HL Deb 03 December 1962 vol 245 cc8-14

2.52 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in rising to move the Second Reading of this Bill, I can certainly claim that it is a very simple one—so simple, in fact, that even I can understand it. It is almost identical with a Bill which was introduced in another place by the late Mr. Robert Crouch, in about 1955. That Bill had a very short life indeed; in fact, it was rejected on its First Reading. Now you may well ask why it is that I—one of the least of the Back-Benchers of your Lordships House—am bold enough to try to reintroduce a Bill which failed when in the hands of an experienced politician. The reason is this: that since that time there has been a lot of valuable research, which in my opinion throws a very different light on the subject, as I hope to persuade your Lordships.

I know that many people will say that the motive behind this Bill is anti-Semitism. I expect that most of your Lordships have received this little white pamphlet known as Shechita, which is the official term for this type of slaughter. On the inside of its back page it quotes the Frankfurter Zeitung of 1893. That was just after this type of slaughter had been made illegal in Switzerland. The Frankfurter Zeitung said: One cannot avoid the conclusion that what we witnessed in Switzerland is anti-Semitism using the guise of humanitarianism. The pamphlet then goes on to say: The chemistry of the anti-Shechita agitation is a compound of ignorance of physiological phenomena, intolerance of minority rights, of exploited sentimentalities and anti-Semitism. My Lords, nothing could be less true of this Bill. There is no anti-Semitism whatsoever behind it. I have no anti-Semitic feelings myself; in fact, I have made a great many very good friends among the Jews. It would be a curious thing, indeed, if I had spent my entire life in the musical profession without doing so, for if there is one art in which they are outstanding it is music. I realise, too, that it is a race which has produced some very fine and some very great men. Nobody who has had the privilege, as I have had, of sitting in your Lordships' House and listening to a speech by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, would question that. There is also that very much regretted figure, Sir Basil Henriques, who for so long was an example of everything that a man should be. No, there is no anti-Semitism whatsoever behind it.

As to sentimentality, I know it is the custom to label all those who stand up in the defence of animals as sentimentalists; but is the desire to avoid cruelty, even if it be only to animals, really just sentimentalism? I think that is a question which would bear a little further consideration. As to minority rights, nobody could be more in favour of preserving them than I am. In this very mass-produced age in which we live they are disappearing only too rapidly. In any case, I hope to convince your Lordships that this Bill is not going to trespass on the conscientious Jew's rights in the slightest degree.

This same pamphlet says on its first page: Shechita is a religious rite deriving authority from the Bible. Prescribed by the Divine Law, as interpreted by Jewish tradition, it is binding upon the conscience of the Jew. Now, my Lords, Divine Law can mean only one thing to the Jew, and that is the law as given to Moses upon Mount Sinai. In fact, the protagonists of this particular kind of slaughter often quote two passages, Deuteronomy, Chapter XII, verses 20 and 21, and Leviticus, Chapter XVII, verses 10 to 14. I have examined those two passages and in them there is not even one single reference as to how the beast shall be slain. All that they emphasise is the fact that one must not eat or, if one prefers, drink blood.

As regards that, I should like to quote the comparative figures of the blood content of carcases slain by the Jewish method and by the Gentile method. I will take the four quarters in each case, and the blood content is measured in grammes per cent. In the case of cattle the Jewish method is 2.6 and the Gentile 2.5. In the case of sheep, in both the Jewish and the Gentile methods it is 2.2. So your Lordships can see that there is virtually no difference in the blood content of animals slain by the two methods. Therefore, even if we were to ask the Jew to eat meat slain by the Gentile method, he would not really be trepassing upon his own convictions as regards the Law as given by Moses. But this Bill is not even asking him to do that. All it is asking him to do is to see that the animal is rendered unconscious first. After that, he can use his traditional method as much as he wants to.

After all, my Lords, Jewish law has been modified, as has our own, over the centuries. As we all know, it used to be the custom in the old days for a woman who was taken in adultery to be put to death. That custom is not observed today. Moreover, it has scriptural authority, my Lords. I can tell you where to find it: Leviticus, Chapter 20, verse 20; and Deuteronomy, Chapter 22, verse 22. There is definite scriptural authority, which might be interpreted as Divine Law; yet it is not observed today.

I should like now to quote from the Report of a Committee appointed by the Admiralty to consider the humane slaughtering of animals which was made as long ago as 1904. I will not quote it all—as your Lordships can see, it is a considerably voluminous Report—but I will quote a few words: The Committee have been forced to the following conclusions: that the Jewish system fails in the primary requirement of rapidity, freedom from unnecessary pain and instantaneous loss of sensibility and that it compares very unfavourably with the methods and standards recommended by the Committee in paragraph 10; that the subsequent operation of cutting the throat is at best an uncertain method of producing immediate loss of sensibility, and frequently causes great and unduly prolonged suffering to the animal. That was in 1904, my Lords. Then about nine years ago an experiment to prove whether the loss of sensibility was absolutely instantaneous or not was made in Bristol. This experiment was sponsored by the Jewish authorities there, and was carried out by Professor Ottoway. For some reason or other the Jewish authorities refused to allow the findings of that experiment to be published. What the reason was I cannot say, but that is the fact.

My Lords, I do not know how many of you have ever actually seen this method in process. It is not a pleasant sight. I have seen it, and it is not a thing that I want to see twice. In the case of fully-grown cattle, they are led—and sometimes, in the case of bulls, of course, forced—into a large structure known as the casting pen, which is a cylindrical structure large enough to contain the beast. They are then shut into it with the head protruding from the front end. The structure is then rotated so that the animal is upside down, and the chin of the animal is then grasped and forced, sometimes with considerable strength, down to the ground so that the neck is absolutely taut. All this, of course, is done while the animal is in full possession of consciousness. The Shochet, or official Jewish slaughterer, then steps forward and makes the rapid cut. Now the Jewish authorities claim that the loss of consciousness is absolutely instantaneous at the cut. Incidentally, they quote a large number of distinguished English scientists who corroborate them in this statement and who say that, in their opinion, this method is entirely humane. But it is worth noting that all these statements were made before the introduction of a certain apparatus known as the electro-encephelogram. This is an instrument which registers the activity of the brain.

Now the society of which I have the honour of being president, the Council of Justice to Animals and Humane Slaughter Association, which during this campaign has been fully backed up by the R.S.P.C.A., has been fortunate enough to obtain the co-operation of two very distinguished scientists, Dr. Wooldridge, who is scientific director of the Animal Health Trust, and Dr. Bell, both of whom are specialists in the subject of the circulation of blood to the brain. I should like to say a word or two about their experiments. When the out is made, the carotid artery, which carries, of course, the main supply of blood to the brain, is severed; but there is also a secondary supply of blood to the brain in the form of the vertebral arteries. Those remain uncut; and sometimes the vertebral arteries can withdraw slightly and seal so that the blood pressure is maintained. In any case, they found with this apparatus that brain activity could be registered for periods up to 25 seconds in cattle and 15 seconds in sheep.

My Lords, 25 seconds may not sound a very long time, but, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to count out 25 seconds so as to show you that it is not such a short time. I am going to start with the cut. [Lord Somers then counted out 25 seconds.] My Lords, that is quite a considerable time during which to feel agonising pain and extreme terror. Of course the period is not always quite so long as 25 seconds, but it can be that and has been registered as such.

Now I know, as has been said by Dr. Wooldridge himself, that it is difficult to state exactly what consciousness is, especially in the case of a dumb animal who cannot give us his impressions of what he has been feeling. But as this activity is registered, the brain is obviously still working, and I cannot see that there is any strong reason to doubt that the animal is to a certain degree, at any rate, still conscious. One must remember that there are degrees of consciousness: one can be fully conscious, one can be semi-conscious or one can be totally unconscious; and one has to remember, too, that it is possible to be at a very low state of consciousness indeed and still feel pain and fear.

I should like now to quote an article which came out in the Jewish Chronicle on November 2 this year. Again, I will not quote the whole thing, just two paragraphs: Claims are made by certain animal protection societies that tests have shown that animals remained conscious after Shechita for up to as much as fifteen seconds. These estimates are based on experiments where the carotid arteries, the main supply of blood to the brain, were occluded, that is, tied, but not actually severed so that what happens during Shechita was not in fact reproduced. The anatomy of the blood supply to the brain in ruminants is such that there is a world of difference between merely tying the carotid arteries and actually severing them; for when they are severed the blood from the much smaller vertebral arteries which would otherwise go to the brain just seeps back from the cut ends of the carotid and the supply of blood to the brain is virtually brought to an immediate halt. The experiments referred to are therefore of little value. I will quote, too, from Dr. Wooldridge's reply to the author of that article: Dear Dr. Homa: My attention has been drawn to the statement made by you in your article in the Jewish Chronicle of November 2."— and he goes on to quote what Dr. Homa has said. Then he continues: May I point out that the experiments to which you refer were in fact objective scientific experiments carried out under the auspices of the Animal Health Trust. You are quite wrong in stating the carotids were not actually severed. In fact, they were actually severed. This fact may affect the conclusions you draw from the experiments which you have, unfortunately, unwittingly misread or misinterpreted. My Lords, I would also, if I may, quote a resolution which was passed by a conference of slaughtering trade members of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers on February 27, 1949. They passed the following resolution: That in the case of ritual slaughtering this Conference is of the opinion that animals for slaughter should be rendered unconscious before cutting. I have also a quotation from a letter addressed to the Association of Municipal Corporations in April, 1960, from the British Veterinary Association. They said: Disregarding religious considerations, it is the opinion of experienced members of this Association that greater suffering is caused to animals by ritual slaughter than by the modern methods of slaughter carried out in accordance with the requirements of the Slaughter of Animals Act and Slaughter of Animals (Prevention of Cruelty) Regulations of 1958. It was also their opinion that greater distress is caused to animals by the methods of handling prior to ritual slaughter than under modern methods of non-ritual slaughter.

It is worth remembering that about 200,000 animals are killed under this method every year in our slaughterhouses. They are all done in Gentile slaughterhouses, and, what is more, the conscientious Jew will, of course, eat only the forequarters—less than half the animal. The rest he sells to the Gentiles, so that no one knows when sitting down to lunch whether or not he is eating meat killed under that method. It is an interesting fact that the Moslems (who also use his same method, though a rather cruder version of it) do not object to stunning prior to the cutting. I have a letter from the Imam of the Woking Mosque. He says that according to the Moslem Law all animals allowed as food must be slaughtered in such a way that blood flows out. The use of the humane killer does not yin any way go against the teachings of Islam. This instrument only stuns the animal and does not kill it. The animal's heart continues to beat for a considerable time after the use of the instrument.

My Lords, this method of killing without rendering unconscious prior to the cut has been abolished in Holland, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Upper Austria. Is it not time that we followed suit? My Lords, I beg to move this Bill be read a second time.

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