HL Deb 13 May 1958 vol 209 cc250-73

3.29 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a small Bill but an important one, which, as many of your Lordships will be aware, has been the subject of considerable debate in another place. As a result it was substantially amended and, among other improvements, has, I am assured, been made easier to understand. I am afraid that it is still a little complicated, but this is largely unavoidable in a Bill which has to amend other Acts of Parliament.

The main provisions of the Bill were foreshadowed in the White Paper on Slaughterhouses published in May, 1956. The Government have three chief aims in legislating about slaughterhouse conditions. First, we want to ensure that stock are slaughtered humanely. Secondly, we want to see that the highest standards of hygiene are maintained in slaughtering and the processes that follow it. Thirdly, we want to ensure that there are satisfactory conditions for slaughterhouse workers. The problem the Government had to face was how to secure satisfactory slaughterhouses while at the same time ensuring adequate facilities, both local and national, for the needs of the meat trade.

Previously these aims had been thought to be attainable only by strictly limiting the number of slaughterhouses to some 400 or 500 in England and Wales, compared with the 12,000 in existence before the war, and placing them according to a centrally prepared national plan. This may have seemed right while the Ministry of Food still had central control of the marketing and slaughtering of home-produced livestock, but after decontrol in June, 1954, developments occurred in the meat trade which called for a fresh and more flexible approach to the problem. For instance, organisations of producers like the Fatstock Marketing Corporation and other big central organisations of meat traders began to emerge. These operated over wide areas of the country, and they needed slaughterhouses under their own management and control and situated in the districts best suited to their class of trade.

After consulting all the various interests, we came to the conclusion that the best way to achieve the basic aims of slaughterhouse policy would be to lay down strict standards for slaughterhouses and to ensure that these standards were reached as quickly as possible, but without dictating just where the improved slaughterhouses had to be or laying down arbitrary limits to the number. With this in view, the Bill has three main features. First, it provides for new and strict minimum standards for the construction and equipment of slaughterhouses—a matter dealt with in the construction regulations, which have already been published in draft. New slaughterhouses will have to conform to these standards from the outset. Existing premises will have to be brought up to the new standards as soon as this can be done, without reducing the available facilities in any area below the minimum required.

Secondly, the existing system, under which local authorities are responsible for licensing private slaughterhouses and for providing public slaughtering facilities, where necessary, will be preserved, but with a few additional safeguards for the trade. Thirdly, the aim of modernisation and improvement of slaughterhouses will be achieved in two stages. The first will consist of a period of from about one to two years, during which, broadly speaking, traders will be free to establish slaughterhouses where they like, so long as they comply with normal town planning requirements and conform to the new standards. After that a measure of control over the granting of licences will be introduced.

I will now run briefly through the main clauses of the Bill. Clause 1 amends the present law on the licensing of slaughterhouses. In the first place, to allow the initial period of freedom, it removes certain powers which enable restrictions to be placed on the granting of licences. Local authorities will no longer be able to refuse licences just because they think there are adequate existing slaughtering facilities in their districts; nor will it be necessary during the period of freedom to get the Minister's consent to the licensing of a new slaughterhouse. On the other hand, the clause obliges local authorities to refuse licences if slaughterhouses fail to conform to the standards of structure and equipment designed to promote hygienic handling of carcases and meat. At present their power to do this is permissive.

Clause 2 deals with the licensing of slaughterhouses where this is restricted because there is a public slaughterhouse. Although, as I have just said, we propose to repeal the power of local authorities to refuse new licences where there are adequate private facilities, we do not intend to do this where a public slaughterhouse has been provided. This is because we recognise that local authorities have an ultimate responsibility to provide public slaughtering facilities if other facilities are unsatisfactory or inadequate. Clearly we could not ask them to do this, if we were going to expose them to the risk that the public slaughterhouse might be made uneconomic through unrestricted building of private slaughterhouses in the district. However, there will now be a right of appeal to the Minister against the refusal of an application for a licence.

Under Clause 3, every local authority will be required to review the slaughterhouse facilities in its district and make a report to the Minister. The main purpose of this will be to provide the Minister with information to enable him to decide when the new slaughterhouse standards can be applied to existing slaughterhouses in the district. These reports will also affect the length of the period of freedom, since the date of submission by a local authority will fix the end of the period for that particular district. To make sure that the period is neither too short nor too long, the clause fixes the earliest and latest dates by which the reports must be sent in. Clause 4 provides that once a report has been submitted any new licence applied for thereafter will need the Minister's approval. This reintroduces some measure of control over the granting of licences.

Clause 5 deals with the controversial subject of the licensing of slaughterhouses some part of which is used as a dwelling. Its effect will be to stop any new slaughterhouses being used if the slaughterhall—the place where animals are killed or carcases processed—is connected to a dwelling. This will also apply to any existing slaughterhouse where the use of a part of the slaughter-hall as a dwelling has been discontinued for an appreciable time. I know that some will object that this does not go far enough and that all slaughterhouses connected to dwellings should be abolished. This might, however, create unjustifiable difficulty and hardship in certain circumstances, particularly in rural areas, and we believe that the present proposals, coupled with the existing powers of planning authorities under the Town and Country Planning Acts, should be enough to enable the really objectionable places of this sort to be eliminated.

Clause 6 deals with delays in preparing premises for use as slaughterhouses where they are covered by the freedom period, and enables local authorities to refuse licences where the delay is unreasonable. In Clause 7 we deal with the measures to safeguard the safety, health and welfare of the workers. This is done by extending the definition of a "factory" in the Factories Act, 1937, so as to make it clear beyond doubt that all slaughterhouses and knackers' yards are covered by the provisions of the Factories Act.

Clause 8 and the Second Schedule make changes in the Slaughter of Animals Acts, the most important of which will allow the use of anæsthetisation by carbon-dioxide instead of mechanical methods of stunning to render animals unconscious before they are killed. This is a modern method which is already used abroad for pigs and is one which, after consulting the bodies concerned with animal welfare, we think should be allowed for pigs here so long as suitable safeguards are prescribed. Other changes in the Acts are made to facilitate their consolidation.

The most important feature of Clause 9 is that it will allow officers of the Ministry to enter slaughterhouses in order to see that hygiene regulations are enforced. As my right honourable friend the present Chancellor of the Exchequer explained when moving the Second Reading of the Bill in the other place, we do not intend to duplicate the work of officials of the local authorities. We do believe, however, that slaughterhouse hygiene is such an important subject that the Ministry ought to be able to keep in touch with the work of local authorities in this field, and we were reinforced in this view by the strong recommendations of the Food Hygiene Advisory Council. We feel that local authorities should be helped, rather than hindered, by the provision.

The remaining clauses deal with comparatively minor matters which can be better considered in Committee, but perhaps I ought to remind your Lordships that, since there is to be a separate Slaughterhouses Bill for Scotland, the present Bill deals only with England and Wales, except that Clause 15 applies to Scotland the provisions in Clause 7 relating to the safety, health and welfare of workers.

That, my Lords, is our Bill. Let me admit that there are clearly some people with doubts about it: the debates in another place have shown that all too clearly. Some maintain that it will lead to more, rather than fewer, slaughterhouses than the 4,400 we have in England and Wales at the present time. That is not our view. We believe that the Bill will achieve the primary aim of securing better and more hygienic slaughterhouses, and that we shall get rid of the old, unsatisfactory premises, without the need for arbitrary direction from the centre. We think this is a much better way and more likely to lead to satisfactory results. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl St. Aldwyn.)

House adjourned during pleasure and resumed by the Lord Chancellor.

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, has told us that this is a small but important Bill, and I agree with him. I have been interested in this subject for a matter of twenty years or so, and during that time the situation has become increasingly urgent. Some of your Lordships may not be aware of what happened just after the war, when the Balfour Committee said: We were shocked to learn that contracts for the supply of meat for the United States Forces in Europe could not be arranged from this country direct because our slaughterhouses fall short of the standards demanded by the American Veterinary Corps. As a result, livestock was sent to the slaughterhouses which reached the proper standards in Rotterdam and The Hague. I am informed, too, that commerce in livestock which your Lordships' House has from time to time discussed is largely due to the same fact: that Continentals will not accept meat if it has been slaughtered in this country, since our standards are too low. I think it important that your Lordships should be seized of the urgency of this problem, and you will then be in a position to judge to what extent and how quickly—and I think speed is the essence of the matter—this Bill is likely to improve those conditions.

The noble Earl has said—and no one will disagree with him—that we should all, wherever we sit in this House, have the same objects in mind when discussing the question of slaughterhouses: humane conditions and methods, good conditions of work, hygiene and, finally, efficiency and economy. But none of these things, I suggest, can be attained without what has come to be called (it has now become something of a catch-phrase) moderate concentration. No doubt we should differ one from the other as to what is meant by moderate concentration, but I suggest that what it means basically is the construction of large slaughterhouses to deal with probably the vast bulk of our supplies of meat and smaller slaughterhouses in particular places in which there is special need for them. I think that that would be a fair definition. The policy of moderate concentration has been accepted by both the main Parties, and, so far as I know, by all three Parties.

In that connection, I should like to read the terms of reference (I think it is important that we should all be aware of this) of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Slaughterhouses which was set up in 1953. The terms of reference were: To prepare a plan recommending in what localities, subject to a policy of moderate concentration, slaughterhouses (other than in bacon factories) should be sited for the slaughter in England and Wales of cattle, sheep and pigs; to recommend an order of priority for new works and major reconstructions; to make recommendations on the general principles of siting and the facilities that should be provided at these slaughterhouses; and to report on the changes that may be necessary in existing legislation to secure the central regulation of siting and design of slaughterhouses". That, I suggest, is a direction which might have been given by a Minister from either side of this House.

The Inter-Departmental Committee reported, and in connection with their Report it is interesting to read the White Paper which was issued in 1956, a year after the Committee reported. I would here say (I think the same thing was said in another place) how much all who are interested in this Bill appreciate the draft regulations which have been put out by the Ministry. They have enabled us to take a far more informed and, I think, intelligent view of the likely working of this Bill than we could have taken if they had not been made available. I think it is worth while for any of your Lordships who are interested to compare the terms of the White Paper with Appendix II of the Report. One gets the feeling, inevitably I think, which is strengthened by the draft regulations, that the Government, without saying so, have had something approaching a change of mind. The thing is slight, but there is far less accent on the basic principle of concentration which I suggest is essential if we are going to attain the other four main objects of slaughterhouse policy.

I suggest to your Lordships that without concentration it is impossible to obtain satisfactorily the humane conditions, the good conditions of work, the hygiene or the efficiency of slaughterhouses. Possibly it is easier, in the circumstances envisaged by this Bill, to obtain the humane treatment than to obtain good conditions of work. Incidentally, I do not begrudge the noble Earl the credit which he took to himself for the clause dealing with conditions of work, but of course he is aware, as are all your Lordships, that the Bill was overtaken by a recent decision, and therefore this is what I believe is technically called declaratory. However, we welcome it.

In connection with humane conditions, may I venture to put a question to the noble Earl? This is a matter which was discussed in another place, and reading the Reports of the debate I found myself in something of a quandary. Perhaps the noble Earl can explain the matter to me. It was there suggested that new instruments for use in slaughterhouses might receive approval from the Ministry. Indeed, an Amendment to this effect was moved, and the Minister in reply rejected the Amendment on what seemed to me the rather curious ground that this might establish monopolies. I have had contact with manufacturers of machines or instruments of this kind, and their opinion appears to be quite contrary—that they would consider it a great convenience if they could submit any new instrument which had been invented to the Ministry, and receive the Ministry's approval. It would seem to me that those who run the slaughterhouses would also be in a better position if, when they were ordering equipment, they knew that that equipment had already been approved. I cannot sea that any monopoly would be in the least likely to be set up in that way. Surely, any other manufacturer would be perfectly free to produce other instruments and submit them for approval. I raise this point because if the Minister can answer it now, it may save us time on the Committee stage. I may add, incidentally, that the Weinberg pen is such a contrivance, and it did, in fact, receive approval.

In connection with the operation of the Factories Acts in slaughterhouses, may I ask the noble Earl whether he or the Ministry have given any more consideration to a point which was raised in another place—and which was not, I believe, definitely settled before this Bill left that place—which had to do with the definition of slaughtering. It is a small, but not unimportant, point. Finally in this connection, may I say that we regret that the power for regulation is not wider. I fully appreciate that we shall be told, if we criticise the Factories Acts, that this Bill is no place in which to amend them. But the fact remains that the Factories Acts will be insufficient or inadequate to cover conditions in slaughterhouses. I suggest to Her Majesty's Government that it would be desirable to give wider scope, even before any basic change is made in the Factories Acts. I think I am right in saying that nowadays, when passing enabling legislation under which other orders can be made, it is usual to make the field very wide and to allow the small definite points to be brought up in the orders and discussed in Parliament in that way; whereas, of course, the Factories Acts date from an earlier period and go into what nowadays would be considered rather old-fashioned detail.

I come to the third of the desiderata of which we have both spoken: that is, hygiene. It is really on this ground that I feel the deepest disquiet. I cannot conceive that it will be possible adequately to inspect slaughterhouses if they exist in even the present numbers. I am aware that there are something like 4.500 slaughterhouses in this country, as compared with 12,000 before the war, but I do not believe that even that number, with the present staff of inspectors—and Her Majesty's Government will be aware how short we are of inspectors—can possibly be satisfactorily, adequately and constantly inspected. Not only will it not be possible, I believe, properly to inspect the actual factories; far more difficult will be the inspection of meat. I suggest to your Lordships that this is a point on which the Government should have second thoughts. The Minister in another place admitted that to the best of his belief 20 per cent. of the meat sold in this country had not been inspected. I have heard that figure put as high as 50 per cent. I think it is quite impossible to expect that the meat coming out of these thousands of small slaughterhouses can possibly be adequately inspected.

In this connection, I should like, if I may, to quote the remarks made in 1951 by the Inter-Departmental Committee on Meat Inspection, at a time when I think there were in all in this country something like 400 slaughterhouses, and not 4,000. The Committee reported: The present deficiencies are often due to slaughterhouses being too small, badly constructed and inadequately equipped. In such circumstances it is impossible to secure the observance of reasonable standards of hygiene. I know the noble Earl will say: "This is what all our regulations are aimed at—to get those standards of hygiene." But I do not believe it will be possible to do that with this very large number of small slaughterhouses. I heard, of course, what the noble Earl said about dwelling houses, and this indeed increases my disquiet, because these are the most undesirable slaughterhouses of all. These are places in which in many cases slaughtering is actually done in the basement of houses. I should have thought that it would have been possible, without decreasing seriously or in any important way our supplies of meat, to lay down immediately that slaughterhouses should not be either attached to or actually in dwelling houses. I must confess that it depressed me to hear what the noble Earl had to say on that subject.

Finally, I come to the point of efficiency and economy. Here I think there can be no question at all that both efficiency and economy and, as I have also already suggested, hygiene, good conditions of work and humane conditions, can be best obtained in the larger slaughterhouses. It is economical to do your slaughtering in large slaughterhouses, because it is only in them that you can conserve and get the benefit of the by-products, the glandular materials and so on, which are obtainable and which in the smaller slaughterhouses are absolutely lost. It is essential for these materials. Which are extremely perishable, that the place in which they are to be treated should be adjacent to the slaughterhouse; and it is only in the larger slaughterhouses that it is possible to have these facilities at hand and also to have the necessary conveniences for separating and profiting from these materials.

Again, the slaughtering in large slaughterhouses costs very much less. The cost per cattle unit in a slaughterhouse catering for a population of 60,000 would be 33⅓ per cent. more than in a slaughterhouse of a size to supply half a million persons. These figures I take from the Inter-Departmental Committee's own Report; I have merely changed the figures, which are probably no longer valid, into percentages. I think the difference is very striking. In addition, I should like to quote from the Annual Report of the Fatstock Marketing Corporation, published after the Inter-Departmental Committee had reported. The Corporation say this: Although improvements are envisaged by the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee, we are of the opinion that only by means of a new construction programme, planned and executed by experts on the scale we have in mind, can slaughtering practice in this country attain the desired standard of efficiency, economy of operation and hygiene. Her Majesty's Government presumably hope that the less desirable slaughterhouses will, by the conditions which they are laying down, be put out of operation. I hope that may be so. They presumably also hope—if they still believe in moderate concentration; I am not quite sure about that, though they have not publicly denied it—that some, at any rate, of the larger slaughterhouses mentioned in the Inter-Departmental Committee's Report as being the most modern development of slaughtering will come into existence. I wish I could share their optimism. I am at a loss, if indeed this is their policy, to understand the provisions which they are proposing under this Bill.

The noble Earl has said that there is to be a period of from one to two years when there will be no impediment put in the way of licensing new slaughterhouses, although they will have to conform to the regulations. The noble Earl spoke as if two years were a maximum. My understanding of the statement made in another place was that the minimum under the Bill would be nine months, but that the Minister expected that the period would be actually considerably longer than that—probably at least one to two years. But he did not, if I have understood correctly, say that two years would be the maximum. We may therefore anticipate, I am afraid, that the period may be. in certain areas, longer than two years. But in any case I do not understand why, when one is trying to co-ordinate the slaughterhouses of this country, one should have a free-for-all for two years. It seems to me quite incomprehensible, unless what the Government really want is a large number of small slaughterhouses all over the country and no new and truly efficient slaughterhouses. Thereafter we are to have the local authorities' reports to the Minister on conditions in their areas; after which, as the noble Earl has said, they will be granted licences only when special need can be shown to exist in the neighbourhood.

In another place the Labour Party on Third Reading voted against this Bill. We do not intend to divide the House on Second Reading, but do not let the Government suppose for one single minute that our restraint in this matter is any measure of approbation of this Bill. We believe that not only is it likely to prove a defective Bill, a Bill of small utility, if any, but that it may even prove a bad Bill, because during the free-for-all period many slaughterhouses may well be opened— indeed, Her Majesty's Government seem to expect this—and with the opening of any single one of those the problem of finally dealing in an intelligent and intelligible way with the slaughtering policy of this country becomes more and more difficult, if not impossible.

4.6 p.m.


My Lords. I am sure we all greatly appreciate the sincerity and deep knowledge from which the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, speaks on this subject, which is to many people, perhaps, a rather distasteful subject—one of those necessities of life which many of us wish did not have to be. But for one, do not share the noble Lord's pessimism about this Bill. I believe that it constitutes a real and appreciable advance towards the good slaughterhouse policy which is the common aim, and which, as the noble Earl who moved the Second Reading of this Bill explained, is set out clearly and fully in the White Paper issued in 1956. It has set out clearly what we ought to aim at and what I think it is common ground we are all aiming at. In the first few lines it is set out that policy must be not only to ensure adequate slaughtering facilities, but also to secure the slaughtering of stock in humane conditions, to maintain the highest standards of hygiene, and to have regard to the interests of traders and slaughterhouse workers. I am sure there is none of us in this House who is not wholly agreed that these are the aims. They are common aims, but our trouble has been, over many years in dealing with this difficult subject, over our methods of approach.

It has already been mentioned that in another place records were broken by the length of time and columns of the OFFICIAL RECORD that were—I would not say wasted, but expended, on this difficulty of the divergent approach. And though it would be dangerous to try to summarise or simplify such a complex and difficult subject, I believe that the real divergence arising between us here is whether we are to aim at a detailed central planning. which would have the effect of having a very few—perhaps only a few hundreds—publiclyowned abattoirs, or whether, on the other hand, the policy should be to have strict standards laid down by legislation, which would inevitably lead, I think, to a few more slaughterhouses—perhaps a few thousand—partly public and partly private, and to leave our local authorities and the private industry concerned with this work to work out the details of the size, the type, the number and the location of these slaughterhouses within this rigid framework of strict standards and regulations. My Lords, I think the Government have wisely adopted the latter approach to these common aims, and that is the basis of the legislation in this Bill.

In the last two decades conditions have, I think, been quite abnormal. We must all admit that immediately before the war, when there were these 12,000 slaughterhouses about which we hear so much, agriculture was in a most depressed condition, a quite abnormal condition as we should now all agree, so that we cannot really base anything on that. During the war, when there were only 400 public slaughterhouses in operation, the conditions were again obviously quite abnormal: one had rationing of meat, and distribution was no longer in private hands. I am quite sure that it is the fact that these two previous periods have been so abnormal that has led us into a good deal of our difficulties. It was out of the two abnormal periods, neither one of which we want to return to, that this curious phrase to which the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon has referred, "moderate concentration", came to be born. I think I am correct in saying (and I seem to recall that the Minister confirmed it during the debates in another place) that the Government still believe in moderate concentration. Perhaps the noble Earl who is to reply will just reaffirm that.

The question with a phrase like that is, what does it mean? What is "moderate concentration"? If I may take a rather homely example, a glass of whisky and soda water to some people might be considered to be immoderate concentration. To a teetotaler it would be wholly intoxicating and quite wrong; whereas to a really heavy drinker, the like of which I am sure there is none in your Lordships' House, it would be quite, shall I say, ineffective. I believe that this Bill gives no comfort either to the teetotaler or to the really heavy drinker. We are not going to find here an absolute concentration of slaughterhouses with this few number of publicly owned abattoirs; nor are we going to have this tremendous dispersal which will lead back to the 12,000 figure of before the war.

If I may refer briefly to one or two of the specific matters in this Bill, I should like to mention for a moment Clause 2, because it is, I think, the most important of all: it is the general clause about licensing. I think that, in the changed circumstances which now obtain, the Government have taken a wise decision in rejecting the advice of the Inter-Departmental Committee which reported in 1955. The Inter-Departmental Committee recommended the Government not to allow local authorities absolutely to reject new slaughterhouses. In my view, however, the Government have done wisely in retaining the power for local authorities to restrict private slaughtering where they have provided a public slaughterhouse. It might have thrown an unfair burden on the ratepayers to have public slaughterhouses rendered uneconomic by unrestricted competition. But here we have a good escape clause, because there are new developments going on all the time, and in such a restricted area, as I believe it is called (it is a little complex), or an area where restrictions are in force, if somebody wanting to put up a new and modern slaughterhouse, perhaps with the idea of using new methods is refused permission, he has a right of appeal to the Minister; so there is not a blank refusal. That incorporates a most important point in this Bill.

The other specific point that I should like to refer to is in Clause 3, and concerns this matter of reports. I think that is an extremely important matter. It may mean, in the first place, that some extra work will be put on to local authorities, but I believe they will accept it gladly, for it will clearly be of the most extreme advantage that there should be these reports and that the facts as to the facilities in a district should be known before these regulations come into force and have to be imposed. The other clause which is of great importance, although it may be called declaratory, is surely Clause 7, under which, at last, and for the first time, the workers in this industry have the full protection of the Factories Acts.

Therefore, my Lords, I believe that this Bill represents a valuable and constructive advance on the three fronts of good slaughterhouse policy that we all want. Different people will differ in regard to the order of priority. For myself, I would put them in this order. I would say that the human being should come first. Now, for the first time, there will be national standards for the strict control of slaughterhouses and the equipment that is used in them, designed to ensure proper hygiene for the health of the people and in regard to the food that we eat. The second priority I would give is to the worker in this, it must be said, somewhat unpleasant industry of slaughterhouse work. Now, for the first time, should this Bill become law, such a worker will have the full protection of the Factories Acts. I think that that is overdue. Thirdly in my order of priorities would come the animal that is to be slaughtered. This Bill constitutes an advance in humane methods of slaughter, and I am sure that your Lordships will welcome it in the form in which it now comes to this House.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, in reading the text of this Bill and in listening to the speeches this afternoon I have been greatly struck by the fact that, except for the last sentence of the noble Earl who spoke last, the interests of the animals have not been mentioned at all. We have been given references to White Papers up to and including 1956, but there has been no mention of Command Paper 243 of August, 1957. That Paper sets out to give protection against fear and pain to animals which are to be slaughtered for our needs. I want to ask the noble Earl to tell us, in replying, how the provisions of this Command Paper are to be incorporated in the Bill and how they may be debated; because it does not follow that everybody will agree without debate to what is contained in that Paper. Are these provisions to be included in the Act after it has been passed, without any discusion or debate—or how are they to be included?

In case there should be no further opportunity to debate these provisions except on the Committee stage, I should like to bring to notice three paragraphs in this Command Paper which I believe are capable of improvement. The first is paragraph 2: In these regulations a stunning pen ' means a pen or compartment which is suitable for confining a bull, ox, bullock, cow, heifer or steer while it is being stunned and which is constructed so as to confine without discomfort only one such animal at a time and so to prevent any substantial movement by the animal forwards backwards, or sideways. In that connection, there are two points that I should like to make. First, there should be a provision that the sides of the pen should be sufficiently high to prevent the animal from seeing out of it or being seen while inside. That is in conformity with the last paragraph of the Paper which reads: The existing regulations forbidding the slaughtering of an animal in sight of other animals awaiting slaughter will be applied to all slaughterhouses without exception. It already applies to all knackers' yards. The existing regulation requiring the provision at all slaughterhouses and knackers' yards where horses are slaughtered of a separate room or hay for that purpose will be applied to all such slaughterhouses and knackers' yards without exception. That is one point.

Another point is that the word "mechanical" ought to be inserted in the description of a stunning pen, otherwise it would be possible for a small slaughterhouse to knock up any kind of contraption of boarding and to say that it was a stunning pen. An adequate stunning pen is a rather complicated affair, because as soon as the animal has been stunned the sides have to open and the floor has to tip up so that the animal is immediately slid out on to the floor. I believe therefore that it would be a great advantage if the word "mechanical" were inserted in that place.

The other point I should like to make on the Paper is in connection with the delay which is to be allowed before these conditions are enforceable. It is stated: The provisions of paragraphs 2 to 5 inclusive of this regulation shall not apply in relation to any existing slaughterhouse where paragraph 1 of this regulation came into operation in relation to that slaughterhouse after the … day of … A footnote says: The date to be inserted here will be four years later than the date in the first sentence of Regulation 1. Personally, I consider four years is too long and that it ought to be possible for any slaughterhouse, even the smallest one, to be provided with a proper mechanical slaughtering pen within two years. I understand that although the pens used by the big slaughterhouses are very expensive, costing perhaps £300 or £400, an adequate slaughtering pen can be constructed for about £150.

The next point I want to raise is in connection with the electrical stunning of animals, particularly of sheep. A letter issued by the Assistant Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to county councils, urban district councils and others, casts considerable doubt on the efficiency of electrical stunning in all cases, and recommends that particular care should be taken especially in the case of sheep, where wool acts to some extent as a nonconductor. Among other things, the letter recommends that the wool should be clipped at both sides of a sheep's head before the electrical stunning tongs are applied.

We have heard something about the shortage of inspectors in slaughterhouses, and I maintain that a provision of this kind would be impossible to obtain where large numbers of sheep were being stunned. The letter also indicates that the voltage should be not less than 75 volts—and that would be a provision very difficult to enforce. I know that a great deal of discussion and experiment is going on about the efficiency of electrical stunning and, for that reason, I hope that the regulations as finally agreed and passed into law may take very considerable notice of this point.

I have here a letter from the Liverpool abattoir, which, I believe, is the biggest slaughterhouse in the country; at any rate, they slaughter about 250,000 sheep every year.

It states that: … the electric stunner is not entirely satisfactory, as the wool on the heads would appear to act as insulation and effective stunning is not 100 per cent. I have discussed this at great length with the engineer and eventually decided to use captive bolt pistols, if and when the line was used. The reference to the "line" concerns a system of progressive slaughter of animals, in the same sort of way as motor cars are assembled—but this is for disassembling. The letter goes on to say: To use the alternative method we usually need to purchase two more pistols and cartridges, at 90s. per thousand, which will amount to a considerable sum annually. The writer states that the electric stunner is provided and installed by local authorities, but that the captive bolt pistols and cartridges are not provided. It is quite true that the extra cost per carcase is very trivial, only a fraction over a penny; nevertheless, there it is. There is a tendency to cause a slaughterman to prefer to use the electric stunning to the captive bolt pistol. Another argument in favour of the captive bolt pistol is that it is possible for an inspector to see afterwards what has happened to the sheep, from the hole in the skull; whereas it is not possible at a later stage to form any opinion as to whether the electric stunning was effective or not.

The last point I want to raise is in connection with the possibility of permitting independent inspectors to have access to slaughterhouses. I remember raising this point some years ago just after the war, and I was told that the position was quite all right because the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals had the power of entry to slaughterhouses, and it was considered that that was quite sufficient and it was not desired to extend that permission to a number of other, small societies. As a matter of fact, so far as I know there is only one other society which takes much interest in the details of the slaughter of animals. But I should like to ask the noble Earl to tell us in his reply whether that independent inspection can be made in the future. It is admitted on all hands that the inspection facilities are inadequate; that the inspection staff are inadequate; that they are mainly concerned with the hygiene of the slaughterhouse, with the quality of the meat and so on, and that there is not much provision to look after the sufferings of the animals. But, as I say, my main question this afternoon is this: How are the provisions of this Command Paper to be included in the Bill, and what opportunity shall we have of debating them?

4.34 p.m.


My Lords, I will detain your Lordships for only a very few minutes. I want to ask the noble Earl one question. The noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, has rather criticised this term, "moderate concentration" for its somewhat vague meaning; and it seems to me that this Bill does very little to encourage the building of large modern abattoirs, which is surely what must be the ultimate aim. I had the opportunity of inspecting the Inglis abattoirs in Melbourne. The people there are very proud of them; they encourage visitors, and make what I think is a pretty just claim that absolutely no part of the animal is wasted. Parts of these abattoirs are almost like modern laboratories. In them are made the surgical gut and many other by-products that come from the animal.

I am told that if we in this country possessed abattoirs of this kind the saving in waste would be enormous and, in fact, would pay many times for the construction of these large, modern meat factories, which is what they really are; and also that the saving would pay for a great deal of the meat which we at present import. Could the Minister tell us what plans there are for building really modern meat factories, and how many there will be? Are there any abattoirs in this country at the present time to compare with these wonderful places that one sees in the Commonwealth and, of course, in the United States? I am told by people in the meat world that we are almost behind the world in this sort of thing, as is probably instanced by the fact that during the war, as we were told earlier this afternoon by Lord Faringdon, the Americans would not allow their meat slaughtered here to be served to the United States Forces. It seems to me that very little is being done to encourage these really modern buildings, and perhaps the Minister could say something about this aspect.

4.37 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who have taken part in the debate this afternoon, and I will endeavour to deal with at least some of the points that have been raised. The noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, raised a point which my noble friend Lord Gifford has just touched on again When he quoted from the Balfour Report that the United States Forces would not have their animals slaughtered here. On the face of it that sounds very bad; but when one looks at the matter a little more closely the position, frankly, is not so serious as he would have your Lordships believe. There are certain conditions which our friends in the United States apply to all their slaughtering which just are not followed in this country, in any slaughterhouse: they are practices that we have not adopted. Possibly the most obvious one is their strict standard that all carcases must be hosed down with steam. Even in the most modern abattoirs in this country we do not do that, because it is one of those practices that we have felt from all sides was unnecessary or undesirable. They like it done. Frankly, I myself—I am no expert on this—wonder whether it might not have some effect on the taste.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Earl knows how many other countries (because quite clearly it applies in the Low Countries) insist on the same procedure?


My Lords, that I am afraid I cannot tell the noble Lord. All I can tell him is that it is one of those things we have never done here and that, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever asked for it. The noble Lord also raised a point about manufacturers being willing to have various instruments—I presume by that he means actual killing instruments—approved.


Not necessarily. The noble Lord, Lord Dowding, was talking about the stunning pen. I mean any fitments.


Frankly, we feel it unnecessary to have any further control over the various implements used. We have no reason at all to suspect that faulty stunning pens would be installed by an irresponsible firm. We know that that trade is in the hands of very reputable firms who have already had a great deal of experience. We have had no form of complaint at all about captive bolts, and we are rather reluctant to add further controls unless there is a good reason for doing so. We are always willing to give our advice.


My Lords, I apologise for interrupting again, but the noble Earl is puzzling me. Surely the Ministry is going to say whether they would approve certain instruments—for example, the electric stunner mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dowding. Surely that could not be used as an alternative to the bolt without the consent of the Minister. It must come under the control of the regulations.


I understood that the noble Lord was asking that we should have regulations whereby all these instruments would be approved.


My Lords, I did not suggest regulations. What I suggested was that a manufacturer should submit an implement or piece of equipment he was producing to the Ministry to be tested; and, having been tested, it would then go out to anybody who wanted to buy it as one which had been tested and approved by the Ministry. It is not a question of control, but merely of convenience to the manufacturer and the purchaser.


My Lords, as said, we are willing and anxious to help and advise manufacturers on any new suggestions that come along; and that we are doing. The noble Lord also raised the question of the length of the freedom period. He is perfectly right in assuming that two years is not necessarily the maximum. If the Minister approves the earliest date for the submission of local authority reports, the maximum could not exceed two years, five months.

My noble friend Lord Waldegrave welcomed the Bill and touched on the point, which my noble friend Lord Faringdon also mentioned, of moderate concentration. I think that perhaps my noble friend has slightly misunderstood the situation. I said in my opening remarks that: This may have seemed right whilst the Ministry of Food still had a central control of marketing and slaughtering of home produced livestock, but after decontrol in June, 1954, developments occurred in the meat trade which called for a fresh and more flexible approach to the problem. And that is what we have, a moderate concentration—but not such a concentrated moderate concentration as my noble friend had in mind.

The noble Lord, Lord Dowding, asked me what chance there would be of discussing these regulations as presented in the White Paper, Cmnd. 243, before they actually became regulations. Of course he will have an opportunity of praying against these regulations when they are laid, and I assure him that I will pay great attention to what he has said, though there are one or two points where I am afraid I cannot agree with him. I may have misunderstood him on the point which he raised about stunning pens, but I cannot see what difference it makes to the animal concerned, once it is dead, whether the stunning pen is operated mechanically or not. I understood that the noble Lord's main point was humanitarian.


My Lords, while it does not make any difference to the animal when it is dead, an inspector can get a good line on what is going on in a slaughterhouse when he sees the skulls of the animals that have been killed, if stunning is adopted in the slaughtering of every sheep that is killed.


If I may interrupt the noble Lord, I was referring to the stunning pens. I cannot see what difference it makes to an animal, once it is dead, whether the pen is operated mechanically or not.


My Lords, a great point is made that the captive bolt pistol does not kill the animal: it stuns it. And though consciousness does not return, reflex action sets in after a surprisingly short time—sometimes after a matter of seconds—and when the animal is hoisted up to be bled after being stunned, if reflex action has set in the work of the slaughterman becomes much more difficult. As I understand it, that is the object of a mechanical stunning pen from the point of view of the slaughterman. The high sides, of course, are for a different purpose—to prevent animals from being killed in sight of one another. But I understand that the mechanical stunning pen is to enable the carcase of the animal to be hoisted up from the floor and hoisted up for bleeding with the minimum of delay.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that further explanation. I am still not quite convinced, but I will look into the point. The noble Lord also raised the question of electrical stunning. I must admit that I listened with considerable interest to his remarks, which obviously proceeded from close study of the subject. I can assure the noble Lord that we will keep an eye on the use of electric stunners for sheep. We have sent this letter round to the local authorities and we shall continue to watch this with the greatest of care.

The noble Lord, Lord Faringdon raised a point, which was also raised in another place, on lairages and the Factories Act. My right honourable friend did say in another place that it was the Government's intention that the lairages attached to slaughterhouses should come under the Factories Act, and that he would consider whether Clause 7, which I think is the one the noble Lord is worried about—




I apologise to the noble Lord. I thought when he was talking about slaughterings—


In a sense, it is lairages. It is really the definition of the word.


Then I think we are on the same point, and in fact it relates to Clause 7. My right honourable friend said that he would consider whether Clause 7 did that, and that, if it did not, steps would be taken to ensure that lairages were covered before the Bill reached the Statute Book. We are considering this question, which has turned out to be a rather complicated one, and I can assure the House that, if the position is not clear, I will on the Committee stage introduce an Amendment to that clause to make it absolutely clear.

The noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, rather suggested that I had taken more unto myself than I should have done in saying what I did about the Factories Act and this Bill. I would remind him that, although it did arise, to a certain extent, out of a judicial decision, that decision in itself was not binding; there was still room for appeal to your Lordships' House, and it might at some time have been upset. Therefore, feeling that these workers should be under the Factories Act, we took the initiative and put them into the Bill.


I am delighted to give the Government full credit.


My noble friend Lord Gifford rather suggested that we should have abattoirs somewhat on the scale of those in Australia. Frankly, we have none on that scale, and I do not anticipate that there will be any, for this simple reason: that the position in Australia, and in America, is that there is a great quantity of animals coming to one central place to be slaughtered and then going out in one direction. Here it is more a question of supplying the local need with what it requires. There is no question, for instance, of all the meat in the North of England being collected and sent to London. The vast majority of it is consumed locally. In the long run, I think it is more economical from everybody's point of view to have the smaller units distributed more in relation to the production and consumption of the meat.


But surely there is a vast waste of by-products by using the smaller abattoirs?


In the very small abattoirs, obviously there is a loss; but in the more moderate-sized ones, I think we can make use of all the by-products.


I am a little puzzled on this point. I should have thought that the London area and some of the larger conurbations would have been able to employ an abattoir, if not perhaps on the scale of that at Chicago, still on the scale I was talking about, to deal with, say, 500,000 inhabitants.


From the point of view of consumption, the noble Lord is quite right. He talks about Chicago. But there is there a vast area which is producing, and the whole of the produce of that one area is going into one place and then out to Chicago and so on. Here there is no area for which it can be said that all the meat is going to London. It is because we have not the wide, open spaces, such as they have in Australia and America, that we are in a rather different position.

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