HC Deb 29 October 1969 vol 790 cc309-37


Sir Richard Glyn (Dorset, North)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Meat (Sterilisation) Regulations 1969 (S. I., 1969, No 871), dated 24th June 1969, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th July, in the last session of Parliament, be annulled. The regulations against which we pray affect two classes of meat, imported meat and knacker meat. It is unfortunate, especially in the circumstances to which I shall refer, that the Government have included both these classes of meat in one regulation which in its present state reminds one of the famous curate's egg—excellent in parts, definitely rotten in other parts. Taken as a whole they are calculated to promote rather than to stop food poisoning, as I shall show. The good parts, I would not go so far as to say "excellent", affect imported meat. The objectionable part affects knacker meat. The principal purchasers of raw knacker meat include dog breeders and dog owners. This makes it particularly unfortunate that the Kennel Club, which in the past has always been consulted by Ministers considering new regulations of this nature, was not on this occasion consulted nor even informed, so that a new situation which has arisen could not be brought to the notice of the Minister before these regulations were made.

Here I must declare an indirect interest. I do not own a dog and it is many years since I have been in a position either to breed or to exhibit dogs myself, but I am an officer of the Kennel Club and I am chairman of Crufts Dog Show, both of which might indirectly be affected by these regulations. As to the regulations affecting knacker meat, this section has an old and disreputable history which seems to stem from an old report of an ancient committee. It revealed, I think nearly 20 years ago, that in those days of meat rationing some housewives and many restaurant owners were buying unstained knacker meat for their households or customers and the report said that this represented a danger to health

Ever since then, in spite of a complete change of circumstances, some people associated with public health and meat inspection have resolved to force knackers to cook their meat before they sell it. It seems likely that this is the actual reason for the inclusion of knacker meat in these new regulations against which we are praying tonight.

We are praying against these regulations because, as far as they affect knacker meat, they are objectionable for three reasons. First, there is no real evidence that any new regulations for knacker meat are necessary. Secondly, these proposed regulations will cause great hardship to all pet owners and to many others and are particularly unfairly slanted against dog breeders, as I shall show. Thirdly, in many ways the new regulations will be less effective than the existing regulations and will almost certainly end up creating new and greater hazards to public health.

Let us consider the present position. When analysing the causes of food poisoning, meat has been divided into three classes: first, canned or processed meat, which is not affected by these new regulations; secondly, reheated meat, meat which has been cooked twice; thirdly, fresh meat, which is meat sold raw. It is because knackers normally sell their meat raw that knacker meat is included in these new regulations. Clearly, the heading "Fresh Meat "in the statistics includes knacker meat.

At present, raw knacker meat has to be stained, an important safeguard which is not included in the new regulations and which therefore will no longer serve to protect the public. Some years ago, I took steps to ascertain the causes of food poisoning over a period of five years. The causes during this period had been ascertained in more than 1,200 cases. I obtained a Written Answer from the Ministry of Health which revealed that the causes of food poisoning were divided as follows: outbreaks caused by canned or processed meat were more than 56 per cent. of the total—these will not be affected by the new regulations; outbreaks caused by reheated meat represented more than 18 per cent. of the total: outbreaks caused by fresh meat, including raw knacker meat, were 1.7 per cent. of the 1,200. It is important to notice that reheated meat caused more than 11 times as many outbreaks of food poisoning as all fresh meat sold of which only a small proportion could have been knacker meat.

Recently, a possible new danger has been mentioned. There has been talk of tapeworm infection. I am informed—I have no doubt that I shall be told if I am wrong, but my present information is this—that the species of tapeworm in question is fortunately rare in Britain, rare among slaughterhouse cattle and equally rare among their relations which grazed beside them until some unfortunate accident results in their becoming casualties and being sent to the knacker.

It is claimed that these tapeworms are carried by meat at present not subject to inspection, and of course this may be so. But meat not inspected includes imported meat and game as well as knacker meat and no evidence has been produced to show that knacker meat rather than imported meat or game has been solely or mainly responsible. I know of no reason to suppose that animals which have had an accident and which are sent to the knacker are more likely to be infected with this brand of tapeworm than are their relatives killed in the slaughterhouse.

There is no evidence that the existing regulations affecting knacker meat are not working where they are enforced. I recently asked the Minister about outbreaks of food poisoning attributed to knacker meat. He replied that in 1967, the last year for which he had full records, there were just eight cases of food poisoning attributed to knacker meat—only eight cases out of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people affected.

I also asked in how many of these cases the existing regulations had been observed, but I did not get an answer to that part of my Question. Obviously the Minister did not have the answer, though I have since ascertained that most, if not all, of these cases resulted in prosecutions. This shows that in most, if not all, of them the existing regulations had not been observed.

Thus, it seems that where the existing regulations are observed there are virtually no outbreaks of food poisoning due to knacker meat. The evidence suggests that the fault lies less in the present regulations than in the failure to enforce them.

These new regulations will cause real hardship to many millions of pet owners in Britain as well as to others who will be indirectly affected. The enormous cost of installing sterilising appliances will force many knackers out of business and those who will remain will have to raise their prices and may perhaps have to charge farmers for collecting casualty animals instead of paying, as in the present practice, for the carcases.

There can be no doubt that the cost of cooked knackers' meat at the price that must be charged will be infinitely greater than the price now charged for raw meat and the price of old carcases bought for pet food and fertilisers will also go up, thus raising the prices of other commodities.

A surprising number and variety of species of pets require animal protein as part of their diet and at present this is largely provided by knackers' meat. This means that these regulations will be felt not only by dog and cat owners but very much more widely.

I am informed that it will be felt even by lovers of some varieties of caged birds. For example, I understand that varieties of budgerigar food include tiny indistinguishable morsels of meat which at present is normally obtained from knackers. It is said that the amount of meat consumed annually by budgerigars in this country amounts to many tons. This means that all pet owners will suffer, though of course this particularly applies to dog and cat owners who believe, I think with good reason, that their pets require a proportion of raw meat. Apart from whale meat, which is rather unpleasant and not always available, the only raw meat which will be available if the regulations become law will be butchers' meat at prices charged by the butcher—and no private dog-owner could possibly afford to buy a whole dead animal, one of the few exceptions allowed under the regulations.

There is another unfortunate aspect of the matter. On previous occasions the Kennel Club has been consulted when changes affecting knacker meat have been made. Since the last time this happened circumstances have completely changed. I am authorised to register the strongest possible protest because on this occasion the Kennel Club was denied an opportunity of speaking on behalf of deg breeders and owners; and had it been consulted it would have submitted an entirely new argument based on a new set of circumstances which did not exist before.

The new regulations grant exemptions to zoos, menageries and even trout farms, but not to the kennels of dog breeders, even when they are long-established and well recognised. In past days the Ministry justified the exclusion of dog owners from these exceptions for reasons that are no longer valid.

To take a case shortly which deserves to be argued at length, because of the new fashion of having wild carnivors on show at stately homes and elsewhere, lions, for example, are being bred today in many zoos and menageries. Carnivora breedreadily in captivity, but the mothers seldom feed their young. Bitches are regularly used as foster mothers. These bitches are often borrowed from neighbouring breeding kernels. When they are on loan to the zoos as foster mothers they can enjoy raw knacker meat, but when they are taken back, having done their duty, to their own breeders' kennels, they are denied raw knacker meat. What could be more absurd, more ridiculous or more unfair? Does the Minister think that it makes a difference whether they are suckling lion cubs or suckling their own puppies? If there is a risk of infection from raw knacker meat—which I deny —they will have acquired this infection while in the menageries and zoos and they will take it back with them to their breeding kennels when they return. The Minister has not considered that situation. He did not know about it because he failed in his duty to consult the Kennel Club.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Mackie)

Before the hon. Member gets too hot under the collar, may I tell him that we consulted the Kennel Club and that they did not reply.

Sir R. Glyn

That must be the fault of the Postmaster-General. I have certificate from the Secretary and the Chairman of the Committee of the Kennel Club stating that this time, for the first time, there was no such consultation and that no information was given. Bearing in mind that on every previous occasion the Kennel Club had put forward constructive suggestions as a result of receiving such notices, if such a notice were sent on this occasion it was the Minister's clear duty to recognise that it was not received and to send another notice.

It is difficult to find a more ridiculous distinction or a more unjust differentiation than that which I have described, and it serves to underline the haphazard way in which these regulations have been put forward. It is not only the Kennel Club which has not been consulted. Time forbids me to mention many others and to go into detail about the unfortunate effects which these regulations will have on other groups of citizens. Other hon. Members are here to speak for them. But I will give one illustration of the wide-ranging effect which these regulations will have on people whom the Ministry have never considered or about whom they have never thought because the consultations have not been sufficiently wide.

Since it was known that this Prayer was to be moved, I have been approached by an enormous number of people with different interests. I will mention one. This is a subject which may affect hon. Members on both sides of the House. Those fishermen who prefer to catch coarse fish, as opposed to the more aristocratic trout and salmon, habitually have relied for bait, especially in certain areas and at certain times of the year, on a simple creature known as a maggot. Many of these coarse fishermen, if they may be so described, rely on maggots. I must explain that maggots are deliberately bred by millions and tens of millions to be used as bait for coarse fishermen. In some places this has almost reached the scale of an industry.

The people who conduct this industry have assured me that these maggots can be bred and fed only on raw meat. They tell me that the raw knacker meat is crucial to the survival of this industry and to the availability of maggots for use as bait by coarse fishermen. They will not thrive on cooked knacker meat. It must be raw knacker meat. If these regulations abolish the sale of raw knacker meat in reasonably small quantities—these people do not want whole animals—maggots for use as bait will no longer be available and the fishermen who have for so many years relied on maggots as bait will have the Government to blame not only for the fact that they have no bait but also for the fact that they were not consulted before the regulations were laid.

Finally, I turn to perhaps the most important point of all, public health. I have referred to the fact that the expense of sterilisation will force many knackers out of business. Others may have to charge farmers for collecting casualty animals. This is bound to result in outlying farmers ceasing to send carcases of dead animals to the knackers' yards. The casualties will be buried in shallow graves, or, in the wilder parts of the country, they may even be left unburied. In every case, they will be consumed by wild scravengers. Rats, weasels and even moles will eat rotten flesh if they can find it, and raw meat is eagerly sought by them.

At present, knackers' yards are regularly used for postmortems by veterinary surgeons, who, incidentally, will be hard put to find alternative accommodation for that purpose. Statistics show that, over the last 10 years, a large number of animals have been identified as suffering from anthrax at these postmortems in knackers' yards. When knackers are forced out of business by these regulations, it can be only a matter of time before an anthrax infected carcase is left unburied or lightly buried on a farm, to spread anthrax far and wide through the wild scavengers I have described.

The risk to human health from the spread of this truly deadly disease will be altogether greater than the supposed risk which these regulations are designed to meet. Moreover, from now on, cooked knacker meat can be sold unstained for any purpose. In effect, we are back in the bad old days against which the original Committee made its recommendation.

Assuming for the moment that knackers who remain in business strictly observe the regulations and boil each carcase until it is technically sterile, what happens next? Has the Ministry given a moment's thought to that? I doubt it. Obviously a sterile carcase must be left to cool before it can be sold. There is nothing in the regulations to say how or where it is to be cooled. In practice, it will be cooled in the knacker's premises, probably next door to, and possibly touching, other carcases waiting to be sterilised.

The whole object of sterilisation lies in the supposition that some of these carcases are infected, but the cooked carcase, at one moment sterile, will soon become re-infected by contact with other uncooked carcases. There is nothing in the regulations to stop that. During the cooling process, every carcase which has been cooked passes through a range of temperatures particularly favourable to the development of the bacillus.

It will be said that the regulations demand that the meat be sterilised. But nothing is said about its being sterile at the moment of sale. So meat which has been sterilised and has become re-infected will be sold, quite legally, unstained and therefore indistinguishable from any other type of cooked meat.

Who will buy it? In some cases, pet owners may be driven to it. Also, the proprietors of cafes and restaurants who, under the new regulations, may buy this cooked meat unstained, perfectly legally, may serve it, again legally, to their unsuspecting customers as—to take an example—shepherd's pie. Some housewives who have been so misguided as to spend their housekeeping money at bingo may be driven to economise by buying cooked, unstained, re-infected knacker meat for the same purpose.

The shepherd's pie will be re-heated meat, which statistics show causes 11 times as many outbreaks of food poisoning as all raw meat, butcher's and knacker's, put together. Because the knacker meat was at one time sterile, the regulations will not be infringed. Because staining is no longer compulsory, the unfortunate customers, perhaps even householders, will never be sure from now on that their portion of shepherd's pie does not contain a large quantity of reheated, infected knacker meat and probably also substantial colonies of food poisoning bacilli.

For those reasons, we pray against these unjust and undesirable regulations.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)

We are naturally moved by the speech to which we have just listened, but I would expect that my hon. Friend, in replying for the Ministry, will be able to deal with many of the particular, detailed problems which have been raised.

Frankly, I myself would have thought that the maggot farm developer would be perfectly well covered by Regulation 6; that, I would have thought, would meet that particular problem.

However, my chief concern is merely very briefly to say that there is deep anxiety on the part of public health inspectors about the possibility of these regulations being turned down. It is the view of the public health inspectors, who have very wide responsibility in all this field, and it is the very strongly held view of their organisation, that these regulations are urgently needed. Indeed, they say: We have found that a considerable amount of meat from knackers' yards which at the moment is sold raw in pet meat shops is infected. This meat presents a danger to public health because when it is taken home infection can be spread to other food in the house. I merely introduce this warning note because, after all, the public health inspectors are people who are in day-to-day touch with this problem; it is they who are called on to investigate problems of infection which causes disease; it is they who, in very large measure, are concerned with meat inspection and other inspection work. Therefore I think that all of us here in this House would be very concerned if we were to take any action which is clearly against the accepted view of those whose main job it is to safeguard public health in this country. I merely intervene to make this comment, because I would be most anxious myself if any measure, from whatever worthy motive of desire to protect pet owners and those who are concerned, the Kennel Club and others, should have the very unfortunate result, a result, I am sure, no one would desire, of increasing the very severe danger of ill health in our midst.

10.27 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Stodart (Edinburgh, West)

I shall be extremely brief, knowing the number of hon. Gentlemen who wish to take part in the debate. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Sir Richard Glyn) has done an extremely good service by enabling us to discuss these regulations. He has deployed many weaknesses among them. We hope we shall get an explanation about them from the Minister. Not only weaknesses has he deployed, but one or two absurdities, which he detailed, and I hope the Minister will deal with them.

The main differences between these regulations and those of 1960, when, I think, this matter was last discussed, are, first, that it is no longer good enough to stain knacker meat. Hitherto, of course, it could be either sterilised or stained. Now it has to be sterilised. The second, a comparatively minor change, I admit, is to be found in Regulation 12; that is the need to record all consignments or deliveries of this kind of meat. It is clear, however, that the obligation which is put upon the industry to sterilise is much the most important. Slaughterhouse meat has always had to be sterilised. Knacker meat now joins it. Of course, it has always been illegal to sell knacker meat for human consumption, and the dye or stain was an extremely effective means of identifying it.

In the 1960 debate it was stated categorically that there was no direct evidence at all of any illness or disease caused by the handling of knacker meat. At that time my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North gave some extremely interesting figures, to which he has again referred tonight. It was argued, and I believe effectively, that there was no justification for the extra cost which compulsory sterilisation would entail. In 1960 it was said that it would add 6d. a lb. to the price of this meat, and I have no doubt that that figure will be a good deal more today. There will be a considerable increase in cost to those who keep pets, and particularly to those who breed dogs.

At that time both the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health agreed that sterilisation was not necessary. So did the public health inspectors, who are thoroughly competent people. Certainly in 1960 they were absolutely satisfied with the regulations as they then were. The only organisation recorded as not being satisfied was the Food Hygiene Council.

What has caused the change now? Is there direct evidence of disease where no direct evidence existed before? What will be the cost to the average knacker's yard? I do not know, but in 1960 an hon. Gentleman who took part in the debate and who is no longer an hon. Member of this House said that the knacker trade is usually a one-man business, most of them being one-man or man and son affairs. If these small businesses are to be forced to put in expensive plant—I do not know what the cost will be but my hon. Friend referred to it as enormous—just to carry on their usual trade, is not there a real fear of their having to put up the shutters? In that case I regard with some anxiety the position of farms where casualty animals are involved. It is one thing to bury lambs, and even a ewe, but it is one hell of a job to deal with a cow and have to bury it. I dread to think of the time that might be taken up with that.

Regulation 6 contains exceptions, and I say quite categorically to the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) that the maggot farmer is not covered here; the trout farm and the mink farm are. My right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber), who dearly wished to be here tonight but found it impossible, told me that there is a maggot farm in his constituency—it is a line of husbandry I had not heard of previously—and that what my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North has said is entirely correct. The maggot is apparently essential for the angler for coarse fish, and the maggots must have fresh meat.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Regulation 6 provides: Nothing in regulations 4 and 5 of these regulations shall apply to the removal from any slaughterhouse or knacker's yard of any meat … to any person by arrangement in writing with an authorised officer for prepaation before further removal to any processor …". I should have thought that the maggot farmer could be brought in, as well as other cases.

Mr. Stodart

What little experience I have had of legislation has led me to believe that if one goes out of one's way to specify a zoological garden, menagerie, mink farm or trout farm and does not mention a maggot farm, it is most unlikely that a maggot farm is covered.

May I ask for a detailed explanation of one matter? The regulations apply only to England and Wales, but "knacker meat" in the definition section includes meat from a knacker's yard" in the United Kingdom"; that is to say, in Scotland. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman in his reply will enlighten me whether this suggests that the regulations are less strict in the North until the meat crosses the border on the way to the South.

The fact that the stain is now being dispensed with must inevitably mean that inspection will have to be tightened up because a clear identity sign is disappearing. How many more inspectors does the hon. Gentleman envisage using to see that knackers' yards will do the sterilising properly? No one would wish to defend a situation in which meat was being handled in a casual manner which could lead to infection, but we do not like restrictions unless the need for them is proved. Before we are at all happy about this matter, we should like to hear the hon. Gentleman prove that need.

10.37 p.m.

Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)

The hon. Member for Dorset, North (Sir Richard Glyn), who moved the Prayer, properly declared his interest in connection with the Kennel Club and made a reasonable speech until he reached his closing words. He sought to present to the House the picture of restaurant proprietors and housewives going to a shop and buying sterilised knacker meat with which to make the family's or restaurant's shepherd's pie. I thought he spoiled his case when he tried to introduce that sort of nonsensical argument because the housewife would have to go to a pet store to buy her sterilised knacker meat, as would a restaurant or café owner. I am certain that neither my wife nor any other self-respecting wife would go into a pet store deliberately to buy sterilised knacker meat as food for her family.

The hon. Gentleman, in the serious part of his argument, said that there was no evidence to support a case for introducing these regulations. He followed the argument put forward by the National Farmers Union in its circularised letter to hon. Members of the House dated 17th October, in which it said:

It is suggested that the evidence of public health risk from the distribution of unsterilised animal meat is somewhat tenuous and indicates a risk which is more potential than actual I consider that in the light of available evidence both the hon. Gentleman and the N.P.U. are wrong. I submit that there is far more evidence to support these regulations than to support the case presented by the N.F.U. and hon. Members opposite in respect of the Northumberland Committee report. But I know that I shall be out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I pursue that line.

A survey which was carried out in 1965 by the Public Health Laboratory Service showed clearly, on samples taken from actual knacker meat offered for sale in shops, that nearly 22 per cent. of such meat in pet stores on sale to the public was infected. It was found that 11 per cent. of total samples inspected were infected.

Sir Richard Glyn

This is why the cooked meat will become re-infected. It will be made sterile, and then re-infected before it is sold.

Mr. Wellbeloved

If the hon. Gentleman believes that reputable operators of knackers' premises would so flagrantly disregard the regulations as to allow their premises to be conducted in such a manner that carcases are pulled out of sterilising equipment and put immediately adjacent to unsterilised meat, that is an opinion which he is entitled to express but not one, I am sure, that responsible and reputable operators of such premises would support.

Samples taken in the survey to which I have referred showed clearly that there was this infection of knacker meats, and it is interesting to note that the sampling was not carried out in one selected area because of special circumstances. The areas concerned were as wide apart as London, Ipswich, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle and Southampton. It is also worth noting that all the meat tested in pet stores had been subjected to the staining required by the 1960 regulations, but that the staining had not protected purchasers from obtaining infected meat.

There is additional support for these regulations in the shape of an analysis carried out over five years by the Bristol Medical Officer of Health. It was found that of the knacker meat tested in pet stores just under 15 per cent. was infected.

There is further positive evidence in support of the regulations in a learned article published in the Lancet of 11 th March, 1967, entitled "Pet meat as a potential source of human salmonellae." I will quote a brief extract, because it deals with the point made by the how Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) about the cost of implementing the regulations: Human salmonellosis originating from infected pet meat is an eminently preventable disease. It seems utterly illogical to try to prevent contamination in shops and food premises while allowing grossly infected material to be brought into many homes. It is common observation that the pet's meat is frequently stored alongside the family's, being prepared on the same block with the same utensils. It is also well known that salmonellae can survive, and even multiply, in the kitchen environment. It is probable that the cost of the infections so produced outweighs the cost of sterilisation before sale, even on a purely economic calculation. That is what the medical profession feels about it.

The new regulations are backed by strong and positive evidence of a serious risk. I congratulate the Ministry on bringing forward regulations based on such firm evidence. I wish that it always took the same view, and perhaps I might again mention the Northumberland Committee's Report.

Pet owners have the right to expect the animal meat which they buy in pet stores to be properly sterilised and free from the risk of infection. These regulations are in everyone's interest. In view of the evidence that there is a risk of infection in knacker meat, if breeders want to protect their animals and the customers who buy them they should support the regulations and be prepared to pay the cost of ensuring that they are not selling pets that have been brought up on infected meat.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Michael Hamilton (Salisbury)

I am delighted to support my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Sir Richard Glyn). It is difficult for the Opposition to protect the Government from their own folly and to prevent these regulations becoming law, but at least we can mark the event with our deepest regret.

We have heard how for another five days we may continue to feed our dogs on raw meat from the knacker, and then, on the sixth day, we shall have to change their diet. Our much respected Prime Minister allows dogs to bark but controls their barking. He also allows dogs to eat, but now he is to decide their diet. If someone runs a mink farm, he can afford to buy butchers' meat for his dog. Or, again, if someone runs a menagerie—and some of us sometimes think that we are in one here—he can afford to buy meat for his dog. However, an ordinary private citizen who does not run a mink farm or own a menagerie but just owns a dog or a cat is likely to be caught by these regulations.

In the spring of this year dog owners took a knock from the Chancellor. He suddenly spotted a source of taxation and put purchase tax on pet foods. At that time—and I hope that the Minister knows the answer to this—we were assured that raw meat would be exempted from tax. Now that it is to be sterilised, it will have to be prepared; so presumably it will no longer be exempt. Therefore, it appears that next week it will have to carry purchase tax. I should like an answer on that point. If it means this, then once again a dog will cost more to keep.

We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North that sterilising equipment is very expensive. This is true. It runs into thousands of pounds. Somebody will have to pay for that; so a dog will cost more to keep.

Again, when meat is sterilised there is a great loss in weight during the process—perhaps 25 per cent. or maybe more. Again, a dog will cost more to keep.

I have some sympathy with pet owners and with kennels, too. All this is done in the sacred name of consumer protection, public health, protecting the public against itself. Cotton wool and meat sterlisation is the recipe of the Labour Government with which it hopes to breed a virile and robust people.

The risks here, despite what has been said from the Government Front Bench, are utterly negligible. The Government are behaving like the old lady who is always fearful that there is a bolshevik under her bed.

I do not know what hon. Members opposite have been reading, but there have been certain surveys. It is true that in a particular week it was found that 11 per cent. of knacker meat was contaminated with salmonellae compared with 1.5 per cent. in that same week in butchers' meat. But, translating the figures into their real meaning, it will be found that that amounts to 30 tons only of knacker meat whereas 400 tons of butchers' meat was infected. One can prove anything by figures. The figures which seem to have misled hon. Gentlemen opposite are completely fraudulent.

For five years we on this side of the House have endured needless regulation upon needless regulation and petty restriction upon petty restriction. This evening is yet another example.

I noticed this morning on the centre page of one of the leading national newspapers the headline, I don't really want a Whitehall nanny. My goodness, how I agree!

I had hoped that by now Ministers—and particularly the Parliamentary Secretary, for whom I have a great personal regard—had realised that the country is sick and tired of over-government like this. I ask myself: why do they upset people needlessly like this? Yet this outpouring of bumbledom and bureaucracy continues—and tonight is no exception.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North, I deeply regret these unnecessary regulations.

10.50 p.m.

Miss J. M. Quennell (Petersfield)

I support the Prayer tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Sir Richard Glyn), and by other of my hon. Friends, urging the Minister to reconsider these regulations. What is the purpose of this Statutory Instrument? The hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford (Mr. Wellbeloved) and other hon. Gentlemen opposite have suggested that it is a Measure to control or to limit the possibility of preventing food poisoning among humans. If that is its purpose—and I doubt whether it can be—I suggest that this Statutory Instrument will not secure that.

The exemptions in these regulations are quite extraordinary. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us the legal definition of a zoological garden. Is it the same as a zoo? A year or two ago the Ministry had no idea how many zoos there were in the country, public and private. Under these regulations every private zoo in the country, about which we never hear until some wretched wolf is shot on Wimbledon Common or some other improbable place, or some young lady is mauled by a tiger after a lively dance, is presumably exempt. Anyone in this country can keep a pack of wolves or a pride of lions at the bottom of his garden. Presumably that is a zoo and will, under these regulations, be eligible to receive raw knacker meat in its present form unstained.

What is the difference between a zoo and a menagerie? It may be of interest to the hon. Gentleman to know that one of his hon. Friends was the owner of a rather unusual pet. It was an albino wild cat, which is found in North Wales. There are many people who possess unusual carnivorous pets. For this purpose do they constitute "menageries", and will the owners be allowed to secure the raw flesh upon which their species of pet lives?

The N.F.U., fondly, I fear, believes that hunt kennels will be exempt from the provisions of these regulations. If that is right, it seems to me that dog breeders and owners also should be exempt. The regulations do not mention them. They mention trout farms and mink farms. I believe that mink are piscivorous and not carnivorous, but that is by the way. Mink farms are to be exempt. Presumably hunt kennels are held to be likely to buy the whole dead animal. If that is so, dog owners, too, should be allowed to obtain the raw flesh.

There are an enormous variety of ill-defined but wide exemptions. My hon. Friends have made clear the point about salmonella infection and the possibility of the reinfection of cooked meat. If disease control is the purpose of these regulations, I must point out that bones and blood are also exempt. The Parliamentary Secretary knows that both these can carry disease, and that bone meal has been a famous carrier of disease.

Moreover, cooked meat can become infected by salmonella, or be infected by it after cooking, just as raw meat can. Although the wording of the regulations provides that the meat shall be cooked throughout, that does not mean that the person cooking it will ensure that it is scientifically germ-free and entirely sterile in the medical sense.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North referred to the danger of meat during the cooling process. I press the Parliamentary Secretary to tell the House how many zoos will be eligible to draw fresh flesh from the knacker's yard, how many menageries there are, what constitutes a menagerie, and whether the owners of unusual carnivorous pets will be able to claim classification as one-pet menageries. Will he also explain how he proposes to deal with the danger of blood and bone infection—which he knows is a very real danger—while blood and bones remain exempt under these regulations.

10.56 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

If these regulations are necessary—and I am sure that the Minister will explain exactly why they are necessary—I want to place on record how grateful the owners of large kennels will be for the valuable exemption for the people who purchase whole dead carcasses. There will be no leakage from that source. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Peters-field (Miss Quennell), who queried this exemption, that whole dead carcases for big kennels is not an attractive job. The people involved are allowed various perks for doing it. The owners of the kennels may pay for the lorries and the petrol, but the man who skins the carcasses is allowed to keep the skins and the man who cooks the carcases is allowed to keep the grease and bones; so there is that safeguard. There will be no leakage from that source. We are grateful for the concession.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will explain why these regulations are necessary. There is a strong feeling that rather than have these regulations it would be better to have an independent inquiry into the sources of infection. Those who live downstream of certain industrial towns in the Midlands, especially on the Trent, believe that one of the diseases that these regulations are designed to protect us from was brought into the country by people who came to work here from various hot countries. Surely it would be better to have some medical check of people coming into this country who might bring the disease here, rather than inflict these regulations upon knacker's firms as a whole, which do a valuable job for the countryside.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Michael Hamilton) has already mentioned the increased cost of keeping a pet dog today. The cost of keeping a Labrador terrier, a setter, or any other fairly large type of dog has gone up by 8s. a week because of purchase tax, and these regulations will probably add another 2s. to the cost each week. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not think us churlish—because he has gone some way towards meeting our objections in asking him to make clear the reason for the introduction of these regulations.

10.59 p.m.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Gains-borough (Mr. Kimball), I want to know why the regulations are thought necessary. I want the Minister to say something about the failure to retain the green dye, and also the failure of the regulations to say anything about chilling. Both my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Sir Richard Glyn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Miss Quennell) touched on this point. Knowledge of chilling has greatly increased in recent years and chilling has become a cheaper and easier process. If we are to have heat sterilisation, chilling should also be included in the regulations. While I am the last person to want to make knacker meat more expensive, I suggest that if we are to have one process we should have the other, and I also do not see why the dye has not been retained.

I have a suspicion that the Ministry—I exclude the Minister from these remarks—may have been subjected to pressures from the canned pet food industry. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that no improper pressure was brought to bear from this source, remembering that the canned pet food lobby is powerful and is non-United Kingdom owned.

I am grateful to the Minister for replying to a constituent of mine on another topic. The cooking of meat for the smaller breeding kennel will put up prices considerable, particularly for the person breeding pedigree dogs. The export of these dogs is valuable in more than one sense, for it acts as a morale-booster for many comparatively small businesses.

The regulations will make the breeding costs of the highest quality dogs much greater and may possibly price some small kennels out of the United States market. Fond though I am of Japan and many things Japanese, I hope we shall not find, by a side wind, that the regulations leave Japan as the only market in which our dog breeders can in future be competitive.

11.2 p.m.

Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)

I support the Prayer against the cooking of dog meat, first, because of the damage that the regulations in their present form will cause, and, second, because I question whether it is necessary to have the whole of the Instrument, although I support part of it concerning imports.

From the point of view of the damage that the regulations will cause, hon. Members have mentioned the fact that dog breeders and dog lovers will find that raw meat is not available for their pets. Indeed, a constituent of mine who is a dog breeder writes: The natural food for dogs is uncooked meat. We and many other breeders have proved beyond doubt that fresh raw meat keeps dogs fit, whereas cooked meat means loss of condition and eventually substandard health, vets' bills, etc. This breeder does a great deal of exporting and has a high reputation.

Mr. Wellbeloved

The hon. Gentleman is wrong in saying that supplies of fresh raw meat will no longer be available. Butchers' meat will be available, as will low-priced imported raw meat from, for example, the Argentine, which is safe for human and animal consumption.

Mr. Mitchell

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that commercial dog breeders can afford to pay butchers' prices for meat for feeding to dogs, he lives in a much wealthier stratum than those involved in commercial dog breeding.

I come to the damage that the Instrument could do to farming. Most knackers are small businessmen to whom the cost of putting in sterilising plant will be a considerable burden. Because of the high level of taxation, which has not gone down under Labour, most of them are not in a position to finance this new equipment. If they go to their banks for overdrafts for this purpose they will be told that they do not have priority in the export sphere. As a result, most knackers will not be able to afford the expensive equipment involved. If they do not do so, they will go out of this kind of business, or make substantial charges to farmers whose beasts they collect. Then we shall have a situation in which animals have to be buried, or in some parts of the country they will be left to be pecked by birds. If they are buried there will be no inspection, and some will be half buried to try to escape the charges from the knackers. Then rats and other things will get at the half-buried carcases, and heaven knows what diseases may occur as a consequence.

Are the costs which the farming community will have to bear to be taken into account in the February Farm Review? It would be quite improper for these additional costs to go on to the farming community without the possibility of recouping them.

I support the Minister with reference to imported meat because it seems that a coach and horses could be driven through the existing regulations. If the Minister tightens them up he will go a long way to dealing with the problem. In correspondence that I have had with him he has made it absolutely clear that imported meat often gets through the regulations because it is impossible to prove that the meat is actually unfit for human consumption. I recognise that the existing regulations are insufficient and that there is great need to tighten them up.

Attention has been drawn to health hazards, and the Minister has stressed the danger from hydatid disease. I looked this up and found that the Minister has been talking a lot of twaddle in the case he made because this disease is carried in the offals of a perfectly healthy animal for many months, even years, before it comes to the point of causing ill health. Therefore, offals of perfectly healthy animals fed to dogs can cause this disease. The Minister proposes that we should sterilise knacker meat, but offals from healthy animals can be carrying the disease which he says is so dangerous. He should be able to make a better case than that which I have uncovered in correspondence concerning knacker meat on its own.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary be kind enough to say a word about the limitation in the paragraph referring to menageries and mink farms? Why should not kennels be able to have sealed containers of this form? Why should he not allow unsterilised knacker meat to be sold subject to certification that there is no harmful infection? That is a simple question which I hope he can answer because this seems the obvious way of dealing with the problem.

Since so much of the disease about which the Parliamentary Secretary is worried can be obtained from ordinary offals, what steps will he take to plug the hole in his argument?

11.8 p.m.

Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)

I am glad to have the opportunity to support my hon. Friends in praying against this Order. These are new grandmotherly regulations which have not been asked for.

I have been a member of the public protection committee of my county council and the old animals diseases committee for about 15 years. We have never had complaints about knacker meat but we have had many complaints about the trouble in our county and eastern districts of anthrax through animals being diseased and left on farms.

If these regulations are implemented and make it more uneconomic for knackers to exist and pick up stock from the farms, the dead stock will be left on the farms and may be only partially buried, and that will lead to the spread of the terrible disease of anthrax. I know that the Minister has been concerned about outbreaks of anthrax, but these regulations could lead to the spread of animal diseases, including anthrax, which, of course, can be passed to humans.

Letters which I have received from some of the largest firms of veterinary surgeons in the eastern counties have been against these regulations. The veterinary surgeons know that they have built up genuine close co-operation with the knackers. If knackers are in any doubt about an animal, they will call in a private "vet" or a "vet" from the Ministry. This means that cases of anthrax and other diseases can be traced before they spread, but if carcases are left on the farms, disease will spread.

I do not know what the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) meant when he talked about the number of cases of disease which had been found. I do not know what disease he meant. Perhaps we may be told what the fear is and what disease has been found in knacker meat. My main objection and that of the veterinary surgeons is that fallen stock will not be bought but will be left on the farms and that the close co-operation between veterinary surgeons and knackers will break down, with the result that there will be more and not less disease.

It is not so much a matter of the cost of cooking the meat as of the loss of weight. As much as 25 to 30 per cent. may be lost through cooking, and that factor must add to the cost. I have only a small dog, not a Labrador, but it still costs nearly £1 a week to keep. I feed it raw meat. I must admit that I get the meat for it from the butcher's shop, because, unfortunately, we do not have a knacker's shop near and the dog is not big enough to warrant purchasing large quantities of meat. My wife therefore buys meat for the dog from the butcher's shop and that is very expensive. There are millions of dog owners in the country and if they all buy meat for their dogs from butchers, the cost of meat will be increased, not only for the dog owners but for the ordinary housewife, because of the extra demand. The cost of meat is already high, but these regulations will increase the price.

The only friend for many old-age pensioners is a dog, and they will be penalised. The regulations will create a serious danger on the farms and could endanger human beings.

The hon. Member for South Shields said that this meat could not be offered for sale in butchers' shops But Part IV of the regulations, headed "Sales", says that the meat is not to be offered for sale unless it is sterilised. However, it will be sterilised and then it could be offered for sale in butchers' shops, and it could be cooked again and sold for human consumption. Because of the high cost of meat generally, many people will be attracted by this meat, and who is to say that it will be properly described as coming from a knacker's shop? I do not know whether other regulations will say that it must be so described.

In view of the dangers on farms and of animal disease and as the dangers to human beings may be greater than those which the Government are trying to prevent, I hope that these regulations will not be implemented. They may result in this kind of meat being sterilised, re-infected and re-cooked, and that is one of the most dangerous kinds of meat to be bought from a butcher.

11.15 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Mackie)

Before dealing with the many points which have been raised, a few general observations may help to put the matter in perspective. This is a public health measure designed to remove a risk to the health of human beings from infection with salmonella organisms, and subsequent food poisoning. In 1967 salmonella proved to be the cause of 66 per cent. of food poisoning cases investigated. The common salmonella types found in man are also common in our farm and domestic animals and the chain of infection from animal to man needs to be broken at every opportunity.

Meat which has not been passed as fit for human consumption, and trade in this meat, can constitute a risk to public health in a number of ways. The meat can, either accidentally or deliberately, be sold, or used, for human consumption. Or pet food may be stored next to the family's food and cut up on the same board using the same utensils. We have proof of this happening. We cannot legislate against this carelessness, but we can minimise the risk. Even if all precautions are taken and no human food is contaminated, animals that have eaten infected meat may pass on the disease to the human beings who handle them. Animals often carry this infection without any signs of ill-health.

Several hon. Members mentioned the 1960 regulations, and they certainly go some way towards protecting the public. They require that meat found unfit in a slaughterhouse must be sterilised or sent to zoos or such establishments. This arrangement will stand, but we intend to tighten up some of the safeguards on transport. The same rules apply to imported meat found unfit upon arrival, and in future we shall apply them to any meat arriving here which has not been certified as fit for human use. I am amused that anything imported as an agricultural commodity seems to arouse almost pathological feeling among hon. Members opposite.

In the 1960 regulations considerably less strict precautions were placed upon the treatment of meat coming from knackers' yards. These yards deal with many sick, injured, dying and dead animals on farms as well as with aged horses, and they could not operate within the strict hygiene requirements imposed on slaughterhouses. Under the old regulations knackers' meat can still simply be stained before removal and sale. The handling and use of such meat must carry risks.

Medical officers of health have shown that up to 25 per cent. of samples of loose pet meat is infected, and there is evidence too that human illness has originated from such infection. I placed in the Library of the House, at the request of an hon. Member who is not present, the evidence that we had, and I presume that hon. Members who have spoken have read that. Opponents of the new regulations may claim that the proof of actual transmission of disease by this means is inconclusive. Absolute proof is impossible to come by, but there is evidence to show that a significant percentage of knackers' meat samples is infected. There is strong circumstantial evidence that raw knackers' meat is a carrier and spreader of disease—by contamination during production and distribution; by transfer to human foodstuffs in the home, and perhaps in the shop. The result may be no more than a stomach upset, but it may be worse.

There is also the risk of hydatid disease. This disease, due to infection with tapeworms, can be contracted only from dogs which have eaten the meat of infested animals. No direct evidence is available, but one likely mode of infection is knacker meat. The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell) is wrong in his assertion that hydatid cysts are not visible to the naked eye; meat which has been passed as fit for human consumption is, therefore, free of this infection. It is not a rare disease, because we have ten deaths per year.

I am sure that we must not allow these dangers to human health to continue. They can be prevented and the risk easily removed. For this reason we have revised the regulations to require that as from 1st November all knacker meat must be sterilised on the spot or sent direct to be sterilised under special arrangements. Our European neighbours have for some time recognised and provided against the danger which fallen animals present. In general, they require that all knacker meat be either destroyed or industrially processed. I am in no doubt that theirs is a good example.

Several hon. Members raised the point that some pedigree breeders regard raw meat as necessary for their animals. I am not here to argue the point, but I would point out that shepherds' dogs in Scotland live on oatmeal and milk and have no raw meat. One of my hon. Friends made the point that some meat can be brought cheaply in butchers' shops, and I have taken the trouble to get some prices of meat which is available. For example, imported horse meat can be bought at about 2s. 6d. to 3s. a lb., cheap lean beef cuts for 2s. 6d. a lb., open pack cooked pet meat for 1s. 10d. a lb., offal, tripe and lights for 9d. to 1s. against raw British knacker meat for 1s. 3d. to 1s. 9d. a lb. and cooked British knacker meat at nearly double that price. These products are widely sold and will continue to be sold at similar prices. If people insist that cooked meat is bad for dogs—which I doubt very much—this source of meat will still be available to them.

Let me deal with the point about maggot farms. The right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) telephoned me on this subject. My officials looked into the question of the maggot farms but we could see no reason for exempting them. The maggot farmer is dealing with the same product. He can buy offals which are fit for human consumption and scrap meat. I know that a dead rabbit can breed enough maggots to keep me and my brothers in fishing maggots for months on end, and I am sure that the maggot farmer will get over the difficulty, and that it will cost him little more, if anything more, in future.

Several hon. Members spoke about the cost of installing new equipment. I do not want to put up costs any more than can be helped, but sterilisation equipment is not expensive. A boiler or a big copper will probably do the job in smaller yards. Much of this equipment is already being used and I very much doubt whether it is as costly as many hon. Members made out.

May I reply to the point made by the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Sir Richard Glyn) about the Kennel Club? We sent out notices to about 60 or 70 different organisations and from 28 of them we had no reply. That included the Kennel Club. I should be surprised if it was the one and only organisation in respect of which the Post Office slipped up. I do not think that it is a Minister's duty to keep writing to people on the chance that they have not received a previous letter.

The hon. Member said that the present regulations were quite satisfactory. He said that what was wrong was the ability to enforce them. I do not regard that as a very strong argument. If that is the situation, sterilisation must help. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), I thought that he spoilt his argument when he went into the Question of putting this meat into shepherds' pie. I will not deal with that.

Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) spoke about anthrax. In fact, the anthrax regulations apply and will apply irrespective of whether meat is cooked or not. As he knows quite well, it is the duty of a farmer to report any sudden death. That requirement still stands.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) raised the public health aspect of the matter. It is a fact that public health inspectors have been worried. I could not agree more with what my hon. Friend said.

I am not sure that I have been pressed by hon. Members who are present tonight, but I have been seriously pressed in the past by hon. Members opposite on the subject of brucellosis and the danger to human health from that disease, and I have had occasion to refer to the enormous cost of carrying out some of the schemes which they want us to undertake. On the other hand, there are between 40 and 50 deaths a year from salmonella poisoning and 10 or 11 deaths from the hydatid disease to which I have referred. We regard these regulations as necessary for the protection of health. Hon. Members cannot have it both ways when it comes to the question of health.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart), who has apologised for not being able to stay, asked what would happen in Scotland. I dare not speak for the Secretary of State for Scotland. I have no doubt that he will be looking into the matter in due course.

My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford stressed that doctors have been pressing for something to be done. Undoubtedly, in the last few years salmonella disease has been giving them a lot of extra work, and the article in the Lancet pinpoints the need to do something.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Michael Hamilton) spoke about the individual dog owner, referring to questions of taxation, percentages and the cost of butcher's meat, and said that one could do anything with figures. I ask him to go to the Library and read the figures there in conjunction with what I have said. I think he will agree that we had to do something in view of the steady rise in salmonella poisoning and the number of deaths from hydatid disease.

The hon. Gentleman said that we were upsetting people needlessly, accusing us of being a Government who wanted to bring in regulations and bother people in this way. The hon. Lady the Member for Petersfield (Miss Quennell) wanted to know about zoos, menageries and so on. The exemption there is an effort on our part not to upset more people than is absolutely necessary. A zoo is a fairly large establishment, and, if we were to define a zoo, it would not cover private zoos with individual animals. The question would be one for the courts to decide anyway, but the exemption is intended for recognised public and scientific establishments, not small private zoos, in which, if there were disease, lions, tigers and so on would be unlikely to be licking people's faces and spreading infection. In answer to the hon. Member for Salisbury, who spoke about unnecessary regulations, we are doing no more than is needed to break the cycle of disease.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) thanked us for exempting large kennels. The reason is similar, in that there is less risk there than there is in the pet food shop of spreading the disease through a multiplicity of small our lets.

I ask hon. Members to consider the whole situation as regards disease in this country today. We have a close-knit population, and salmonella diseases and infections are rampant. We have no desire to raise costs, and I do not believe that they will be raised to any great extent. I do not think that knackers will be put out of business, and I hope to goodness that the question of the selling of carcases from farms will never be taken into consideration in the price of food.

If hon. Members consider all the points which I have made, they will see the need for action. The regulations are an advantage, not a disadvantage, to the whole population. I trust that the Prayer will be withdrawn.

Question put and negatived.