HL Deb 23 June 1953 vol 182 cc1175-86

3.58 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It has passed through all its stages in another place, and, having read the debates which there took place, I have been unable to find any real disagreement over its provisions. There were no Divisions at any stage of the Bill, and it is difficult to detect that there was any opposition at all to it. But of course it is my duty to satisfy your Lordships' House that this Bill ought to be passed.

In 1933, just twenty years ago, your Lordships passed into law the Slaughter of Animals Act, which was preceded, five years beforehand, by a similar Act which applied only to Scotland. Those Acts applied only to animals killed in slaughterhouses and knackers' yards—the former, slaughterhouses, applying to places where animals are killed to provide food for human beings and the latter, knackers' yards, to places where animals are killed for other purposes. It is now thought that that restriction was too narrow. There was at that time a good deal of opposition to the Bill which became law, but that opposition, as is so commonly found in these matters, has largely disappeared; and it is now thought that the operation of the Slaughter of Animals Acts should be widened. There was at that time, for example, a suggestion that the meat of an animal which had been killed by a humane killer was not as good as other meat. It is now recognised that there is absolutely nothing in that suggestion. I quote that merely as an illustration to show how these theories disappear in the course of time. I may also mention that in another place, on the Second Reading of this Bill, one honourable Member frankly confessed that, although he had strongly opposed the Bill in 1933, he was now fully persuaded that it was right; and he is a strong supporter of the Bill which I am moving. I am sure your Lordships will give credit to anyone who was so honest as to confess that he had changed his mind in that way.

This Bill applies to pigs killed outside slaughterhouses and knackers' yards, which hitherto have not been covered in any way. Up to now, the best that could be done—and it has been done—has been that advice has been given and even persuasion applied by the Ministry of Food to those about to kill pigs. For that, everyone has been grateful, but it was no more than advice and persuasion, and it is now urged that it should be made compulsory to use the humane killer. It is estimated that approximately 500,000 pigs are killed every year outside slaughterhouses and knackers' yards. Certainly, the number is very large, and it is likely to be larger still, when the rationing of food stuffs terminates, and there is complete freedom to pig-breeders to kill as many pigs as are required.

Your Lordships will probably not deny that there is cruelty in the old-fashioned method of killing pigs. I need not go into details, but surely it is unnecessary cruelty and, consequently, should be made illegal. The operative clause is Clause 1, paragraphs (a) and (b). These two paragraphs make it compulsory that a humane killer should be used for killing pigs outside the premises I have already mentioned. To that, there are two exceptions in the Bill. In the first place, there is an age limit. A pig of less than twelve weeks in age does not come within the operation of the Bill. The reason for that is that it would be impracticable to insist that pigs of any age, however small, should be killed with a humane killer—and for various reasons a large number of very small pigs are killed. A humane killer may be used on a very small pig without killing it or, in other cases, may result in injury to the operator. Secondly, there is a proviso creating exemption in the case of animals which, after killing, are to be used for experimental purposes. The reasons for that are that an animal killed by electricity may not always be suitable for certain experiments, and if it is desired to carry out an experiment on the brain of an animal, it may not be possible to carry out such an experiment, if it has been killed by a humane killer.

Your Lordships will probably be anxious to know whether there is a sufficient number of humane killers in the country readily available for those who wish to kill pigs. That is an important point. I have no hesitation in saying that we are perfectly satisfied that there is a sufficient number. More than that, there should be no appreciable cost to the man who wants to kill a pig—in fact, in almost every case, there will be no cost at all, because these instruments can be borrowed. They are freely available to be borrowed in every part of the country—certainly in England and Wales, and I have no doubt also in Scotland, because this Bill does apply to Scotland. Every inspector of the R.S.P.C.A. has at least one humane killer which can be lent readily to anyone who wants to kill a pig. Therefore, not only are these instruments readily available but there is no expense connected with their use. Furthermore, having made inquiries, I am satisfied that the manufacturers of these instruments have an ample supply of them which will be ready in a very short time.

Clause 2 of the Bill sets out penalties. These are the same as in the 1933 Act. Having regard to the change which has taken place in the value of money, I must admit that when I read the Bill it seemed to me at first as if the penalties were small. On the other hand, there is surely virtue in having penalties identical with those in the 1933 Act. Therefore, I support the figures set out in this clause. Clause 3 is the interpretation clause. I should like to draw your Lordships attention to Clause 4 (4) which provides that the Bill, when it becomes an Act, shall come into force on July 1, 1954— that is, twelve months hence. Your Lordships may wonder why there should be this delay. That date has been put in quite deliberately in order to make certain that there is ample time to obtain the necessary number of humane killers everywhere in the country—even in the most remote places—so that no one will then be able to say that he is being unduly rushed in this matter. That really is this Bill, and I commend it to your Lordships as a sane piece of legislation. It has been found, in the course of time and as the result of experience of the working of the 1933 Act, to be desirable, and I would almost say necessary, if we are to prevent unnecessary cruelty in this country. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Merthyr.)

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will agree that no one could more appropriately have commended this Bill to your Lordships than the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, whose concern for animals we all know so well. We on these Benches—I think I call still talk in the plural—welcome this second Bill dealing with agricultural matters, because it establishes the right of the backyard pig to humane treatment. There is no reason at all why a pig killed in a slaughter house or a knacker's yard should suffer less than a pig killed on its owner's premises. This Bill will give the home-killed pig the same protection in law as other pigs already have. I need hardly remind your Lordships that we, as Socialists, believe in equality among pigs as well as men. We are glad to think that this is a measure which will put an end to much unnecessary suffering that goes on at the present time.

Again, as the noble Lord pointed out—and perhaps I might emphasise the point because I think it is of importance—our expanding pig population makes this Bill particularly urgent. More pigs were slaughtered in 1952 than in 1951, and it is likely that still more will be reared and killed after feeding stuffs have been freed later on in the year. We can get a rapid increase in our supply of home-killed meat—which is something that everyone wants—only by increasing our pig population, and in order to do this we want to encourage the keeping of pigs by the whole farming community, from the pig farmers, who rear their animals for pork and also to send to the bacon factories, right down to the smallholder and the small farmer who kill their own pigs. But as more of these small men keep pigs in the future then the protection provided by this Bill will be all the more necessary.

Of course, the practical effect of the Bill will depend on its enforcement, and I very much doubt whether it can be successfully enforced unless we can persuade public opinion in the countryside that brutality to pigs is just as detestable as brutality to horses and dogs. I am sure the Government will be in agreement with this plea. I hope they will do all they can to draw the attention of the farming community to the broad principles on which this Bill is based and to the particular provisions about humane slaughter. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will be able to say whether he intends to try and enlist the support of the National Farmers' Union and its local branches, and whether also he is considering the desirability of notifying the county agricultural committees and asking them to notify their district committees.

There are two questions I should like to ask someone connected with the Bill: I am not quite certain whether I should address them to the noble Lord who is promoting the Bill or to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who has no responsibility for it but apparently an immeasurable fund of information about it. Under Clause 4 (2) the Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland. Of course, we should all agree that it is for the Government of Northern Ireland to decide whether or not they wish to legislate on any matter which is within their domestic jurisdiction, but I should like to know whether Northern Ireland has been consulted about this matter and whether any views have been expressed by the Government of Northern Ireland.

My second question was answered in part by what the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, said towards the end of his speech. I wanted to ask: why this curiously long delay in the application of the Bill after it becomes law? Why have we to wait for twelve months? The noble Lord said it is on account of the provision of these instruments for humane slaughter. Everyone who has been connected with a Government Department realises that administrative arrangements have to be made very carefully and well in advance if a Bill is to become effective, but I cannot help regretting this delay of twelve months, because with every month that passes the provisions of the Bill become more urgent. I should like the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Lord who is promoting the Bill to consider the possibility of reducing the period before the Bill becomes effective, even if it be only by a few months. It may not be possible to bring the Bill into effect at the beginning of next year, but perhaps it may be possible to do so three months earlier than is at present provided, say, in the spring of next year. I am certain that the benefits of the Bill will be greatly increased if those concerned with the administration of it would make a special effort to see that the necessary preparations are made in less than a year from now. I warmly commend the Bill and I hope your Lordships will feel that it should have a speedy passage through the House.

4.14 p.m.


My Lords, I most heartily congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, upon bringing this Bill before your Lordships' House. I am very happy about it, because on three occasions I have spoken on this subject and I am sorry to say I obtained little satisfaction. When addressing the Labour Government I did not find that their concern for pigs was equal to their concern for other animals, as we have heard from the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. But I am only too delighted that others have succeeded where I have failed.

I have just two points to make. One has already been raised—that is, the question of the delay of twelve months in bringing the Bill into effect. The noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, assured us to-day that there is an adequate number of humane killers available in the country. If that is a little doubtful, surely another six months should be sufficient to bring the number up to the required standard. So I would ask him, if he would, to reconsider that point and make the Bill effective, let us say, at the end of this year. The other point I wanted to raise was the question of the slaughter of sheep outside slaughter houses. It may be that it is impossible to extend the protection in this Bill to sheep. Although the slaughter of sheep outside slaughter houses is not very common now, it may be that when the rationing of food is lifted, a considerable number of sheep will be slaughtered on farms, as I believe was the case before rationing was brought in. Having raised these two points, I reiterate my own great pleasure that at last this much-needed reform is, I hope, to be brought about.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, I warmly support this Bill. The great puzzle to me is that we have had to wait until 1953 for such a Bill to be passed through Parliament I have a lively recollection of when I was standing as a candidate for another place, for the South Wilts Division, more than forty years ago. A dominant lady, the late Duchess of Hamilton, to whom in this connection all credit should be paid, not only emphasised the enormous importance of using a humane killer in the process of slaughtering pigs, but warned me that I should have a very poor chance of being returned if she started a campaign against me on this subject. I was wholly convinced by her crusade, and subsequently, when I found myself the second largest owner of pigs in the country and also the owner of a private bacon factory, I was very careful indeed to adopt the system which is apparently embodied in this Bill.

I am bound to confess I am not at all up to date and I am going to ask the noble Lord whether he will kindly answer one question which puzzles me. In the old clays I remember that the great objection on the part of butchers and bacon factors to the use of a humane killer was that unless death took place instantaneously, what was called "blood splash" developed in the fibres of the flesh of the pig. I believe that electricity is now used in this connection. But I notice that Clause 1 of the Bill says: No pig exceeding twelve weeks in age shall be slaughtered in any place other than a slaughterhouse or knacker's yard unless—

  1. (a) it shall be instantaneously slaughtered or shall by stunning be instantaneously rendered insensible to pain until death supervenes."
I always understood in the old days that, if there was any long interval between the time when the pig was stunned end death supervened, the complaint on the part of the butchers and the bacon factors was well justified. In other words, there was quite serious detriment to the quality of the flesh of the pig. Incidentally, I do not know why the words "until death supervenes" are inserted. I should like to ask my noble friend Lord Merthyr whether, in fact, under the present system of humane killing, death does actually supervene instantaneously; and whether, otherwise, there is still not an objection to this process on the part of the butchers and bacon factors.

There is only one other point I should like to mention—I am afraid it cannot be put in the Bill. There is nothing more distressing to other pigs, where there are several pigs and only one is being selected for slaughter, than to watch this process going on. I hope that if this sort of slaughter takes place outside slaughterhouses, the presence of other pigs will, so far as possible, be avoided, and that the pig will be killed in isolation. I warmly support the Bill.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that it will not be considered ungracious on my part, in view of your Lordships' kindness to me in connection with a Bill earlier this afternoon, if I say a few words on this Bill. First of all, I assume that I must declare an interest, not in farming, or anything of that nature, but because my attention has been called to the point I intend to raise by the Association of Municipal Corporations, of which, with some noble Lords on the Benches opposite, I happen to be one of the Vice-Presidents. I warmly associate myself with others who have spoken in favour of the Bill and its objects. It is because I am concerned that the Bill should not be simply a dead letter that I raise the point of the enforcement of the provisions of the Bill when it becomes an Act.

I am sure your Lordships will be aware that the local authorities are responsible for the enforcement of the provisions of the Slaughter of Animals Act, 1933, and that their sanitary officers and meat inspectors are frequently called in when the slaughtering of pigs takes place. As I read the Bill, there is nothing in it which would effectively lead to the enforcement of its provisions, other than what has already been mentioned—namely, enlightened public opinion. I am not for a moment decrying the importance of enlightened public opinion, but, in view of the fact that it has been necessary to include provisions in the main Act in regard to the slaughter of animals, and knowing what would go on unless there was systematic enforcement of the law under the main Act, I suggest that this Bill requires tidying up in that respect. I do not suggest that the local authorities should be the only people to be concerned with the enforcement of the provisions of the Bill, but I do feel it would be a mistake if we did not endeavour to tighten up the weakness in the Bill, as I see it, so far as enforcement is concerned. Therefore, not in any hostile spirit, but with a view to being co-operative, I hope that on the Committee stage I may be able to put down an Amendment which will meet with the approval of the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, who is in charge of the Bill, and whose speech I warmly welcome as an eloquent contribution to this difficult problem.

4.24 p.m.


My Lords, for the second time this afternoon I have the agreeable duty, on behalf of the Government, of welcoming a Private Member's Bill. We have watched its progress with interest and feel that it is a useful and constructive measure. I was glad to see, however—because it concerns my Department, although I know that this may shock the humanitarian feelings of my noble friend Lord Listowel—that special provision has been made in Clause 1 so that the requirements of the Bill will not apply if a pig is slaughtered at a laboratory or a research station. Scientists who are engaged on research into the diagnosis of disease, or in connection with the aims of veterinary surgery or medicine, sometimes have to kill pigs without damaging the brain or the central nervous system, so that those parts of the body can be examined in detail after death. But they will, of course, be in a position to ensure that the animal does not suffer. The normal procedure, I believe, is to anæsthetise the pig and then bleed it to death while it is unconscious.

I shall not attempt to answer the questions which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Lord, Lord Burden, have put. I would again emphasise that this is not my Bill, nor the Government's Bill. On the last occasion I was in a position to answer questions, because the Bill concerned my Department, whereas on this occasion it does not. However, I am sure my noble friend Lord Merthyr will answer all the questions that have been asked. I may say that the Scottish Departments of Health and Agriculture, and the Ministries of Agriculture and Fisheries and of Food, were consulted during the preparation of this Bill, and it has the support of the Government.

4.27 p.m.


My Lords. I am old enough to remember the time when every farmer and many cottagers kept pigs, a happy state of affairs, which I hope will return. At the same time, I remember the shrieks and outcries that rang through the neighbourhood whenever a pig was stuck, which was our rather brutal method of dealing with them in those days. Therefore, I cannot too strongly endorse everything that my noble friend Lord Merthyr said in relation to this Bill.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, it falls to me to reply to the various points which have been made by speakers in the debate Before doing so, I should like to thank all those speakers for their interest in, and support of, this Bill. I will do my best to reply to all the points raised, although I have not got them quite in the order in which they were made. The noble Lord, Lord Burden, raised the question of the enforcement of the provisions of the Bill when it becomes an Act. I shall be interested to see any Amendment that he puts down, but I should like to say at this stage that this matter was discussed in another place; and the answer given by the promoters of the Bill is that they think it is better to leave open the question of who is to enforce the provisions of the Bill, because if you lay down that one class of person shall be responsible, to the exclusion of any other, you may create unfortunate cases in some parts of the country. I therefore suggest that we should leave it elastic. The attention of the Government spokesman in the other place was called to this point, and he stated—and I respectfully agree—that it really is better to leave it so that the local authorities and the police may enforce the provisions. It was stated in another place—and I should like to state it here—that normally the police would enforce it; but there may be different circumstances in different parts of the country, and it may even be that personalities may be involved. After all, anyone can lay information, so there is nothing whatever in the Bill to prevent anyone from bringing the necessary proceedings. Although we may discuss this point again, I suggest that it would be better to leave it in that elastic and open state, so that nobody is prohibited from bringing the necessary proceedings.

I have been asked by more than one speaker about the delay of twelve months. In the original Bill, it was to come into force on January 1, 1954. In another place the promoter of the Bill himself moved an Amendment extending the period by six months, and I am bound to say, as I indicated in my former speech, that I think it is reasonable, in a matter of this kind, to give that extra period during which everybody affected can prepare himself for the coming into force of the Act. It may be that in remote parts of the country it will take rather longer to make all the necessary preparations, and surely six months is not a very long period. Of course, it is a matter of opinion. Suffice it to say that the promoter of the Bill introduced the Amendment delaying its coming into force by six months. There is one other point about this date. January 1 is in the middle of the pig-killing season. Would it not be preferable if the Bill were to come into operation in the off season, rather than in the middle of the pig-killing season?

I was asked about Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Government have not been consulted about this matter, and I think that in the circumstances it would not be proper for us, without consulting them, to introduce a Bill applying to Northern Ireland. I am informed by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who has been good enough to take art interest in this point, that it would be perfectly normal for us to call their attention to the fact that this Bill has been passed by the United Kingdom Parliament and hope that they will do the same.

The noble Lord, Lord Dowding, made an interesting suggestion—namely, that this Bill should apply to sheep. I do not want to throw cold water on that suggestion, but I am informed—I am not an expert in this matter—that in these days sheep are usually taken to a slaughterhouse, and that it is comparatively rare for sheep to be killed, as are pigs, in isolated farms, cottages and back gardens. But it may well be a point that is worthy of further consideration. On the whole, however, we think that there is no great need to include sheep. If it transpires that we are wrong, no doubt the point can be reconsidered.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, made an inquiry about the actual wording of the operative clause. First of all, I wish to say that these words are taken word for word from the 1933 Act. I have checked it up, and the wording is precisely the same. I support it on that ground. That Act has been in operation for twenty years, and so far as I know the wording has not been challenged or found to be wanting or defective. I submit, therefore, that we are on safe ground in copying the wording. But again I will certainly undertake to look into that matter to see whether there is any case for amending the wording at a later stage. The noble Viscount also mentioned the point about instantaneous killing of pigs. Again, I am in no sense an expert in this matter, but I believe it to be the case that in many cases bleeding takes place while the pig is still alive. The point is that the pig should be stunned by the humane killer. If it is stunned, then cruelly and pain do not occur. Again, I will look into that point, which may not have received sufficient consideration. I think I have dealt with all the points that have been raised. If there are any others, I will willingly inquire into them. I again thank your Lordships for taking such an interest in this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.