HL Deb 31 July 1906 vol 162 cc603-8


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill is not the product of the moment. It concerns a question which has been discussed for some time past. It owes its birth to the Report of the Departmental Committee appointed by the Admiralty to consider the humane slaughtering of animals, of which my hon. friend Mr. Arthur Lee was Chairman. The Report of this Committee was laid before your Lordships two years ago. The Bill is concerned with a subject upon which I am sorry to say Great Britain is considerably behindhand as compared with foreign nations. In 1903 there were only eighty-four public slaughter-houses in this country. London at that time had 600 private slaughterhouses and not one single public slaughterhouse except Deptford, which is largely used for slaughter of imported cattle.

The state of the law at the moment is as follows. Local authorities have power to license slaughter-houses, and no new slaughter-house can be built without a licence. They have power to register them and to inspect them, and they also have power to build. The authorities having these powers are borough and urban authorities, and in certain cases the Local Government Board can apply the powers to rural authorities; but parish councils and authorities of that kind have no possibility of coming under these Acts. The object of this Bill is to go one stop further than hitherto, and to enable public authorities to build slaughter-houses and to close all private slaughter-houses after they have provided proper facilities for the public.

The first motive for this Bill—it is the smaller motive, but I think it is one which will find great sympathy among your Lordships—is based on the score of humanity. There is a tremendous difference on this head in the ways animals are killed, and the Committee to which I have referred came to the conclusion that the humane slaughtering of cattle could only be secured in public slaughter-houses where the men engaged have naturally the advantage of greater experience and more scientific appliances. There is no actual clause in this Bill to put in force the recommendations of the Committee, but it is obvious that it will be much easier to carry them out in public slaughterhouses when the countless number of private slaughter-houses throughout the country have been closed.

We could have gone further if we had liked. There are certain countries on the Continent in which the law does go to the extent I have mentioned, of prescribing the way in which animals are to be killed, but we think we can leave it to public-opinion if we provide the proper facilities. The second recommendation of my honourable friend's Committee was to this effect— In the interests not only of humanity, but of sanitation, order, and ultimate economy, it is highly desirable that, where circumstances permit, private slaughter-houses should be replaced by public abattoirs, and that no killing should be permitted except in the latter, under official supervision. Attention has been called to this subject lately by certain revelations that have taken place on the other side of the Atlantic. The details are extremely squalid, and have been made public by means of a book which I believe enjoys the unique happiness of being the only novel that has ever been purchased for your Lordships' library. At any rate, what happened in Chicago deserved the dignity of mention in a message to Congress from the President, and I think we may take it that a great many of the statements put before us have been justified. None of the facts that have become known would have been possible had public slaughterhouses been, the rule on the other side of the Atlantic. I wish to say at once that I do not believe there is the least danger of a discovery of any similar scandals in this country, but still it is always best to be on the safe side. The more publicity the better.

There are a sheaf of precedents in private Bills for this legislation, and they are set forth in the Appendix to the Committee's Report. There is one precedent to which I should particularly like to draw your Lordships' attention. I refer to the' Scottish Act of 1892. I appeal particularly to noble Lords from Scotland to support this Bill and give us in this country the benefits that they have enjoyed for the last twelve years. It is obvious that the advantage of a public slaughter-house in a town is very great as compared with a number of private slaughter-houses. Sanitary science has advanced by leaps and bounds, and it is only by concentration in a central building that we can ensure keeping pace with it. It is obviously better for the health of a city that this work should be performed in one central building.

There is a further advantage, and it is that public slaughter-houses provide a safeguard against bad and diseased meat. The Committee made strong recommendations as to an efficient system of inspection, and there is a clause in this Bill which will considerably strengthen the hands of local authorities in dealing with this question. The law upon this point is at present very unsatisfactory. There is only power to inspect meat when it is exposed for sale. By the time that it is exposed for sale all those parts of the body which it is particularly necessary should be inspected in order to detect disease have been removed and are no longer available for examination by the inspector. I have before me a Report lately presented to the Sanitary Department of the City of London by the Medical Officer of Health, and this is what he says— An examination for the detection of disease can be made properly only at the time of slaughter; and such examination, to be of any real value, must cover, first, the inspection of the animal while alive, and, secondly, the examination after slaughter of the carcase, together with the organs, by a recognised expert. Any inspection short of that could not afford sufficient protection to the public from disease. Inspection on arrival in market and on exposure for sale is sufficient to deal with the question of unsoundness, but not with regard to disease. The obvious remedy in the first place is the compulsory use of public slaughter-houses. Your Lordships will see that this double inspection to which the Report refers is absolutely impracticable when you are dealing with a large number of private slaughter-houses; and I claim that this Report, which is only one of many, must have great weight with your Lordships in considering this Bill.

I claim that I have shown a case for the Bill, and I will only now briefly go through its clauses. Clause 1 is based on the precedents to which I have referred. It is the operative clause of the Bill, giving power, after public slaughterhouses have been provided, to prohibit the use of other slaughter-houses. Clause 2 gives the local authority power to acquire existing slaughter-houses or to agree for their use as such to cease. Clause 3 enables the local authority to pay compensation to owners or others injuriously affected by a prohibition before the expiry of the licence; and provides for the reference of the matter to arbitration, following the precedent in the Local Government Act of 1894. Clause 4 gives power to the council to make by-laws to regulate charges. I will read the clause to your Lordships— A council may make by-laws, subject to the approval of the Local Government Board, to prescribe fees and charges to he demanded and received by them in order to remunerate the council for the cost of construction, maintenance, and working of the buildings provided by them, or of any convenience connected therewith. This is taken from the precedent of the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act, 1903. Its object is to ensure that local authorities shall be reasonable in their charges. By Clause 5 the Local Government Board may extend the powers to the council of a rural district.

Clause 6 extends the power of inspection. At present, the inspector does not come in early enough, and this clause gives power to inspect at the time of the slaughter. I do not think I need go further into the provisions of the Bill, which I contend involves no hardship on anyone, and will be a great benefit to the public. I beg to move the Second Reading.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a." —(The Earl of Donoughmore.)


My Lords, I desire to offer no opposition to the Second Reading of the Bill, but I am a little surprised that it should be brought forward at this time of the session. No doubt there is some good reason why my noble friend did not bring the Bill in before; but he has not told us what that reason is, and I am afraid that under any circumstances the Bill at the present time has the very poorest chance of passing into law. However much we may discuss it, it has to go to another place, where I think they have ample "feeding stuff," as I think it was expressed the other day, to keep them going right up to Christmas.

With regard to the Bill itself I have no objection whatever to its principle. I think it is very desirable that urban authorities should establish slaughterhouses, make by-laws, and secure that animals are killed in accordance with those by-laws; but what I should like to ask is: Why is it necessary that all private slaughter-houses should be compulsorily closed? There very likely are private slaughterhouses which are open to grave objection, but the time to take objection to them is when they come up for the renewal of their licences; and subject to their complying with all the by-laws of the urban authority I cannot see why they should not be allowed to continue their business, provided, of course, that they can obtain a licence.

I believe it is the fact that in Edinburgh the municipal council have succeeded in obtaining a monopoly of the slaughtering business, and I daresay the same thing is true in Glasgow; but those of your Lordships who know anything of Scotland know quite well that Edinburgh and Glasgow are always bringing Bills into Parliament and slipping these clauses into them. They appear to have such an amount of influence with the Scottish Office that they can do pretty much as they like; but I do not see myself why, without some good reason being given, we should prohibit all private slaughter-houses provided they conduct their business in a proper way.


My Lords, the Bill which the noble Earl opposite has introduced does assimilate the law of England to that of Scotland. The system in Scotland has had a good trial and has worked extremely well. The noble Earl has so fully explained the provisions of the Bill that I do not think it is necessary for me to say more than that the Government are very sympathetic towards it. They think it is a reform which is very much wanted. Those of your Lordships who live in small towns must be aware what horrible places some of these private slaughter-houses are. On behalf of the Government I wish the Bill well. It is not my intention to oppose it in any way, but I reserve the right to move Amendments in Committee if thought necessary.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday the 23rd of October next.