§ 3.39 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This Bill is a somewhat improved version of the Bill that I introduced in the last Session, which was not proceeded with owing to pressure of business, and I am very grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for facilitating the Second Reading of the Bill so early in this Session. The Bill deals with the slaughter of animals for food and, broadly stated in a sentence, it restricts the export of ritually-killed meat to animals which have been pre-stunned under the conditions of the Slaughterhouses Act 1974 and corresponding Acts for Scotland and Northern Ireland. It does not propose to amend the law of the domestic situation in any way.
A short brief on this Bill has been circulated to a number of noble Lords by the RSPCA, and I am very grateful for their help and support in this matter. My case is that the exceptions which have been granted for many years from the observance of our general laws of slaughter to the Jewish and Mohammedan communities were never intended and never envisaged as being a licence for export, but that they have become a licencee for export. This Bill proposes to put curbs upon it.
I think it should be said that the record of Governments on the humane slaughter of animals is quite deplorable. Parliamentary history shows that our present laws on humane slaughter came about by the dogged persistence of a small group of Members of both Houses of Parliament who sponsored Private Member's Bills when Governments were apathetic, when farmers were indifferent, and when the meat trade was concerned about the look of the Sunday joint.
The history begins, as noble Lords would expect, with a Bill applicable only to Scotland; the Slaughter of Animals (Scotland) Act 1928. I have to mention this particularly because that Act, although it applied then to Scotland, laid the foundations of the subsequent legislation and incorporated the principles, and I think revealed the intentions behind them, and they were clearly stated at the time of the legislation in 1927–28. Slaughter in licensed slaughterhouses by licensed slaughtermen and by more humane methods became compulsory, although to begin with not all food animals were covered by it, and of course in those days they did not have the most modern equipment for the purpose. But it was then, in the 1928 Act applicable to Scotland, that the position of the Jewish community was dealt with. It was decided in another place, and by Parliament eventually, that the Jewish community should be excepted from the provisions of the Act. That was done to avoid deep offence to Jewish members of our society.
Then later on in the proceedings on this same Bill in Scotland the question of Mohammedans was raised. Mohammedans were brought into the Scottish Bill because of the lascars in the crews of ships constantly in Scottish ports, and it was estimated that there were about 1,000 lascars on board ships in Scottish ports most days of the year. They had apparently been in 1216 the habit of killing animals according to the Mohammedan method on board ship in Scottish ports, but, as the Act proposed to make that unlawful and brought all slaughterings ashore into licensed slaughterhouses, provision had to be made for the Mohammedans who were at any time in Scottish ports. The second exception was therefore made for animals slaughtered by Mohammedans for the food of Mohammedans in the 1928 Act.
It is part of my case that the exceptions granted in Scotland in 1928 and repeated in English law in 1933, and continued in the substantive Act of 1957 (1958 for Scotland) and in the consolidated Acts of 1974 for England and Wales and 1980 for Scotland, were intended to meet the needs of Jews and Mohammedans respectively in this country and were never contemplated as extending to export. Although at every subsequent stage in the progress of legislation through Parliament the religious exceptions came under repeated criticism, they were confirmed by subsequent Acts and they were allowed to rest where they had been all along and had become accepted.
The 1933 Act laid down more firmly the intention of Parliament to protect animals from unnecessary suffering by imposing the humane killer on all slaughtering of cattle and calves in licensed slaughterhouses, and making a mechanical electric stunner compulsory wherever electric power was available. While there was no enforced protection for sheep and lambs, the 1933 Act gave an option to local authorities to include them, which 85 per cent. of local authorities did.
Then the seal of permanence and of acceptance of the present law was laid down in the 1957 Act, and the 1958 Act for Scotland. As I pointed out, the subsequent legislation, the more recent legislation, consisted of consolidation measures. The 1957 Act, and the 1974 consolidated Act, stopped all private slaughtering. All animals had to come to licensed slaughterhouses. All slaughterers had to have licences issued by local authorities, including those permitted to slaughter under the exceptions provided in the law, and these exceptions have survived time, experience, and criticism. They were put there and they stayed there to meet the requirements of the two communities concerned, but they were neither put there nor can they claim to stay there to supply customers anywhere and everywhere, yet that is what the Minister has said is permitted under the present law, and what the Government have no proposals to change.
Allow me to remind the House exactly what the statutory provisions are.under the Act. Such regulations have been issued, for example, to authorise the use of carbon dioxide as an anaesthetic for pigs under regulations issued in 1958. The Act excludes from these provisions animals slaughtered,
- "(i) animals to be killed instantaneously by means of a mechanically operated instrument; or,
- (ii) by pre-stunning by mechanically operated, or electrical means so as to render the animal insensitive to pain until death supervenes; or
- (iii) by such other means as may be prescribed by Regulations",I must draw the notice of your Lordships to the difference between the conditions and qualifications of the slaughtermen for Jews and Mohammedans respectively. While the Mohammedan, like the Jew slaughtermen, must be granted a licence by the local authorities, the Jewish authorities at the highest level insist upon proper training and expertise in their method of slaughter. Mohammedans are subject to no comparable test of qualification so far as I am aware. This is an anomaly which the Bill does not deal with, and perhaps it should. At any rate, the Board of Deputies of British Jews feel quite strongly about this, and if your Lordships give the Bill a Second Reading I have no doubt this matter could be discussed in Committee.
- "(a) by the Jewish method for the food of Jews and by a Jew duly licensed … by a Rabbinical Commission [the composition of which is set out in a schedule to the Act]; or
- (b) by the Mohammedan method for the food of Mohammedans and by a Mohammedan".
Perhaps I should mention that the Moslem method of slaughter is now permitted for a much larger community than that of the Jewish faith. Home consumption of halal meat is rising with the expanding Moslem population, which is now probably well over 1 million. That is quite apart from exports. There is bound to be a conspicuous rise in the quantity of meat produced from animals slaughtered under the exception given to Mohammedans for use of their own method of slaughter. That is perhaps an additional reason why the Mohammedan method of slaughter, and qualifications for it, should come under closer examination.
To return to the main purpose of the Bill, I wish to make it plain that it does not ban exports. The Bill requires meat for export, except for the destinations mentioned in the Bill, to be pre-stunned under the option of the conditions of the Act. The Moslem method would not, I am advised, accept instantaneous death, but unconsciousness till death is apparently not ruled out under the Mohammedan religious laws. Some companies have already been able to accept contracts for exports subject to the pre-stunning condition, and I would hope that might become acceptable as a general rule. The export problem—I have to be quite honest about it—is a Mohammedan problem and it is there that we must look for the solution.
I wish to be clear on another point. My case for the Bill does not rest on the comparative humaneness of the several methods of slaughter. I decline to be drawn into that argument; others may not. In fact, from the press cuttings I get, there is a good deal of controversy about ritually slaughtered animals anyway, but I am not in that argument. There is no perfect method of killing. There are many complaints about the methods which are obligatory under the Act: inefficiency, defective equipment, incompetent slaughter—men and the horrors of the conveyor line are all blamed for causing unnecessary suffering. What may be wrong with our methods of slaughter should be put right.
My case is that the Act lays down the preferred methods of slaughter chosen by public opinion and Parliament over many years to be the law of the land. There are no options available to any but the two religious groups. That is the fact and I draw no inferences from that to the detriment of other methods of slaughter. I have no need to. Exclusions from 1218 the obligations of the law imposed on every other section of the people and on all other religions clearly occupy a special place in our understanding and respect. By the same token, I say that those who gain from that understanding and respect should show the same to us who are not of their persuasion and who may resent, as I do, having the compact to which we came in 1928, and hold solemnly to this day, turned to a wider purpose than we intended. If the religious communities concerned are to be spared what is unacceptable to them, as they are under the law, then the rest of us are entitled to be asked to be spared what is unacceptable to us. We have to live together, and there is little sign that these reciprocal feelings exist in relation to the current volume of exports of animals killed under the Mohammedan method.
That brings me to my final plea to the House. I ask that we should be saved from the social disturbance and bitter feelings now prevalent in areas where so-called ritual slaughter is being brought into the environment against the will of a substantial section of the people locally. I do not know whether the Minister reads his press cuttings and whether he is fully informed of the controversy raging in about 16 towns in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland at the present time over the proposed introduction of slaughterhouses for halal meat production.
"Row over ritual killing", Glasgow; "Ritual slaughter storm grows", Worcester; "Ban religious slaughter: MP" and "Veterinary Association and ritual slaughter" are some of the headlines, and I Will not weary the House with the accumulation of press cuttings on this subject. As I said, about 16 cases are current. I know of one or two where local opposition has been removed, or at least minimised, by an agreement of the halal meat company to pre-stunning when using the slaughter-house for their method of slaughter. But the position appears to be beyond the control of local authorities and deep divisions are unavoidable. Halal meat companies come to where disused slaughterhouses can be restored for their purpose without further planning permission being required. So far as I know, there has not been a single case where planning application was necessary, and had it been necessary it would certainly have gone to a public inquiry.
The number of slaughterhouses in this country in current use has been falling, and it is the disused slaughterhouse which is taken as the base for the new development, and for that, all that is necessary is a fresh licence, which the local authority has little option but to grant without being accused of withholding a licence unreasonably. The attempt of one authority to secure by—law powers to regulate the method of slaughter in its area failed because although the local authority passed the necessary resolution for by—law purposes, it was not confirmed by the Secretary of State. One wonders why, in these days of democracy and consultation with the people, there cannot be more local option in controversial matters of this kind. Why confine local option to drink in Wales? There are other opportunities for it.
I do not want to introduce any bias into the discussion, but I feel I must point out that the directors of the meat companies concerned are not all British subjects; they have no claim on the tolerance of our people in this matter, and I emphasise again that I take 1219 my stand on the law as it was intended to be, as Parliament has continued it, and I believe we must now come to Parliament to ask for some check to be imposed on the misuse of concessions granted for one purpose which are now being diverted as well to another.
Governments are ready enough to close loopholes elsewhere, and there are many cases where it is alleged that provisions of legislation passed years ago are being distorted, abused and exploited, and amending laws should be introduced. The Government themselves feel that the immunities granted years ago to trade unions have been stretched far beyond the original intention and they are introducing a Bill to correct that. But on this matter we get the reply that if the meat is destined prima facie for the religious communities concerned, no matter where they are, export is permitted under the present law.
If literally that is so. then I think that morally it should cease to he. If that is what the Act means, can we not look at what Parliament intended and amend the law accordingly? That is what the Bill does. It draws the line at Britain becoming the halal slaughterhouse of Western Europe. ft says that if Mohammedans will agree to pre-stunning, they can export to whom they like, so long as they are Mohammedans. But we cannot permit a growing export trade to shelter behind the immunity granted to Mohammedans out of respect for their religion and the good will towards them as fellow citizens.
I realise that, as nearly always in these circumstances, there are huge vested interests rapidly growing up: trade, capital investment, employment. I know that in many people's minds these are the real issues today. But I must keep on saying that the Bill interferes with no trade or commercial interest so long as it is conducted under the conditions imposed on the rest of the British people. As it is, this unhappy development is straining race relations in areas hitherto free from any tension, and I say categorically that race relations work both ways.
The happiest outcome would be for those concerned to adjust their trade to meet substantial public opinion; otherwise, the law should step in to end a potential source of social disharmony. I think that we should stop it somehow. Even if the Ministry of Agriculture is not concerned with the social aspect of this matter, the Home Secretary surely is. I ask your Lordships to send the message to those who will listen by giving the Bill a Second Reading and my case for it your approval. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Houghton of Sowerby.)
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, the shortness of the Bill raised hopes that this might be a very short debate, but the noble Lord who has just sat down has obviously devoted a great deal of time and attention to his speech as he has devoted a great deal of time and attention to writing and speaking on these subjects, and one sympathises with his viewpoint. But I am bound to say that when I received the Bill and the supporting memorandum, two questions came to my mind: first, was the Bill really necessary; and, secondly, was it wise? I must say that my tentative answer to 1220 both questions was, no; but I believe that I listened with an open mind today to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, to see whether he could persuade me to the contrary. I must say that following a speech in which one learnt, very interestingly, the history of the development of slaughterhouses in this country, I simply cannot see the need for the Bill.
We are today a multicultural society, and that sense of multiculture is reflected in, among other things, the exceptions provided in the consolidated Slaughterhouses Act 1974, which the noble Lord has quoted. As he rightly pointed out, we had very early on recognised the distinctive Jewish view of slaughter, and in time we came to acknowledge a similar view as Mohammedans, though in a different way, of course. Therefore, we expected those two minority cultures (as they were) within our community from the requirement of our Slaughterhouses Act, and it seems to me that it was a very sensible thing to do.
Since that time no doubt the Mohammedan element in our community has grown a good deal, and it is likely to grow more in the future. They have their own slaughterhouses in different parts of the country, and I cannot see that they would need, or that there would ever be a case for saying they would have to have, a planning permission distinct and separate from that usually obtained for normal slaughterhouses. After all, a Mohammedan slaughterhouse or a Jewish slaughterhouse has to be licensed, and is open to inspection in exactly the same way as is one of our slaughterhouses. A Mohammedan or Jewish slaughterhouse is not itself physically different; what are different are the provisions for the slaughter.
When I ask myself the question, is the Bill necessary? it seems to me that the RSPCA and the noble Lord would be much keener on animals being slaughtered in licensed slaughterhouses in this country and exported as carcases, rather than their being exported live. That is what I have understood their viewpoint has always been. Whereas we in the West may disapprove of the Jewish method of slaughter or the Mohammedan method of slaughter, and if it was left to our personal choice, no doubt we would resort to and advocate the pre-stunning method, is it not much better to have the animals that are exported to those countries exported in carcase form, having been slaughtered in this country according to the cultural ritual?
The noble Lord is well aware of the fact that these days a number of people have raised the question that he did not wish to deal with—I am not criticising him for not dealing with it—of whether the pre-stunning method is in fact as painless a method as we in this country have accepted it to be. Grave doubts have been expressed on that matter.
It appears to me that, with the development within our country of very considerable minority cultures of this kind—they have the throughput in their abattoirs, as we have in ours—in a way it is inevitable that an export trade would develop. I imagine that the export trade is relatively small, probably quite small, and it seems to me that on balance it is wise not to interfere; I do not think that it is necessary to do so. From our point of view in this country, holding the views that the majority of us hold, it is probable that we 1221 would like to see our sheep slaughtered in licensed slaughterhouses here, rather than exported live.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, I have listened with interest and sympathy to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, supporting a good cause, as usual, and doing it with his customary vigour and enthusiasm. Let me say immediately that when we fasten our minds on it, the whole subject of slaughterhouses is inevitably distressing, however the animals are killed. I can well remember years ago being conducted around the Chicago stockyards. That made a tremendous impact on my mind, and as a result of it I seriously considered becoming a vegetarian because, as all of us do, I dislike seeing animals killed and animals in large numbers being prepared to be killed. This is a very unattractive, horrid subject. Of course, the logic of vegetarianism is such that if you are really to succeed, you would have to give up drinking milk or eating eggs. You cannot have milk without slaughtering bobby calves, you cannot have eggs without slaughtering the day-old cockerels, and therefore you would be very restricted in your way of life. I think that we in the Western world in the main are not prepared to face that.
However, I sympathise with the noble Lord in his interest and his concern to try to reduce pain and suffering in the slaughterhouse. I make the point solidly that anyone who knows anything about a slaughterhouse knows that it is a very unattractive place, however the animals are killed, however carefully they are killed.
The noble Lord inveighed against the records of past Governments. But the fact today is that slaughterhouses are carefully controlled, they are licensed and inspected by local authorities, and if anything is wrong or incorrect in terms of hygiene or practice, it is very quickly picked up and corrected. If it is not, the slaughterhouse would lose its licence. So the general conditions today are such that we can at least be sure that this business is done as efficiently and humanely as possible.
But there is the exception for the domestic market, for domestic consumption, which the noble Lord accepts, of ritual slaughter for the Jewish community and the Moslem community. He accepts—and I think the noble Lord is quite right to do so, in the attitude of tolerance which is common to all of us— that these religious communities have strong feelings about these methods, and therefore these exceptions should be allowed although they conflict somewhat with our own ideas about the most humane way of slaughtering.
The noble Lord's point is solely to deal with the export of animals slaughtered by the ritual process—in other words, without stunning—and this is, as he rightly says, mainly concerned with the Moslem community, because there is not much export that I know of for the Jewish community. I understand there is already a significant trade, as the noble Lord has said, in the export to North Africa and to the Middle East of animals that have been ritually slaughtered; and, of course, inevitably certain slaughterhouses arc tending to concentrate on this particular demand. But the logic of prohibition (which the 1222 noble Lord, Lord Hooson, has already picked up) would be that these countries are still going to get supplies of meat, and, therefore, if the animals are to come from here, they would have to be exported live, and the export of live animals, however well it is done, is a pretty rough business.
However well they are shipped, it is a miserable business for the animals; and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, would not wish to see that. If these animals are going to be slaughtered, they are much better off to be slaughtered here, they really are. To condemn them to being shipped abroad, spending several days in a ship—not a very good ship, as a rule—is really adding to their suffering; it is certainly not reducing it. Alternatively, the countries concerned may be able to get their supplies from somewhere else, but, again, the overall degree of pain and suffering for the animals involved will not be reduced. So the logic here is that the noble Lord's admirable purpose of reducing pain and suffering for animals, if they are to be slaughtered for human consumption, is not going to be achieved; it is only going to be diverted to some extent, and possibly, indeed, it could be increased.
I am sure the noble Lord, with his great experience of public administration, sees the logic of these arguments. It really is irrefutable. The noble Lord makes the point that the law did not intend to provide the exception for an export market. Even if that argument were sound—and the Act says nothing about it either way—it is a natural development in the world as it is today, with supplies of all sorts moving freely about, that a certain amount of this ritually-slaughtered meat should go for export. I do not think there is any great vested interest involved that I know of; it is just a normal movement of trade.
So much for the arguments. But if there is a case here, which the noble Lord has made out, that the trade is growing to an extent that is causing serious local disturbance, would it not be better to wait for the report of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, who are studying the whole question of the operation of slaughterhouses and will he reporting, I understand, next year? Then we shall have an expert, objective report before us which would help to guide us as to whether new legislation is needed, whether some restriction or some control should be established here. This new creation, the Farm Animal Welfare Council—and I congratulate my noble friend and his right honourable colleagues on setting it up—is a valuable body set up to cover just such sensitive, difficult problems as this. I would have thought that the right plan for all of us in dealing with this particular matter is not to legislate in a hurry now but to wait until we have all the facts before us, and then we can decide whether legislation is really needed.
It is normally the practice of this House, and certainly my own personal inclination, to give a Second Reading to a Private Member's Bill so that it can go to a Committee. But, here, this simple one-clause Bill does only one thing, and that is to prohibit the export of these ritually-slaughtered animals. I just cannot agree with that: there is simply not the evidence to support it at present. When we know that we are going to get an expert report in the next year or less—and perhaps my noble friend will be able to tell us when we shall get it—surely the right thing to do is not to proceed with 1223 this Bill but to wait until we get that report and then look at the matter again. I most earnestly hope that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, will not press the Second Reading of this Bill to a Division, because I am afraid that if he does I shall have to go in the opposite Lobby to his.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, would he agree with me that the real evil of all slaughtering is not the act of slaughter but the driving of an animal, which has been happy on a farm for two or three years, perhaps, into a lorry, out of a lorry and on to a queue at the end of which animals are being killed, whether after being stunned or by being turned upside down and having their throats cut? The last stage is a 15-second affair. The thing which is really bad is the whole process leading up to it, whether it is done after stunning or by ritual slaughter.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
Yes, my Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson. Having been a farmer for most of my life, I accept that farming is a process of creating life and destroying it. The process of sending animals to market, whether they be chickens, pigs or whatever they are, is an odious one; but it is part of the process of feeding the community, and one has to accept it. It is the total process, and especially when the animals are being driven into the slaughterhouses, which is most objectionable. I sympathise with the noble Lord; I feel just the same about it. On the other hand, if we need to eat meat to keep alive one has to accept the logic of it.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Lord Somers
My Lords, this is a very short and simple Bill, but, I feel, a very necessary one. The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, questions whether it is necessary. I take exactly the opposite view. It has become necessary, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, because of changing circumstances. The export of these ritually-slaughtered animals has increased enormously; and I do not think that it is right that animals that have been slaughtered by, after all, a method which we allow only on tolerance should be exported for the sake of money-making.
As to the question of pre-stunning and the Moslem method, there is some uncertainty as to whether or not the Moslems object to pre-stunning. Some years ago, I remember, the Imam of Woking said that they had no objection to it at all. I think that is worth looking into if we wish to go on exporting this meat. Possibly we could make some regulation by which only pre-stunned carcasses were sent. But, apart from that, I think this is highly necessary because there is no doubt that, human nature being what it is, the moment any opportunity for making money offers itself, conscience too often goes to the winds. I think that this is unfortunately one of those cases, and I therefore sincerely hope that the House will give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Lord Brockway
My Lords, my first word must be one of gratitude to my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby for introducing this Bill. It is characteristic 1224 of him and of the many contributions he has made to this House. I think that perhaps he ought to be known as "Lord Houghton for Animal Welfare" Fifty years ago I was a member of an all-party delegation to examine the methods of slaughter. I think it was in the year 1930. I remember it as vividly as though it were yesterday. We saw both the gentile and the Jewish methods of slaughter. The gentile method was that of stabbing a calf in the neck. The animal writhed as though in pain for several minutes; but I was assured that the brain had been destroyed and that this writhing was only a physical reaction. I hope that that was true.
§ Lord Somers
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord would wish to make it clear that that method is now entirely outlawed in this country.
§ Lord Brockway
My Lords, I was describing something that happened 50 years ago. The Jewish method was to push cattle into a barrel, the barrel to revolve, the beast's neck hanging out. The neck was then slit and the blood poured out. Both methods were utterly distasteful and we then recommended that there should be stunning of all animals before they were put to either of these two methods. Subsequent legislation agreed to that.
I do not think that there is any doubt, despite what has been said during this debate, that the original intention was that this method should apply universally. It was not applied to exports. This Bill quite generously recognises Jewish feelings on this matter and the feelings of the Mohammedans who have so largely grown in numbers in this country since those years; and it recognises that slaughter in this country both by the Jewish method and the Mohammedan method should be maintained. It also agrees that there should be no changes in methods of slaughter for animals for our dependencies and on aircraft and on ships. The concessions made in this Bill seem to me to be very generous.
May I say a word about the Mohammedan community, of which I have some knowledge. I would strongly urge that there should be discussions with the leaders of the Mohammedan community. I know for a fact that the most progressive elements in Islam accept the stunning method. These elements are very strong in North Africa, to which our exports very largely go. I believe that, in discussions with the Islamic community, it would be found that they would agree to the stunning method.
I want to express my appreciation for the introduction of this Bill; because it reflects my philosophy—could almost say my religion—and my belief in identity with all life and particularly with the animal kingdom so near to us in creative evolution. I have been a vegetarian for 75 years—and I think I am a pretty good advertisement for it. I think it indicates clearly that eating flesh is not necessary either for health or long life. I am not asking all of your Lordships to be converted to that belief, but I am asking you to support this Bill which will do so much to prevent cruelty to the animals who are slaughtered.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, with your Lordships' 1225 permission I intervene in this debate. My name is not on the list but the appropriate notice has been given to both Front Benches. I wonder whether, with your Lordships' usual tolerance, I may make a short intervention as a Member of your Lordships' House who is proud to be a member of the Jewish faith. I think that it is interesting that your Lordships should have such an intervention, especially after the speech that has just been made by a beloved figure among us, my noble friend Lord Brockway. He referred graphically, and, I am sure, quite truthfully, to something that he saw 50 years ago. I should hate your Lordships to be left with a feeling that the great faith of which your Lordships are the inheritors in many cases should have been indulging in something which looks like a cruel method of slaughter of animals. Kindness to animals and the removal of all threat of pain to animals has been and is a principle, and, indeed, a dogma, of my faith; for it is the faith that preached that if you find your enemy's ass or ox by the wayside and if it is overladen, it is your duty, even though that man is your enemy, to help the ox or ass and to see that it is not overladen.
My Lords, if I may say so, I object to the phrase "ritual slaughter" applied also to the method of slaughter which has been the ancestral tradition and doctrine of the Jewish faith. For example, I wonder how many of your Lordships know—and I am sure that my noble friend Lord Brockway wishes the House to be kept up to date—that before anybody is allowed to slaughter an animal according to the Jewish tradition, he has to have a period of training of some six years in order to ensure that he is skilled and that the method of slaughter is absolutely humane. I wonder whether your Lordships are aware—and I had to make this intervention after my noble friend's speech— that objective scientists, at the request of the Jewish community, have looked at their method of slaughter and that expert, independent and objective scientists have said that in their view it is the most humane method; and more humane—and this has been said—than pre-stunning which so often unfortunately results in mistakes being made before the animal is rendered unconscious so that the animal accordingly suffers a great deal.
My Lords, I made that intervention because I thought that I ought to. May I now turn to the Bill itself. Nobody who has known my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby can ever doubt his good intentions in regard to anything which deals with cruelty to animals. I found myself in some difficulty when reading this Bill to see the logicality of it. I wondered what people would feel who were reading this Bill outside the United Kingdom. It would look as though something which, it is inferred, is less than kind by way of a method of slaughter is permitted in the United Kingdom but that you dare not export—you have to use another method—to anywhere in the world apart from the dependent territories; meaning thereby that you have to be more considerate when exporting than when you are doing something in the United Kingdom. This seems to me to be somewhat of an illogicality.
The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, also referred to another matter which I think I ought to emphasise: all of us, if we show true tolerance and understanding of our fellow human beings, respect the genuine religious 1226 faith that they hold. I bow to nobody in this House in my respect for the Moslem religion which has existed for many centuries and has known many glorious eras of cultural gifts to the world and to civilisation.
It is a fact—and I utter this with that respect in my voice—that whereas one community, the Jewish community, has to have all this supervision within its faith, continual inspection of the slaughterers and their methods, insists upon the instruments that arc used being inspected at least once a year—but much more often during the year—and does have to be licensed under the Act by the Rabbinical authorities to see that all this happens, this is not at the moment a requisite of the Moslem community which now numbers something like 1½ million in this country today. I would have thought that it was sensible—but that has nothing to do with this Bill—to have discussions with the religious leaders of the Moslem community to see, among other things dealt with in the debate this afternoon, whether the similar situation of licensing by their own religious authorities and exercising supervision and care, should not take place within their midst as it does with such emphasis, control and care by the Jewish community.
Having said that, your Lordships will have realised thst I find myself somewhat out of sympathy with this Bill, but never out of sympathy with the principles which, quite obviously, encourage the noble Lord to bring the Second Reading before the House today.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Lord Bishopston
My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful for the opportunity of hearing my noble friend Lord Mishcon, who has just spoken from a particular interest; also the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, and the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, to which I may refer a little later; and of course the noble Lord, Lord Somers, the brief intervention of the noble Lord. Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, and the comments of my noble friend Lord Brockway.
We have had a debate which so far has spread widely over the various interests concerned. The main tribute must go to my noble friend Lord Houghton for bringing the Bill forward and for the dedicated work which he has put in over many years in the field of animal welfare. Of course today we are dealing with a subject which can have very deep and emotive undertones because we recognise that any method of slaughter is distressing, for it must result in the death of an animal.
However, having said that, we have to recognise that it would be misleading and indeed unjust for it to be thought that those like my noble friend who are particularly identified with the work of animal welfare societies, are greater in their compassion. I am sure that he would be the first to say that the compassion he feels is shared with the industry, with the farmers, producers, processors and with the consumers. The whole nation is concerned about animal welfare. I recognise this because three years or so ago, when I was Minister of State for Agriculture, I had a phone call at my home in Newark at about 11 o'clock on a Saturday night. I was asked to go to Fishguard to rescue 900 animals which were on a stricken vessel 1227 which had caught fire and were knee-deep in water. I recognised then the concern that we all have and I was pleased to have that opportunity, although I would not have suggested at the time that going to Fishguard was the best way to spend a Saturday night. But we all have this concern.
What is required on these occasions is objectivity and clear thinking and at the same time being sensitive about the effects on animals. We must all seek to know and recognise what is likely to be cruel and what is not. This is a matter which has engaged the attention of Parliament and the nation for many years. I was rather doubting the assertion by my noble friend that we have a deplorable record of lack of concern for animals because over many years parliamentary debates and legislation have reflected a concern not only of MPs, Members of your Lordships' House and officials, but, as I said a moment ago, of a wide cross-section of our society, consumers and many others.
The matters which we now have in mind have been before Parliament between 1932 and last year. I think that my noble friend claimed that the measure passed in 1932, the first of the three Acts mentioned in the Bill, was designed to deal with a limited market of Jews and Moslems in this country. Mention has been made of others. It was not intended that the export trade generally should benefit from the concessions, as they were, of the three Acts which have been mentioned.
The Bill makes reference not only to the slaughter measure of 1932 but also of course to the most recent Act of 1980. So this House and the other place have considered the relevance of the conditions of the 1932 Act as recently as 1980 in a very different situation, as my noble friend has averred. It would be right to assert that there is a continuing concern. The factors which my noble friend has mentioned about the changing situation must have been taken into account last year when the Bill went through the various Committee stages in both Houses. So there have been reviews.
It would be misleading and wrong to claim that a lot of changes have been made, and Parliament and the nation have shown little concern. There was the 1964 Brambell Report; the report which Professor Roger Brambell issued to my noble friends Lord Peart and Lord Ross of Marnock, who respectively were Minister of Agriculture and Secretary of State for Scotland at the time. There were the recommendations of the 255-page report of the departmental committee on experiments on animals under the chairmanship of Sir Sydney Littlewood, which reported in 1965. That was not quite the matter that we are dealing with today but nevertheless was concerned with animal welfare. There was a review which led to the setting up of the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee which was the forerunner of the FAWC mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent. That was set up in 1967. Later there was the Farm Animal Welfare Committee, as it became, in 1979, a body which is still active and to which I shall refer at the end of my comments.
Of course, there is the most recent report, the first report from the Agricultural Committee, Session 1980–81, on animal welfare in poultry, pig, veal and 1228 calf production. That is in two volumes. The minutes of evidence in Volume 2 alone cover 478 pages. That shows the extent of general concern for animals. I should like to stress—not only for your Lordships but also for the wider public—that successive Governments, Ministers and Members of both Houses have been very much concerned.
The present law requires the pre-stunning of food animals slaughtered in the United Kingdom. Exemptions are permitted on religious grounds, as we have been told, for Jews and Mohammedans. The RSPCA and my noble friend Lord Houghton assert that these exemptions were intended, as I said a moment ago, to meet the needs of the Jews and Mohammedan communities resident in the United Kingdom, but only resident in the United Kingdom, apart from the provisions for supplies to the associated territories and also for victualling on ships and aircraft. It has been said that no one envisaged at that time that, as they put it, the law would be exploited to allow the rapidly expanding export trade in carcases to the Middle East and North Africa.
There have been many reviews of the ritual slaughter laws since that of 1932, referred to in the Bill. There were reviews of the Acts in and 1974 and the most recent was in 1980; so we have been very much aware of the changing circumstances and we have been sensitive to the problems and needs of animal welfare aspects which are so important.
I mentioned a moment ago the Farm Animal Welfare Committee. It is important that the House should be aware that we have a standing committee which is in session all the time, looking at these matters. We do not depend upon matters coming before Parliament for various reasons owing to great gaps in sensitivity and lack of concern. There is a continuing concern. The advisory committee was set up in 1967 and one of the recommendations of the Brambell Committee was that a statutory Farm Animal Advisory Committee should be set up to advise Ministers. That was done in July 1967 with the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee established by the agriculture Ministers in Great Britain to advise them on matters pertaining to the welfare of livestock on agricultural land.
In 1979 the Government felt that a different kind of body with wider terms of reference and with a membership which would equip it to deal with farm animal welfare matters over a much wider range should be formed. There was therefore established, in July 1979, the Farm Animal Welfare Council and the Council's advisory body, whose members are appointed by the Ministers on the basis of individual merit and suitability, who have a wide range of private interests and a common desire to improve the welfare of farm animals. So there is this important body and I shall be making a recommendation regarding that at the conclusion of my remarks.
The Farm Animal Welfare Council is staffed by 23 members, I believe, and they include a wide range of people—a professor of anatomy, a farmer of 3,000 acres of hill land, a director of a company of nutrition consultants, a management consultant, the chief veterinary officer of the RSPCA, dairy farmers, the principal of the West of Scotland Agricultural College, a director of the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, a writer and lecturer on animal welfare, a partner in a 1229 veterinary practice, an executive director of the RSPCA since 1978—and one could go on. These are the people with a watching brief, a constant concern and the ability to report to Ministers on aspects about which the House should know.
I want to comment on the Bill, because I think it would he helpful to my noble friend when he winds up to reply to questions which may be engaging the minds of some noble Lords and indeed of those who have spoken. The Bill includes the restriction that animals ritually slaughtered in the United Kingdom should be for food for Jews and Mohammedans respectively for consumption in the United Kingdom. The food would he also for consumption in British dependent territories. These include, as I am sure your Lordships know—here I am indebted to Schedule 6 to the British Nationality Act which was passed only a few weeks ago—Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, and so on. These are the territories to which the Bill says meat can go. I will not read the full list.
Clearly we have to ask the question: why cannot this meat go into the EEC? I should like to ask the Minister when he replies to say whether there are any difficulties about banning exports of ritually-slaughtered meat from this country to the EEC and to other countries, except for British dependent territories, although we can import meat which has been so slaughtered from other places. Perhaps we might be told why it can be sent to Bermuda but not to Brussels, to the Falkland Islands and not to France and to the Cayman Islands and not to the Commonwealth. These are genuine questions which require some answer, and it would be helpful if my noble friend could say why he has restricted the area of exports. Clearly he is anxious that the range of export areas should not be extended beyond what was originally intended, despite the fact that the House considered the matter as recently as 1980, and to ascertain whether we are right in saying that we can ban inter-Community trade in this way.
Obviously when one mentions trade and exports one ought to be quite clear about any action that is not in conformity with animal welfare requirements as laid down; I am sure we would all say that this is not justified by what is thought desirable from a financial, economic or trade point of view. My noble friend made it quite clear in his introduction of the Bill, I think, that he was not claiming that ritual slaughter was a second-rate method of slaughter. He was fair enough to say that he would not like to make comparisons between one form of slaughter and another. Certainly, I, having been a Minister myself and visited abattoirs and slaughterhouses, have—and I think I speak for all of us—a dislike for any sort of slaughter in any way. I think that my noble friend claims—and many of us would agree—that this ritual method of slaughter is not in any way less humane than any other, but having accepted the principle that that is so, but would claim that we should nevertheless restrict the area to which the meat goes.
It is difficult to see that is wrong regarding the extent to which these principles are put into practice. We have to ask ourselves several questions. For example, is it possible to restrict ritually-slaughtered animals to 1230 the food of Jews and Mohammedans only? Is it possible or desirable to restrict the consumption to those two groups within the United Kingdom and the British Dependent Territories, and the categories mentioned in the Bill, ships and aircarft being victualled in the United Kingdom, and not to export elsewhere? Also, if we do export to those areas in the British Dependent Territories, how can we be sure that the meat sent is not taken to a depot there and then exported somewhere else, so that the aim of the measure is reduced or defeated?
Another question on which I hope the Minister will comment is whether we can apparently flout our obligations to the EEC by not exporting to Community countries. And another question concerns our own export trade. I believe that the noble Lords, Lord Hooson and Lord Nugent, asked whether, if we are not going to export ritually-slaughtered animals generally, the markets we are at present supplying would be filled by other people. While I would have some confidence about the enforcement of methods in this country, over which we have control, one may raise a query about the way in which slaughtering is done by any method in some other countries. When it comes to the export of animals, if you are not going to export carcases in any form, then the alternative is to supply those markets to which we formerly exported with live animals. I mentioned just now my experience on a Saturday night, when 900 cattle were awash off Fishguard on their way to another country—albeit not from this country—and the conditions under which cattle sometimes have to travel. So there is that point about whether we export live cattle and the conditions of slaughter when they get to their destination.
There is also the query about what will be the effect on our slaughterhouses. We all know that the abattoirs and slaughterhouses in this country are, indeed, facing what the Farmers' Weekly called last week "bleak prospects" They said:Britain's slaughtering industry is plunging deeper into crisis and plant closures are inevitable".I want to say, once again, that if the method is wrong there is justification for concern here. But this is not so, because the principle of slaughter has generally been accepted. However, it can have a very serious effect upon our own industry.
I pose these questions, because my noble friends on this side of the House will be voting as they think fit. For my part, before finally deciding, I should like to have the comments of my noble friend and the observations of the Minister on some of these questions which are relevant to this situation. Having tried to put the "pros" and "cons"—and my noble friend has put the "pros" very well, indeed—so that the House may consider most of the facts, I want also to be constructive, because, if the House does not give the Bill a Second Reading, I should like to think that there is no void or vacuum in which our concern can float around, or whatever it does in vacuums. We should certainly like to know that that was not the end and that there were some alternatives which we could press for.
I referred at length to the Farm Animal Welfare Council, which is in business all the time and is continually reviewing matters of animal welfare. I should like to suggest that they might look at this 1231 matter. I understand that the Farm Animal Welfare Council has been conducting a three stage review of Welfare at animal slaughterhouses. The first, a study of poultry slaughterhouses, has been completed and a report was submitted to the Minister of State on 23rd October, which I understand should be published in the new year. Secondly, a study of slaughterhouses for red meat animals is at an early stage and a report will be submitted to the Minister in due course—probably, in the second half of 1982.
Of most relevance and importance is the fact that the council will, subsequently, make recommendations relating to the provisions for ritual slaughter of both poultry and red meat animals. Here is something which I am sure the whole House will agree should be a matter for review and, indeed, the council have already taken it on board. But there are also one or two other points on which we ought to check. Apart from the fact that this would enable the FAWC to have regard to the objectives of the Bill, and to the concern expressed by everyone here and, I am sure, by many outside, we ought to have a look at some of the points raised by noble Lords here today.
Instead of extending present legislation, it might be better to see how the existing legislation can he improved. I have in mind the need to consider whether licensing should be introduced and enforced for both Jewish and Mohammedan methods of slaughter. My noble friend Lord Mishcon made a point about the six years' qualification for anyone concerned with Jewish slaughter. He could have said much more about the smoothness of the instruments, and the methods used and actions taken to ensure that unnecessary pain and suffering are not experienced. So we need to look at the possibility of licensed operators and to carry out discussions not only with Jewish authorities, but with Moslems as well. I am sure that they would co-operate on this and, if the Moslems did not demand the exact methods of ritual slaughter and were prepared to accept pre-stunning, that would take away some of the force of my noble friend's argument.
There might be a need for a wider commission, such as the Rabbinical Commission which is so concerned with Jewish slaughter. Another aspect which needs looking at is the matter of checks and inspections and the enforcement of legislation, because it is no good having any legislation unless there is enforcement of it. It may well be that some of the so-called cuts in public spending can be a greater threat to animal welfare, it adequate checks are not made and that is what we shall be pressing for as an early priority.
I apologise to noble Lords for saying so much, and there is still more that one could say. But those are some of the questions which will be engaging the minds of noble Lords as we wind-up this debate, and am sure that my noble friend will have an opportunity of making comments then. I have asked certain questions. I have put forward what, I hope, are constructive proposals in order to allow my noble friend Lord Houghton to satisfy our doubts. We do not, of course. doubt the motives behind the Bill, which are to ensure the greatest safeguard for animals well-being, and which we all share. I hope that my suggestions will bring more organisations into the wider discussion 1232 under the umbrella of the FAWC or, if necessary, by other means.
As I am speaking for the opposition, I will say that my noble friends will vote as they think fit, but I think that they will be helped by replies to some of the points that I have raised. I am sure that they would wish me to end by thanking my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby for the service which he has, again, given to us and to the nation. If as a result of this Bill, whether it receives a Second Reading or not, some on-going action can follow from the suggestions which I and other noble Lords have made. that will he to the benefit of animals generally.
§ 4.57 p.m.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, we have listened this evening to a number of most interesting speeches on what is a very sensitive subject. One never ceases to learn things when one listens to your Lordships' debates, and one of the things one learned this afternoon was that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. has been a vegetarian for some 75 years. The noble Lord is a unique and remarkable example of many things, and, indeed, he is a remarkable example of the efficacy of the diet of the vegetarian. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, is in his place, too, and he is also a remarkable example of a great many things. Whether he is, with the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, also an example of the efficacy of the diet of the vegetarian, I would not know. But the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, nevertheless, said that he would not necessarily wish to inflict—if that is the right word—the diet upon others.
It comes with little surprise to me that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, decided to introduce this Bill, because it is very similar to a Bill which he introduced in the last Session, but which we did not have the advantage of debating. This is another example of the deep and commendable concern which I know the noble Lord has for the welfare of animals, and which he has demonstrated on a great many occasions. I hope that, when I come to outline the Government's attitude on this matter, I shall not be considered as criticising in any way the motives of the noble Lord or those who share his views.
I agreed so much with my noble friend Lord Nugent, when he said that nobody likes slaughterhouses, whatever the method. This is abundantly true. I recently visited a very modern slaughterhouse, which was efficient, clean and humane. I did not enjoy the experience and am bound to say that I did not enjoy my lunch afterwards. But I should like to emphasise at the outset that the Government are concerned that proper measures should be taken to safeguard the welfare of animals. That is why, shortly after we took office, as the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, said, we set up the Farm Animal Welfare Council in order that the Government should receive independent and expert advice on a wide range of animal welfare issues. One of the issues which they are considering is welfare at the place of slaughter. This report will be taken into account when it is published.
The question of practices in red meat slaughterhouses is now being considered by the council. It is clearly an important question and the Government will give 1233 most careful consideration to any recommendations which the council may make. I am sure that as part of their review the council will be considering the provisions in the slaughterhouse legislation which relate to the use of religious slaughter methods. When the council have completed their report on the subject, your Lordships may well wish to give it further consideration. I would therefore make the general comment—I agree with my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford—that in the light of this review which is being undertaken by the Farm Animal Welfare Council this is not perhaps the most opportune of moments to be considering amendments to this particular form of legislation.
The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, asked whether I knew full well the controversy which is generated by the legislation which permits animals to be slaughtered by religious methods, subject of course to the avoidance of unnecessary suffering which is part of the legislation. No one who holds a ministerial responsibility for agriculture could fail to be aware of that controversy, and I acknowledge it. I know, too, that many people hold sincerely to the view that slaughter by these methods without prior stunning involves more suffering than other methods. Equally I know that to many members of the Moslem and Jewish faiths the tenets of their religion make stunning before slaughter unacceptable.
It is not particularly appropriate today to embark on a discussion of the extent of the suffering which may or may not be involved in the religious methods. It is enough to record that there is a divergence of view and of interest. I would only say that when it has discussed the problem in the past Parliament has always taken the view that the evidence on the question of possible suffering is inconclusive, and that in the interests of religious tolerance the right to use the religious method should be available to those communities who require it. The law of course specifically requires that no unnecessary suffering should be caused to animals which are slaughtered in this way. In those circumstances, I would ask your Lordships to consider whether there would be sufficient justification for altering these provisions relating to slaughtering methods which over the years have been found to be broadly acceptable.
It is, I believe, relevant to make these general comments on the question of religious slaughter even though the Bill will prevent these methods being used only when the meat is for export from the United Kingdom. But I have little doubt that if Parliament were to accept the principle of the amendments which this Bill seeks to make to our present law it would be seen to be expressing a view on the desirability of religious slaughter in general. This would, I believe, be regarded with alarm by the religious groups concerned in this country, even though they may not themselves be affected by the ban on exports.
It would also be asked—and this is indeed a pertinent question to which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, addressed himself—why Parliament had concluded that religious slaughter was all right if the meat was for consumption in this country but all wrong if the meat were going for export. It is, in logic, a non sequitur. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, is trying to secure amendments to the 1234 law which he believes have a chance of being accepted even though they do not go as far as he himself would wish. I commend him for this. It is a reflection upon his substantial political and parliamentary experience. But the fact remains that the discrimination which the noble Lord seeks to make in his Bill boils down to the ultimate destination of the meat. In reality and in logic, the religious slaughter should be either acceptable or unacceptable. The ultimate destination of the meat should, I suggest, be immaterial.
It would in some ways be curious if Parliament were to permit animals to be slaughtered by this method, controversial though it may be, in order to satisfy the legitimate requirements of those who hold certain religious affiliations, but yet to confine such products to the United Kingdom only and to prevent us supplying them to those of a similar faith who live outside the United Kingdom. In terms of global animal welfare—and presumably it is animal welfare which is the motivating force behind the Bill—it achieves nothing. The same number of animals in total will be subjected to ritual slaughter, whether or not this Bill becomes law. The only difference is that if it does become law the slaughtering will take place in different countries, with possibly less strict hygiene and enforcement procedures than we have.
It may be helpful to refer to the provisions of the licensing of slaughterhouses and slaughtermen, because this is important. Under the Slaughterhouses Act 1974, no private slaughterhouse may be operated without a local authority licence. Provided that the local authority are satisfied that various requirements, notably the provisions of the regulations of 1977 concerned with slaughterhouse hygiene are met, or will be within a reasonable period, they are obliged to issue a licence to any applicant. No special or additional licence is required for a slaughterhouse in which religious slaughter is to take place. in addition, all slaughtermen must hold a valid licence which is issued by a local authority under the Act. To obtain such a licence a slaughterman must he at least 18 years of age and be, in the opinion of the local authority, a fit and proper person to hold one. A Moslem slaughter-man requires only the normal licence, although Jewish slaughtermen must also be licensed by the Rabbinical Commission. A licence may be refused if the applicant has failed to comply with any conditions of a previous licence or has been convicted of certain offences relating to the humane treatment or slaughter of animals.
The noble Lord, Lord Somers, and the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, thought that stunning ought to be acceptable as part of ritual slaughter. It would be inappropriate for me to comment upon whether or not that is suitable from the point of view of those who hold certain religious faiths, but my understanding is that the Jewish opposition to stunning is based on the view, handed down from the early prophets, that an animal must be alive and healthy and have suffered no injury at the time of slaughter. Some Moslem groups, but not all, also believe that stunning is inconsistent with their religious beliefs, as handed down in the Koran.
If we were to accept this Bill, I am bound to tell your Lordships that amending the law in this way would be likely to lead to considerable difficulties of enforcement. In order to enforce the provisions 1235 effectively it would be necessary to keep a track of all meat which is produced by religious methods as opposed to more conventional methods after it had left the slaughterhouse in order to ensure that it was not exported. This would be particularly difficult in view of the fact that each local authority is responsible for enforcing the slaughterhouse legislation in its own area, and it is not at all clear that local authorities would have the resources available for enforcing adequately this additional piece of legislation.
The noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, asked whether we would be in conflict with the European Community law if this Bill came into operation. I am bound to tell your Lordships that we would be in some considerable difficulty in relation to the European Community law if these amendments were passed because they would be held, or they could be held, to constitute a restriction on exports of a kind which is prohibited by Article 34 of the Treaty of Rome.
This is of course a Private Member's Bill and the House must make up its own mind about it. I have merely endeavoured to explain to your Lordships the difficulties which the Government see if this Bill were to become law. I hope that your Lordships will take account of the reservations I have expressed together with all the other relevant factors which your Lordships will doubtless wish to consider when coming to a judgment on the Bill.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, I am very grateful to those noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. It is, of course, a difficult subject, but somebody has to deal with difficult subjects if they are important in the minds of the public. There is not the slightest doubt that, up and down the country, this matter is becoming of increasing concern and of increasing controversy. Far from being inopportune, it is probably opportune for your Lordships' House to consider a state of affairs which, if it is allowed to continue, will only get worse. I am afraid that this is my considered judgment after studying this matter very closely.
The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said he did not think this Bill was necessary, or at least he questioned whether it was necessary. When is it necessary to check something which in the opinion of many is a misuse of statute law? When is that point reached? When the alleged loophole gets too big to ignore? When public opinion is too restive to be quietened by indifference? How does one define the point of necessity? I think that is a matter of judgment, and I would say that the longer that some of these loopholes are allowed to continue the more difficult it is to close them without serious harm to considerable vested interests.
This position has not developed so far that it would be really difficult to impose this curb upon the export trade. Of course, if the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, is aware, as I am sure he must be, of what has been going on in the Isle of Anglesey regarding the slaughterhouse there, he will know that if the compromise reached in the Isle of Anglesey prevailed generally where these slaughterhouses are being set up, there would be no need for this Bill. In the Isle of Anglesey, although the local authority lacks the statutory powers, 1236 it has written into the licence a condition that pre-stunning shall be observed in that slaughterhouse. That condition has been voluntarily accepted by the meat company concerned. The local authority realise that they have no means of statutory enforcement of the condition they have written into the licence and which the meat packing company has accepted. This is the uneasy state of affairs, when a compromise has to be reached with no enforcement on one side and purely voluntary acceptance on the other, and the matter rests on mutual good will and confidence. Even that would be better than continuing the situation elsewhere, where exports are going on, much to local indignation, of animals which have not been pre-stunned.
I have all the papers here about the Isle of Anglesey case. I have here the papers about the Belfast case, where the meat company said that they were unable to get customers in Libya to accept pre-stunning. The Belfast City Council, after inspecting the slaughterhouse, decided that they would invoke in the licence the condition that no contracts were to be accepted unless pre-stunning of the animals was agreed to. There is another arrangement, which was come to by the local authority and the meat company. If we had this Bill on the statute book, it would regularise much that is being attempted in these various areas at the present time.
If this Bill is given a Second Reading, I believe that it will have a very favourable influence upon conditions and negotiations now taking place between local authorities and meat companies in different areas. I believe it would also give a reassurance to many of the objectors locally who feel that, without pre-stunning, they cannot accept the intrusion into their local environments of a large-scale method of slaughter which they find unacceptable. This Bill would have a favourable influence on those discussions and negotiations. If your Lordships were to reject the Second Reading of this Bill, I believe it would seriously prejudice the discussions which are taking place in different parts of the country at the present time. I believe that for your Lordships to express an opinion on this matter in the sense of this Bill would be of great advantage in overcoming some of the difficulties which are still going on locally.
When I am asked to wait for something I say, "Wait for what, and for how long?" This is now an ongoing thing. Every month brings a fresh application because the slaughterhouses are there and the trade is increasing. There is big money in it. This trade is in the hands of half a dozen people. These are not just little slaughterhouses serving the local community; they are not that kind of business at all. We are talking about big business and the export trade to the Middle East and to North Africa. Exports to the EEC are not in it—they are not in it! They are all going to Libya and to the North African and Middle East countries. I do ask your Lordships to pause before regarding this Bill as unacceptable in principle at this particular moment. I think that it would be a very bad day for us if we were to reject the principle of this Bill. No one has challenged my contention that Parliament never intended nor envisaged this situation right throughout the piece, for the simple reason that this development is so recent. It really stems from the time when the Middle East 1237 countries acquired new wealth and were able to go abroad for increased standards of living which they felt they should have.
I listened carefully to the reference made by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers to the Farm Animal Welfare Council. Unless I am wrong, and the Minister can correct me if I am, what will not be referred to the Farm Animal Welfare Council is the principle of the exceptions granted in a statute law ever since 1928, to the Jewish and Mohammedan communities in this country. That is so fundamental to them on religious grounds that I am quite sure no Farm Animal Welfare Council would be given a reference to re-examine the exceptions. I think the Farm Animal Welfare Council might well examine the point I mentioned in the course of my speech earlier; namely, the qualifications of the slaughterers who are allowed to slaughter according to the Mohammedan method. I pointed out that the stringency of the conditions imposed by the Jewish community upon their slaughterers does not find any comparable standards of qualifications in the Mohammada slaughterers. That could well be referred to the Farm Animal Welfare Council. But make no mistake about it, the principle that I am dealing with, the principle that we have put in the legislation since 1928, will not be tampered with by the Farm Animal Welfare Council—it is too important, too controversial, too political. So, with great respect, I do not think we need wait for the Farm Animal Welfare Council to deal with any matter which relates to the vital point of the exceptions.
The Minister said that there is the element of discrimination between the exception methods of slaughter and the statutory method of slaughter when one decides to impose a condition according to the destination of the meat; he says that it is the destination of the meat that brings in this discriminatory restriction upon the ritual slaughter method. He is applying the logic which I am sure prevails in his department on a subject to which logic was never applied in the first place and to which logic cannot be applied now. It was not logic that granted these exceptions; it was the violence that would have been done to religious opinion had they been withheld. It was knowing that the tolerance of the British people towards communities of other persuasions required that every respect should be paid to their religious views and practices. And that is a feature of British administration. That was conceded in all the circumstances, and for the numbers that were involved; it was conceded as being fair and reasonable and making for social harmony. Had there been 20 halal slaughterhouses in Britain at that time Parliament would have had to take a different view. I do not believe that these concessions would have been granted in the circumstances they were had today's conditions prevailed then. This is a development out of earlier conditions which was never contemplated, and I think we are as free to deal with what we find now as they were to deal with what they found then.
I do not apply logic to this. I apply judgment. political judgment related to the condition of the British people, our problems of a so-called multiracial society. our desire to have harmonious relations with communities not of our religious faith or of our culture. And here there has to he give and take; there has to be 1238 reciprocity. There have to be concessions to one deeply felt opinion and concessions to another deeply felt opinion. That is what this Bill is about. It is little to ask, if it is permissible, as I suggest it is, that where pre-stunning is permissible it should be observed, because that is the law of England. And if the British people desire to impose a modified exception in certain circumstances, none is going to say that is discrimination, surely, and none is going to say that it is unreasonable either. That again is what this Bill is about.
The question has been raised of whether, if there were no restraint upon exports, animals would be exported live. I must say that the Bill does not restrain anything if the pre-stunning condition is acceptable; that is the issue here. If the law of the land can be observed in regard to exports. no matter whether they are ritually slaughtered or not, then that applies to everybody and there is no discrimination. But if animals were not to he exported dead on account of the conditions of this Bill, would they be exported live? Where to? Noble Lords know that licences are necessary for the export of live food animals for slaughter or for further fattening. The question of their destination arises again. I hope it is not suggested that we should go the way of Australia. and convert oil tankers into sheep transports with 20,000 and 30,000 sheep on board for a trip to the Middle East. I hope that is not being suggested as the likely alternative to the modest conditions of this Bill. When one from New Zealand caught fire with about 20,000 sheep on board that disaster was so appalling to the New Zealanders that they decided not to do it again. Was that discrimination or just plain commonsense and humanity?
I do not myself regard the exporting of animals live to the Middle East as a serious proposition. I have taken as firm a stand as anybody on curbing the transport of live animals across the Channel to Europe, and I am not for a single moment willing to lend myself to any measure which I thought would increase that trade. But as for the conditions in our own slaughterhouses, I hope noble Lords bear in mind that the transport of live animals to Europe in the first instance was due to the American judgment that our slaughterhouses were not good enough for them. Live animals were exported to Europe to meet the needs of the American troops in Europe and they did not like the look of our slaughterhouses. So that we cannot really say that by exporting animals live they will necessarily have a worse condition of slaughterhouse there than they would have here. However, I do not think that that is an alternative which we need seriously consider. I profoundly hope the Government would not feel that if eventually a Bill of this kind were passed they would be obliged to open up the export of animals live from this country to the Middle East.
The question of enforcement has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, and by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. There are difficulties about enforcement of the law as it is; there is no doubt about that. We have to do our best with it. There would be difficulties of enforcement because there might be difficulties of identity. But bear in mind, my Lords, that local authorities are already reaching agreement with the meat companies in certain areas on exactly the lines of this Bill. So they are evidently going to overcome problems of enforcement. What they are going to do 1239 is to rely on the integrity of those with whom they have reached agreement. So I think enforcement difficulties will be no greater here than they are at the present time. I do not want to go into a lot of detail about what the difficulties of enforcement are now, but there are obviously some, and anybody who knows anything about it knows what they are. My noble friend Lord Bishopston cannot, I think, have been at the party meeting when I explained this Bill.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
I am afraid I did not think his long speech very helpful. Anyway, I must not grumble about my Front Bench. He raised the question of why the British dependent territories are in the Bill. It is a quite simple explanation. There is a small export trade of kosher meat to Gibraltar and it seemed to me that a satisfactory way of dealing with that was to include in the Bill an exception for British dependent territories.
Well, there we are. I think I must ask your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading. It is so important a matter and the crisis is so closely upon us at present that I think your Lordships should register an opinion upon the principle of the Bill. I think that, for good or ill, your Lordships' judgment is called for and I sincerely hope that it will be for good, because I believe that the message that this House could send out this afternoon to all concerned would be of great benefit to them in the difficult public attitudes and negotiations which lie ahead on individual cases up and down the country. Therefore, I hope profoundly that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Whether the Bill be now read 2a?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 23: Not-Contents, 80.1240
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Aylestone, L.||Howie of Troon, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Listowel, E.|
|Beswick, L.||Malmesbury, E.|
|Brockway, L.||Melchett, L.|
|Collison, L.||Northfield, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Rugby, L.|
|Denington, B.||Somers, L. [Teller.]|
|Gosford, E.||Spens, L.|
|Gregson, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L. [Teller.]||Underhill, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.|
|Alport, L.||Cottesloe, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Daventry, V.|
|Auckland, L.||Davidson, V.|
|Avon, E.||Denham, L.|
|Balogh, L.||Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.|
|Birk, B.||Drumalbyn, L.|
|Blease, L.||Ebbisham, L.|
|Caccia, L.||Eccles, V.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Elton, L.|
|Colyton, L.||Enniskillen, E.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Nugent of Guildford, L. [Teller.]|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Glasgow, E.||Portland, D.|
|Glenkinglas, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Gormanston, V.||St. Davids, V.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Henley, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Holderness, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Home of the Hirsel, L.||Sherfield, L.|
|Hooson, L. [Teller.]||Shinwell, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Killearn, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Kinloss Ly.||Stone, L.|
|Kinnaird, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Long, V.||Sudeley, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Teynham, L.|
|Mancroft, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Marley, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Vivian, L.|
|Mishcon, L.||Wakefield, of Kendal, L.|
|Morris, L.||White, B.|
|Mottistone, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Norfolk, D.||Young, B.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and Motion for Second Reading disagreed to accordingly.