HC Deb 04 April 1984 vol 57 cc967-72 3.45 pm
Mr. Richard Page (Hertfordshire, South-West)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Slaughterhouses Act 1974 in respect of methods of slaughtering food animals. The Bill will amend the Slaughterhouses Act 1974 by introducing a code of practice. It will require the code to be subject to a five-yearly review to cover the handling, stunning and slaughter of food animals. I present the Bill with cross-party support.

Among the specific matters to which I require the code of practice to address itself is the standardisation of forms dealing with applications by, and the training and licensing of, slaughtermen to produce a definite commonality among the local authorities. That would be coupled with the introduction of a national trade test to agreed standards before allowing slaughtermen to move from a provisional to a full licence. That measure should help not only to ensure a high uniform national standard but also those slaughtermen who may wish to move employment from one area of authority to another.

The code of practice would cover also the efficiency of slaughter techniques, especially when piecework and high throughput are involved. The House will appreciate that an operation that is humane and effective when handling 20 food animals per hour may not be as efficient when handling 40 animals per hour and, above that level, it may become unsatisfactory.

I intend that the code will provide close guidance on the electrical stunning methods employed for calves, pigs and sheep, as current strength and placing of electrodes is vital in producing unconsciousness. Conditions that are not closely maintained will produce paralysis instead of loss of consciousness before slaughter.

The code will set down methods of handling food animals when bringing them to the point of slaughter, and special attention will be given to the efficiency and condition of the restraint devices. I intend that rigorous care should be taken to ensure that the equipment used is in full, effective working order at all times.

The code of practice would be reviewed on a five-yearly basis by the Minister. Before an update was issued, as would happen if the regulations were altered, account would be taken of the views of those organisations that appear to the Minister to represent the various interests. Account will be taken especially of the body appointed by the Minister to conduct a review during that five-year period into the handling, stunning and slaughter of animals.

I have in mind a body such as the Farm Animal Welfare Council, but I hasten to add that I have no idea of that body's views on whether such a proposal is acceptable to it. Naturally, I hope that its response will be positive. The appointed body would have wide-ranging terms of reference and, in particular, would encourage research into these areas and promote those systems that it found to be the most humane.

At this point, it would be right to refer to the current controversy about the exemption given to methods of religious slaughter. As the House knows, the Slaughter of Animals Act 1933 — now incorporated in the Slaughterhouses Act 1974 — required that all animals should be first stunned by mechanical or electrical instruments before being slaughtered by being bled. A section allows an exemption for methods of religious slaughter. Those methods involve no pre-stunning, but require the animal to be first cast and then its throat cut.

While I would be among the first to acknowledge the wisdom behind the methods in the sensible health codes promoted in the past, I should prefer, as do the hon. Members who are sponsoring the Bill, to ensure that all food animals are correctly — I emphasise the word "correctly"—stunned before slaughter. Although that is my view, it is not my wish or the purpose of the Bill to provide for the removal of exemptions. As I have said, the appointed body should examine on a five-yearly basis all the methods of handling, stunning and slaughter of food animals to determine their humane effectiveness. I emphasise that all involved should approach the matter with open hearts and minds.

I am aware that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary currently has in train a detailed review of the way in which the present regulations are operated. If it were possible for her to watch over that sector for ever, I know that her caring approach would make the Bill unnecessary. But, naturally, that cannot be. The introduction of the code of practice, subject to regular five-yearly reviews, will mean that the latest and most humane techniques will be introduced into the slaughterhouse as of right, by changing into a duty the discretion currently given to the Minister under section 38 of the Act.

I am sure that, with regular reviews and continual active research by an appointed body, that will result in clear and firm guidelines. It will provide the most humane treatment possible for food animals at all times in what, understandably, is an emotionally bruising business

As I have not been officially approached by any hon. Member saying that he wishes to oppose the Bill, I look forward to the support of the whole House.

3.54 pm
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

I wish to say a few words before the matter is pressed further. I was reassured by some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Hertfordshire South-West (Mr. Page)——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman can only oppose the motion; he cannot debate the issue.

Mr. Alton

I had intended to oppose the motion and still wish to do so. However, I wanted to say that I was reassured by some of the remarks——

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman keeps interrupting today.

Mr. Skinner

I was raising a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When ten-minute rule Bills are debated, it has always been the common practice that one hon. Member introduces it and another hon. Member can be called upon to oppose it. A Liberal Member is trying to back both horses in the race, as usual. The result is that someone who was going to oppose the Bill on principle will not have the opportunity to put that case.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I ask the House to calm down. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) gave me notice before I came into the Chamber that he was seeking to speak against the Bill. I have no other such indication.

Mr. Alton

I did seek leave to speak against the Bill and I continue to seek leave to oppose it. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) may not like it, but that is the right of any hon. Member. The reason why I am speaking against the Bill is that I am unsure of what the hon. Member—[Interruption.] It is clear from what the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West has just said that he is uncertain of what he wants the Bill to achieve. Considerable doubt will remain in the minds——

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I made inquiries about whether the Bill would be opposed, since I wished to speak against it. As the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) is plainly not opposing the Bill, would it be in order for you to call another hon. Member, perhaps the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens) or myself?

Mr. Speaker

The House will recollect that I specifically asked the hon. Member for Mossley Hill whether he was seeking to speak against the Bill; he said that he was. Presumably he will.

Mr. Alton

In view of the occurrences of the last few days, it is clear that some Labour Members would prefer that Conservative Members were given the opportunity to speak in preference to a Liberal. I did give notice to you, Mr. Speaker, that I wished to speak against the Bill. That is what I propose to do.

The Farm Animal Welfare Council is currently carrying out an inquiry into this practice. Only recently, in a letter, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said: The Council is at present considering the question of the welfare of red-meat animals at the place of slaughter. The Council is examining all slaughtering practices, including ritual methods. We will, of course, give most careful consideration to any recommendations which the Council may make as the result of its findings. First, it is clearly premature while that kind of inquiry is being conducted to bring such a Bill before the House.

Secondly, the evidence that the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West has adduced is at best contradictory. I refer him to the view of Professor Harold Burrow, the American professor of veterinary medicine at the Royal Veterinary College in London. He said: No form of slaughter, involving as it does the shedding of blood, presents a pretty sight to the onlooker". He went on to refer in regard to the ritual method of slaughter which Jewish and Moslem people use, to the immediate loss of awareness on the part of the animal both of its surroundings and of any painful stimuli. This precludes any possibility of cruelty entering into Jewish ritual slaughter. Shechita and halal in the Moslem religion are carried out by men who have undergone several years of religious training and study. Indeed, a declaration was issued by the Jewish ecclesiastical authorities which makes it clear that those who carry out ritual slaughter do so only with the most careful consideration. In the declaration, the Jewish ecclesiastical authorities of Great Britain say: Schechita is carried out by men who have undergone several years of religious training and study who scrupulously apply the rules and rites governing this sacred ordinance, thus ensuring the swift and painless death of the animal. That is the second point in opposition to the Bill. At best the evidence is contradictory.

The truth is that stunning and cutting are both horrible, but any society that eats meat must accept that animals will inevitably be slaughtered in abattoirs. The alternative is that we become a nation of vegetarians.

The question before the House is whether the method of slaughter is cruel. Kindness to animals has been a basic Jewish teaching for 3,000 years. All the biblical laws on the subject are designed to secure humane treatment for all animals and freedom from pain. The same is true of the Moslem religion as can easily be seen from the most cursory study of the Koran.

The effect on the Jewish and Moslem communities of passing the Bill would be severe. I have received a number of letters from Jewish people and from Moslems. The Council of Christians and Jews on Merseyside writes: If it was passed … this Bill … would mean that traditionally-observant Jewish people would be denied the continued opportunity to eat meat because the special conditions applying to Shechita would be removed. If you read about this method you will observe that it has always been carried out in a humane way by skilled religious trained men". That view is confirmed by the honorary president of the Merseyside Shechita Board. Passing the Bill would prevent many Moslem and Jewish people from exercising their religious rights and practices in the way they have done for thousands of years.

I am surprised that no discussions have taken place between the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West and those communities, and that the hon. Gentleman did not even mention in his remarks that such discussions should take place. The Farm Animal Welfare Council's report is awaited. At the very least we should first see what that has to say.

I should have more sympathy with the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West had he raised any number of examples of cruelty to animals. We should be debating the scientific experiments at Porton Down being undertaken by the Ministry of Defence, the use of animals in relation to cosmetics, the barbarism of hunting and the export of live animals for long and stressful sea journeys before being ritually slaughtered in conditions inferior to those in a British abattoir. The Bill before the House today is ill-considered and ill-timed and the House should reject it.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):

The House divided: Ayes 54, Noes 155.

Division No. 225] [4 pm
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Freeman, Roger
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay) Greenway, Harry
Body, Richard Hamilton, James (M'well N)
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Hardy, Peter
Campbell-Savours, Dale Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Cartwright, John Harvey, Robert
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Home Robertson, John
Coombs, Simon Howells, Geraint
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Dickens, Geoffrey Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Dormand, Jack Knight, Gregory (Derby N)
Edwards, Bob (Wh'mpt'n SE) Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Ellis, Raymond Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Flannery, Martin Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Fookes, Miss Janet McCartney, Hugh
Forrester, John McCurley, Mrs Anna
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Stokes, John
Pike, Peter Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Torney, Tom
Proctor, K. Harvey Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Randall, Stuart Wareing, Robert
Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Rowe, Andrew
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Tellers for the Ayes:
Squire, Robin Mr. J. F. Pawsey and Mr. Christopher Murphy.
Stanbrook, Ivor
Abse, Leo Cunningham, Dr John
Aitken, Jonathan Currie, Mrs Edwina
Anderson, Donald Dalyell, Tam
Ashton, Joe Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Deakins, Eric
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Dobson, Frank
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Douglas, Dick
Baldry, Anthony Dubs, Alfred
Barron, Kevin Duffy, A. E. P.
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Fairbairn, Nicholas
Beith, A. J. Fallon, Michael
Bendall, Vivian Fatchett, Derek
Benn, Tony Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)
Bermingham, Gerald Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Fisher, Mark
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Forth, Eric
Boyes, Roland Foster, Derek
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Franks, Cecil
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Fraser, J. (Norwood)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) Freud, Clement
Bruce, Malcolm Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Bruinvels, Peter Garel-Jones, Tristan
Buchan, Norman George, Bruce
Burt, Alistair Goodhart, Sir Philip
Butcher, John Gorst, John
Campbell, Ian Gow, Ian
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Grant, Sir Anthony
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Clay, Robert Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Haynes, Frank
Cohen, Harry Hayward, Robert
Coleman, Donald Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Heffer, Eric S.
Cunliffe, Lawrence Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Hind, Kenneth Randall, Stuart
Holt, Richard Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Hooson, Tom Rhodes James, Robert
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham) Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Rossi, Sir Hugh
Hume, John Sayeed, Jonathan
Janner, Hon Greville Sheerman, Barry
Jessel, Toby Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Johnson-Smith, Sir Geoffrey Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Silvester, Fred
Knox, David Skinner, Dennis
Lambie, David Smith, C.(lsl'ton S & F'bury)
Lawler, Geoffrey Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Lawrence, Ivan Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lester, Jim Spencer, Derek
Lord, Michael Steel, Rt Hon David
Loyden, Edward Steen, Anthony
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Stern, Michael
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
McNamara, Kevin Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
McWilliam, John Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Madden, Max Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Straw, Jack
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Sumberg, David
Mates, Michael Taylor, Rt Hon John David
Maxton, John Terlezki, Stefan
Maynard, Miss Joan Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Meacher, Michael Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Meadowcroft, Michael Thorne, Neil (llford S)
Merchant, Piers Thornton, Malcolm
Mikardo, Ian Wainwright, R.
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) White, James
Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wshawe) Whitfield, John
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Wigley, Dafydd
Nellist, David Wilkinson, John
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Wood, Timothy
Brien, William Young, Sir George (Acton)
Parry, Robert
Patchett, Terry Tellers for the Noes:
Pavitt, Laurie Mr. David Alton and Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo.
Porter, Barry
Radice, Giles

Question accordingly negatived.