot think that the Government would be justified in going one inch further than the Statutory Instrument which now lies before the House.

10.37 p.m.

Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

We have heard an extraordinary attack on these Regulations, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) has pointed out, are long overdue. Because the previous Regulations which were introduced nearly two years ago were withdrawn, as well as the wartime Regulations, there has been no protection against possible food poisoning resulting from the sale in shops or factories of meat which is unfit for human consumption. If these Regulations are agreed to, the protection will be greater than it has been for some time.

The argument of the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Sir R. Glyn) about knackers not being able to do their work if these Regulations are agreed to is rather far-fetched.

Sir R. Glyn

I was referring to sterilisation. Sterilisation is far more onerous on knackers than staining. Staining is tolerable but sterilisation is not.

Mr. Darling

That is what I mean. At this point I am standing by the Regulations. I will criticise them in a moment for not going far enough, but all the weight of medical evidence, the evidence from public health inspectors and such people, is in favour of sterilisation to ensure that diseased meat does not come into contact with other meat after it is moved out of the premises.

What disturbs me about the attitude of the hon. Gentleman is not so much the argument which he put Forward—to which I object anyhow—that very little illness is due to the consumption of unfit meat—I will come back to that point—but that he seems to have no regard to the fact that our standards in the handling of food in factories, cafes, restaurants and public houses and in food processing are so low compared with those in other countries.

I am concerned to see our standards raised. We cannot go beyond these Regulations tonight, but our standards in the handling of food must be raised. We are miles behind many other countries. We are miles behind the United States, for example, and the only way to improve our standards is by Regulations of this kind.

I do not say that everyone engaged in this kind of trade does bad things. The majority of those engaged in the meat trade, as we said many times during the Committee stage on the Slaughterhouses Bill, are good, honest, and efficient people who do a first-class job of work. We are concerned about the small minority who may not be as reputable as the best in their behaviour and standards. I am prepared to admit that these Regulations will catch very few people, but we need them for the purpose of raising standards, and not only for the protection of health.

I was shocked—I think that is the word I should use—when the hon. Member went on to argue that these Regulations should be weakened, because if they are carried out as they are set down the cost of cat meat will rise. We probably should grumble when the price of anything is increased, but if the hon. Member is pleading for the old-age pensioner and the price of cat meat, the thing to do is not to prevent any improvement in our standards but to see that the old-age pensioner has a better pension so that he can afford to pay the increased price. I was shocked that the hon. Member should be so little concerned about our food standards.

Mr. Burden

I did not get the impression that my hon. Friend was not concerned about maintaining high standards of hygiene and inspection in food for human consumption.

Mr. Darling

I look upon these Regulations, as I am sure my hon. Friends do, not as merely dealing with one aspect of the meat trade, but as a contribution to the general improvement in standards of food handling. If we do not improve our standards, we shall never bring them to the level we want. The hon. Member did not seem concerned about improving our standards.

Sir R. Glyn

I am most concerned about improving the general standards of food handling, but I prefer to see more attention paid to the question of processed meat and tinned meat, which caused 33 times as much infection as did fresh meat—or reheated meat, which caused 11 times as much. Hon. Members opposite are straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel. I never talked about inspection. That is a different matter. I was talking about the evidence against fresh meat.

Mr. Darling

The evidence the hon. Member put forward is not as sound as he thinks. He used the term "processed meat". As my right hon. Friend said, there is no indication, on the evidence that the hon. Member has put forward, that the processed meat was not contaminated meat before it went into the processing factory. There is no evidence that the reheated meat was not contaminated meat in some way. In any case, the figures the hon. Member quoted from the Ministry of Health dealt with outbreaks of food poisoning and not individual cases of food poisoning, which can be very numerous indeed. I am speaking of cases where individuals have perhaps eaten contaminated pork pies—probably the only ones in a whole lot bad enough to affect health.

There was quite an outcry in Sheffield a little while ago about a man who was making pork pies for sale on football grounds in premises that had to be condemned—nobody knows to this day how he got his meat. That kind of thing can cause individual cases of food poisoning. It does not lead to an outbreak of food poisoning and, therefore, is not shown in the figures. We have to prevent the possibility of contaminated meat being sold for human consumption. We do not want contaminated meat to get into shops, cafés, restaurants and food processing factories, and the only way to prevent it is by Regulations of this kind.

After complaining about the delay, I want to ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary a few questions about the Regulations. Paragraphs 4 and 7 (1) provides it as a defence for a person engaged in the meat trade or in processing meat who is found to have contaminated meat on his premises and action is taken against him if he can prove that he did not know and could not with reasonable diligence have ascertained that the meat was unfit for human consumption.

I am very worried about this defence, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North said, if we had 100 per cent. inspection of meat at slaughterhouses there would be no need for a defence of that kind. If any contaminated meat then got out of the slaughterhouses, responsibility would fall on the inspecting authority. I hope the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will tell me whether I am wrong, but it seems an admission on the part of the Government that there will continue to be less than 100 per cent. inspection of meat in spite of all the promises we have had in the last few years that the Government are working towards 100 per cent. inspection. It seems an admission that meat will get out of the slaughterhouses uninspected and it may be contaminated meat.

We know where contaminated meat has come from in the past. It has not come from the municipal abattoirs where there is 100 per cent. inspection, nor from the Fat Stock Marketing Corporation where the abattoirs, because of their size, have 100 per cent. inspection. It has not come from the abattoirs of big reputable firms or of co-operative societies, but from the small slaughterhouses. I am not blaming the slaughter-men, but, as we discussed during the passage of the Slaughterhouses Bill, small slaughterhouses are situated in scattered rural districts where in present circumstances it is very difficult for local authorities to ensure that there is 100 per cent. inspection.

As, no doubt, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has found, we complained during the passage of the Bill about the way in which the Government were providing for the opening of new small slaughterhouses and allowing others to continue. There seems to be an admission here that the Government expect some meat to come from slaughterhouses uninspected. I should be happier if this defence were not in the Regulations. The onus of responsibility ought to be thrown on to the inspecting authority. We ought now to be in a position to provide 100 per cent. inspection through the inspection services of the local authorities. Then, if any meat which was not fit for human consumption got out, the responsibility would not be on the slaughterhouse operator, the meat trader or the food processing factory, but on the local authority. That is where the responsibility should lie, otherwise we shall never get, what we have been asking for for so long, 100 per cent. inspection of all meat which comes from a slaughterhouse. Other countries can provide complete inspection of meat. It is an indication of the low standards we have that, after all these years of asking for it and all the pressure brought to bear on the Government, we have not yet got 100 per cent. inspection.

There were one or two other matters to which I wanted to draw attention, but, in view of the speech of the hon. Member, to which I felt I had to reply, I have taken up a little more time than I intended. Therefore, I shall refer to only one other matter. I refer to paragraph 11. I do not know whether it would be in order, but I should have thought that where unfit contaminated meat has been carried in a vehicle of any kind the local authority should have power to make sure that that vehicle was sterilised before it was used again. I do not know whether the power exists in other provisions, but it should be provided for either in these Regulations or somewhere else, otherwise if a vehicle or container has carried contaminated meat and the contaminated meat is dealt with, the vehicle or container might still be used without being sterilised. It may be a small point, but I hope the Parliamentary Secretary can satisfy me that something can be done along those lines.

We complain, in general, about the delay in introducing these Regulations; but it is typical of this smug, complacent Government. I hope that now that we have the Regulations they will do some good, inadequate as they are.

10.50 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

Neither the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) nor the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), in the points they made about the dangers of food poisoning, admitted that the staining of meat with the obnoxious green dye which we remember from wartime is a sufficiently good safeguard to prevent knacker meat and unclean meat getting into pork pies and other channels for human consumption.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Parlamentary Secretary on at long last having introduced these Regulations, which appear to be a satisfactory compromse between the burden of complete sterilisation and the safeguard of staining the meat with green dye.

This is a particularly appropriate time to discuss the Regulations. Throughout the whole countryside at present one has evidence of the grave danger to animals and human beings of coming into contact with a disease from which they have lost their natural immunity. One has only to look at the disastrous spread of foot-and-mouth disease at present to realise how desperately important it is that animals and human beings should be protected from diseases.

I welcome the Regulations, but with two reservations. My first reservation, which my hon. Friend may clear up later, deals with paragraph 7 (2, b) and the movement of meat which is fit for human consumption. Often at peak slaughtering periods, particularly in September, offal which is perfectly fit for human consumption finds its way into the knacker trade, especally into the trade which cans the new and fancy kind of pet foods which are now so popular. As I and a principal firm in my constituency understand the Regulations at the moment, even though the meat is fit for human consumption, because it is to be used and canned for pet food it has to go in a locked and sealed container. This seems to me unnecessary when the meat is perfectly fit for human consumption.

My second point concerns using this particularly nasty green dye. I understand that we are to use the same green dye in 1960 as we had to use in 1940. As so much research and discussion have taken place in the last twenty years, it ought to have been possible for scientists to have devised some slightly less offensive dye which they could put on meat but which, when the meat was cooked, would show up just as effectively as this green dye. I hope that my hon. Friend will give us an assurance that, if a better and less offensive dye comes on the market, we shall be able to use it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Sir R. Glyn) made a very good point when he said that it is important to keep up the sale of knacker meat. It is not very attractive for people to go to slaughterhouses to pick up a couple of pounds of meat, but now in addition a quantity of green dye is to be put on it, which will come off on shopping baskets, cars and clothes. We want to safeguard the public, but we do not want to make it any more difficult to sell knacker meat.

10.56 p.m.

Mr. Charles A. Howell (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) referred to the green dye on meat, but I hope he is not trying to persuade us that none of the meat escapes the dye. Meat is not the only thing that was at one time treated with dye. A violet dye was used on potatoes that were unfit for human consumption, but not all these potatoes received the dye and a lot of them went for human consumption as well as for animal feeding. I am not as naïve as one hon. Member opposite who said that since food rationing ended there was no risk of unfit meat being used for human consumption. That is not quite the case, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr, Darling) said, in this trade there are good and bad elements, and it is only the bad element that we want to trip up.

There is a financial aspect to this subject, and we get it even in London, where some restaurants, and very prominent restaurants, have been fined for using horse meat. I could give the House details of one such establishment, but that would not be fair, as it is now under different management. Only a year or two ago it was prosecuted under a very prominent name for using horse meat under false pretences. That convinces me that such things can happen. Further, whether or not we like sterilisation, or accept—and I do not—that it will cost 6d. per lb. of meat, such treatment is essential in case the meat is missed by the green dye.

Is there anything in these Regulations or in the Public Health Acts to indicate that when meat is disqualified for human consumption the whole beast is so disqualified or only the infected part? Again, in most of the Regulations we have the expression "slaughterhouse or knacker's yard"; is there any significance in the fact that paragraph 8 omits "knacker's yard"? It reads: Where there are no facilities for sterilisation in a slaughterhouse … That is an important matter. It is more likely that this plant will be available in a large slaughterhouse than in a knacker's yard. The knacker trade is usually a one-man business. It is true that these are very experienced people, but the businesses are not big concerns. Most of them are either one-man or man-and-son affairs and run in the family.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. W. M. F. Vane)

Perhaps I may answer that last point; otherwise it might take up a great deal of time. I do not think the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Howell) has got the purpose of the Regulations entirely clear. They distinguish between unfit meat from a slaughterhouse and meat from a knacker's yard. Paragraph 8 deals with slaughterhouses only. The hon. Gentleman will notice that different provisions are laid down for those different classes of meat.

Mr. Howell

I accept that. I wanted to be sure, because in that paragraph only the word "slaughterhouse" is used. As my hon. Friend implied, there was an escape clause, to provide a defence.

Mr. Vane

Oh, no.

Mr. Howell

That is what a defence is. Paragraph 4 states: Provided that it shall be a defence in any proceedings… That is an escape clause to enable one to escape the Regulations. Paragraph 8 is an escape clause. It says: Where there are no facilities for sterilisation in a slaughterhouse … the provisions are not to apply, providing the meat is going to a place where it will be sterilised or destroyed.

Why not enlist the services of the local authorities to encourage the provision of sterilisation? Will the Joint Parliamentary Secretary have that point in mind, so that the whole of the country can have the assurance that adequate sterilisation is available? In addition, will he give further thought to my suggestion that the words "stained and sterilised" should be used and not, as appears in paragraph 5, "stained or sterilised"? That is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) was making.

Provided that I can have this assurance, I shall be satisfied to give my support to these Regulations. Perhaps the Joint Parliamentary Secretary can give an undertaking that, through the A.M.C. or other similar organisations, the health authorities will be encouraged to set up sterilisation plant so that people selling pets' meat are able to advertise their meat as having been sterilised.

11.3 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. W. M. F. Vane)

I do not complain that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), who opened the debate, was bantering in his tone. It is to be expected when Regulations have been introduced and have been withdrawn for further consideration and introduced a second time, however good the improvements which have been incorporated meanwhile. But the merits of the Regulations which we are discussing are what are of immediate importance, and it is to those merits that I propose to address myself.

The House is familiar with the background, not only because of the previous debate but also from general interest. All the same, it is important to refer to Section 13 (2, g) of the Food and Drugs Act, 1955, which empowered Ministers to make Regulations … for requiring the staining or sterilisation in accordance with the Regulations of meat which is unfit for human consumption, or which is derived from animals slaughtered in knackers' yards or from carcases brought into knackers' yards, or which, though not unfit for human consumption, is not intended therefor. It was made clear by the Government at the end of certain wartime controls that some alternative protective measure would be introduced when powers became available. It has always been the Government's view that Regulations against certain dangers to health which could arise from carelessly handled condemned slaughterhouse or knacker meat should be introduced at some stage. This is in no sense a hasty or any sort of rescue motion arising out of any critical conditions. We are discussing Regulations which are public health Regulations, and not pets Regulations. It is not fair, as was stated, to say that our food standards in this country are so low. We are, of course, improving them steadily.

I want to underline the effective and practical, yet far from difficult, conditions which the Regulations prescribe, and at the same time to note how they differ from the Regulations discussed a little time ago. What these Regulations do is to require that all unfit meat in slaughterhouses and unfit imported meat must be sterilised before leaving the slaughterhouse or port of entry; and that all meat from animals slaughtered in, or carcases brought into, knackers' yards must be stained or sterilised before leaving the premises. Exemption from these requirements are provided for meat supplied to processors, zoos, or menageries, if the meat is transported from the slaughterhouse, port of entry or knacker's yard in locked containers or vehicles appropriately marked. The Regulations do not affect supplies to hospitals, medical or veterinary schools, for instructional or diagnostic purposes, or to manufacturing chemists for the manufacture of pharmaceutical products. Nor do they apply to whole dead animals.

In the case of unfit slaughterhouse and imported meat, my right hon. Friend's predecessor and his right hon. Friend the Minister of Health had no difficulty in deciding that sterilisation was necessary, and it is clear that the House would agree with this. There is no doubt that such meat, which will actually have been inspected and found, by reason of disease or other cause, to be unfit, presents a public health hazard and should not be allowed to be sold raw, particularly to people who may take it into private households where it may directly or indirectly contaminate human food. The danger is, however, reduced to an insignificant level in the case of meat supplied to processors, who will sterilise it before resale, and to large animal establishments, zoos, which are normally apart from domestic premises, and so we have created exemptions for these provided that suitable safeguards are observed in transporting the meat.

Knacker meat is different. While some of it may be technically fit for human consumption, none may be sold for human consumption. The risk of contamination is too big a hazard to leave it unidentifiable, and therefore it has to be stained if not sterilised.

In spite of objections that have been raised to green dye, experience during the war and since shows that deeply stained green is the most practical way that has been discovered for permanently staining such meat.

Mr. Howell

Is it a vegetable dye?

Mr. Vane

I believe that there are several different dyes that are permitted, and no doubt if anyone can invent a more powerful, more permanent, or cheaper dye, that will be added to the list.

As regards possible sterilisation, inquiries we have made revealed no direct evidence of any considerable illness due to careless handling of knacker meat, and none at all of any widespread outbreak of disease directly attributable to it. There was, in our view, nothing like enough of this to justify the considerable interference with the trade and the dissatisfaction and extra cost to a large section of the community that compulsory sterilisation would entail. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health supports this view, and he has carried out recently a survey of several knackers' yards and has found no burden of evidence which would lead him to believe that what we are doing is not achieving a proper and reasonable safeguard.

Taking the representations we have received as a whole, the balance of argument was clearly against the extra operation of sterilisation. To be fair, to consult about 30 organisations, as we did, takes time. I do not pretend that the matter has not taken a considerable time. The consultations we carried out were fairly considerable, and also we gave the Ministry of Health opportunity to carry out the small survey to which I referred.

The public health inspectors support our protecting the public by the staining of knacker meat. The Food Hygiene Council agreed to the revised Regulations but regretted that sterilisation of knacker's meat was omitted. One can understand that, bearing in mind the Council's particular function and responsibility. Nevertheless, all these representations were taken into account, together with the results of our own considerable inquiries and the investigation made by the Ministry of Health, and we were left in no doubt that, on balance, this was the proper course to follow.

We decided that it was reasonable to require all knacker meat, if not sterilised, to be stained right down to the point of retail sale. The stain will serve as an indication that the meat must not be treated as ordinary meat, and I am satisfied that the rest can be left to the good sense of the purchasers.

There has been an assertion that the Regulations have been weakened, but that fails to take account of the fact that we have strengthened the Regulations in two ways. First, it is no longer permissible for unfit slaughterhouse or imported meat to enter the chain of distribution, except for supplies to the exempted users, until it has been sterilised, and in the earlier Regulation there was the option to leave that to the retail stage. We have now withdrawn that. Secondly, supplies of unsterilised unfit meat and unstained knacker meat destined for the exempted classes have now to be carried in locked containers or locked vehicles appropriately marked. This is an extra valuable supplementary safeguard, and I am advised that local authorities have powers to require a vehicle to be sterilised after it has been shown that it has been carrying unfit meat.

I am not surprised that several hon. Members referred to 100 per cent. meat inspection. There is, of course, a connection. If these Regulations are to be operated in full, we must aim to have a complete meat inspection. I assure the House that we have not been dilatory about it. Some hon. Members will have noted that, during the Recess, another Order was laid which has the effect of creating a new type of meat inspector, and this, we hope, will overcome one of the main difficulties, namely, shortage of staff. It will now be possible for an employee of a local authority who holds the certificate in meat inspection of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health to act as meat inspector. I like to think, therefore, that the criticism that was voiced will very soon have much less strength behind it.

I have answered several questions raised by hon. Members. I expected the green dye in particular to be mentioned. The dye is not put there for its appearance; it is put there for the protection of the public, and we have not yet been able to find anything better. The hon. Member for Perry Barr asked whether, after an inspector has condemned a part of a carcase, the whole or only that part is deemed to be unfit for human consumption. The answer is that it depends upon the nature of the fault he has found, whether it is general disease or, perhaps, some quite small and localised abscess.

We have met the suggestion that the strength of the meat inspectors department is insufficient. We have heard various figures about cases of food poisoning arising from processed meat, but it must be borne in mind—I hope the right hon. Lady will support me here—that many cases of food poisoning which arise from canned or processed meat can as easily arise from faulty handling in the home so that it is stale in one way or another and that the blame should not necessarily be directed either to the retailer or to the manufacturer. This is something where it is very difficult to specify the exact cause.

With regard to the 100 per cent. inspection of meat, even that would not on occasions prevent meat being sent out unsterilised, because there is a human element in all this which one should bear in mind. We are dealing now not with a machine but with human beings doing an important job, and it is extremely difficult to see that the job done is 100 per cent. accurate as to every part of the carcase. However, local authorities and, I think, the whole trade are very conscious of their responsibilities, and I think we can say—and take satisfaction from the fact—that standards are steadily rising.

We realise that it is our duty to give people reasonable protection against risks which they cannot readily perceive, but I think we must admit that it is impossible to provide complete protection against all and every risk of life. However, in the Order we are providing people with a warning by staining and protection by stricter transport rules and sterilisation where it seems justified, and in consequence I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the Prayer.

Mr. Willey

Could the hon. Gentleman deal with a point which I thought would have been raised on the other side of the House? I mentioned kennels and said that I anticipated that the point would be raised from the Government benches. The hon. Gentleman has referred to the new provision about closed containers being identifiable. Has he considered whether meat might not be supplied to kennels—possibly registered kennels—in such vehicles as was suggested in the earlier debate?

Mr. Vane

By and large, dogs will have to eat green meat, but I honestly do not think that it will be any particular hardship for them, because they have done it before. I think that much of the criticism against staining from the point of view of the food value for animals is exaggerated.

Mr. Willey

As I said earlier, I think it would be most unwise to pursue the Prayer. We recognise that the Order has advantages, and we are still hopeful that the Government will, in the light of experience, lay a further Order extending these safeguards. With that in mind, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.