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New Clause—(Charges In Respect Of Public Slaughterhouses)

Volume 529: debated on Tuesday 29 June 1954

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(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, a local authority who have provided a public slaughterhouse may make charges, according to scales determined by them from time to time, in respect of the use of the slaughterhouse or of any services provided there.

(2) Every scale of charges determined by a local authority for the purposes of this section shall be published by them in at least one newspaper circulating in their district and in such other manner (if any) as they think expedient for informing persons interested; and a copy of every scale of charges so published shall be sent by the authority to the Minister of Food.

(3) If it appears to the Minister of Food that a scale of charges determined by a local authority for the purposes of this section is in any respect unreasonable, he may, after consultation with the authority, direct them—

  • (a) to make such alterations in the scale as he considers appropriate, and
  • (b) except with his approval, not to depart from the scale as altered for such period as he may specify; and the authority shall comply with the direction.
  • (4) The following enactments shall cease to have effect, that is to say:—

  • (a) paragraph (b) of subsection (2) of section sixty of the Food and Drugs Act, 1938 (which enables local authorities with the approval of the Minister of Housing and Local Government to make charges in respect of a public slaughterhouse provided by them); and
  • (b) so much of any local Act or statutory order as authorises a local authority to make charges in respect of a public slaughterhouse or to make byelaws for that purpose.—[Dr. Hill.]
  • Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

    I would explain to the House that this Clause is in response to a number of suggestions and a number of views that were raised upstairs that the local authorities' scales of charges should be subject to the approval of the Ministry. It was thought desirable to embody in the Clause the procedure to be followed—and here, as the House will appreciate, one requirement is publication in a newspaper—and secondly, to make unnecessary central reference and to adopt a procedure that the local authority may lay down a scale of charges and report them to the Minister. If it should appear to him, on perusal or in response to any representations made to him, that the charges are unreasonable, then, and only then, would the Minister intervene.

    Thus we have a simple procedure to achieve the object of the Committee upstairs, and one which reduces the amount of work involved. It will be seen that it clears up the position in a number of areas where local councils have embodied rather rigid requirements for charges, these charges being out of date. In general, this does simplify procedure and saves a great deal of time.

    I do not want to delay the House on this Clause for very long, but I should like to make one or two comments on it. I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but, as I did not have the advantage of being on the Standing Committee, I am wondering whether it would not have been desirable for the Ministry itself to have laid down some guide on a scale of charges, rather than leave it entirely to local authorities.

    Most of us know what has been going on in these past few weeks. As I said previously this evening, local authorities have very different ideas as to what should apply in reference to this Bill. I should have thought that it would have been a good thing, with the great change which is now about to take place, if the Ministry of Food gave a lead to the local authorities as to what the charges might be, with certain elasticity according to different parts of the country. This is very important indeed, because, when all is said and done, all these charges, which are to mount up, whatever the charge may be, are ultimately passed on to the consumer.

    11.15 p.m.

    Some of us on this side of the House are very concerned regarding what the price of meat to the consumer is going to be after next month. Nobody, apparently, has any idea at all at this moment what the price will be, and I am fearful as to the quantity of meat that some people in the industrial areas will be able to afford to buy. I am quite certain that many of them will not dare to go into a butcher's shop after next Monday.

    If, therefore, these charges for this, that and the other are to be added, the cost of meat will be constantly rising to the detriment of the community. I understand that in some localities in the country the stall rents in the large abattoirs and the toll charges for the sale of the carcases are in some cases being trebled as against the 1939 figures. If these various charges are to be added to the consumer price of meat, then the situation is going to be a very difficult one indeed.

    I suggest to the Minister that it might have been a very desirable thing if he could have checked this rise by insisting that the charges named in this new Clause should be limited and fixed to some degree by the Ministry itself. I am wondering whether that point of view has been considered, and, if not, whether it cannot be so considered at this stage.

    With the permission of the House, may I say that it is felt that this question of charges is a matter which should remain for local determination in the light of local circumstances. There will be some slaughterhouses that cover a whole range of services and some which are very much better equipped and which undertake a wider range of services than others. It is felt to be wise to leave the matter to local authorities, although that does not exclude the Minister later on, in the light of experience gained, helping local authorities who want guidance in this matter, or local authorities with different kinds of slaughterhouses offering different kinds of services as experience is gained.

    Has the hon. Gentleman considered making these charges subject to confirmation by the Minister, as is done in a good many cases where local authorities are empowered to make charges? They make them, advertise them, and then there is a short period during which interested persons in the locality can object to the Minister when the charges are excessive. The Minister can then either confirm or amend the list of charges if he thinks fit.

    If I may answer the right hon. Gentleman with the permission once again of the House, this is, in effect, to put the Minister in the position of confirming charges, except that he will not examine or modify them unless he is dissatisfied or unless representations are received by him which he considers to be powerful and reasonable. That is the position.

    Question put, and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time.

    I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Clause, at the end of paragraph (a), to insert:

    "including services of meat inspection."
    A similar Amendment was moved in Committee by the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude) but was withdrawn on the Minister's promise to look into this matter. As it stands, the Clause does not provide for the cost of meat inspection to be included in charges which may be made where meat is sent outside the area in which the beasts are slaughtered. As was stated in Committee, the result could be that a small local authority might be burdened with a rate of up to 4d. In my own constituency, meat inspection before the war was about 10 to 15 per cent.

    During the course of this Bill so far the Parliamentary Secretary has emphasised that there will have to be very much more meat inspection than there was before the war and that to that extent the local authorities would have to bear that cost. Where the slaughterhouse is in the area of a local authority but caters for a much wider area, we think it is only fair that some of the cost of the meat inspection should be borne by that outside area.

    It is to be regretted that the Clause deals only with public slaughterhouses, yet meat inspection at private slaughterhouses, bacon factories and so on will mean an additional rate of at least 2d. and probably 3d. I hope the time will soon come when the Minister feels able to give attention to this. Probably one of the reasons why meat inspection was not properly carried out in my home town of Redruth before the war was that the town suffered severely from unemployment and the local authority could not meet the cost. There has now been an increase in unemployment in the main industry of that town, and we feel that the cost of meat inspection should be shared out more evenly over the whole country.

    It might save time if I say at once, as I said upstairs, that I accept the general contention of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman). Under a policy of moderate concentration there will be instances where the slaughterhouse is within the area of a small, poor local authority while the product finds it way into the populous surrounding area.

    I shall not engage in textual criticism of the Amendment, but I would say that this is not the appropriate place to deal with this question. It is now being considered in connection with the proposed new meat regulations, and we are, at this moment, in consultation with local authorities on the subject. I admit the hon. Member's point, and can assure him that we are now giving most careful consideration as to the best way of dealing with it under the meat regulations. I hope that, with that assurance, the hon. Member may be able to withdraw his Amendment.

    This is not a one-man filibuster. I should like briefly to put what I consider to be important points. I hate to disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) on anything, because I like him so much, but this is a very important matter to the meat industry.

    As the House knows, I have had some experience in this trade, but it is not necessary that I should declare an interest because I am no longer interested. I want to ask my hon. Friend whether it is right and fair that when a public service of this sort is undertaken in connection with meat inspection the trader should be responsible for footing the bill. These things are done in the public interest. It is a matter of public health, and if a trader goes into the market and in all good faith buys a beast from a farmer—and cattle may cost £100 a head and—then, having slaughtered it, in the interests of public health an inspector comes on to the premises and condemns the meat, the trader should not bear the loss. This is done in the public interest, and therefore the taxpayer or ratepayer should be responsible for the charge.

    For many years there has been agitation in the trade with which I have been concerned, and this agitation has been based on compensation for confiscation. I believe that if these things are done in the public interest, then the public must foot the bill. The warranty should be given either by the producer, who is certainly being paid very well indeed for his cattle with Government help, or by the Government. I hope that my hon. Friend will appreciate this point and will see fit to withdraw his Amendment. In all fairness, this should be a public responsibility, and I should like to see this principle carried to the extent of compensation for all confiscation.

    As the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) said, this question was fully discussed in Committee on an Amendment which I moved and which my right hon. and gallant Friend undertook to consider between then and Report. I do not think that at that time there were many of us who would have agreed with the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) that this was a burden which should be put exclusively on the taxpayer. The point which we had in mind was that, under the Bill as it was then drafted, certain local authorities were having a burden placed on them which was quite out of proportion to their ability to raise revenue. The suggestion that this should be the responsibility of the taxpayer was not generally accepted in view of the fact that the main beneficiary was, in the last resort, the consumer of the meat.

    As to the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Cam-borne, I did not myself put down an Amendment on this occasion because it has become apparent to me that this matter can be met by administrative action which will be perfectly satisfactory. As far as I am aware, the local authorities most concerned are at the moment quite satisfied that the Ministry are able to meet that point, and they have no further objection. In the circumstances, I hope very much that the hon. Member will feel able confidently to withdraw this Amendment.

    I hope the Minister will not accede to the blandishments of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West and, in view of the assurance which he has so kindly given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause added to the Bill.