HL Deb 16 February 1949 vol 160 cc906-25

5.25 p.m.


had given notice of his intention to call attention to the unnecessary suffering still being inflicted on animals slaughtered for food; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is nearly a year since I addressed your Lordships' House on this subject, and I think the time has now come when another word may be said upon it. Things are much the same as they were a year ago, but there is one notable exception: I refer to the protection which has now been given to sheep and lambs. At the time when I spoke before, there was no statutory protection for sheep and Iambs; the matter was left to the decision of the local councils. It is true that due majority of local councils did give that protection, which was to the effect that sheep and lambs must be stunned before they were killed, but there were thirty-one local councils in charge of slaughter-houses who refused to accord that protection. In March of last year, a confidential letter was sent out from the Ministry direct to slaughterhouses, short-circuiting the local authorities and giving them instructions that sheep and lambs were to be stunned before being killed.

That, in my opinion, was a very desirable action, but it was not perhaps so desirable that the injunction should be communicated in a confidential form. I therefore put down a written question in May of last year and I received an answer. The effect is that that instruction is now on public record. So, if effective inspection of slaughter-houses is in operation, the situation is satisfactory in that respect. Broadly speaking, it means that in no licensed slaughter-house, except under Jewish rites, to which I shall refer later, can any animal be killed with the knife without first being stunned. In other respects, however, the situation in many places is lamentable. There is serious seasonal overcrowding and the condition of some of the buildings is disgraceful. The noble Earl who will follow me is going to deal with this part of the matter, so I will not elaborate it further at this late hour.

But I do wish to refer to the Lucas Report which has now been out for over a year. In fact, a year ago I was told that it was being intensively studied with a view to action, and I would like to ask what are the plans and what is the time-table for the action which is to be taken with regard to slaughter-houses as the result of that Report. I would raise one small matter. The Report stated that in 1939, at the beginning of the war, an experiment was projected: that three experimental slaughter-houses or abattoirs should be built as a preliminary to settling on a national scheme. I hope progress will not be held up by a continuation of that experiment. We have had quite enough experience with our own model abattoirs, and if we had not enough of our own then foreign countries could give us what we need. It is very important that a plan should be devised and put into action as soon as possible.

So much for animals that are now killed inside slaughter-houses. But there are a very large number of animals which are killed every year outside slaughterhouses. Last year I gave an estimate, which was not queried, of 500,000, mostly pigs. The number may not be the same now. It will naturally rise and fall with the availability of feeding stuffs. But I think that we as a nation should be ashamed that there is no control over this wholesale slaughter from the humanitarian point of view. If the Minister does not get his pound of flesh, literally and metaphorically, then the law is set in motion, but no notice is taken of the cruelty which may be involved in this process. The Government do not even give recommendations or advice on the subject.

When I spoke last year, a new Regulation was just coming into being. It dealt with the prohibition of slaughtering animals outside slaughter-houses except under licence and by licensed slaughterers. It seemed to me then that that was a unique opportunity for adding one more proviso—"and that a licensed slaughterer shall provide himself or be provided with a humane killer." I think it is disheartening that no such action was taken. I have been in touch with the chief societies for the protection of animals, and I was given to understand that a discussion was proceeding with regard to the applicant for a licence being advised that animals should be killed with humane killers, told that if he was not in possession of such an implement, he could get it lent to him free of charge, and given the address of the nearest officer of a society. Every month or so I inquired how this discussion was getting on and, so far as I can ascertain, it all seems to have petered out and nothing has been done.

There is one other respect in which I would ask the noble Lord who is to reply if he can help. It is in connection with the necessity for a person who uses a humane killer being supplied with a firearms certificate. Of course, a humane killer has this in common with firearms: it uses a cartridge and goes off with a bang. But the obvious reason for the restrictions that are put on the possession and use of firearms is that they are weapons which are capable of killing or wounding at a distance. The humane killer is a perfectly useless weapon for the law-breaker. It is much less valuable than a hatchet, a knife or a club. It has to be placed up against the exact point in the skull, and the little captive bolt does not protrude more than an inch or so when the weapon is fired. Therefore, although it may be a firearm literally, it is not a firearm from the point of view from which the use of firearms is restricted, and I wonder whether the noble Lord could approach the Home Secretary and see if some relaxation of the firearms regulation can be effected in this respect.

My Lords, why must this cruelty continue? There are some cases of cruelty or alleged cruelty that one can at least understand. Take vivisection, for example. Some men believe that by transferring their sufferings to animals, their own pain may be reduced. Take hunting; it is considered a healthy and exciting occupation. Consider the practice of putting hens to live in 18-inch boxes; and of keeping cows imprisoned for life so that they never see a green field. At any rate, there is the motive, the incentive of greed. When the Government refuse to legislate so that a horse must be given an anæsthetic before being castrated, they do so because of the objection which comes from people who are unwilling to pay the few shillings extra which an anæsthetic involves. We can abominate these practices, but we at least understand them. But who profits in any way from the infliction of suffering on animals in the process of slaughter? Nobody can plead necessity. It has already been abolished inside the slaughter-houses. As I say, if anybody cannot afford a humane killer, it can be borrowed gratis.

I maintain that there is no excuse, much less reason, for the continuance of these miserable conditions. They can be attributed only to callousness and inertia. Why must we plead as for a personal favour that the Government shall recommend humane killers, even if they are not prepared to order them? I hope that what I say this evening may penetrate beyond these walls. Many a man who is careful of the lives of his stock is careless of their deaths. I address my words to His Majesty's Government in the strong hope that adequate action may be taken. But animals have no votes; they have no trade unions; they cannot go on strike, and I am afraid there is a tendency to treat them accordingly. Still, every owner of stock is responsible to his own conscience, and a sensitive conscience is perhaps a better mentor than a Government inspector. I say that we must put our house in order in this respect, for until we have done so we are in no position to criticise the ritual slaughter by the Jews and the Moslems, to which I must now refer.

As regards the Moslem slaughter, I have very little to say. Some little time ago the Imam of the Woking Mosque, who I imagine may be regarded as speaking for his co-religionists, put up a public notice to the effect that the preliminary stunning of animals by the use of the humane killer did not vitiate the Moslem rites, and that the flesh of such animals was lawful for Moslems to consume. But with the Jews the situation is very different. I wrote to the Chief Rabbi in May of this year to ask him whether there was any chance that we could reach an agreement by discussion on this matter. I did not think there was much chance of reaching such agreement, in any case, but as it happened the time was rather unfortunate because a new incumbent had just been appointed to the post. He was very busy, naturally, taking over his new duties, and correspondence with a private individual had to take its proper place. Also, of course, it was a little bit like approaching a new headmaster and asking him to alter the school rules in the first term of his new tenancy. Still, I thought it was only courteous and reasonable to make the attempt, and to see what the head of British Jewry had to say to the accusations which are freely made in regard to the cruelty of the Jewish ritual.

I should like to point out that these accusations of cruelty fall under two distinct heads. There is the preliminary casting, during which the animal is thrown and its head is wrenched round into the appropriate position for the final act; and there is the killing itself. The killing is done by a Jewish official, but the casting and the preparation of the head is done by British slaughtermen before the Jewish official does his work. This duty many perform with the greatest distaste. There is a sort of idea that constant application to their duties will render slaughtermen callous and inhumane. I do not think that that is generally the case. After I spoke last year on this subject, I received a letter from a slaughterman in a big Midlands town which, with your Lordships' permission, I will read. He said: It is with deep interest that the slaughter-men at the … abattoir read the Press statement of your criticism in respect of the Jewish method of slaughtering animals. They feel that both the Jewish and Mohammedan methods should be definitely limited, as only men who have to perform this inhumane method can realise the unnecessary suffering inflicted on the animals compared to our own method of shooting prior to the drawing of blood. On behalf of the … slaughtermen I remain, yours faithfully … The Chief Rabbi was most sympathetic with regard to the preliminaries of the slaughter, and if His Majesty's Government will approach him, I am sure they will find that he will be most co-operative in regard to the increase of the use of the Weinberg pen. This pen is an apparatus into which the animal is driven; it is then inverted on a pivot, and the animal is put into the necessary position without this terrible and distressing struggle. In December last year, I asked a Question in this House as to how many of these Weinberg pens were in existence, and how many were regularly used. The answer I received was that eighteen have been provided, and seventeen are in regular use. I would ask His Majesty's Government to follow up this matter with the Chief Rabbi to see what can be done.

However, to my mind that is not an adequate solution of the difficulty, because the second part still remains. On the second part, the actual killing, the Chief Rabbi was adamant. I was not unprepared for such a reply, but I was surprised at the grounds on which his refusal was based. My contention was that there is no mandate, either Biblical or Talmudic, for this ritual; that it is purely a priestly custom which should be modified with the progress of civilisation. But the Chief Rabbi did not follow this line at all. He said that animals did not suffer by this form of killing, and that unconsciousness supervened almost immediately. He produced impressive evidence from many doctors and scientists in support of his contention. But there are, of course, other doctors and scientists—I do not say equally eminent, because I am not a judge of such things—and I know that they have made exhaustive dissections, and so on, and their opinion is based on the anatomy of the ox, which they tell me has large arteries at the back of the neck, protected by the vertebrae, which supply blood to the brain for a considerable period after the great vessels of the throat have been severed.

I have had a good deal of experience in one way and another, in my technical position in the Air Council, of having to make decisions from conflicting opinions of experts. When such a situation arose, I generally tried to approach somebody who was in closer contact with actualities, even if his mentality might not be on such an exalted level. The type of person I am thinking of is the writer of the letter that I have just read to your Lordships. Perhaps I may be permitted to read another letter, which was sent to me quite unsolicited from an officer who has just returned from Germany. It says: I have just returned from two years' service in Germany on the Control Commission. It may interest you to know that one of the first things we did in Germany, under Jewish pressure, was to repeal the German laws enforcing the humane killing of animals so as to enable the Jews to kill animals without using the humane killer as a safeguard. As a safeguard, they were supposed to use a special casting pen which is said to alleviate the animal's suffering somewhat, but this has in fact never been used. One of our veterinary officers there insisted on having an animal's cords cut"— those are the cords by which its legs were fastened— immediately after its throat had been slit by the Rabbi, to test how long it retained consciousness. It rose to its feet and rushed out of the slaughter-house, and was on its legs for just over fifty seconds before it finally collapsed. Before having its throat cut, the ritual is for it to be thrown on its back and the vet, told me the animal's struggles were horrifying to witness. Cannot we stop this, there and here also? The Germans who know about this say 'So this is what the British fought the war for'. I think the Jews have always recognised the suffering caused by these preliminary operations, and I think I am right in saying that the Weinberg pen was provided as a result of a competition for a reward offered by the Jewish authorities. But about the same time a second reward was offered, for a device to mitigate the pain of the actual killing. The strange thing is that the person who offered that reward was no less than the chief of the Shechita Board (which is the Jewish organisation which controls this ritual slaughter). His name was Lord Swaythling.

I have an interesting piece of new information which has reached me recently—in case it is suggested that this is against the Jewish religion and that the objections cannot be overcome—and that is that the use of the humane killer in the Jewish ritual slaughter has actually been started in America, in one place at any rate. In order that the name may be on record it is Morris Rifkin and Sons Incorporated, of South Street, St. Paul, Minnesota, and the Rabbi under whose supervision work is carried out is Rabbi J. B. Hurvitz. The head of the firm writes: We have used the humane killer on all the cattle which are Kosher killed. Truthfully, we have been more than satisfied. There is one more thread to clue up. When I last spoke, England was held up by the noble Earl who replied as being, in the forefront of the nations with regard to humanity to animals. This claim rather took my breath away, and I was not in a position to deal with it in an immediate reply. Since then I have made some inquiries and I find that in Norway, Switzerland and Spain, this Jewish ritual killing is absolutely forbidden; and in Sweden the animals are gassed before they are killed. I do not think anybody could accuse Norway, Sweden or Switzerland of being anti-Semitic, and although it may be said that the German regulations are, perhaps, less due to their love of animals than their dislike of Jews, I do not think that would be quite a fair statement, because, before the war and before this question had arisen at all, the Germans had engraved over the portals of their slaughter-houses: Yours is a trade of blood—be merciful. My Lords, I have finished. Slowly, slowly, there is growing the recognition of the place of animals in creation and our responsibilities with regard to them. We are beginning to realise that animals do not exist exclusively for our convenience and profit. The idea has not penetrated very deeply, but at least we have gone beyond the stage of bull and bear-baiting, where animals are trained to fight one another for the amusement of the onlookers. If we have not yet reached the stage where we realise our responsibilities for raising the animal kingdom in the scale of evolution, surely we have reached a stage where we can realise that animals suffer mentally as well as physically; and when the time comes when we decree that they must give their lives for our profit or convenience, at least we can see to it that neither fear nor pain is needlessly inflicted. I beg to move for Papers.

5.58 p.m.


My Lords, I am indeed grateful to my noble friend Lord Dowding for this opportunity to be able to put before your Lordships, and the general public, the fact that the condition of slaughter-houses in this country, on the average, is deplorable. Efficient slaughtering means humane slaughtering. In this country, on the average, there is no efficient slaughtering, and that is the reason why the slaughtering is not humane and why the actions are taking place that my noble friend Lord Dowding has so ably described. In the course of the next few minutes I hope to be able to persuade your Lordships that the reason why our slaughter-houses are inefficient—or, rather, why efficient slaughter-houses are not in existence—is entirely due to the lack of policy from the Minister of Food, who runs and is responsible for slaughter-houses.

I would like, with your Lordships' permission, to quote two relevant paragraphs from a letter I received from the Parliamentary Secretary in regard to my ques- tion on policy. The first relevant paragraph is as follows: I am afraid that the future policy in regard to slaughter-houses and slaughtering problems has not yet been defined … The next relevant paragraph reads as follows: That is not to say, however, that we are satisfied with our slaughter-houses, some of which leave much to be desired, but the present restrictions on building wake it almost impossible to have structural alterations made. Nor are we quite ready to embark on a programme of alteration at the present time when future policy is not yet fully defines. I would say that "much to be desired" is putting it very mildly indeed.

I think I have seen a fairly good cross-section of the slaughter-houses of this country. I do not want it to be thought that all slaughter-houses are immediately inadequate, or that the conditions of them, in either cruelty or deficiency, are immediately deplorable. But on the whole they are not as efficient as they should be. I believe, both from my own experience and also from the opinion of experts, that some form of centralised factory abattoir system is necessary throughout the country. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in his excellent Report on marketing, says on page 66, paragraph 281, that what his Committee recommend is complete reorganisation of the existing slaughtering arrangements, directed towards the establishment of a series of modern factory abattoirs of suitable size and location, in which the functions of slaughtering and processing have been fully integrated. To that I should like to add (perhaps ambitiously, and again on the recommendations of experts) marketing, both on the hoof and on the hook when the meat is ready for the retail traders.

I admit that special premises would have to be designed to meet this need of centralised slaughtering. It seems that the best and most economical sites for them would be in the centre of the producing areas—that is, the agricultural areas—and on the outskirts of heavy industrialised areas. It will be no easy matter to arrange these districts and situations for slaughter-houses, and I would put it to your Lordships that the interest of already-established market towns in agricultural centres should be looked after. I would suggest to your Lordships that these are some of the points that must be considered.

In the factory abattoir there is a mechanical stunning pen in use. This is, in the first place, the most efficient animal-slaughtering device; in the second place, it is the most economical; and in the third place, it is the most humane. The captive-bolt pistol, to which the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, has referred, is used throughout. There are adequate facilities to employ an expert staff the whole time throughout the year and for every day of a five-day week. This staff would consist of expert slaughtermen, veterinary officers, drovers, dressers and meat inspectors; and naturally, by reason of their very expertness, they could improve the efficiency of such an abattoir. Where there is a large-scale or relatively large-scale killing, expert labour can be afforded. The animals spend the minimum possible time moving from the hoof to the hook in the big killing-rooms. Lairage is the best possible size for dealing with a large number of animals in a large space.

There must be adequate water, and as the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, has already stated, there must be suitable allowances made for the heavy killing season in the autumn. Furthermore, there must be adequate casualty-killing facilities. This is a very important point. Your Lordships may not realise that a great deal of the meat that we eat is killed together with diseased carcases on the very next part of the killing floor itself. There must then be adequate casualty-killing sections in an abattoir. Lastly, by-products can be most efficiently and economically put to good use.

I believe that the ideal operator of such an abattoir is the local authority. In certain instances, no doubt, private enterprise under suitable licence can be employed to carry out the operations. The slaughter-houses would have to be under the most strict regulation of the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture; but it is only from centralisation that there can be obtained a sufficiently high standard of humaneness and efficiency in the slaughter-house system. I admit that all this will cost money—there is no doubt about that. I am told by a well-known firm of abattoir equipment manufacturers, the North British Hoist and Lifting Equipment Manufacturing Company, of Glasgow, that one single unit of their excellent mechanical stunning pen will now cost £450; which is approximately 250 per cent. above the pre-war figure—and that is only one small unit.

There is no doubt that a great deal of capital will have to be employed. But there are local authorities at present who are willing and able to employ that capital; but it cannot be expended until a policy is laid down by the Minister on behalf of His Majesty's Government. Furthermore, from information that I have received from the North British Hoist Company, they have not been manufacturing much, if any, abattoir equipment since the end of the war, in consequence, apparently, of lack of permits. I should have thought that if anybody could have obtained permits, it would be the Minister of Food. He has an efficient Parliamentary Secretary, and it is my experience that when ladies want something, they nearly always get it. Why then is not the Minister of Food able to obtain permits for such equipment as an abattoir needs? The 1933 Act has given protection to the calves and sheep, as the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, has said. These animals are now mechanically stunned in Ministry of Food-operated slaughter houses. But it is not, I think, the actual killing that is the inhumane part in abattoirs to-day.

I am going to make a statement which may leave me wide open to criticism. I do not believe that blood or dead carcases or, in fact, actual slaughter operations of themselves have any effect whatsoever on an animal's mind. The fear which causes a bullock to run amok, in my opinion and in the opinion of those whose job it is to watch slaughtering day after day, is due entirely to rough handling, to the shouting and the beating and so forth that are employed by slaughter-men and drovers, working under the most inadequate conditions, in very limited space, and in the most restricted time before actual slaughter. In a factory abattoir, all those conditions are completely avoided. The animal walks straight from a pen to the man with the mechanical stunner. There is no trouble, no beating, pushing, prodding or shoving whatsoever. That is where the cruelty exists, in my opinion; it is not in the actual killing. One has only to see an efficient abattoir in operation to realise that. One can there see animals walking up, one after the other, awaiting their turn for the humane killer; and even though the door between the lairage and the killing chambers is sometimes left open—and, incidentally, by law it is supposed to be shut—it has no effect whatsoever upon the animals. I can assure noble Lords that that is so.

Electrical stunning is a system used to a large extent with pigs in bacon factories when the slaughtering is on a large scale. There is no doubt about it that electrical stunning is certainly efficient, and it is also economical, for the large scale pig-killer; but so far it is questionable whether it is actually humane. Electrical stunning, takes place by applying a pair of electrically charged tongs usually behind the animal's ears. The electric current causes every muscle in the animal to contract, including its breathing mechanism. Thus, oxygen is excluded from the blood stream. How long the oxygen can actually remain in the brain, upon which depends the consciousness of the animal, is not well known. Mr. E. O. Longley, under the auspices of the University Federation of Animal Welfare, is carrying out investigations in this matter at the Bristol Institute of Neurotics. I would earnestly recommend that opinion be reserved upon the electrical stunning methods until further data is available.

The noble Lord, Lord Dowding, has dealt at some length with ritual slaughter. I am glad that he has done so, as it saves my having to give a vivid description of it. I do not hold that the actual killing is particularly cruel. With an expert, it takes three seconds to cut a bullock's throat—I say "with an expert." It is the preliminary casting which I maintain comprises the entire cruelty and suffering to the animal. As the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, has pointed out, the Weinberg pen could be used in this case, and I believe that cruelty could be almost entirely eliminated. Further, throat-cutting cannot be as humane as the mechanical stunner; I think there can be no possible doubt about that. It seems that animal welfare is a "high priority" in another place in these times. I ask that, should any of your Lordships feel that way inclined, you should go down to a slaughterhouse and see a ritual killing take place without the use of the Weinberg pen. You would see what actually happens in these slaughter-houses when they are run by the Minister of Food on behalf of His Majesty's Government.

To sum up, I would ask again: Has the Minister any policy for slaughter-houses and slaughter-house operation? There can be no doubt whatsoever that efficient slaughtering means economical slaughtering, and at the same time efficient slaughtering means humane slaughtering. One has only to go and look at a first-class abattoir to realise that. There are plenty of them in England. There is no inhumanity existing in such a place. Such humane and economical institutions or units cannot exist in this country until His Majesty's Government have arrived at a policy as to how future slaughtering should be carried out.

Secondly, I would ask that any zoning that is necessary should be carried out with the greatest care and according to the interests of the following considerations. First, there must be clean food for the consumer. The convenience and the price to the producer—that is, the farmer—have also to be looked after. There is the question of transport to be considered—the distance that the farmer has to take his products to market. The local authority in whose area the abattoir is to be set up, and the slaughtermen with the conditions of the work that they will have to do, are another consideration. There is no doubt that the slaughtering trade is a highly skilled profession. Furthermore, it is very hard work. Admittedly, a slaughterman working full time during the heavy killing season might make, so I am informed, anything up to £20 or £30 a week, but he really works hard for that money. Lastly, there is the question of humanity in the slaughter-houses. I say it rests entirely upon the efficiency and the economic operation of that abattoir. It is not until a Government policy is produced that there will be efficiency in the abattoir.


My Lords, I find myself once again in the position of asking the indulgence of your Lordships to accept me as a substitute for my noble friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, who, under doctor's orders, has gone away for a while to recover fully from the unfortunate illness which has afflicted him over the last two or three months. Nobody could have listened to the noble Lord who moved this Motion, either this evening or upon the last occasion when he addressed your Lordships' House, without being deeply impressed by the sincerity and depth of feeling which he has upon this subject. I am also particularly grateful to him for giving me such ample notice of the points he was going to raise, because it allowed me to make my own investigations into the matter and to satisfy myself of the correctness of what I am going to say.

The noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, started off by saying that the conditions in the slaughter-houses of this country were, on the average, deplorable. Then he went on rather to qualify that statement by asking your Lordships not to assume that they were in every case deplorable. Then he said, "Of course, the reason for this must rest upon the shoulders of the Minister of Food." The noble Lord should know that what is wrong with the slaughter-houses of this country is a legacy of the past, when there were 16,000 of them, the vast majority of which could not even be considered as properly coming within the category of a killing establishment. I would not like it to go out from your Lordships' House that the conditions, far from perfect though they be, are quite so bad as one would be led to expect in the 600 slaughter-houses which are at present controlled and managed by the Minister of Food. The greatest possible care is taken by my right honourable friend and the officials of his Department to see that humane conditions are observed. Practice is governed by the Slaughter of Animals Act which, as the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, knows, has been supplemented by overriding regulations by the Minister of Food; and every one of these 600 slaughter-houses is managed by a competent official of the Ministry of Food. There are one or two exceptions, notably in Scotland, where the management is undertaken by officials of the local authority who act under instructions from the Ministry of Food and are their agents.

Every area has a supervisor, again charged with the responsibility for seeing that humane conditions prevail. Over the areas there are other supervisors who are directly responsible to the appropriate Department of the Ministry of Food. I was very glad when the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, rather discredited a theory to which, I think, his remarks of nearly twelve months ago gave rise—namely, that slaughter-men were apt to become inhumane. They are not, and I am glad he made that point. The slaughter-men's task is distasteful, but it is very necessary. I expect the same loose language has been used upon many occasions about doctors and also nurses, the most gentle creatures in the medical profession—that "familiarity breeds contempt." It is quite right for the noble Lord to pay a tribute to the slaughter-men of this country in carrying out a distasteful job with a great degree of humanity.

As the noble Lord quite rightly said, of the animals which are killed in the 600 slaughter-houses controlled by the Ministry of Food, all except those slaughtered according to the rites of the Jewish and Moslem religions are stunned before killing—every one. When the noble Lord poses the question as to whether there are an adequate number of slaughter-houses, whether the 600 can properly cope with the requirements, the answer is that for about ten months of the year they can. But there is a peak period, generally in October and November. It might interest your Lordships to know that the number of killings in these slaughter-houses is about 25,000 units per week in the ten months of the year, but that number rises to about 126,000 units per week in the months of October and November. You will soon see that for every slaughter-man that is required in June, five are necessary in October. The noble Lord himself said that a slaughter-man is a highly-skilled worker, and you cannot have four out of every five highly-skilled slaughter-men standing idle for ten months in the year. He is also quite right when he says that the slaughter-houses in this country are badly sited. That is not a new phenomenon: it is again one of the relics of the past, so we have to put up with this congestion over two months in the year. But within the limitations of supplies, equipment and building materials, all the slaughter-houses are being modernised as much as possible and the work goes on unceasingly.

When the noble Lord refers to animals that are killed outside the slaughterhouses, he raises a question of great im portance and one that has been given serious thought. The noble Lord's figures are approximately correct. I suppose approximately 450,000 pigs are slaughtered under the self-suppliers' scheme. The vast majority, if not all of those animals, are slaughtered outside Government slaughter-houses. The noble Lord was sightly incorrect, however, when he said that there is no control of the slaughter of these pigs. There is, as he knows, the Protection of Animals Act; and on the licence issued by the Ministry of Food authorising the slaughter of one of these animals, attention is specifically drawn to the fact that the licence does not exempt the licensee from his obligations under various Acts. I need not trouble to read them all, but it includes any other Act, order, regulation or bylaw relating to the slaughter of animals. I know the noble Lord would very much like to have the Slaughter of Animals Act amended to cover the slaughter of every animal for food in this country. If that were practicable it would be desirable; but, whatever one did, it would be an impossibility to see that it was properly enforced, with 450,000 killings in some of the remoter parts of this country, on farms or anywhere else. I think your Lordships will agree that it is not right to put on the Statute Book legislation that cannot be effective or be properly enforced. That is the difficulty.

I know the noble Lord may have a contrary opinion, and to anticipate it I have discussed with the appropriate authorities whether it is possible to have any relaxation of the Firearms Act. The noble Lord has said, quite rightly, that humane killers are regarded as lethal weapons, and nobody can have one without obtaining a licence granted by permission of the local chief constable. This point has been examined, but my right honourable friend, the Home Secretary, is adamant that the law cannot be altered. All the authorities are against it. It is said by these authorities that this lethal weapon is most dangerous in the hands of inexperienced operators and can do considerable damage, and the police and the Home Office are not willing to relax the regulations. The noble Lord raised the question about the local authority having the option of contracting out of certain provisions of the Slaughter of Animals Act. That has been superseded so the point does not now arise. I am afraid that my reply on this particular matter may not be considered by the noble Lord to be satisfactory. But I have done my best, and the weight of authority is against him.

The noble Lord raised the question of the ritual slaughter, and I thought he treated the subject with a delicacy which was wholly admirable. Undoubtedly, this is a delicate matter, but there is no reason why it should not be faced squarely. I know that there are authoritative opinions to the effect that the actual act of killing according to the Jewish ritual (I will come to the preliminaries in a moment) is not so humane as that of stunning. But, on the other hand, there are equally eminent authorities who avow to the contrary. One very distinguished member of your Lordships' House, Lord Horder, has publicly stated that the physical act of killing according to the Jewish ritual is more humane than the other. I can say, quite definitely, that, taking everything into consideration, His Majesty's Government are not prepared to prohibit the Jewish method of slaughter—which would deprive orthodox Jews of this country of such supplies of meat as they are permitted to consume under the rules of their religion.

When the noble Lord was dealing with what he called the preliminaries of the Jewish ritual slaughter, he was on much stronger ground. His Majesty's Government are not satisfied, and I am not satisfied, that in those preliminaries there are not possibilities of such a degree of cruelty as to be an affront to the public conscience. Lord Dowding has mentioned the use of the Weinberg pen, which casts an animal automatically instead of the operation having to be carried out by human hands, as happens in some cases. It is true that there are about forty-nine slaughter-houses in this country under the authority of the Ministry of Food where slaughter according to the Jewish ritual takes place. The noble Lord was again correct in saying that seventeen of these are equipped with the Weinberg pen, and it should be on record that 80 per cent. of the Jewish meat requirement is obtained from those slaughter-houses which are equipped with the Weinberg pen. But His Majesty's Government have come to the conclusion that as soon as practicable the provision of beef to meet Jewish ration requirements shall be conditional on Jewish communities providing an approved casting pen for the ritual slaughter of cattle. I think that I may properly draw the attention of the Jewish community to this so that at the earliest possible moment they may make whatever arrangements are necessary.

The noble Lord, Lord Dowding, has dealt with the Moslem slaughter which presents a somewhat similar problem to that of the Jewish slaughter. There are about 500 to 600 sheep killed in Government slaughter-houses every week for Moslem consumption, and they are killed by the Jewish method. If the noble Lord has authentic information—as I gather he has—that the Moslem authorities in this country are prepared to agree to an alternative method of slaughter, then I shall be glad to receive that information to add to that already in our possession. His Majesty's Government will always be only too willing to listen to any representations in such a matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Dowding, and the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, both mentioned the Report for which I was partly responsible. I do not know whether I ought to be overcome with embarrassment because of the flattering remarks made by the noble Earl. However, I do not think that I can add anything to what has already been said. I agree with both the noble Lords. The whole question of the slaughtering, processing, manufacture and distribution in this country needs to be seriously overhauled. But, as my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture said recently in another place, the Report to which both noble Lords have referred raised issues of far-reaching importance, and the major proposals of the Committee needed further examination in the light of wider problems of procurement, marketing and distribution. Although a good deal of thought—the noble Lord used the term "intensive study"—is still being given to the recommendations, the situation remains the same at the moment. My right honourable friend went on to say that any legislation which His Majesty's Government are introducing, affecting agricultural marketing at the present time, will in no way prejudice any decision of the Government to bring in legislation based on anything in that Report.

The noble Lord, Lord Dowding, raised a question which I thought was rather wide of the Motion, but I would not like him to think me guilty of the discourtesy of not referring to it. He spoke of the castration of horses. Your Lordships will remember that when the Veterinary Surgeons Bill (now the Veterinary Surgeons Act) was before your Lordships' House, this particular subject was discussed at some length, and I myself was responsible for moving an Amendment to bring it under closer control. At the present time animals, ranging from two years for horses and six months for others, cannot be castrated over that age except by a veterinary surgeon or a veterinary practitioner. That is where the matter stands to-day. If it is considered that this needs revising, then the proper representations will have to be made to the appropriate authorities. I think I have answered the main points and that there is nothing more I can usefully add. I will not deal in detail with all the points raised by the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, because they were somewhat wide of this Motion and I think the remarks I have made cover in substance what he said. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, will feel more satisfied on this occasion than he has felt on others, and that I am not being unreasonable if I ask him, in view of what I have said, to withdraw his Motion.

6.41 p.m.


My Lords, I would like briefly to answer one or two points in the very courteous and full reply which I have received from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. His first point is the impossibility of enforcing any general prohibition of killing without preliminary stunning outside slaughter-houses. The same answer was given to me last year, but I do not find it altogether a convincing one. After all, the majority of people in this country are law-abiding, and if by a regulation of that sort we could ensure that 80 to 90 per cent. of the people carried out the instructions, that would be all to the good. On the other hand, we went for many years under the most ridiculous motoring laws which made every motorist an offender. I am not suggesting that that was a good thing. The point I want to make, very strongly, is this: If the Government will not order it, will they not at the time when they issue the licence advise the licensee that the licensed slaughterer should, if possible, use the pistol, give him the address of the nearest officer of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and advise him that he can get it on loan free of charge? That is all I am asking. If the Home Secretary is adamant on the subject of this pistol, I have no more to say—on this occasion at any rate.

I cannot accept the argument that an order for the preliminary stunning of animals would deprive Jews of their supply of meat, because the ritual slaughter can go on in all its details after the stunning has been applied. I am glad to hear that it is contemplated that the continuation of Jewish ritual slaughter shall be made conditional on the provision of casting pens. I think that if His Majesty's Government will make contact with the Chief Rabbi, they will find him very amenable in that respect. As regards Moslem killing, I will supply my noble friend with a copy of the actual document which I believe was put up as a poster on the wall of the Woking Mosque. I will not detain your Lordships with any discussion about castration of horses. I did not mean to introduce it into the debate and gave it merely as an instance of cruelty where there seems to be some object, so that one can understand, if one cannot condone, it. The point is that there is nobody who benefits from this cruelty of slaughtering in full consciousness of these poor animals outside the slaughter-house. With that, if I may be permitted to do so, I desire to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.