HL Deb 16 November 1950 vol 169 cc365-86

4.28 p.m.

LORD DOWDING rose to invite attention to some aspects of the slaughter of animals for food; to ask His Majesty's Government to remedy the defects; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, twice in the last three years have I been privileged to address your Lordships' House on the subject of humanity in the process of slaughtering animals for food. On each occasion a concession has been made. In the first instance, after I spoke in March, 1948, the concession was made that all animals killed in slaughterhouses, with the exception of those killed in accordance with the Jewish rite, must now be stunned before being killed. Up to that time the decision had been left with the local authorities, and although most local authorities had afforded this protection to sheep and lambs, there were, I think, thirty-one who had not done so, and an order was made making it compulsory. In February, 1949, an undertaking was given that those animals which were killed in accordance with the Kosher rite by Jewish slaughterers must first be enclosed in an approved type of casting-pen. That was a great concession, because it obviated the terrible struggle which, before that time, went on in the process of preparing an animal for killing. I am afraid that I speak as if I had brought about these things. That is not so. I wish to express my appreciation of the noble Lords who supported me on those occasions and who helped to obtain those concessions. I am indeed grateful for the concessions which I have mentioned, but there is still much to be done in this matter of humane slaughter before we, as a nation, can be satisfied that all is well.

The outstanding matter at present is the unnecessary suffering which is inflicted on animals which are killed out-side slaughterhouses on farms and on private property. The number of these animals is very large. When I spoke previously, the number was accepted as about 450,000 a year. It may well be that the number is somewhat smaller to-day, but exact statistics are not very important in this connection, provided it is realised that the number runs into hundreds of thousands. There is no law which prevents these animals being knifed during full consciousness, and in fact this is the fate of most of them. Pigs, of course, preponderate in numbers. I say, with all emphasis, that this situation is a blot on our humanity and on our civilisation. I am quite certain that the noble Earl who is to reply to this debate, and the three Ministers who share the responsibility for this state of affairs, agree with me thoroughly in principle, for it has already been recognised, in so far as stunning before killing has been made obligatory in those slaughterhouses which are under Government control.

So far as I can see, the difficulties in the way of granting the request I have to make are purely administrative. The general objection is on the ground that these animals are killed all over the country, often in out-of-the-way places which are difficult of access. It is objected that it is quite impossible by any system of supervision to ensure that such an order would be completely carried out; that it is a bad principle to introduce a law or an order which cannot be fully en-forced, and that therefore no such order can be made. I think I have stated that fairly.

I have two answers to that argument. The first is one of principle. I think the salient point is: Who is it that suffers if a law or an order is not completely enforced? The outstanding instance of a thoroughly bad law in this connection was that of the old 20 rules per hour maximum limit for motor cars. The law was so absurd that it was broken by almost every motorist every time he took out his car. The result was that the law became a dead letter, and the public lost the protection which it was intended to afford them. Another instance that one might take is that of the Customs and Excise regulations. It is impossible to enforce these absolutely. Smuggling will take place, whatever efforts are made to check it. But it would not be sensible on that account to say that the Customs and Excise regulations should be abrogated. In the case of the slaughter of animals, however, I maintain that those conditions do not arise.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that an order was promulgated and that it was evaded in as many as 20 per cent. of the cases of animal slaughter: even so, nobody would be worse off than in the present circumstances, and the 80 per cent. of the animals that were slaughtered would meet a merciful death instead of one of excruciating agony. I do not see any probability of mass evasion of such an order if it were promulgated. The English are naturally law-abiding and inclined to be kind-hearted, if their amusements or their pockets are not too deeply touched. My second answer is that this kind of order can be introduced without difficulty by the authorities, when it suits their book to do so in this connection. They had no hesitation in issuing an order which took away the right of the private owner to kill his own animals except by authority from the food office. That, of course, was an order to safeguard our rations, and I am not criticising it. I am saying only that when it suits the authorities themselves that they should issue such an order, they can do so.

The next objection which is raised is that the humane-killer, the captive bolt pistol, is expensive for small stock owners. As I expect most of your Lordships are aware, the captive bolt pistol is a kind of pistol which, instead of firing a bullet, fires a small bolt, about half an inch or three-quarters of an inch in diameter, which protrudes about one inch from the muzzle of the pistol, and which therefore, in most people's opinion, is a very safe weapon to use. But the captive bolt pistol at present costs eight guineas, and it is no doubt a fact that it would be a hard-ship for small owners, people who kill one or two animals a year only, to order them to purchase such a pistol. But the R.S.P.C.A. and one or two other animal protection societies have stocks of these pistols, which they are prepared to lend to people who have the occasional necessity to kill an animal, and I am told that sometimes the R.S.P.C.A. inspectors will even consent to perform that work themselves for the benefit of the owner.

It is also objected that the captive bolt pistol is dangerous, and that at present anybody who operates one of these pistols has to provide himself with a firearms licence. In my opinion, the captive bolt pistol is a completely innocuous weapon, except for the special purposes for which it has been devised. Its range of action is one inch, and in that circumstance I should have said that a kitchen poker was a much more formidable weapon. I have been told that two slaughter-men have committed suicide with these weapons. If that is used as a basis for argument, then nobody should be allowed to own a gas oven without a licence. I must say, in all fairness, that the business of getting a firearms licence for this purpose has been made as easy as possible. For this purpose a firearms licence is issued gratuitously, and the form can be obtained from the village constable, so the business of getting the licence has been made as cheap and as simple as possible. I do not lay too much stress on this point, but it is one more little difficulty that prevents people from voluntarily using the humane-killer when their animals are slaughtered.

Another objection is that the process of using the humane-killer is complicated and requires training on the part of the slaughterer. As a matter of fact, the process is simple and the pistol is very reliable if kept clean; but the operator must know accurately where the brain of the animal is situated, because if he uses the pistol not quite on the right spot the stunning will not be complete. I should like to make this constructive suggestion—namely, that the use of the captive bolt pistol, or some other approved stunning apparatus, should be made compulsory, and that when he makes his application the owner of the stock should declare that the person who is going to slaughter the animal is competent to use the humane-killer. In the case of both private owners and pig clubs it is necessary that the name of the person who is to do the killing should be entered on the form. All that one is asking, there-fore, is that the humane-killer should be used, and that the person who makes the application should state that the per-former is competent to use it.

My next point is with regard to the serious shortage of slaughterhouses, and the consequent sufferings of the animals slaughtered during the peak season. Before the war, there were 17,600 slaughter-houses in England and Wales, but at the time when I spoke in March, 1948, that number had been reduced to only 600. The noble Earl who replied on that occasion was rather surprised that I should consider this to be a reactionary step. He said that he would have thought that inspection was the first elementary step to improvement. In February, 1949, the question was raised again, and supported by the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who replied on that occasion, said that the average number of animals slaughtered per week throughout ten months of the year was 25,000, but that during the months of October and November the average number slaughtered per week was 126,000-or more than five times the average for the rest of the year. The noble Lord said: You cannot have four out of every five highly-skilled slaughter-men standing idle for ten months. …

The same attitude was taken by Doctor Edith Summerskill when she was good enough to grant me an interview on the same subject. What I am saying to-day is not in any sense political, nor do I wish to start recrimination in any form. However, it seems to me that this is a good instance of the inflexibility of Government control. It may well be—I have no doubt it was the case—that at the time when all these slaughterhouses were in private hands many of them were thoroughly unsatisfactory. But there was this to be said: that they were capable of dealing with the slaughter of animals during the peak periods, which is not the case today. I believe that under private enterprise various devices would be employed to increase the number of slaughter-men during the time when they are so badly needed.

The present situation can be described only as heart-rending. The R.S.P.C.A. have given me a paper which contains a condensation of the reports of some of their inspectors during this peak period of killing, which was, I believe, issued to the newspapers. The newspapers, of course, cannot do very much about these things nowadays, owing to the great shortage of newsprint, and I believe that their attitude generally would be more concerned with maintaining the meat ration for the nation. I do not in any way deprecate the importance of that, but my own interest is much more with these poor animals which are queueing up awaiting their turn to be killed. As I say, the newspapers have not been able to deal with this matter at any length, and, therefore, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to read a few-extracts from the reports of the R.S.P.C.A. inspectors. On October 12 one of their inspectors writes: Six hundred bullocks and heifers were sent to one abattoir which has accommodation for only 250 head of cattle. I have seen with my own eyes the carcases of meat hung up in abattoirs with the sides all lacerated, and when I asked I was told that the terrible injuries so exposed on the carouses of the skinned beasts had been caused by the horns of other beasts in the chronic crowded conditions that existed in he abattoir field.

On October 13 another inspector writes: In one half of this area "—

that is fifty acres— I saw approximately 500 head of cattle. They were all Irish bullocks and heifers. All were standing up, most of them mooing continually, none were chewing the cud and all were hollow in the flanks. There is no grass growing nor is any other kind of foodstuff provided for them. The place is well nigh waterlogged. Most of he cattle were standing near the fencing, paddling about in a quagmire of mud some six inches deep. They were the most miserable objects I have seen for many a long day. …I got over the fencing and searched these hutments and the ground. I could find no trace whatever of any foodstuff ever having been in any part of the place. It was clear to me that these cattle when first put in this place were really first-class, prime beasts. Had they not been they certainly could not have stood up to these conditions as they had done. There is no shelter or cover of any kind for these cattle against the weather. The conditions here can only be described as appalling and disgraceful. The cattle are all graded beasts, the property of the Ministry of Food.

Another inspector, on October 7, writes: Although the abattoir managers and superintendents have strongly protested and refused to take any further supply of livestock, the animals are still sent to these abattoirs by the Ministry.

These reports are available if required, and I am told that the R.S.P.C.A. have another series which are still more damaging. At the time when I spoke they were under discussion with the Minister of Food and were not available to me, but they will certainly be available if any Government Department are interested in asking for them.

The next thing I want to ask is: What is really being done about the Lucas Report? It is now just about three years old. I have asked about this Report twice before, and I have received replies that the Report was being considered, that it raised important questions of principle, and so on. But no concrete information was vouchsafed about it. What I want to know is whether the Government are trying to do anything about this, or whether it is really a case of their playing out time on a sticky wicket. I must also mention the question of Jewish and Moslem slaughter—not that I am going to press that matter to-day, but I want it to be on record that this question, so far as I am concerned, is still a live issue. As I said before, I am very grateful for the concession about the use of the casting-pen. Half a loaf is better than no bread, and this is a very generous half-loaf. The fact of the matter is that, as conditions are to-day, I am simply not prepared to bring against the Jews and the Moslems an accusation of cruelty until we ourselves have set our house in order, and until our methods are examples which can be followed by any progressive and en-lightened people.

I am not suggesting that the Minister of Food, the Minister of Health and the Home Secretary are callous people, who are not moved by stories of cruelty, or that their subordinates, either high or low, are such people. I think the present situation is due partly to overlapping responsibility and divided control; and that is a mitigation. But failure to remedy these defects after they have been pointed out seems to me to be due entirely to apathy and inertia. They do not formulate the words, but they say in their minds: "What does it matter? They are only animals. We have more important things to think about." I have been re-reading my former speeches in this House, and I am afraid that parts of them read rather like a sermon, which I am sure is a great mistake. But I have this sure conviction: that our treatment of animals is much more important than is realised by the man in the street. He knows that animals have no votes and no trade unions, and he believes that they have no continuing existence after physical death. Few people, I think, are aware of the extent to which our treatment of animals impinges on human life and evolution. But surely we have no need to be swayed to kindness by fear of the effects of unkindness. Surely we can be actuated by motives more positive, so that when the time comes when we demand the lives of these our servants we shall ensure, even at the cost of a little energy and money, that their death is attended by as little pain and terror as we can possibly contrive. I beg to move for Papers.

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support what the noble and gallant Lord has just been saying, because I feel, and have felt for a long time, that this question of the slaughter of animals is one to which insufficient attention has been paid. In the course of my medical education, when I was proposing to take a diploma in public health, I had, as one of my obligatory duties, to attend a large slaughterhouse in London and see the whole processes, where the animals were kept and how they were slaughtered. I was young at the time, and in my opinion not over-sensitive, but the effect of the spectacle that I saw was to make me vow, not from any moral conviction but merely from the æesthetics of the thing, that I would never in any circumstances eat meat again. I did not keep the vow. However, I did remain a strict vegetarian for six months.

I can assure your Lordships that conditions in which animals are slaughtered now—as has just been said by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding—cannot possibly be good, in view of the tremendous overcrowding to which he has drawn attention. It seems to me that this is not a very large matter. I believe that it is not that we are careless about it—in fact I think we all have a rather guilty conscience about it. It is one of those unpleasant things which we know goes on. and we just turn our heads away and do not let ourselves realise what is happening. If animals are to be killed for food—and that certainly is something which will go on for a very long time in this world— then, as the noble and gallant Lord has pointed out, they ought to be killed in the most humane manner possible, and in a way which would not revolt any of your Lordships, as you would be revolted if you went and saw the process going on at the present time.

Undoubtedly, that will involve a certain amount of reorganisation, I do not propose to make a long speech on this matter, but I should like to know what is the Government's attitude with regard to the figures which Lord Dowding quoted—that there were formerly 17,000 slaughter-houses and there are now 600, and that in the peak season, in the conditions which the noble Lord so graphically described, animals are kept waiting so closely together that they gore each other's bodies and rip each other's hide. It seems to me that this is a matter which can be put right without any great difficulty. I am sure that all of us in this House who have loved and do love animals—horses, dogs, cats and other creatures—wish to see that the animals which are the source of so much of our food supply, when they are slaughtered are slaughtered in a humane way.

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, this is the second time that I have had the privilege of supporting the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding, on this matter of slaughterhouses, a subject which should. I think, grip all decent-thinking people in this country. But I regret that it is also the second time that I must put to your Lordships almost exactly the same points, owing to the fact that His Majesty's Government seem unable to formulate any policy for the control of slaughtering of home produced meat. There must be some reason why such a policy cannot be produced. Finance has been put forward as a reason, but I do not consider we can accept it. The slaughtering of animals is a very profitable industry, whether carried on privately or by public enterprise. Should His Majesty's Government see fit to allow any ordinary individual, company or local authority to set up their own slaughterhouses, operated under the auspices, if need be, of a Ministry, there are plenty of individuals and authorities who would be only too willing to embark on this enterprise. I can tell your Lord-ships, from my own experience as an operator of what your Lordships would call a knacker's yard, that there is a tremendous amount of money in even a diseased carcase of a dead animal—so much so, indeed, that a man will go out at practically any time of the day or night in order to retrieve such a carcase. There must be money there.

Is slaughtering in this country to be run from the centre—that is, the centre of population in the big cities where the meat is consumed—or is it to be carried out on a smaller scale in suitable centres in the countryside, where the meat is produced? That is the only problem that is before the three Ministries concerned to-day. If that problem can be solved, the entire question of humanity and efficiency in the slaughterhouse and the meat production industries of this country would be solved overnight. If His Majesty's Government can see fit to solve that problem, then all the distressing and horrible facts that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding, has repeatedly put before your Lordships will immediately disappear. It is not the actual process of slaughtering that is inhumane; it is all the beating and the driving of the animals, the shouting and so forth that goes on, and is bound to go on, in the heavily overworked slaughter-houses that exist to-day. As the noble Lord, Lord Dowding has said, there are now only some 600 slaughterhouses in this country, compared with 17,000 before the war. The Minister of Food is directly responsible for all those slaughterhouses which are, in fact, licensed premises, or if not directly responsible he is at least answerable for what goes on in those slaughterhouses.

For the most part, slaughterhouses in the country districts and in the large provincial centres are butchers' shops—they were, in fact, the better-class butchers' shops which existed before the war. I can give an instance of one butcher's shop which had accommodation to kill, say, three or four animals a day. That was the most it was ever designed for and the most it was ever needed or operated for. As such, it was efficient. But, with the advert of meat rationing and the Ministry of Food scheme, it was necessary during the war to kill fourteen animals a day, and, with the increase of meat production after the war, it is now necessary to kill over eighteen animals a day. That is an average—I do not know what the figure is at present in the peak killings. Presumably by this time next year the average figure will be doubled to something like thirty-two animals a day, in view of the calf subsidies and the grass fertiliser subsidies which will then be coming into operation. One has only to ride across the countryside in pursuit of foxhounds to notice on every side the increase in barbed wire which is needed to enclose new leys for the keeping in of home-produced bullocks. I think it would be fair to say that there is double the amount of beef-producing stock on the farms to-day compared with what there was two years ago.

There is one further problem—namely, the engagement of efficient slaughterhouse operators. If, owing to the lack of policy, this industry is allowed to carry on in its present state, there is a great danger that young men will not be attracted into the industry. It is a very simple matter to kill an animal. In fact, with the use of the captive bolt pistol that the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, has already mentioned, I fancy that any of your Lordships after, say, a week of watching and two or three days of practice would, on the third day, be able to kill a bullock outright with the first shot. It is the cutting up, the cleaning and the subsequent sorting of the various pieces of the carcase which take years and years of apprenticeship and can be learnt only in a slaughterhouse. One slaughter-man, a highly skilled craftsman, alone earns for this country thousands of pounds over the years, for hide, for bone manure and so forth, and all the by-products that come from the slaughterhouse. If there are not sufficient young men coming into this industry, not only will the increased meat ration not be killed and therefore not be available for our consumption, but the export trade presumably will also suffer, as leather will be ruined in the process of inefficient cutting and packing after the process of slaughtering.

This is the issue upon which I hope the noble Earl opposite will be able to assure me when he replies to this debate: Will His Majesty's Government in the very near future be able to formulate some policy and decide whether centralised slaughtering in the eating areas is to be preferred to decentralised slaughtering in the producing areas? If His Majesty's Government can give an answer to that problem, then private individuals, local authorities and large companies will be able to carry out efficient slaughtering, which is in fact humane slaughtering. That is proved by a visit to any large slaughterhouse where specialised equipment is used on a large scale, where there is no noise, no beating and no driving of the animals. The animal walks up, is slaughtered, and within five or ten minutes is cut up into meat and into the various by-products. There is no cruelty there. I am quite certain that it is the duty of His Majesty's Government to give us a lead on this vital point for the security of the country.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to say first a word of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, for raising this issue, which I think is an extremely valuable one for your Lordships to hear and discuss. Secondly, I personally should like to express my gratitude for the fact that he gave me advance notice of what he was going to say, which makes it very much easier for a Minister when he comes to reply. I think all your Lordships will join with me in acknowledging the persistence and courage with which Lord Dowding has pursued his crusade on behalf of animals. I should also like, if possible, to convince him by the end of this afternoon that both His Majesty's Government and the officials who are responsible in this matter are not so callous or indifferent to it as might be inferred from his speech. The noble Lord, Lord Haden-Guest, really put his finger on the crux of the matter when he said that so long as man persists in eating meat, so long shall we have these problems of slaughtering and, to a certain extent, the fear and pain which are very likely to arise. I will deal with that point a little later. But in any case, I think I can speak wholeheartedly for His Majesty's Government in saying that it is the duty of the people in charge of the slaughtering of animals to see, so far as possible, that suffering and fear are eliminated. That is obviously a duty to which we must apply ourselves, and I can assure the noble Lord that that is the principle upon which we work, and that those are the feelings which animate us in dealing with what is a difficult problem.

I want now to go on to the noble Lord's speech, and to deal with the various points which he raised very lucidly and fully this afternoon. I join issue with the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, on the first point with which the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, dealt—namely, about animals which are not sent to slaughterhouses but are killed on private estates or farms throughout the country. There is a large amount of killing in that way. Roughly speaking, the licences granted number somewhere between 600,000 and 700,000 a year. These killings are by private farmers or their employees, mostly, as Lord Dowding has said, by a knife. His suggestion was to make the humane-killer —and I understand he is referring exclusively to the captive bolt pistol—


Either with that or with the electric stunner, if that happened to be available.


I do not think the electric stunner would be available in country districts; that is really not practicable outside the slaughterhouse. But the captive bolt pistol, as the noble Lord pointed out, is a small pistol which fires a cartridge, and which one can easily learn to use. My answer to that proposal, as the noble Lord fore-saw, is that it is quite impossible to enforce its use. It is true that to a large extent we can control the licences in regard to how many animals are killed. We can send an inspector at any time to a farm to find out how many pigs the man has, and whether he is killing more than will ultimately be declared; but we cannot send an inspector every time an animal is killed on a remote farm. Each farmer would have to get in touch with the inspector and say, "At 9.30 on Thursday morning we are going to kill an animal." I think your Lordships will realise that it is impossible to carry out a policing measure such as would be involved.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding, pursues his argument on this ground He says that although that may be true, if such a law were passed, and if it were made compulsory for a humane-killer to be used, even though the law could not be enforced its moral force would persuade a large proportion of people to use a humane-killer. I think that was the burden of his argument— that on the whole we are a law-abiding people, and that if there were a law making the use of a humane-killer compulsory, then, even though there was no chance of enforcing it, at least a large proportion of animals which are not stunned at present might be stunned in the future. The answer to that is fundamental. I hope the noble Lord will believe me when I say that I am sympathetic to his Motion, but I am only putting the practical difficulties and views as the Government must see them.

Any Government—ours as much as any other—is extremely reluctant to make a law which cannot be enforced. I remember being at some time in a country, which shall be nameless, where a law was introduced against the drinking of alcohol. As a result, it became quite impossible to enforce this law, which I do not think was ever popular, and there was brought about a state of affairs where people were drinking alcohol illegally and the purveyors of alcohol, the distributors and retailers, were all illegally smuggling it into the country. Then rival interests quarrelled; the matter could not be brought to the courts; and the dispute had to be shot out with pistols and machine-guns. Of course, that is an extreme example, and I do not suggest for one moment that it would arise here. But I am using it only as an illustration of why the Government would be most reluctant to bring in something that admittedly it would be impossible to enforce.


Perhaps the noble Earl will ask some of his colleagues who make regulations to read his admirable speech.


Now I should like to examine the position as it is to-day. When a farmer, or whoever it may be, applies for a licence, there appears on the licence the proviso that the licensee is not exempted from obligation under various Acts relating to the slaughter of animals. That is a measure of reminder that cruelty to animals is a punishable offence, and must not take place. Moreover, in the local offices of the Ministry of Food notices are put up giving the address of the R.S.P.C.A. from which a humane stunner may be borrowed. It is true that in order to use it he must have the permission of the police. The noble Lord, Lord Dowding, may argue: "That is all very well, but in practice a person who goes into an office of that sort does not look around and see all the notices that are posted up." In this connection, we are doing something which I hope will please the noble Lord. He said in the early part of his speech that each time he had spoken previously he had obtained some concession from the Government. We propose now to give him a further concession, and I hope that he will agree with it and appreciate it. The Ministry of Food will undertake in future to attach to each self-supplier's licence in cases where slaughter is to take place outside a slaughterhouse, a slip which will give information as to where a humane-stunner can be obtained. As the noble Lord said, very often the R.S.P.C.A. inspector will carry out the killing if asked to do so by people who are unfamiliar with the weapon.

I still think that the fundamental basis for tackling this problem, if we are going to tackle it successfully, is education and propaganda. If once we can get public opinion on our side, if once we can get it universally realised that it is a horrible thing to cause pain and suffering to animals, we shall have gone a long way towards solving the problem. We must recognise, I think, that the local squires no longer exist in such numbers as they used to do, and therefore we must find some other medium for spreading information on this matter. Certainly I feel that we must try to get this humane doctrine preached in the schools. I am sure it is a doctrine with which all your Lordships will agree, and I should like to say now, on behalf of the Government, that we are always willing to listen to the noble Lord and to examine any further suggestions which he can make in this respect.

My second point relates to the question of the captive bolt pistol for which, as the noble Lord says, a firearms certificate has to be obtained when it is used outside slaughterhouses and knackers' yards. He says that the necessity of having to obtain a certificate often deters people from using this weapon. I agree with the noble Lord that it is not a very lethal weapon, in the sense that it is not likely to be of much use in the hands of a criminal; an ordinary poker, I think, would be far more dangerous. But in regard to the noble Lord's request to exempt this device from the need for a firearms certificate, in the circumstances which he has mentioned, we are in a difficulty. Under the Firearms Act of 1937 (your Lordships will understand that this is really a matter for the Home Secretary, and not one for my Department or the Ministry of Food) this kind of weapon is called a lethal weapon, and the Home Secretary takes the view—and I think he is right—that he has no power to exempt it from the need for a firearms certificate. In order to do so there would have to be amending legislation; we should have to bring in a new Act of Parliament. The noble Lord will have to make out a very strong case indeed, in view of the circumstances which exist to-day, before we can go to the length of bringing in a new Bill.

There is the point that firearms certificates for this purpose are issued free of charge, and once they are issued they last for three years. I wonder whether the noble Lord would not agree, on reflection, that the factor which tends chiefly to deter a small farmer from using this particular instrument is the cost of buying it—a matter of eight guineas. I think that is much more likely to deter him than the mere trouble of going to the local constable and saying: "May I have a certificate?" I do not think the need for doing that really bothers the farmer very much.


My Lords, may I intervene at this point to ask one question? Is it the case that each time a man takes out a licence for slaughtering he needs a fresh firearms certificate if he wishes to use one of these humane-killers? Does he have to take out a certificate for each pistol that he uses, or does the certificate last for three years, irrespective of the number of occasions on which he may borrow a pistol for use in slaughtering animals?


That is a technical point, and I am not too sure of the answer. But as I understand the position, the man goes once and obtains a certificate, which remains in force for three years, no matter how many slaughtering operations may be performed. Whether or not that applies to only one humane-killer I cannot say. I should imagine that it would apply to more than one, and that it would enable a man to use any instrument of that type. But I cannot give a definite answer on that point without consulting my right honourable friend.

Now we come to a much more fundamental question, and one in which I think all your Lordships are much more interested—that is the question of the number of slaughterhouses, and the congestion which sometimes occurs at such places. We know of the sufferings of animals which are driven in large numbers to be slaughtered, and of the congestion found on occasions in some of these places. Lord Dowding has given us some very horrifying descriptions of what R.S.P.C.A. inspectors say they discovered in some of those establishments. I must point out at once that I am in a rather difficult position in dealing with the particular cases, because, as I think the noble Lord mentioned, the Ministry of Food are at the moment conducting discussions with the R.S.P.O.A on this very subject. These and other cases which have been alleged are being considered and looked into. Before the final results of those discussions are known, and before a final report is issued, it would clearly be improper for me to deal with these cases.


My Lords, I think that both Lord Dowding and myself have made it clear that these are not particular cases. These things are happening every day in slaughterhouses, except in very exceptional ones. Surely it would be better to carry out an inquiry in places where the situation is known to be all that can be desired—that is, where slaughtering is carried on humanely and efficiently—and then to take steps to extend these conditions generally.


As I have said, we are examining these and other cases, and in the circumstances it would clearly be wrong for me, while the discussions are going on, and before we have a report giving a final picture of what may or may not have happened, to go into the matter now.

But putting aside these matters and getting back to the general question, as I think has already been said this after-noon, responsibility for the slaughter-houses does rest, generally speaking, on the Ministry of Food and the slaughtering contractors who are directly responsible for looking after the animals and providing bedding and fodder. The arrangements are supervised, I am informed, by the Ministry of Food slaughterhouse managers. Visits of inspection are also paid frequently by the Ministry's area officers. That is the general setup. I should like to point out that the Ministry of Food are most anxious that any cruelty of this kind, if it does exist, should be dealt with and eliminated. I think that one of the most hopeful signs in that connection is the very cordial relationship which exists between the Ministry of Food officials and the R.S.P.C.A. As I am told (again of course this is not a matter in which my Department is concerned), instead of there being a hostile atmosphere of any kind, or attacks made by the R.S.P.C.A. on the Ministry of Food, they have in most cases managed to get together, saying in effect: "What is the position? Let us find out if these abuses are going on and what is the best way of tackling them. "I think that that is one of the best auguries for the future which we could possibly have. I should like to take this opportunity of paying a tribute—and I am sure that all your Lordships will join with me in this—to the R.S.P.C.A. for the magnificent work which they do. It is self-less, devoted and hard work, and it has done a tremendous amount of good. I need hardly add that the work has the fullest sympathy and support of His Majesty's Government.

Returning once more to the main question, that of the actual slaughterhouses, they have been reduced in number from roughly 16,000 to a little over 600-that is to say, there are low 600 slaughter-houses under control and inspection. I still stick to my point of view which I expressed in a previous debate, that the reduction is a step in the right direction. The real difficulty is that for ten months of the year these provisions are more or less adequate, but for two months, roughly speaking, during the peak period of the killings, it is almost impossible to see that they are efficiently carried out. The problem is one of staff, accommodation, the general layout of slaughterhouses and their organisation. After the previous debate we had on this subject the Ministry of Food Area Officers undertook an examination to see whether we could bring back into use some of the old slaughterhouses in order to ease the situation. In their investigation they consulted the area advisory committees, which consist of farmers, slaughter-men, butchers and others connected with the trade, and whose task it is to advise the Minister of Food on how to conduct the slaughter of animals more efficiently. After extensive examination, it was found that it only nine of the old slaughterhouses could be brought back into use., and that has been done. The difficulty is that with the limited number of skilled slaughterers which we have to-day, if we extended this re-introduction of old Slaughterhouses too widely, we might not add to our slaughtering capacity but actually reduce it.

The read difficulty is the peak period. One way of tackling this is to try and spread the killings more evenly through-out the year. The noble and gallant Lord said that in 1948 five times as many animals were slaughtered in the peak period as in the slack period. By means of price differentials, that has already been reduced to only three and a half times in 1950, which obviously helps considerably. Possibly more can be done on those lines in the future. But the real solution is still man-power and efficient premises. To deal with the latter problem we are starting, as a beginning, two experimental slaughterhouses, one at Fareham near Southampton and the other at Guildford. We must wait to see if these will prove to be the right prototypes for the extensions which we hope to undertake. Your Lordships must realise that we are envisaging a big building programme and in the condition the country is in just now we do not want to make mistakes. The noble and gallant Lord asked about the Lucas Report and what we were doing about it. The truth of the matter is that the subject of slaughtering forms a very small part of that Report, which deals with marketing, distribution and the siting of markets, a point which the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, raised. The recommendations of the Lucas Report affect food and food distribution fundamentally—so fundamentally that the necessary preliminary research work on their implementation has been going on for about three years. Any suggestion to alter those plans becomes an immense question. The recommendations cannot be implemented, and we cannot take decisions on them, out of hand. We are aware of the necessity of reform in many respects. The provision of more buildings and more equipment is being actively examined, but it is not a matter of over-night decision and performance.

Lastly, I should like to say a word on the question of ritual slaughtering in the Jewish and Mohammedan communities which was raised by the noble and gallant Lord. It is true that some of us abhor certain practices in relation to ritual killing, but once we begin to go into questions of religious belief we get into deep waters. While so many of our foodstuffs are scarce and are either rationed or expensive, the Minister of Food cannot prohibit this type of slaughter. I think the noble and gallant Lord made a good point when he said that before we criticise too much we should put our own house in order. I am afraid I have detained your Lordships but I have tried to cover the ground as far as I could. I wish I could give a more concrete account of what we are doing. I desire again to express admiration of the persistence and the moral courage of the noble and gallant Lord in pressing this matter; nothing but benefit can come from it to the animal kingdom. I hope I have succeeded in showing him that it is not any lack of response or callousness, on the part of either the Government or their officials, which is hindering any possible reform. There are real problems and real difficulties which face us whenever we try to remove fear and pain, whether it is in the animal or in the human kingdom.

5.37 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to start, if I may, by thanking my supporters for what they have said this afternoon. It is always pleasant not to be entirely a lone wolf in these matters. Then I want to go on and thank the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, for his full and sympathetic reply. He said something about thanking me for giving him advance notice of what I was going to say, but that seems to be an elementary precaution. If one desires an answer to a question, it seems only reasonable to give plenty of notice beforehand, so that one may receive a reasoned and sensible answer; and that is what I have received to-day. Even if I have not got what I wanted now, there is a Chinese proverb which says: Softly, softly, catchee monkey. I do not propose to go on niggling and arguing about details. Big principles are involved. I want to take the promising things which have emerged from this debate and try to follow them up.

The first thing I have to accept is that for the time being the use of the humane-killer will not be made obligatory. The problem is, how can we make it as extensive as possible on a voluntary basis? We are agreed about that, are we not? The noble Earl said that if one goes to a food office and asks for a licence to kill an animal, one will see on the wall a notice informing the public where humane-killers may be obtained on loan. Perhaps I was unlucky, because I went into our own local food office and said that I wanted a form for a licence to kill a pig. They asked me whether I represented a pig club, and I said that if possible I should like to see both forms. They showed me the forms. It was not that I failed to see the notice on the wall because of the multiplicity of notices; it just was not there. So that system is not working universally at present. We have this valuable concession that a slip of paper will be fastened on to the licence, I hope I may say recommending the use of a humane-killer, but at any rate saying where it may be obtained. I should deem it a privilege to be allowed to be consulted about the wording of that notice, and particularly to be used as an intermediary between the three or more animal protection societies, which are not working in the closest harmony with one another. I hope that the best form of wording will be adopted, and if my services are of any use in that connection I am only too ready and anxious to offer them.

The only other point I want to mention at this stage is in connection with the discussions that are going on between the R.S.P.C.A. and the food office in the matter of overcrowding. I naturally accept from the noble Earl that he cannot give me an answer on a matter which is stillsub judice, but if later I put down a Question on the subject I hope that I shall be informed of the outcome of these discussions.


I interrupt merely to say that if the noble Lord will put down a Question we will certainly do our best to answer it. There is no secrecy about these reports; it is just that they are sub judice. While I am on my feet I would say that we should like to know to which food office the noble Lord went, and also to tell him that we shall be glad to consult him on this matter of the animal protection societies.


It was the Wimbledon Food Office. I do not think I need detain your Lordships any longer. In view of the full answer which I have received, I beg leave, with your Lordships' permission, to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.