HC Deb 31 July 1963 vol 682 cc579-604

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Meat Inspection Regulations 1963 (S.I. 1963, No. 1229), dated 11th July 1963, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th July, be annulled. In moving this Prayer, it is our purpose to probe the matter and find out from the Ministry more details of the arrangements which they are making for meat inspection. We are sorry that this is the only way that we can raise the subject, so late in the Session and, indeed, so late in the evening. We should have had a major debate on the subject because it is essential that we should have a proper system for inspecting the meat which forms such an important part of our national diet. There should be a satisfactory system of inspection at the abattoir stage and, also, there should be suitable arrangements for the trade.

Mr. Speaker

Will the lion. Gentleman be good enough to help me? I do not know, but I think it possible that the House might wish to discuss at the same time the Prayer relating to Scotland: That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Food (Meat Inspection) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1963 (S.I. 1963, No. 1231), dated 11th July, 1963, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th July, be annulled. If this is not so, I do not wish to suggest it.

Mr. Peart

Yes, Mr. Speaker, I think that that would be very convenient. My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) concurs in that suggestion and, no doubt, will intervene on the Scottish aspect. If we can deal with them both together, hon. Members from Scotland will be able to participate as they wish.

We all agree that the aim should be 100 per cent. inspection, and this is really what the Minister is seeking to achieve. We want this inspection to be accomplished in two years. But this raises the main question whether or not the Ministry can provide adequate staff. The Minister is not thinking in terms of proper staff in the sense of having veterinary surgeons supervising the meat inspectors and playing a major part in the administration. I am a little prejudiced here, being a lay member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, but I believe that the Minister will accept that our aim should be to have in charge of the inspectorate the men who know most about the handling of animals and who can carry out ante mortem as well as post mortem examinations. Why have the Government taken the attitude of not seeking to establish a proper inspectorate controlled by veterinary surgeons?

In England and Wales we are lagging behind Scotland and, more than that, we are lagging behind many other countries. The Minister has had a memorandum from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons on this subject. The statistics reveal that there are better arrangements in Europe and elsewhere. Australia has 400 lay inspectors supervised by 25 veterinary inspectors. In New Zealand there is a similar story. In the United States there are 3,000 lay inspectors supervised by 800 veterinary inspectors. In Western Germany the emphasis in meat inspection is on a veterinary inspectorate. We have the same story in Holland and Denmark. Spain also has veterinary lay meat inspectors. Why do not we have them here?

I should have thought that any forward-looking Ministry would have specific proposals on this matter. There is no indication of them in the Regulations, although I admit that the Minister has sent out a circular to local authorities, which would be responsible, about the need to secure the services of local veterinary surgeons. Paragraph 3 of the Ministry circular FSH9/63 issued on 18th July deals specifically with meat inspection and the responsibilities of local authorities. It says that local authorities …if they have not already done so, are urged to make arrangements with neighbouring authorities or to secure the services of local veterinary surgeons. What is behind the Government's policy? Are they seeking to create a real inspectorate service? As long ago as 1922 a Departmental Committee recommended that we should have this. The Inter-departmental Committee on Meat Inspection, in its Report in 1951, came down in favour of it. It said: Whenever practicable veterinary surgeons should be appointed as senior inspectors responsible for groups of non-veterinary meat inspectors. Non-veterinary inspectors should be encouraged to seek the advice of veterinary surgeons as professional consultants. Detailed instructions are given in Schedule 1 about the inspection of car-cases, offal and blood. Schedule 2 deals with what an inspector must find out. There is there a formidable list of diseases and conditions. This work can be done only by a trained man, a veterinary surgeon.

Many bodies and many local authorities would be responsible for this work, but many of them do not have the staff. We have just over 3,000 slaughterhouses in different parts of the country. This is too many. I should like to see a greater concentration. I am glad that the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) agrees with me. We need to rationalise our slaughterhouses in order to create greater efficiency and in order to have the necessary inspectorate service. I have argued this before on many occasions. I stress this because if we have too many abattoirs and if we have inspectorate control by small authorities, there is a danger that we shall not have a proper inspectorate service.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us tonight what is in the Government's mind. Are they seeking to create something which will grow so that we may have trained people not only to protect our meat but to make certain that animals which go for slaughter are free from disease. A veterinary officer, through an ante mortem service in a proper abattoir, would be able to trace a disease right back to the farm from where the animal came and to find out how the disease occurred. I have the impression that the Ministry accepts this in broad principle, but I do not see any awareness of it in the Regulations. I know that the veterinary surgeons as a profession are worried about it.

One could argue for a long time about post mortem regulations and meat hygiene in abattoirs. This is important and this is why we wish to know from the Ministry what it seeks to do. I should like to see a national service, a special veterinary section dealing with meat inspection and created by the Ministry supervising the whole of inspection throughout our slaughterhouses.

I know that hon. Members who have detailed knowledge of the industry and trade wish to speak, so I shall not take up much more time. I stress the importance of inspection. I am not satisfied that the Regulations go far enough.

There is also the other view put forward by the trade. If we are to create a national system, then the charging of it should be the responsibility of the nation. The Regulations throw the onus now on the trade. I think that is wrong. After all, cleanliness and meat hygiene are the concern of the nation, and I believe that the trade which has put up objections through its national organisations—the Meat Federation, for example—has a good case.

I think that we are making a mistake in making the trade responsible. The fees will be paid to the local authorities by the trades concerned. This is wrong in principle. It should be a national responsibility. There is a danger that if this system operates in the end the consumer will pay, prices will rise and these will have a chain reaction. I would rather that the Exchequer were responsible. We are creating something which is controlled by the central Government. It should be the central Government's responsibility and the financing of it should also be the responsibility of the State.

For these two reasons, I think that there are defects in the system for the administration laid down by these Regulations. These are two important points, and I hope that they will be elaborated by other hon. Members. We do not propose to divide the House, but, on the other hand, if the Minister gives a very unsatisfactory reply, we shall have to reconsider our position. We are seeking to use this procedure tonight to probe the Minister and to find out what is in his mind.

10.13 p.m.

Sir Anthony Hurd (Newbury)

I welcome the bringing forward now of these Regulations. It is a step forward. We have not been all that in advance of the rest of the world in our meat inspection arrangements. When one goes to New Zealand and other countries that supply the British market, one cannot feel but impressed—the same is true of the Argentine—by the great care exercised in passing meat for human consumption, particularly when it is coming to Britain.

These Regulations and the means by which they are financed—that is, by a modest levy per beast of one-tenth of a penny—is not a very substantial charge, even if it is to be borne half and half by the consumer and the producer and the meat trader does not bear a fraction of it. If this will give us a uniform system of meat inspection throughout the country, it will be an advance that we must all welcome.

We must all be concerned with the good reputation of home-killed meat. I sometimes have my doubts when I have been overseas whether we are keeping pace as we should do on the hygiene and inspection side. Now we can move forward. We are getting a good many more modern slaughterhouses put up, and, happily, there is a greater concentration of slaughter coming. That is a move in the right direction from the point of view of economy and hygiene. It will enable local authorities responsible for the meat inspection service to do the job more thoroughly, employ more skilled men, and pay their inspectors better than they have done hitherto. I have been concerned in the past—I hope that my hon. Friend will say something about it—about the smaller authorities which have a number of slaughterhouses dotted about their districts. It has been difficult for them to get around and to give a really effective meat inspection service.

Then there are the bigger groupings of what is almost the factory abattoir, where a large number of animals are going through. If there were a hold-up in inspection because, for example, of illness or at holiday time, it might be a great embarrassment to the trade. If everybody has his slaughtering and, therefore, his meat channelled through one central abattoir and there is a hitch in the inspection arrangements, the whole meat supply for an area could be seriously upset. There will be need for a reserve of inspectors qualified to take on this work.

The Regulations are a move in the right direction. Ante mortem inspection is something that we should like to see, but more obvious offences are spotted and will be spotted still more effectively when there is 90 per cent. and 100 per cent. meat inspection. That will come, but I think it better to try to get our meat inspection on the post mortem side done thoroughly. Then, we will move on to the veterinary or ante mortem side a little earlier.

For these reasons, I hope that there will not be any hold-up, either in this side or in another place, in putting the Regulations into effect. I hope that every local authority will determine to make them work 100 per cent. efficiently and that meat traders, farmers and the public will have good reason to think that we have taken the right action in blessing these Regulations on their way.

10.17 p.m.

Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)

I am in complete agreement with every word uttered by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) and there was very little in what the hon. Member for Newbury (Sir A. Hurd) has said with which I could not also agree. I want, however, to approach the matter in a rather different way in and in respect of people whose voices are not often heard in this Chamber.

There is one section of the community which is concerned with the trade and associated with agriculture who are more deeply concerned about the Regulations than almost any other section. I make no apology for expressing the view of the meat trade with regard to these matters. As the House knows, I have been associated with the trade most of my life, although I am in no way associated with it financially these days.

Perhaps it is not a bad thing that any section of the community might have its voice heard in this Chamber. I say with respect to the hon. Member for Newbury that there is a pretty strong N.F.U. lobby in this House.

Sir A. Hurd

Not as far as the hon. Member for Newbury is concerned.

Mr. Royle

I said it to the hon. Member and was not including him. At least, he does not contradict that it exists. Let it be said also that there are trade union lobbies. There are all manner of lobbies and all manner of expressions are made in the Chamber in support of them. Therefore, I do not apologise for feeling that I should express the view of the meat trade towards these Regulations.

First, I protest that this great question is being resolved tonight by Regulations. I regard the matter as so important as to have justified a Bill. By the Regulations, we are approaching completely new principles which have never been approached before along the lines envisaged in certain of the Regulations. This new principle would certainly have justified the introduction of a Bill.

I bow to nobody in my desire for 100 per cent. meat inspection. It is something that we should attain and ultimately can attain. I am on the record in this matter at great length. I remember the days we spent in Standing Committee on the Bill which became the latest Act about slaughterhouses. The present Secretary of State for War played a prominent part in the Committee, and we gave him a pretty rough time over two months. I expressed myself then as wholeheartedly for 100 per cent. inspection. I am doubtful whether these Regulations will produce that 100 per cent. even in the two years which are being allowed. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington has expressed himself fully on this, and I repeat my agreement with what he had to say. I want to come to these points in the Regulations about which I am most deeply concerned, as, I know, the meat trade is.

I come straight to Regulation No. 12. This is a new principle which is compelling a trade to pay for the inspection of food. I repeat, "a" trade. There is no question of the milk trade being asked to do it; there is no question of the fish trade making a contribution; canned goods are not mentioned in the Regulations. I wonder why the Minister picks on one trade and says that it must pay for inspection? When in the milk trade or in the fish trade, as in other trades, products are seized or condemned, the local authority will continue to pay for inspection. Why pick on this particular trade and say that it has to pay for the inspection?

This is the adoption of a new policy, and I want to say as strongly as I can that if the State, quite rightly, says that all meat must be inspected for disease, for the protection of the general public, then the State, or the local authority, acting for the public as a whole, should pay for that inspection, and not the distributor. Why does not the farmer contribute?

Sir A. Hurd

He will do.

Mr. Royle

Not under these Regulations.

Sir A. Hurd

The stock market price.

Mr. Royle

I am getting under the hon. Gentleman's skin—

Sir A. Hurd

No. The hon. Gentleman is not.

Mr. Royle

—but I am stating the facts of the situation. After all, it is the farmer who produces the animal whether it is sound or whether it is deseased.

What is in the interests of the people should be paid for by authority. This is the old, old story, an agitation which has been going on since I was a boy, of compensation for confiscation. The butcher buys an animal in absolute good faith. At that point the farmer seems to wipe his hands completely of the beast. If the carcase is condemned the butcher loses everything, but the farmer draws all. This can be ruinous for small butchers in some of our rural areas. If an animal is condemned alive because of foot-and-mouth disease some compensation is paid to the producer, but on change of ownership, and the death of the animal under condemnation, there is no compensation at all.

With these Regulations the State is saying to the butcher, "We will not compensate you for the loss in case of condemnation, and in addition, we now say you must pay for the inspection which may result in the cutting down of the meat." The butcher has to say, "Here is the inspection fee. Now condemn my meat." Is this British justice? Inspectors and butchers, I hope, are honourable men, and I should not like to suggest in this place that this system will throw the door wide open to graft and bribery.

The other principle I am concerned with is that this is another shift from the taxpayer to the consumer. It may well be that wholesale butchers in a big way of business can pass on their inspection costs to the retailer, but the retailer is not in the same position with the fluctuation in prices going on in the main as a result of the Government's policy of deficiency payments. It is now going to be in the lap of the gods whether the retail butcher himself pays the inspection charges or passes them on to the consumer. It has been estimated that in the latter event the charges would amount to 10d. per head of the population over a year. I cannot see that getting into the schedule of the cost of living under the Ministry of Labour. It will be completely ignored.

As a last word on the possibility of 100 per cent. inspection, I have two quotations from a Ministry memorandum dealing with this matter: It is therefore proposed that the regulations should allow meat to be removed from a slaughterhouse without inspection six hours after the time of slaughter…subject to the limitation that if these six hours should expire between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. the meat may not be removed until 7 a.m. This provisions would operate for two years only and would be coupled with a requirement that the local authority should notify the Ministry immediately they had reason to believe that inspection could not be carried out. The Ministry would then, if possible, offer the services of a Ministry veterinary officer to make the inspection. There would, however, be no guarantee that an officer would always be available as animal health duties would have priority. Authorities would, however, be expected to make their own stand-by arrangements and to draw on them before notifying the Ministry of their inability to carry out inspection. It goes on: During the two-year period, local authorities will be expected to make stand-by arrangements to deal with emergencies, but where, in spite of these arrangements, they have reason to think that they will not be able to inspect any meat, they are required to notify the Ministry immediately. This will enable the Minister not only to find a permanent remedy for their difficulties, but also to deal with the immediate case by offering in the last resort…the Ministry's veterinary staff… What confidence does this give that at the end of the two years we shall have 100 per cent. inspection? The Ministry itself has no confidence in the Regulations which it is bringing before the House. By the introduction of the Regulations the Minister is widening the price gap between the farm gate and the consumer. The butcher still has the onus placed upon him as to the whole-someness of his meat. No responsibility is placed on the farmer; in no way does responsibility lie on the producer. Ail the risk lies with the meat trader, and, in addition, he is now being asked to pay for the inspection.

I say as strongly and as firmly as I can that the Regulations are unfair and unjust. My only regret at the moment is that the House has not an opportunity to debate full legislation instead of delegated legislation. The Minister should take back the Regulations and bring forward a Bill instead. If he did so, I believe that not a single inspection would be lost in the delay. I protest against the introduction of the Regulations in this way and against the unjust methods and new principles which are being brought into being.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. J. M. L. Prior (Lowestoft)

Last night, in our debate on the White Fish Authority's levy, I regretted the absence from the Opposition front bench of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart). If I caused him any embarrassment I apologise to him, for I now understand what I should have understood then, that he had a perfectly good reason for not being here.

I did not intend to say more than that in this debate but I have been a little incensed by the speech of the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. C. Royle). I think that he has been a little less than fair to the farming community and that he has greatly overstated the butchers' point of view. Butchers came to see us about this the other day and even in a private Committee Room upstairs they did not state their case with anything like the force or vigour that he has stated it. It is ridiculous to say that the trade alone will pay for the inspection of these animals because, in the long run, this is bound to come out of the farmers.

That will be so for the simple reason that the butchers will pay rather less for their animals than before. That is perfectly obvious. I do not want to get involved in arguments we have from time to time as to who is making most or least money, whether farmer or butcher. Every butcher will tell us that the farmer makes the money, while every farmer will tell us that it is the butcher. As a whole, the balance is reasonably well maintained between the two.

It would be unjust to say that the butchers alone will have to pay for this inspection. Those who say that meat alone is inspected and that no other category of food bears any cost of inspection need only go to a Wall's sausage factory or to a bacon factory or to a frozen food factory to see the amount of trouble and expense they have to go to to see that the products are fresh, clean and healthy. They are paying for that and in due course they pass the cost on to the consumer. I see nothing wrong in that. The consumer is perfectly prepared to pay for a good fresh article and it is quite right that he should do so.

I do not think that this is a job for the Government to undertake. I am certain that it would cost a great deal more if they did undertake it than if it is done by making Regulations and leaving the trade to undertake it. I am certain that that is the right way.

The hon. Member also mentioned the question of the butcher buying an animal and finding that it has some disease and is worth no money. Surely butchers run an insurance scheme to cover this sort of eventuality. If they do not, it is time they did so. If they do run such a scheme, what is all the trouble about?

I hope that, in stating a case for 100 per cent. inspection which will be of immense value to the farmer, the butcher and the consumer, we shall not get this subject out of proportion. I do not believe that we need a Bill to do this. It is quite reasonable to act by regulation. A debate like this amply brings out all the relevant points.

I hope that the House, will reject this Prayer and that we shall not hear too much from now on as to where the actual cost will lie, whether on the producer, the butcher or the consumer. This is something the butcher cannot afford not to pay. I am certain that these Regulations should stand.

10.35 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

In view of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), I rise to defend my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. C. Royle). The hon. Gentleman referred to certain meat distributors who paid the costs involved in seeing that their customers received a decent product. Surely the hon. Gentleman realises that the butcher pays for the cleanliness of his establishment. He pays attention to hygiene in his shop, and he pays for the cleanliness of his refrigerator.

A butcher, after buying an animal from a farmer, may find that part of the animal is diseased. Butchers operate an insurance scheme to cover themselves in the event of a whole carcase turning out to be diseased, but the point is that only part of it may be diseased. Only the liver may be diseased. If it weighs 12 lb., and would normally be sold at 2s. per lb., that means a loss of 24s. to the butcher. He receives no compensation, even though he is not to blame for the liver being diseased.

A butcher is involved in a heavy risk in distributing a farmer's products to the housewife. He may buy a carcase, and the local inspector may decide that considerable parts of it are not fit to be sold. The butcher has no redress. He has to suffer the loss, and now he is to be asked to pay for the inspection that may lead to that loss. If an inspector tests the butter in a grocer's shop, the grocer is not asked to pay for that inspection. If an inspector tests the milk on a dairy farm, the farmer is not asked to pay for that inspection. Why should the butcher be asked to pay for an inspection that is carried out on his premises? This is a shocking example of injustice to one class of distributor.

It must be remembered that if a butcher sends offal to be kept in cold storage, it will not be stored free of charge. It may be stored for as long as three weeks, following which, in accordance with paragraph 7 of Schedule 2, the inspector may condemn it. The butcher will then not only have to pay for the offal being stored for that length of time, but will not have the opportunity of reimbursing himself by selling the liver, or whatever it is. The butcher is the only purveyor of goods who is being placed in the position of having to pay to have his goods inspected, and I regard this as extremely unjust.

I am certain that one old gentleman I know who is now retired would say on reading these Regulations, "Cyril, thank God I am out of the trade." My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West is probably saying the same thing and is glad that he has retired. This provision may not be a tremendous financial burden to butchers. I do not know how many of them kill in central abattoirs. They may be handling a great deal of money, but the principle embodied in these Regulations seems to me to be a rotten one.

The hon. Member for Lowestoft, who quoted Wall's factory, was completely mixed up. People go round to ensure that the meat is properly handled and that there is cleanliness everywhere. The same applies to the butcher. He sees that his shop is clean, that his assistants wear clean clothes and that the slabs and rails are clean. But this has nothing to do with inspection. No one is asked to pay for this cleanliness, except perhaps the consumer in the price he pays for the product.

I cannot understand the provision in these Regulations. If a butcher buys two calves from a farmer and the farmer has had to call in the veterinary surgeon to deliver them, the butcher is not asked to pay the vet's fees. Here, however, we ace asking the butcher to pay a charge for the inspection of the farmer's product. I do not know whether I am in order in mentioning the Scottish Regulations, but Scottish butchers will not like all this. I do not know about the Scottish Regulations but I certainly see that the English Regulations can be varied by the Minister of Agriculture.

If there is a slaughterhouse a long way from where the meat inspectors operate, will the local authority appeal to the Minister to increase the charge for inspection in that area because it is difficult to reach the place? The Weights and Measures Act provides that a local authority can make special charges where an inspector has to inspect a weighing machine at a place which is some distance from where he normally operates. If a slaughterhouse is 20 miles away from Inverness, Glen Afric or Ballater, can the local authority make representations to the Secretary of State for Scotland to increase the charges laid down in the Regulations for the inspection of these animals?

If the charges could be varied on representation made by the local authority, a very serious and conflicting situation could be created in rural places. When something like this is laid down in Regulations, time passes, and the local authority begins to think, "We're losing money on this." We have heard before in this place of great Departments like the Post Office losing money and then putting up their charges from 6d. to, say, 4s. If local authorities find that they are losing 2s. 6d. on a horse or a bovine animal—I do not know whether people eat horse flesh here, but I have done so, and I like it—I can quite see the charge going up to 7s. 6d.

We are given in these Regulations details of what an inspector must look for, and it would appear that he needs an honours degree in biology to do his job. He has to test parts of animals that nobody eats—why, I do not know—

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

Perhaps there is a psychosomatic effect on the carcase.

Mr. Bence

The inspector will be highly qualified, hard to get hold of, and expensive to employ.

Knowing Governments as we do, and knowing their tendency always to increase their charges for everything they provide, I am very much afraid that the principle laid down in here that local authorities can make representations to the Minister to vary the charges will mean an increased burden on the butchers. I whole heartedly support my hon. Friend's protestations against putting this charge on the meat retailer of the farmer's product to the ultimate consumer—a charge that no other food distributer bears. It is a gross injustice to the meat trader.

10.48 p.m.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

Of these two Statutory Instruments one relates to Scotland, and it is a very small and limited one. The simple reason for that is that the main Regulations here being applied to England and Wales were applied to Scotland in 1961. England is speeding up a little; it now takes her only two years to catch up. It might not be so bad if she were catching up. The hon. Member for Newbury (Sir A. Hurd) said that this was a forward step, but judging by the criticisms of my hon. Friends the Members for Workington (Mr. Peart), Salford, West (Mr. C. Royle) and Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence), it is a rather unsteady and uncertain step.

My first question is: why have we these Scottish Regulations at all? We had 20 Regulations in relation to Scotland introduced in February, 1961, which came into force in March and September, 1961, and I presume that from that time we have had inspection of all the various listed items and the rest of it. And then, suddenly, we have this part relating purely to charges. Why have we got it? I am sorry that the Secretary of State for Scotland is not here. He might have been able to tell us.

Is it because we have English Regulations and because the English local authorities, with their rather haphazard organisation of the abattoirs and slaughterhouses in England, wanted some "come back" in relation to this new and desirable service and therefore the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—although I think I am right in saying that it is the Minister of Health who designs these Regulations, am I not?—or both Ministers, insisted that if it was going to apply to England and Wales, then the charging part must apply also to Scotland? I think that this is what has happened.

The more we examine these English Regulations the more they savour to me of haste and of trying to do something which the Government promised to do a long time ago. I think that they are slipshod, shoddy and patchwork and do not meet the situation. We are not concerned with the butcher; we are not concerned with the farmer. The Food and Drugs Act was concerned with the consumer. I can well remember the legal discussions which we had on that Bill. The reason why we had two sets of Regulations was because we had two separate Measures. I can remember the Committee stage of the Bill. We had a far better Food and Drugs Bill for Scotland, and that is why we have better Regulations.

What was the big point about that Bill? It was the point mentioned by my hon. Friend, that far too much was being dealt with by Regulations that should have been in the Bill, and that although we were passing a Bill with the best intentions and all the rest of it the power really resided in the Minister to bring into the legislation by his delegated powers what really mattered.

What happens is that we deal with this matter by way of a Prayer that has to end by half-past eleven. We cannot amend the Regulations and we can only vote against them and express our dis- satisfaction in that way. But it means that if we vote against the Regulations and the vote is carried in our favour we shall be in a very much worse position than we are at the moment. We shall have nothing. Yet somebody said that it was a step forward.

What has been happening to the English Regulations proves the case. I do not think that the House would have been satisfied and that we would have had a long discussion on the matter in Committee if this had been presented to us. We have only to compare what is here proposed with what was passed for Scotland in 1961 to see how unsatisfactory these English Regulations are.

The local authority is not only fully in control but the obligation is laid upon it to record everything that happens in relation to any slaughterhouse in its area. There is a Schedule setting out what records it must keep. It must state in how many cases a carcase has been condemned. Indeed, it must state in how many cases part of a carcase has been condemned.

There is a very important section of which I should like the Secretary of State's minion to take note. Paragraph 5 of that Schedule states that an indication must be given of how meat was disposed of which was dealt with under an instruction that it be set aside. This is a weakness of the Scottish Regulations in that there were supposed to be regulations for disposal and I have not yet seen them. I should like to know what has happened to them.

In relation to every one of these items, the local authority is in control and there is 100 per cent. inspection, not only post mortem but ante mortem, except in specific areas related to matters which my hon. Friend mentioned. I wonder that we have not had amending Regulations taking some of these areas off the list. I think it is in relation to Argyll, Bute, Ross and Cromarty, Orkney and Shetland, and small burgs, New Galloway and Langholm, that because of the expense which would be involved for the local authority, no responsibility is laid upon it for mandatory ante mortem inspection.

But there is no wonder that people in England prefer Scottish beef. The meat inspector in Scotland must be qualified. Since 1st January this year meat inspectors in Scotland have had to carry a certificate from the Royal Scottish Sanitary Association. They first inspect the animals alive. If they suspect anything, the animal is set aside, and they send for the qualified veterinary meat inspector. That is followed in the post mortem examination, too. Will the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland tell me how many unqualified meat inspectors we still have who have been given the Secretary of State's approval to carry on though they do not hold the necessary certificates? We want to know, because it will give an idea of the progress which we have made in taking the first step to a full standard in Scotland.

Why have we not laid down in the English Regulations the qualifications which are in the Scottish Regulations? It is most unsatisfactory. Do we take this seriously in England and Wales? I have just been released from a long battle on criminal justice in Scotland. I do not know how many sittings there were in Scottish Standing Committee, and we had Recommittal, Report and Third Reading in the House last week. One reason I have made such an exhaustive study of this important subject is that on Tuesday of this week, for the first time since November, Scottish Members have been released from Committee work. Every Tuesday and Thursday, and in some cases Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, since early November, we have been locked in controversial battle over important matters.

It is important to note that penalties are laid down for the contravention of the English Regulations. Having given careful study to the wording of the Scottish Regulations, and to these Regulations, I have no doubt that there was a certain amount of cribbing, but I should like to know why the discrimination in England and Wales in relation to penalties, comparing Regulation No. 16 with Scottish Regulation No. 21.

In England and Wales, anyone who contravenes the Regulations or fails to comply is liable to a term of imprisonment not exceeding three months or a fine of up to £100. In Scotland it is £100 or six months' imprisonment. For continuing the offence, after conviction, it is in England and Wales £5 for each day. In Scotland, it is £10 for each day. There, the English drop their concern. But not in Scotland. These penalties in Scotland relate only to summary conviction. It is an indictable offence in Scotland, and on conviction on indictment the fine is up to £100 or one year in prison, and for a continued offence it is £50 per day.

Is it that the English Minister is not so concerned about this matter as we are in Scotland? Is it because our reputation as producers and providers of good beef and other meat is such in Scotland that we insist on far more severe penalties? There must be a reason. Is it just that, in England and Wales, we are not really serious about it but we have to put something before Parliament because it is a long time since the 1956 Act was passed?

I am concerned also about some of the let-outs in the English Regulations. I shall not go into them, but there are provisos there which are not found in the Scottish version. Even in the long lists of anatomical or geographical terms there are some strange omissions and additions. I discussed these matters very exhaustively with Mr. Robertson, the sheep expert at Auchencruive Agricultural College, because they are so important—though the fact that he lives next door to me has something to do with it. I have considered and discussed it from the butcher's angle, too.

I hope that we shall have answers from the Under-Secretary of State to the questions which I have put. I emphasise also the questions which have been put by my hon. Friends from English constituences. What the Government have put before us is very disappointing. They should have taken a little longer and produced something far better.

11.2 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Scott-Hopkins)

Hon. Members on both sides are agreed that the object of the Regulations is welcomed by everyone, that is, 100 per cent. meat inspection. There is nothing between us on that. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) asked what was in our minds. The answer is quite simple. We want to attain 100 per cent. meat inspection in Great Britain, and we want to do so as soon as we can. These Regulations are the first step towards that end. We are convinced that it is necessary and we shall do our utmost to attain it.

I think that I can best help the House by describing, first, the main provisions of the Regulations.

Mr. Peart

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will deal with the kind of inspection and the rôle of the trained veterinary surgeon. Is it the aim of the Ministry to establish a veterinary staff?

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I shall deal with the various points which have been raised. I wish to begin by explaining to the House the main objects the Government have in mind.

The first point of importance about the Regulations is that each local authority will be required to inspect all meat produced for human consumption at slaughterhouses in its area. Secondly, whenever slaughtering is to be done in a private slaughterhouse, the local authority must be given 24 hours' notice of the intention, unless it agrees to a standing notice of regular slaughter.

Thirdly, no meat must be removed from a slaughter house until it has been inspected, and, if found fit for human consumption, it must be marked with the stamp of the authority concerned.

Fourthly, local authorities are authorised to make a charge for each carcase they inspect, up to 2s. 6d. for a horse or cattle beast, 9d. for a calf or pig, and 6d. for a sheep, lamb or goat.

A lot of play has been made by hon. Members about the cost of the charge. It is important that we should keep a sense of proportion over this. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) and other hon. Members have said, the maximum charges are about one-twentieth of a penny per lb. of beef and pork and one-tenth of a penny per lb. of veal and mutton. This is not a vast sum. I am sure that even the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. C. Royle) will agree that this is not a vast amount. I agree with him that this is a new charge and to a certain extent a new principle.

Mr. C. Royle

If it is so small a charge, is it not something that the local authority or the taxpayer could carry?

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

This is where I fundamentally disagree with the hon. Gentleman. It is small in proportion to the carcase per pound, and, therefore, it is no burden. I will not enter into the controversy about whom the burden falls—the farmer, or the wholesaler or the consumer. We all know what differences there are on this point. Although the amount is small, it is important because in aggregate for a local authority or the Government there is a fair sum of money involved.

The hon. Member for Salford, West calculated that it would cost about l0d. per person per year. That is about double what we calculate it might be—about 5d. per person per year. If one takes the cost as £1 million, we have about 50 million people, and so that is about 5d. per person. That is roughly what I think the cost will be. So we must keep a sense of proportion, although I accept that it is an important point.

The next point is that each authority must publish its scale of charges, and the Minister has power to direct it to vary its charges if he thinks they are unreasonable. My right hon. Friend does not have power to increase the charges, but will have the power to ask local authorities to vary, and make them vary, the charges if he thinks they are unreasonable in relation to the cost which the authority has to bear. It is not the object of the regulations that local authorities should make a profit out of the meat inspection charge. The object is that the local authority should be able to recompense itself for the expense incurred by its inspectors in carrying out 100 per cent. inspection of meat throughout the local authority area.

If representations are made to my right hon. Friend and he thinks that they are justified, he has power in the Regulations to ask the authority to vary the charges. There is no power for my right hon. Friend to increase the charges unless he comes back to the House with amending Regulations.

Mr. Ross

Why is the local authority in Scotland under an obligation to consult interested parties—butchers, and so on—before fixing the charges while there is no such obligation in England and Wales? Further, why is it, since we have a much more exhaustive examination in Scotland—ante mortem as well as post mortem—that the local authority should be tied to exactly the same scales as in England and Wales?

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

On the first point, consultation has taken place with the trade concerning the maximum level of the charges to be imposed. If my right hon. Friend decided at any future date in any particular circumstances that there was a case for altering the Regulations and laying new Regulations, consultation would take place with the trade.

As to the difference between Scotland and ourselves, there is not a vast amount of difference on this point, although it is written into the Scottish Orders that consultation is an obligation on the Scottish local authority.

Mr. Ross

On the local authority.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

On the local authority. That is quite correct.

The Regulations also contain standard procedure and criteria for inspection based on an advisory booklet which has been an accepted authority for years, and there are a number of minor provisions continued from the present Regulations.

These Regulations come into effect on 1st October this year, except in one important respect. This has been mentioned by various hon. Members. Some of the local authorities have expressed doubts about the feasibility of changing over immediately to a position where every local authority would be required to inspect every carcase in all circumstances—in other words, from 90 per cent. inspection as we have it at the moment to the 100 per cent. which is the intention of the Regulations after the two-year period. We must achieve 100 per cent. inspection, but my right hon. Friends have thought it prudent and reasonable to allow time for those authorities which have difficulty to work up an effective organisation. It would be wrong to make mandatory provisions without being satisfied that they can be observed universally.

The Regulations include, therefore, a transitional period during which, for two years, meat for which inspection cannot be provided within six hours after slaughter may be taken away uninspected, subject, as now, to a bar on removal between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. This provision is coupled with an obligation on local authorities to notify the Ministry locally whenever they find themselves unable to inspect any particular consignment of meat.

The hon. Gentleman says this is shocking, but surely it is a sensible provision for the particular circumstances of the moment that where local authorities find it impossible to inspect meat they should notify Ministry officials as quickly as they can so that we may be aware of the position and take what action we can. My right hon. Friends expect that local authorities will wherever necessary make arrangements to cover such foreseeable events as holidays, or sickness, possibly by arrangements with other authorities, or by retaining local veterinary surgeons. If, in spite of this, they still cannot inspect the meat, they must inform us.

This will help us in two ways. First, we shall be able to give practical help over the inspection. Here I thought the hon. Gentleman was a little unkind and I think he had not taken the point. We shall be able to give practical help over inspection if our other veterinary work permits. Secondly, and more important perhaps, we shall be able to hear in good time what the difficulties are and so be in a better position to help local authorities to get over the difficulties which have made it impossible for them to inspect a particular consignment at a particular slaughterhouse at a given moment.

I think that this is the correct procedure. When local authorities are in trouble we will do our utmost, if they find it impossible to inspect, to help them. If we can, we shall help, and, at the same time, with their help and co-operation, see that a similar position does not occur again. I think that I have described the Regulations and explained why they have not been brought fully into force this year. The hon. Member for Salford, West asked: why charge? The main reason why some of our home-killed meat is not inspected is the financial difficulty which local authorities have in providing full meat inspection.

The amount of meat which a local authority has to inspect often bears no relation whatever either to the needs of its population or to that authority's financial resources. I know this particularly well, coming from Cornwall. I have in my constituency large rural areas whose rateable value is small and which have a vast amount of meat going through for export. I know the difficulties which they have had. We have had grants in the past, but it was sometimes necessary for them to stretch their resources to the limit. This is the point which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir A. Hurd). Some authorities have limited resources and large slaughtering establishments which export a lot of meat to other parts of the country.

In 1958, we introduced a temporary Exchequer grant to help in those cases, but it has not been effective. In any case, it is against our general policy to make direct grants of this kind for a specific purpose to local authorities. Therefore, to provide the authorities with the resources that they must have to inspect the meat, the only solution was to allow them to impose a charge for this service; and we have imposed the charge after full consultation.

The hon. Member asked why the meat trade should be singled out from the rest. The relevant point is that we have not, in this instance, singled out the meat trade in comparison with other trades. There is a great difference between meat inspection and the general inspection of food under the Food and Drugs Act. The latter is done by sampling, whereas, with meat every carcase is to be inspected at all times.

Once again, I must emphasise that the amount of carcases to be inspected bears no relation necessarily to the size or resources of the authority through which they pass at slaughter. Every carcase has to be inspected. Other products, including milk, are in a different position under the Food and Drugs Act.

I was sorry that the hon. Member referred to graft and bribery. I did not understand what he was hinting at. I hope he was not hinting that because of the difficulties which he foresaw, there will be graft and bribery. That could be a mischievous suggestion and I am certain that it will not come about. I have the utmost confidence in those concerned, both in his own trade and also the inspectors.

Another point made by the hon. Member for Workington concerned the inspection staff. It is the local authorities' responsibility to recruit and to provide the staff for meat inspection. I was a little disturbed by the derogatory remarks made by various hon. Members opposite about the quality of the meat inspectors who are doing the job and those who will be trained. I am certain that those who have done, and are doing, the course will be perfectly capable of inspecting meat and interpreting these complicated Regulations and Schedules, as they have done in the past and are continuing to do with perfect satisfaction to the trade, the consumer and the producer.

It is impossible to say exactly how many staff will be required for meat inspection or how far present resources fall short, but meat inspection is often shared with other public health duties. The matter is best put into perspective if I say that the inspection of all meat would require roughly 800 full-time inspectors. We already have 90 per cent. inspection in Great Britain. Therefore, we have to find the equivalent of about 80 meat inspecting officers. It is a matter of finding these out of the large body of public health inspectors, and the growing number of inspectors who are being trained for the sole purpose of meat inspection and who will qualify under the recent Regulations.

I am, however, confident that when the Regulations come into operation, an adequate supply will be forthcoming during the two-year period which the Regulations allow for 100 per cent. meat inspection to be brought in. I have every confidence that at the end of that period, there will be sufficient inspectors and the local authorities will be able to provide this service.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury made an important point concerning the factory-type abattoir and the difficulties which could be encountered. At present, some of the staff at private slaughterhouses hold qualifications in meat inspection. It is for the local authorities to decide whether or not they wish to authorise such staff to help solve any staff shortages which may arise. I imagine that this type of arrangement may well be necessary in establishments where a breakdown in slaughtering and throughput could have serious consequences.

There is also the question of hours of slaughtering. The local authorities have urged that the problem would be solved if they controlled the hours. Having heard their representations, however, we considered that the disruption of the trade that would have resulted—and I am sure that I carry the hon. Member for Salford, West with me on this—would not have been worth it.

The hon. Member for Workington spoke of the number of slaughterhouses. Since 1958, in accordance with Government policy, we have reduced the number from 4,500 to about 2,500. We can expect a further reduction. This is a help in inspection. But there is another side to it. The fewer the slaughterhouses the greater the throughput, and, therefore, the more difficult it can be sometimes to get the inspection done.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) referred to the difference between the English and Scottish penalty clauses in the Regulations. This covers the difference between the English and Scottish courts.

The hon. Member for Workington also advocated ante mortem inspection. Of course, this is desirable, but we are taking the first step here. We are giving a two-year period to allow post mortem inspection to become fully efficient. I accept that north of the Border they were a little ahead of us on this. We are, in fact, putting into effect in England some of the Regulations our Scottish friends have had for some time.

For a two year period we are allowing some meat to go out uninspected. After that, there will be inspection by local authorities who will be able to call on private practice. The Ministry will always be available if they need advice. We are taking the first step. Meat needs to be inspected, and the House and the country want it to be inspected 100 per cent. It is right that it should be inspected 100 per cent. and that we should begin by these Regulations. I am confident that the Regulations can be carried out. I am certain that there will be sufficient staff available at the end of the period. Let us wait and consider later where we move on from there.

A national inspection service has been suggested. I do not think that we should have such a thing. This type of work is public health work, and the inspection of food has traditionally been undertaken by local authorities and not by the central Government. Indeed, the Food and Drugs Acts specifically lay down that meat inspection should be the responsibility of the local authority. My right hon. Friend has not contemplated removing this responsibility from local authorities who are, and will be, capable of carrying out this duty, and who have a full sense of their responsibilities in this matter.

I believe that local authorities will be able to overcome any difficulties that arise in the initial stages of the scheme. I am sure that the proposed procedure is the correct one, and I ask the House to reject the Motion.

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman said that he would deal with my question about penalties, but he has not done so. We in Scotland have had inspection for two years without any charges being imposed. Why is it now considered necessary to make a charge for this inspection?

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the charge for meat inspection is at the moment borne partly by the rates and partly by grants to local authorities. It is now considered right that the charge should be borne by the trade. The service is provided by the local authorities, and the proposed procedure will mean that the cost will not be borne by the rates and by the Exchequer, but by the trade.

Though this is a side issue, it is important to remember that this will bring the position in Scotland into line with the position in the rest of Great Britain. There is an important point of principle here.

Mr. Peart

Although we are not satisfied with the Minister's reply, we do not wish to press this matter to a Division, or prevent the coming into effect of Regulations which will improve the present position. We are anxious to have meat inspection, and I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.