HL Deb 25 March 1954 vol 186 cc725-52

4.3 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill provides the necessary legislation to ensure that when meat is decontrolled the slaughter of livestock and the distribution of meat can proceed smoothly. As your Lordships will see, it is in two parts, the first containing provisions for England and Wales and the second the provisions for Scotland. The reason for that is largely historical, as I hope to show, because different provisions have grown up in the two countries. Since 1940, it has normally been possible to slaughter livestock only under licence from the Ministry of Food. Before the war it was quite different. There were a very large number of slaughterhouses in the country—I think some 12,000 —many of them small adjuncts to the butcher's shop. During the war, the Ministry of Food requisitioned or leased some 300 to 400 private slaughterhouses and they are using some 210 out of the 275 local authority slaughterhouses.

When the control over meat ends there will be need for a great many more slaughterhouses in England and Wales. Many are already being licensed because the occupiers have renewed their licence from year to year; and no doubt there will be others who will make the necessary application in the near future. It is the intention of the Government, as it was also, I think, of the last Government, to achieve a moderate concentration of facilities for slaughtering and to concentrate slaughtering into a few hundred slaughterhouses. Indeed, the process has to some extent been begun; certain well-equipped slaughterhouses have already been built by the Government at Canterbury, Fareham, Grimsby, Guildford, Salisbury, Swindon and Wimborne. These have been sited by the Ministry of Food to meet the needs of the Ministry under a system of control, but also to be consistent with future needs when meat is de-rationed and there is decontrol.

The Minister of Food and the Secretary of State for Scotland set up inter-departmental committees to inquire into the form which long-term arrangements might advantageously take. They have had the advantage of the reports of these committees, and the siting of the slaughterhouses in the future will be based largely on a long-term policy in the light of a moderate concentration covering the whole country. The report and advice of these two inter-departmental committees has been accepted with one comparatively small exception; that is, that in the Bill the local authorities are not given the power which the inter-departmental committees recommended to take over compulsorily premises on lease. The first requirement, clearly, is that we should secure sufficient slaughterhouse accommodation by the date on which meat decontrol takes place; and the local authorities have already been asked to consult farmers and meat traders in their own districts and to consider area plans, and a duty will be laid on them to make use of the powers conferred under this Bill to provide additional facilities where necessary.

May I now turn to the Bill? Part I deals with England and Wales. Clause 1 provides the means whereby the local authorities can both provide and operate public slaughterhouses if they so wish. Clause 2 enables the local authority, with the consent of the Minister of Food, to revise the maximum charges which may be prescribed in any local Act or statutory order. The maximum charges which were laid down some time ago may be out of line with present costs; and if it is necessary to vary them, it is also necessary to avoid a very cumbersome procedure —a new Private Bill or a Provisional Order in each case. Therefore, under this Bill the local authority can, with the consent of the Minister, revise the maximum charges. The clause also transfers from the Minister of Housing and Local Government to the. Minister of Food the function of approval of any variation in charges. Under the Act of 1938, the maximum period for which a slaughtering licence can be granted is thirteen months. Clause 3 enables the local authority to grant licences up to July, 1957, in cases where they are granted prior to July, 1956. That sounds rather complicated. The object is really to try to give an inducement to occupiers of slaughterhouses to make the improvements which are necessary to bring them up to date and to make them fit for use.

So far I have dealt with the measures in the Bill which are designed to provide sufficient slaughtering facilities; but in view of the eventual concentration which will take place it is not desirable, as I think your Lordships would agree, either for the local authorities or for private owners to build new slaughterhouses which may not fit into the eventual plan of concentration; therefore Clause 3 (2) prescribes that where a slaughterhouse has not been in use for twenty years, it cannot be reopened without the consent of the Minister of Food. Clause 3 (3) allows a licence to be refused if the slaughterhouse does not conform to hygiene regulations. Clause 3 (4) brings the pre-1939 slaughterhouses into line with others as regards the licensing system; and Clause 4 gives to the local authority which is satisfied that there are sufficient public facilities for slaughtering in the neighbourhood, power to close private slaughterhouses in their own district in order to make a more satisfactory area scheme—that is to say, if any particular local authority is satisfied that within easy reach, although in another local authority area, there are sufficient slaughtering facilities, they are given power to close the private slaughterhouse within their own area and make use of the public facilities outside. Clause 4 (2) gives the local authority the right to refuse fresh licences. Clause 5 deals with the question of compensation in the event of closure, and under it the Minister of Food is authorised to contribute one half of the compensation which is paid by the local authority.

Those are the main provisions in the Bill as it applies to conditions in England. In Scotland conditions have grown up rather differently. The great majority of existing slaughterhouses in Scotland are already owned by the local authorities—in fact, there are very few slaughterhouses owned by outside private persons. Therefore, as we see the picture at present, it will not be necessary to open many new slaughterhouses at all. That is a major difference between the English and the Scottish position. However, we have to be sure, as in the case of the part of the Bill which applies to England, that there will be sufficient killing capacity, and therefore Clause 7 lays it as a duty upon the local authority to satisfy itself that there are adequate facilities available, either in their own district or in a neighbouring district. Therefore, in order to meet an area's need, Clause 7 provides that a local authority may provide or operate a public slaughterhouse. Clause 7 also provides that they can control the opening of new slaughterhouses in any area. The approval of the Secretary of State is necessary if any new premises are to be opened. There are two significant departures from the present law: first, that the local authority can operate as well as provide a slaughterhouse, and secondly, that in the fixing of charges for the use of a slaughterhouse (if the local authority has one) the local authority will be required to consult the trade interests.

My Lords, this is a technical Bill. It is necessarily different for the two countries. But, as I said at the beginning, we are trying to do two things in this Bill—to make sure that on the day when meat is decontrolled there are sufficient slaughtering facilities available, and to make that consistent with a plan of moderate concentration which we hope gradually to work out, in which the local authorities will take a leading part. In Scotland our legislation goes back to something like 1892, and therefore we are able to consolidate it in this Bill and to give to Scotland a reasonably complete code. So far as England is concerned, the legislation upon which England operates is much more recent. There was what I might call a consolidating Act in the Food and Drugs Act, 1938, and therefore the difficulties are not the same; and the provisions which we are making in this Bill could easily be incorporated in a later consolidating measure. With that explanation, which is as good as I am able to make it, of a rather complicated and technical matter, I hope that your Lordships will agree to the Second Reading of this Bill. I beg to move.

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

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, there is no criticism of the purposes for which this Bill has been introduced, nor of the manner in which the noble Earl introduced it. The noble Earl has had a particularly difficult task, not only in explaining the Bill but in justifying the manner in which it was introduced, and he wisely confined himself to the first part and said nothing about the second. But I feel that the House is entitled to some explanation of the indecent haste with which the whole business has been rushed through, and I think your Lordships will be interested in having a short time-table of what has happened in regard to this matter.

On February 9, 1953, the Ministry of Food set up an Inter-departmental Committee on Slaughterhouses in England and Wales. Their job was to prepare a plan, which I think the noble Earl was correct in describing as a plan for moderate concentration. That was on February 9, 1953; but so far we have seen no plan for moderate concentration. I presume the Committee has been working diligently. On December 7, however, they were suddenly taken away from that task and asked to concern themselves with an entirely different job—namely, to advise the Government on what steps they ought to take to ensure adequate provision for slaughterhouses in this country, having regard to the decontrol that was to take place in July.

One wonders why it took so long for the Minister of Food to make up his mind that such advice was necessary He must have known at the time that he appointed the Committee in February, 1953, that it would be necessary to have some advice on the question of the provision of these facilities. He must have known, that the moment you hand over the livestock trade to private enterprise the existing slaughterhouse facilities would be inadequate, or at any rate unsuitable, and yet he waits until December 7 before diverting this Interdepartmental Committee from the task for which they have been appointed to this particular task. The Interdepartmental Committee addressed themselves very diligently to this job and reported on December 23, sixteen days later. I should have thought that was a record for any Committee that has ever been set up; I think they are to be congratulated on the extreme haste with which they were able to arrive at conclusions. Those conclusions were published in the form of a White Paper in January. 1954.

I submit that this is panic legislation. Furthermore, three or four weeks ago we had before us a Food and Drugs Amendment Bill both for England and for Scotland, and the Third Reading was held up because it was stated that it was proposed Ito incorporate in that Bill the recommendations in the Interim Report of the Inter-departmental Committee on Slaughterhouses. Suddenly we are faced with a Bill the Government have changed their minds. The Bill was first printed only a week ago, and to-day we are having the Second Reading. I protest that this gives us inadequate time to consider an important measure of this kind. I know that the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, with his usual courtesy, offered to extend our time until Monday, but that is not really convenient nor does it give us the time we require. I do not know if there are many experts on slaughterhouses in this House. We on this side try to do our duty; we have looked at this measure, we have read the Report, but I admit at once that I am no more an expert on slaughterhouses than the noble Earl who introduced the Bill. We rely on getting some information on the subject from a number of sources which we try to consult: there are trade unions, there are various organisations of different kinds, and, we try to get their views on the subject. If we approve of those views, we try to put them to the House; but it is hopeless to try and do anything in the time that has been given.

I imagine that the noble Earl is only the mouthpiece and I do not put the whole of the responsibility for this business on him, but he happens to be the target in front of us. I would commend to him the words of his noble Leader yesterday of which I approve wholeheartedly: that it is better to think first and act afterwards than to act first and think afterwards. It is a great pity that, having put forward that very commendable precept yesterday, the Government is acting in a wholly different sense today. Having given utterance to this protest —and it really is a serious protest; it may not be as important in this case as in some others, but it is a serious protest and it is extremely difficult for us to do our duty as members of a responsible Opposition unless we are given reasonable facilities—I want now to get to the Bill. The first words at the beginning of Clause 1 in the Bill are: "Until Parliament otherwise determines…" I would like to ask the noble Lord what that means.


What what means?


"Until Parliament otherwise determines …" certain things happen. That is always the case with every Bill that has ever been introduced: the position is as in the Bill until Parliament otherwise determines. I should like to ask what special significance one is to attach to those words. Is it intended now that Parliament should determine something, and if so would the noble Earl take us into his confidence and tell us what he has in mind by those words? I imagine that there will be (I think he used that expression himself) an eventual scheme of concentration. What is this eventual scheme of concentration? When does he anticipate that it is going to come along? Will it be 1957, 1958, 1960 or when? It is material that we should know in considering this Bill, because it makes a great difference whether the provisions here are of a purely ephemeral nature or whether we are to regard them as more or less of a permanent character. All we have to go on in this Bill are the words "Until Parliament otherwise determines …"

The noble Earl referred, as I do, to the Interim Report of this Inter-Departmental Committee, and I think he quite rightly said that the recommendations of this Inter-departmental Committee have been accepted with one exception, Recommendation (v), where it was recommended that local authorities should have the right to acquire compulsorily or by agreement, either by purchase or on lease, any existing private slaughterhouse or slaughterhouses that can be used to provide public slaughtering facilities. This is not in the Bill, or, at least it has been considerably modified. I should like to ask why it is that the local authorities, who have been given a specific job to do to ensure that there are adequate slaughtering facilities against the time when de-control comes, are not given the powers that are required to enable them to carry out this task. The noble Earl I think was mistaken in saying that they were merely not being given powers to acquire leases. I think they are not being given powers to acquire land they may need. They are given powers to acquire by agreement, but they are not being given powers to acquire compulsorily.

Nobody wants to use compulsion where agreement is adequate, but I would say two things on that matter: first, that there may be cases where it is not possible to acquire simply by agreement what the local authority consider they need. Evidently there is some urgency about this matter, from the manner in which the Bill has been handled; but it is within the power of anybody to refuse to agree or to hold the local authority up for a higher price than they are entitled to, and thereby to delay the operations of the de-rationing scheme. The other point is that local authorities have found it useful in the past to have in the background compulsory powers. This is not a new thing. They do not always use them. The wise local authority uses its compulsory powers sparingly; nevertheless it has been found to be essential in the operation of most of the powers of local authorities that they should have compulsory powers of acquisition of land. I should like to ask whether it is purely on ideological grounds, or on what other grounds, that this power has been withheld from the local authorities.

There is one other point relating to the Bill with which I want to deal, and that is this. I do not see anywhere in the Bill what steps local authorities are required to take to improve the standard of slaughterhouses. In view of the great haste with which they are required to act, I can, of course, understand that the emphasis is on urgency at the present time. It is desired to get this Bill through both Houses of Parliament by Easter, and if that is done there will be merely a matter of weeks before decontrol comes into effect. And local authorities are required to have ready by that time the necessary slaughterhouses to enable them to carry out decontrol effectively. So can understand the haste. Nevertheless, is it not desirable that the private slaughterhouses should be hygienic and, generally, in good condition? Ought not adequate time be given to enable the necessary steps to be taken to get them into this condition? I see that the Bill and the 1938 Act, with which it is associated, or to which it is related—in particular, I think it is Section 57 of the 1938 Act—both contemplate that some months are required in many cases to enable slaughterhouses to be put into satisfactory condition. That time will not be available, and I should like to ask the noble Earl what steps are to be taken to ensure that these words in the conclusion of the Interim Report are carried out. The private slaughterhouses must not be allowed to slip back into the conditions of the pre-war disorders and numbers. Traders must, however, be given early notification whether they are to be permitted to resume private slaughtering or whether their needs will be met by the provision of public slaughtering facilities. There is nothing in the Bill about that. There is no indication as to what steps local authorities are going to take, or are required to take, to ensure that the conditions of the private slaughterhouses are up to the hygienic standard which we expect to see maintained to-day.

I said at the outset that I regard this Bill as necessary, and I suppose, if we are to have decontrol by July, it is urgent. But I would go so far as to say that it would be better to postpone the operation of decontrol and to ensure that we have satisfactory facilities for the slaughtering of livestock before we carry out decontrol, than to carry out this decontrol and then be left with inadequate and unsatisfactory facilities for slaughtering. At this late hour, I would ask Her Majesty's Government seriously to reconsider the question of the decontrol of livestock. There are many other grounds on which one could advocate postponement, but this is not the moment to advance them: I understand that there may well be a debate in the very near future on this subject, and the matter could then be further developed. But on the question of the inadequacy of slaughterhouses, and of this example of the way in which things are being rushed, I would seriously suggest it might not be a bad idea to put off the operation of decontrol. I would urge the Government, to give heed to the very wise words of the Leader of this House—"think first and act afterwards."

4.36 p.m.


My Lords, I have noted what seems to me to be a rather remarkable omission from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in that it contained no reference whatever to a rapid change of circumstances which has taken place in regard to the supplies of meat available. I find it rather hard to accept, and to agree with him, that very much complaint can be levelled against Her Majesty's Government for taking rapid action to meet a rapid change of circumstances—indeed, I think they are to be congratulated on doing so. I was surprised to hear the noble Lord refer to such rapid and, to my mind, well thought-out action as an example of "indecent haste." I am, however, quite in agreement with him when he says that the duty of the Opposition is to oppose, and I am sure that your Lordships on all sides of the House will be ready to agree that he has used his great ability to the full, and has fulfilled very creditably the duty to which he referred.

I would regard this Bill not as a hastily devised piece of rush legislation, but as a rather clever and. well thought-out measure aimed at securing the best that is available from any source from which it is available. To start with, the Bill imposes on the local authority the ones of ensuring adequate slaughtering facilities in an area. If I may pause there just for one moment, I would say that that must be an excellent provision, because it will promote the efficiency of slaughtering, and perhaps we shall be able to get away from the arrangements of a somewhat cumbersome nature which now exist, whereby animals are sent all over the country, with consequent wastage in travelling. In some quarters, there is divergence of opinion about whether meat should be marketed as between the producers and the butchers "on the hoof "or" on the hook." I do not think there can be any question that when it comes to the transport of meat "the hook" is the answer. Consequently, the organisation of adequate slaughtering facilities all over the country will surely benefit the transport system, so far as meat is concerned, once the livestock has been slaughtered. In the second place, after the onus has been imposed on the local authority, the Bill goes on to give certain details of the aid which may be given to the local authority which they can use to carry out the object in view. They do not have to use it. I think that one of the greatest strengths of the whole Bill is that the local authority are left a wide discretion in the use of existing facilities to the best of their ability without their having to impose heavy burdens on the ratepayers, and possibly on the taxpayers also, should they receive a grant from the Minister towards building and equipping further slaughterhouses.

Oddly enough, the meat trade are of the opinion that they can handle their own affairs quite well and organise their own slaughtering arrangements. The farmers also feel that they can do a certain amount on their own behalf. What I say is amply proved, I think, by the most energetic discussions which are being carried on all over the country between the local authorities, butchers and farmers. Those discussions, I understand, are meeting with a considerable degree of success in planning arrangements—a degree of success about which I was pleasantly surprised to hear. The butchers, in particular, are not in favour of large officially run slaughterhouses. Why should they be? Why should the meat trade expect a local authority to be able to run the most essential adjunct of their own business better than the trade themselves can? Furthermore, they are prepared to run them, and in many cases are making successful arrangements to do so. They wish to run their own slaughterhouses because the majority of them have got used to it. It must be remembered that since the meat trade was last free there has grown up almost another generation of butchers, people who have not learned the full details of their trade because they have not been in it long enough, as the butchers themselves freely and honestly admit. Many wish to buy their meat "on the hook." There are still a considerable number of butchers who wish and are prepared to operate their own private slaughterhouses. Although that may seem slightly contradictory to the general desire to buy meat "on the hook," it has the advantage that, together with the more centralised slaughterhouses which may be taken over by the meat trade, the local authorities are in control and will be able to ensure that the necessary standards are maintained.

Another important point is the question of casualties, which the farming community view with considerable concern. Despite the existence in these last years of the Ministry's slaughterhouses, when it comes to a question of emergency slaughter the arrangements simply do not work. I could tell your Lordships of many cases of animals that have had something happen to them on Saturday afternoon having to wait until Monday to be slaughtered, despite a telephone call to the local superintendent of police to see whether a slaughterman can be found. I think it is desirable that a certain number of local butchers should be permitted to operate their own slaughterhouses, in order to deal more efficiently with the casualties which must inevitably occur, despite the farmer's hopes, from time to time. There is ample possibility of proper control so long as the authorities do not permit more slaughterhouses to come into existence than they can control; and I feel that that is scarcely likely. If only the meat trade, the local authorities and the producers can work together in full co-operation to make sure that there is no slackening of standards, I feel that it will promote great efficiency and a return to the quality of meat which we know the farmers can produce, which we know the butchers wish to sell, and which the consumers ought to be offered.

4.47 p.m.


My Lords, before I come to the main substance of what I should like to say this afternoon, perhaps I may be permitted a word of personal explanation. Like some other noble Lords, on both sides of the House, and some honourable Members of another place, I have the privilege of being a Vice-President of the Sanitary Inspectors' Association. To my own knowledge, the Sanitary Inspectors' Association have devoted considerable time and attention during the past decade to the problems of slaughterhouses and slaughtering. On no fewer than three occasions during the last ten years this subject has been considered at conferences of members of the Association and representatives of various Ministries and local authorities, numbering somewhere about 1,500. I make that point in order to show that questions of slaughtering and slaughterhouse policy are not confined to a few people, and that the questions arising from this Bill and its application will be of profound interest to many thousands of people throughout the country.

Whilst I agree that local authorities, after due preparation, as emphasised by my noble friend Lord Silkin, should have returned to them the powers which they formerly had, as provided for in the Bill, in other respects the Bill gives me some occasion for grave concern. It is an important measure. My noble friend Lord Silkin has referred to the timetable. Why these "rush" tactics? Why is the House treated with scant courtesy in regard to an important measure of this kind? This Bill is not a leap in the dark; it is a leap backwards; and, as I shall endeavour to show, in some respects it is most retrograde and reactionary in its effects.

Further, this Bill ignores—indeed, it flouts—the painstaking work of the officers of the Ministry of Food, who, since the Meat and Livestock Control Scheme came into operation in January, 1940, have gathered a volume of experience in regard to the techniques of slaughtering. Profiting by this knowledge of the various types of slaughterhouses throughout the country which were in existence before the war, the Ministry of Food officials have made some essential improvements in equipment and layout at a number of these slaughterhouses, although for obvious reasons —limitation of materials, imperfect siting and so on—the Ministry have been unable to do all that would be of value. In addition to this work, the Ministry of Food officials, as was mentioned by the noble Earl in charge of the Bill, have built experimental slaughterhouses at Guildford, Fareham and other places, and these incorporate desirable facilities, of which the Ministry have gathered knowledge in the course of the last ten years or so. I agree that in the day-to-day working some further improvements might be incorporated in the building of slaughterhouses in the future. The Ministry's technical officers responsible for the slaughterhouse policy have been in constant touch with the day-today operations, yet all this valuable information and work of the Ministry of Food officials is, I suggest, being thrown away, so far as any future action is concerned, by this dash for freedom.

I should like to say a word or two about the past. But for the outbreak of the war the coming into operation of the Food and Drugs Act, 1938, would have brought a new era with regard to slaughterhouses and slaughtering. It is well known that prior to the operation of Section 57 of the 1938 Act there were three categories of slaughterhouses in this country: first, registered premises where the slaughtering had been continued from the date of the provisions of the Town Improvement Clauses Act, 1847, the privilege to attach to the building and not to the occupier; secondly, those premises licensed without limitation of time for those established between 1847 and 1890 when the Public Health (Amendment) Act came into operation; and thirdly, premises where the licence is renewed at specific periods. In 1939, some 115 public and 1,600 private slaughterhouses were in use, and to my knowledge, the sanitary officers of local authorities were reporting as to the condition of these slaughterhouses in accordance with Section 57 of the Act. Following adverse reports, many of these slaughterhouses were no longer licensed, and to others special conditions as to improvement and reconditioning were attached as a condition precedent to licensing by the local authorities. This situation was brought to an end by the outbreak of the war, and under the direction of the Ministry of Food slaughtering has been concentrated in some 530 slaughterhouses—a number which some people have suggested has been reasonably adequate for the number of animals coming in for slaughter, although of that point I am not entirely convinced. But are even these 530 slaughterhouses to-day in a satisfactory condition for continued use for slaughtering? Some, no doubt, are, but I suggest that some of them, due to circumstances for which no one is responsible, arising out of war conditions, and so on, have got into a very bad condition; in fact, I am told that in some instances lime washing was regarded as a luxury. Mr. Priestley, the chief sanitary inspector of Blackpool, said at the 1943 Conference of the Association: It is generally considered that the ideal slaughterhouse should consist of (a) suitable lairage, (b) slaughter halls for cattle, sheep and pigs, (c) cooling room, (d) detention room and inspection room with lavatory equipment, (e) condemned meat room, (f) facilities for the treatment of edible offals and by-products and condemned meat, (g) inspector's room, (h) staff room, with cooking and washing facilities, (i) adequate boiler plant. How many of the 530 existing slaughterhouses—perhaps I would make an exception in regard to those run for the Co-operative Movement, and apart from those built by the Ministry—comply even with the bare minimum of conditions for efficient humane and decent slaughtering?

Again, what has happened to slaughterhouses closed by the Ministry? I believe that many have been used for other purposes—and to my own knowledge certainly one or two have. They have effected a much-needed improvement to the butchers' shops to which they are attached. I suggest that, with due consideration, and bearing in mind the public health side of the picture, many of those one-time slaughterhouses might be usefully incorporated in the other business.

Coming now to the Bill, as recommended by the Interim Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee, local authorities are to be placed under the duty of ensuring that sufficient slaughtering accommodation is available for the needs of their districts in the period pending the implementation of moderate concentration affecting the district. I agree that Clause 1 of the Bill will give statutory effect to that recommendation, but as my noble friend Lord Silkin has pointed out, local authorities must be given adequate powers to enable them to carry out this duty. Subsection (2) of Clause 1 enables local authorities to provide public slaughterhouses in one or other of two ways. Either they may acquire land and provide slaughterhouse facilities there, or they may acquire land on which such facilities have already been provided by other persons and ensure that such facilities continue. If, as is anticipated, the Ministry of Food control is to come to an end in July, clearly there is no time to build to provide for a deficiency of slaughterhouse accommodation which may exist when decontrol takes place. For the purpose of interim provision, therefore, local authorities will be driven to resort to the second of the alternatives that I have mentioned. As my noble friend has pointed out, compulsory acquisition of land by normal processes takes a long time. Even if the local authorities were able to act with compulsory purchase orders, I doubt whether the normal processes would be complete by July. The noble Earl, Lord Home, will appreciate that this point has already been put to the Ministry by the Association of Municipal Corporations, but no satisfaction has yet been received. I am advised by people who should be aware of the fact that, unless the Ministry take this point into consideration and meet it effectively, a state of emergency will certainly arise in some districts.

Again, I am aware that the Inter-Departmental Committee recommended that the Government should contribute one-half of any compensation payable by local authorities in respect of the closing of private slaughterhouses on other than public health grounds, and the Bill gives effect to that provision. I suggest, however, that the Government should accept full responsibility for the compensation payable in connection with the implementation of the policy of moderate concentration of slaughterhouses. If the Government wish to see this moderate concentration policy implemented it is essential that they should not impose financial obligations on local authorities which will discourage them from a policy of concentration. I know that it has been suggested that, where a public slaughterhouse is provided, it will relieve the local authorities of adjoining areas by reducing the work of sanitary inspectors responsible for meat inspection. I think that this is an illusion. In fact, the local authorities concerned will have plenty of work to keep their sanitary inspectors occupied, and no reduction in the numbers is possible.

I wish to revert for a few moments to Clause 1, which places upon local authorities the duty of ensuring that there are adequate slaughterhouse facilities for their area. They are given wider powers for providing public slaughterhouses where these are necessary. The clause does not limit the period during which this duty will remain with the local authorities, but—and this is the important point—the Inter-Departmental Committee recommended that the responsibility for seeing that sufficient slaughtering accommodation is available for the needs of each district in the period pending the implementation of moderate concentration affecting that district should be placed on the local authority. Although the Committee may not have intended it, there is in this recommendation an implied suggestion that the responsibility is to remain with the local authorities only for the interim period until the long-term plan for the moderate concentration of slaughtering has been evolved. I put it to the Minister that local authorities will need some assurance on this point, otherwise they are likely to be reluctant to embark upon costly schemes for providing public slaughterhouses. They will fear that at some future date these premises will be transferred to some other body. The same inference to which I have referred can be drawn from the Inter-Departmental Committee's recommendation about licensing. I put the question quite clearly to the noble Earl: What is the Government's policy in relation to the responsibility of local authorities? Is this merely an interim responsibility, and is it envisaged, or hoped, that some other authority will be responsible after this interim period? This is a point of great substance to the local authorities.

Clause 2 (2) gives power to the local authority, in addition to making charges in respect to the use of public slaughterhouses, to make charges in respect of services provided by local authorities at the slaughterhouses. I should like to know whether meat inspection is to be interpreted as a service for which a charge is to be made. In my view, it should be, and sanitary inspectors of local authorities have earnestly hoped that there will not be a return to the old system. I think that a case has been made out for some increase in the number of slaughterhouses at present in use. The siting of many of these slaughterhouses does not tend to efficiency: it is wasteful of transport, both of the live animal and the dressed carcase. The problem will not be met by narrow parochial views. There may have to be some combination of local authorities. But if slaughtering were concentrated in too small a number of very large slaughterhouses, live cattle would have to be transported over long distances before slaughtering. Further, I suggest that it is important that, in the distribution of meat, the meat should reach the consumer with the least possible delay and should not be subjected to unnecessary handling in the process. The correct method seems to be a moderate concentration. By this policy, the necessary standards of hygiene and humane slaughter can be achieved, the by-products properly utilised and all these operations carried out with reasonable economy.

I suggest that, in the interests of public health and humane treatment of animals, it is imperative that there should be a national slaughtering plan, and that those responsible for the preparation of this plan should recognise that the key function of an abattoir is the discharge of public health obligations. It follows, therefore, that the public health authorities are the most appropriate bodies to operate slaughterhouses, and their chief health official at the slaughterhouse the one best suited to co-ordinate administration. There need be no fear that such a scheme would be wasteful: local authorities are extremely alive to the necessity for reasonable economy. Nevertheless, I would emphatically protest against the concentration of slaughterhouses based merely upon economics. Public health needs are the primary consideration. It cannot be too strongly emphasised that the overriding aim in providing suitable slaughtering facilities is the protection of public health and the humane treatment of the animal. A slaughterhouse of proper size, with adequate facilities for dealing with by-products and sufficient cold stores can be made to pay; but lack of profits should not prejudice the provision of satisfactory slaughtering facilities if the need is there. It is because this Bill deliberately evades these grave responsibilities, as pointed out by my noble friend Lord Silkin, that I have ventured to describe the Bill as a retrograde and reactionary Bill.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl from Scotland must be rather sorry that he had the temerity to produce before your Lordships an English measure. I can assure him that no Englishman has yet had the temerity to present to your Lordships' House a Scottish measure. I suppose as a piece of panic, un-thought-out legislation this Bill is a fair sample. As a piece of economic planning, it does not even add up to sense. My noble friend Lord Silkin asked the noble Earl some searching questions. In chronological order, he gave the sequence of events, and he wanted to know the reason for the haste. I am going to suggest an answer. The real reason is that Her Majesty's Government have not the first idea of a policy for livestock marketing. They have not even begun to think about it. All they have thought about is a dash for freedom, and so everything else, whether or not it is in the national interest, has to be sacrificed.

As the noble Earl's noble friend Lord Woolton said the other day, this is an "article of faith," the Ark of the Covenant of the Conservative Party—the Noah's Ark of the Covenant of the Conservative Party, where the animals go in to be slaughtered two by two. Really, the Bill is so contradictory as not to add up to sense. Both my noble friends have riddled it with ridicule. What is the position? In three months, a thousand local authorities in this country are required to have a slaughterhouse system ready for the day when we dash for freedom. If there is one thing that calls for a national and a regional approach, it is the slaughtering of animals. Yet one thousand local authorities have three months in which to build slaughterhouses. As my noble friend says, that is demonstrably impossible. One thousand local authorities, without any co-ordination whatsoever, are required to have a modified plan of concentration. They will not be able to build the slaughterhouses. What will they have to do? In effect, what will happen is that they will issue licences ad lib., and we shall be back to the 1938 days of terrible conditions as regards cleanliness, public health and humane treatment of animals to be slaughtered.

The noble Earl—and he has my great sympathy in having to act as a substitute in such a matter as this—says it is going to be a policy of moderate concentration. I want to ask him a direct question. There were 16,000 slaughterhouses in this country before the war and there are now about 500 or 600. What is the figure in future to be? Is it 2,000, 3,000, 4,000, 10,000, or what is it? Of course, I am quite ready for him to tell me that the Government have not even thought about it. If they have thought about it and if they have arrived at a figure, how are they going to parcel that figure out amongst 1,000 local authorities? I do not know. Will the noble Earl tell us?

In July next, when meat rationing ends—and I have no desire at all to delay the end of meat rationing—what are we going to have? We are going to have the advent of the auctioneer, the drover, the market ring. I ask the noble Earl, are we going back to the days when cattle were driven through the streets of our towns, befouling them, terrified at going through dark alleys into small slaughterhouses? Are we going back to those days? I had the privilege of sitting as chairman of a Committee which inquired into the working of the Agricultural Marketing Acts. We had before that Committee expert evidence on what the policy before the war was costing this country —and, incidentally, I would ask the noble Earl to note, really costing the producer of livestock, because it all comes back on to the price. I now quote prewar figures and pre-war values. It was estimated by experts that it cost 25s. to 35s. per head of cattle to transport it from the farm to the slaughterhouse. That is not taking into consideration the loss of weight through having to drive the cattle from market to market and from slaughterhouse to slaughterhouse. For pigs and sheep it was 6s. to 10s. per head. If you treble that to bring it to present-day values, look at the terrific economic loss. I was hoping that the Government would have a slaughter policy to take the animal direct from the farm, without any intermediary, to the abattoir by mechanical conveyance, so that the animal had never to be driven from the lairage through the streets. I ask the noble Earl to picture what I have actually seen, the frightened cattle being driven in a cruel way through some big market city, for instance, Norwich, Is that what we are going to go back to? Perhaps the noble Earl will tell us.

Now let us take the slaughterhouse. During my time in His late Majesty's Government it once fell to my unfortunate lot to deputise, as the noble Ear, is deputising this afternoon, for the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, who was then the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. The occasion was on a Motion on humane slaughter, moved by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding. I expect many of your Lordships will remember it. For quite a week after that debate I had literature, pictures and photographs sent to me. I have a fairly strong stomach but they nearly made me physically ill. There were blood-drenched men, especially in some of the kosher slaughterhouses. I remember standing up at that Box promising on behalf of the Government that there should be a Weinberg pen caster, so that these animals should not be subjected to torture. What undertaking can the noble Earl give us that we shall not go back to those days and, as the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, has quite rightly said, to operations by people who have never been in the business of slaughtering cattle? Let us not forget that there have not been any slaughterers in these small slaughterhouses since 1939.

One other point was given in evidence before the Lucas Committee, if I may so call it, in regard to the loss of value of by-products, which ranged in these small slaughterhouses from about 15s. per 1.ead of cattle slaughtered. To-day one might call that £2. The expert evidence before the Committee was that the economic through-put for a modern abattoir was about 3,000 head of cattle per week; it was impossible to collect economically the by-products—the blood, the glands and the hides—frorn slaughterhouses which slaughtered one or two cattle. The noble Earl who is to reply for the Government is deputising. I suppose for the noble Lord the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, whose absence we all deeply regret and to whom we wish a speedy return to good health and to this House. But if the blood of these animals had been conserved and used for fertilising our land, instead of gushing down the sewers of this country because of these ill-equipped slaughterhouses, the farming community would have been a great deal better off.

My Lords, the standard work on slaughterhouse policy is the Report of the De La Warr Committee. I expect many of your Lordships have read that Report. It gives as one of the first principles the fact that you cannot have efficient slaughtering unless you have a highly mechanised abattoir of sufficient size, and employing resident inspectors to see that diseased meat does not come out to the general public. I wonder how much tubercular infested meat has come out from some of these small slaughterhouses in the past. That is what we are going to suffer, because there cannot be any inspection policy behind this Bill. It is, as has been frankly admitted and as my noble friend said, a matter of expediency, for as long as Her Majesty's Government may so desire. There is no siting and no proper co-ordination. The noble Lord said that this Bill was being produced—I wrote down his words—so that the transfer to the de-rationing of meat could proceed smoothly. T should think that in the livestock world July will bring confusion worse confounded. There is only one certain thing in the whole of this policy, if I may call it a policy, and that is that the price of good quality meat will go up, because the cost of operating a system like we had before the war will be so high in this Year of Grace. I would again ask the noble Earl to tell us—I think we have a right to an answer—what is meant by moderate concentration. What machinery, other than that contained in the Bill, is going to be set up to see that there is some co-ordination between the 1,000 local authorities, and that the siting of these slaughterhouses will suit the requirements of the time? We may make an attempt on the remaining stages of this Bill at least to put some sense into it—


If we get time and notice.


Yes, if we get time and notice. We have had only three days between the introduction of the Bill and its Second Reading. I suppose the noble Earl was hoping, as his noble friend said when he introduced the Bill the other day, that it was not going to he very contentious. He has no illusions now.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I have tried to understand the Opposition's case against this Bill, and I am bound to say that I am a little surprised to hear them say, in the first place, that this Bill is produced with indecent haste and, in the second place that it is going to have its effect in time. It seems to me that those comments are a little inconsistent. I cannot see that the Government are wrong in making an inquiry, getting their facts and making up their minds before proceeding to act, If the complaint is that the Bill is being read a second time too soon after it has been introduced, I am glad to hear the complaint, because that was one of the things we on this side of the House very often had to complain of under their administration. For example, I remember the introduction of the Public Registers (Scotland) Bill, which was a very technical matter, and I got the case from Scotland only in the afternoon as I was walking into the House to hear my noble and much-lamented friend, the late Lord Morrison, developing the Second Reading. 'I am afraid that that is a fault of most Governments. If we are to make it a virtue not to do such a thing in future. I shall be very glad. In regard to the case made by the Opposition, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Burden appeared to be a useful speech, not particularly because it was in opposition to the Bill but because it coursed ahead and showed where the sandbanks and other obstacles lay. I do not think that the Opposition have done much to damage the Bill: they have only drawn a horrible picture of what may happen, and tried to give us an awful warning.

5.29 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord. Lord Lucas of Chilworth, offered me his sympathy. I can say that usually the incursions of a Scotsman into England are more rewarding than they look to be to-day, but at least I hope that I have come to bring something, rather than to take something away. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who opened for the Opposition was good enough to say that our broad objectives are the same. It was well that he said so, and it was well that Lord Lucas of Chilworth was not too rude about the words "moderate concentration," because I took them from what Mr. Webb. the then Minister of Food, said in another place was to be the objective of the Government at that time. A policy of moderate concentration, as I think I was right in saying when I opened this debate, is a policy which is fairly generally agreed. Nor, I think, will there be much difference of opinion that the local authorities are the instruments who should carry out this policy of moderate concentration. They have showed themselves well able to provide acceptable facilities, and I would therefore say at once to the noble Lord, Lord Burden, who asked a question on this point, that the local authorities are visualised as those who will be responsible for supervising the slaughterhouse policy in the different areas. So both the policy of moderate concentration and the policy of using the local authorities would seem to provide a good deal of common ground.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, asked: "When is this policy of moderate concentration likely to be completed?" That is an extremely difficult question to answer—I think almost impossible. It might take five years, it might take ten years; it has to be done area by area; it is a complicated job, and I should not like to be tied down to giving any particular target—


Am I to understand that the Departments concerned, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Food, after their joint consultations over the last three years cannot tell us roughly, what is to be the number of abattoirs? I gather that the noble Earl was about to move away from that point, and I should like to know the answer.


I am coming to that, when I answer the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. But this point is not easy. You may well talk about a plan of moderate concentration: but it is not easy to find how long it will take to achieve it. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, went on to say: "Why hurry? There has been almost an indecent haste in this matter." I am sure that he will acquit the Government of any intention to be discourteous to the House. What happened was that we saw a chance to de-ration meat. The Ministry of Food were satisfied, not long ago, that the supply position justified that step, and when we saw a chance to de-ration meat, it did not seem right to delay it: in fact, it is a public duty to take that chance and not to delay it even by an extra month. It is, I understand, although I am not an expert in these matters, a difficult thing to forecast when the supply position will justify the de-rationing of meat. Not so very long ago, it looked like being 1956. but comparatively suddenly it seemed that it would be safe to do so in July, 1954. We tit ere-fore took the view that we must de-ration meat, and that we must proceed to loosen the controls which the Ministry of Food exercised over slaughtering and distribution.

In the Government's opinion, controls are dangerous things to leave lying about. It may be incredible to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, but there are people who positively like controls, and to whom a controlled economy is Utopia; and we think it is a public duty to take temptation out of their way. So, although I agree that this has been rather a hurried measure, nevertheless, we believe that we could not in the public interest delay the de-rationing of meat, and once that de-rationing of meat was decided upon it was necessary to go forward with this scheme for giving the local authorities the organisation to see that slaughtering is properly carried out all over the country. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said that the local authorities will be hampered here because, although they may take leases for premises by agreement, and although they may purchase by agreement, nevertheless there is no power for compulsory purchase. He will find that power already in existence under the Public Health Act, 1936, Section 306 of which has been carried on into the Food and Drugs Act, 1938. So the power for compulsory purchase of buildings and land is there. I think that that is the main point that the noble Lord raised, and I am glad to remove any doubts.

I come then, my Lords, to the questions which exercised the minds of other noble Lords, the question of hygiene and the question of cruelty in slaughterhouses. Of course, many of us have been revolted at the conditions we have seen. So far as cruelty is concerned. that is being dealt with in the Slaughter of Animals (Amendment) Bill, now before another place, so perhaps I may leave that question for that Bill. Various noble Lords have raised the public health needs. So far as hygiene is concerned, new regulations are now in preparation, and when they are completed they will be operated by the local authorities under Section 8 of the Food and Drugs Act, 1938. It is the Government's intention that we shall never go back to the old conditions that reigned before fie war, but that the new regulations now in preparation shall be made, and that the local authorities shall operate them under powers which exist in an Act of Parliament already on the Statute Book. I hope, therefore, that the news about the powers of compulsory purchase, the Slaughter of Animals (Amendment) Bill, and the fact that these questions on hygiene and public health can be dealt with under the Food and Drugs Act, 1938, will remove some of the apprehensions which were legitimately raised by noble Lords opposite.

I felt that the noble Lord, Lord Burden, was a little inconsistent. He seemed to admit that the local authorities were the proper instruments to run this policy, yet his speech was almost a plea for the retention in perpetuity of the Ministry of Food. I am glad to see that the noble Lord shakes his head and that I have misinterpreted him, because I think it is right to trust the local authorities to do this work, and it is their proper business to do so.


I said deliberately that the local authorities were the people to do it, but that there should be adequate time for them to make proper preparation for the job.


I am sorry if I misinterpreted that. To deal with some of the questions which were asked, the noble Lords, Lord Lucas of Chilworth and Lord Alexander, have said to me, "What sort of number of slaughterhouses will seem to be necessary after decontrol?" It is difficult to estimate but the figure is put at somewhere about 3,000 to 3,500. It is from there that we shall begin the policy of moderate concentration.


Does that include Scotland?


The figure of 3,500 is the United Kingdom figure. The noble Lord made some play with the fact that we were making a dash for freedom, and that freedom was a kind of Ark of the Covenant. I think he got his Biblical history a hide mixed, because he said the animals went in two by two to slaughter. On the contrary, they went in two by two to be saved; and the noble Lord and I would not be here unless two of them had gone in. We would never represent this Bill as bringing salvation. At the beginning I made it clear to your Lordships that it was an interim measure, which explains the words "Until Parliament otherwise determines "—although I do not insist on those words and I do not think it was necessary to have them in the Bill. As this is, in some sense, not a permanent measure but an interim measure, and there seems to be a common objective, that we should work towards a policy of moderate concentration, T hope that your Lordships will be agreeable to giving the Bill a Second Reading.


I am not quite clear what is the real intention of the Government. There were 16,000 slaughterhouses before the war. It is apparent that already the Government want to increase the number from about 600 to 3,000. May I take it that that is because it is estimated that, with an entirely new system of marketing, more centres will be needed nearer the point of sale than there are now, under the war-time scheme: that that is the main reason for increasing the number to 3,000? And, if so, is it thought that the majority of the increase of 2,400 slaughterhouses will be found by re-licensing those who have in existence slaughterhouses but whose licences were made inoperative from 1939? I should like to be quite clear about that.


My Lords, I should prefer to consider this matter before giving my answer: I think I shall need a little more time. May I say now, however, that I think the majority will come from re-licensing. If, let us say, the Co-operative Society or, perhaps, a local authority, or anyone who could provide a good service, wanted to build a new slaughterhouse, then the local authority would have permission either to allow or refuse it. Now any new building has to be confirmed by the Ministry of Food, so that the siting of any new buildings can be made to fit in with the overall area plan.


I am much obliged to the noble Earl. As he knows, we have had very little time to examine the Bill, and I found that in one very important quarter—the Co-operative Society, to which the noble Earl has referred—there was a feeling that a large number of those whose licences were made inoperative from 1939 could hardly be brought back on anything like a permanent basis. If that is the case we shall have to consider it afresh in the near future.


I gave a rather impromptu answer to the noble Viscount, and if I may, I will write to him. I think I can clear up any doubts which he may have.

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