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Schedule—(Enactments Repealed)

Volume 529: debated on Tuesday 29 June 1954

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I beg to move, in page 15, line 18, at the end, to insert:

"In section sixty, paragraph (b) of subsection (2)."
In view of the remodelling of Clause 2, it becomes necessary to repeal the relevant subsection of Section 60 (2, b) of the Food and Drugs Act, 1938.

Surely we are to have more explanation than we have had so far. This seems to be a most important and very sinister Amendment which the Minister seeks to introduce at a late stage. I am sure that it will not have escaped your notice, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that it is printed out of order on the Paper. Instead of being printed in its proper place it is printed above two Amendments which have already been passed. That is a most unusual circumstance, and we have not had an explanation why it has been printed in that extraordinary fashion.

In view of all the other evidence of muddle we have had on the part of the Government in dealing with the Bill tonight, at least we are entitled to an apology for misleading hon. Members by printing Amendments out of order on the Paper. When Mr. Speaker was in the Chair he ruled that even though all the Amendments on Report were printed higgledy-piggledy, in any order the Government liked, they had to be taken in their proper sequence. It makes it very difficult for hon. Members who are trying to do their duty when they have to go back to the middle of the Paper just because the Government have chosen, contrary to all precedent of which I am aware, to put Amendments to page 15 in a higher place on the Paper than Amendments to page 14.

What irritates me most is to find that when we come to the Amendment we have no proper explanation and no apology from the Government for something which is a grave discourtesy, to say the least. The Parliamentary Secretary tried to burble out a few inconsequential remarks as if it were something which did not matter. Surely he must realise the consequence of the Amendment. It takes away from local authorities powers which they have enjoyed for a very long time. They are powers which local authorities throughout the country cherish.

12.45 a.m.

Since the Minister did not venture to give any proper explanation, I must detain the House for a few moments to explain the significance of the Amendment. Its purpose is to insert, at the end of line 18 in the Schedule,
"In section sixty, paragraph (b) of subsection (2)."
We were not told what Section 60 (2, b) was. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read it."] We were not even told the Act to which it referred.

We certainly were not told what were the words that we were being asked to repeal, What we are being asked is to repeal Section 60 (2, b) of the Food and Drugs Act, 1938, subsection (2) of which states:

"A local authority by whom a public slaughter-house has been provided under this section, or under any enactment repealed by this Act "—
that is, the Food and Drugs Act, 1938—
"or by the Public Health Act, 1875"—
I said a moment ago that this goes back a long way. These are the relevant words that are now being repealed:
"may make such charges in respect of the use of the slaughter-house as the Minister may have approved, or such less charges as they may from time to time determine."
Those words are now being repealed from the Statute Book. I ask why we have had no explanation.

I will give way in a moment, because I am as anxious as everybody on this side that the Minister should have an opportunity to do himself justice. So far, he has failed to do so.

The Minister has a certain reputation to maintain. He is anxious to do himself justice, and he will have the opportunity to try to do so, but I want to make my point so that the Minister will be able to give a full and complete answer.

Why should local authorities, who have enjoyed this power for 75 years, now be deprived of the power to make these charges? I see that we have the assistance of the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who is very concerned with the responsibility of local authorities. He is always telling us what great plans he has in his Department for reforming local government. We have been hearing about that for a long time. Surely the right hon. Gentleman will not sit silent while the House, without any proper explanation from the Ministry of Food, which is fast disappearing, takes away powers from local authorities.

We want to give more powers to local authorities. We believe in local government. It has a vital part to play in the life of the nation, and we believe in giving it extended powers. I do not like the idea of powers of this kind being taken away surreptitiously at the tail end of a Bill on Report stage, when the Government try to propose manuscript Amendments and then say that their proposed manuscript Amendments do not matter. This is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs, and my hon. Friends on this side will not be prepared to accept the Amendment from the Government until we have had a far fuller explanation.

The hon. Member cannot speak a second time on Report stage without the leave of the House.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

The House proceeded to a Division.

Sir CEDRIC DREWE and Mr. OAKSHOTT were appointed Tellers for the Ayes, but no Members being willing to act as Tellers for the Noes, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER declared that the Ayes had it.

12.53 a.m.

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

Although when the Bill was in Committee there were not many Amendments moved, a number of points of importance were raised which I undertook to look into in the meantime. The Amendments passed tonight were drafted as a result of proceedings in Standing Committee. During these remarks I shall try to deal with other points which were raised during that period.

Clause 1 places responsibility on local authorities to provide slaughterhouses. That principle was generally accepted, but more than one hon. Member expressed the fear in Committee that some local authorities might not rise to the occasion, and that it might be necessary to provide for the Minister's direct intervention to secure that a local authority carried out its responsibilities. I did not feel able to accept that point of view, although I promised to consider any case brought to my notice where it was felt that a local authority might not have fully appreciated the requirements of the situation.

I asked local authorities to let me have reports of the action they were taking about the number of slaughterhouses licensed and about the number of applications being considered. The first reports I received related to the period up to the 15th May. Further reports have since come in, and I have the position as it was on Saturday, 26th June.

The Parliamentary Secretary gave figures during the Report stage of the position of slaughterhouses. I am glad to say that local authorities have tackled this very difficult task with very great energy. I hazarded a guess that possibly some 2,500 slaughterhouses would be required; we now have 2,300 already licensed, and applications for another 2,800 are under consideration. Nobody can say what the final figure will be, but I am satisfied that there will be sufficient slaughterhouses available for decontrol.

There may be difficulties in some areas. From our experience, I am satisfied that local authorities will continue their close co-operation and that we shall be able to overcome the difficulties. I have had correspondence with authorities in certain districts where traders felt that their needs were not receiving adequate consideration and where authorities were deferring decisions on licensing. The House may like to know the position with regard to local authority slaughterhouses. For the purpose of the decontrol scheme, my Department have been holding about 300 slaughterhouses on lease or on requisition. Local authorities in the areas where these are situated were asked whether they might need them to provide facilities on decontrol.

The result of the inquiry is that of the 300 about 200 are not required by the local authorities, and are being returned to their owners by termination of lease or by derequisitioning. That leaves 100, of which I am glad to say that in 65 cases agreement has been reached with the owners whereby the local authorities will be able to take over the premises on lease. Negotiations are still proceeding in the remaining number. Where the premises are held on lease by the Government, we can assign or sublet them to the local authority only if the terms and conditions of the lease allow us to do so. In most cases it requires the consent of the owner, provided that it is not unreasonably withheld.

I hope very much that in the remaining cases we shall be able to get agreement and that it will not be necessary to resort to the courts, as that would only mean delay, which we do not want. In the few cases where agreement cannot be reached—I am glad to say that the number does not exceed a dozen—we may have no alternative but to maintain the requisition and to allow the local authorities to operate the premises as public slaughterhouses. The tenure, under cover of the Government's requisition, cannot extend beyond two years, but that should give abundant time.

I should like to say a word about the seven slaughterhouses which the Government have been building over the past few years. Our aim is to make these slaughterhouses, which were built to meet the needs of control, available to local authorities for use as public slaughterhouses at whatever may turn out to be their value under conditions of free trade. They have all been offered to the local authorities concerned. The one at Swindon is likely to be purchased outright by the authority, on the basis of the district valuer's valuation. Four others, Canterbury, Guildford, Fareham and Salisbury, are being taken over by the local authorities on a rental basis for one year, at the end of which the purchase price will be determined. Negotiations with the two other places, Grimsby and Wimborne, are in progress, but decisions have not yet been reached. But, in any event, arrangements are being made, and I am sure slaughterhouse accommodation will be available.

Can the Minister indicate the basis on which the rental is determined—Whether it is on his valuer's basis or on the district valuer's basis.

I will have that looked at. The real reason for the rental was that local authorities were a little bothered as to what the arrangements might be. The rental was to allow them to have some experience of the work under those conditions to give them a better idea of what the problems would be. At some slaughterhouses, the Government made improvements which had the effect of increasing the value of the premises. That will be taken into account when settlement is made for termination of the lease, or the termination of the requisition.

I have also been asked about the position with regard to the equipment which the Government have installed, cutting saws, weighing machines and so on. We have offered such equipment to local authorities, or to the owners of the slaughterhouses, at valuation.

I was also asked whether the Lands Tribunal was the appropriate body to determine compensation. This tribunal is appointed by the Lord Chancellor under the provisions of the Lands Tribunal Act, 1949, and its membership consists of lawyers and other persons who have had experience in the valuation of land. One of the tribunal's duties is to determine disputes ariving from compulsory acquisition of land by local authorities. It has all the legal, technical and other necessary qualifications for dealing with any compensation disputes arising from the Bill.

I think the Inter-Departmental Committee suggested, and it was referred to in Committee upstairs, that the local authorities have shown a desire to be able to meet their share of the cost of compensation by borrowing powers. I have looked into this and I am assured that consent to do this may be sought under Section 195 (c) of the Local Government Act, 1933.

During the Committee stage, the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) raised the very important question about consultation with the branches of the trade unions in the discussions which the local authorities were asked to undertake, for example, in the case of a decision about the accommodation slaughter-men required. It was thought in some districts that there was no part trade unions could usefully play in such discussions. My Department has had some correspondence with the Trades Union Congress about these particular cases, and I hope that any difficulties which have arisen have now been solved. It has always been the practice of my Department to consult the Trades Union Congress on general principles on any matter in which trade unions are concerned. It is open to local branches of trade unions to put their views on slaughtermen's accommodation to the local authorities concerned. I am sure that local authorities in general would be willing to consider consultation.

In so far as local authorities may be engaged in operating slaughterhouses and in employing slaughtermen for this purpose, I should point out that any question of the terms and conditions of such employment will fall to be dealt with in the normal way through the negotiating machinery formed for the purpose. I hope that I have covered most of the points raised, and that the House will now give the Bill its Third Reading.

Could the right hon. and gallant Gentleman give the figures for Scotland in the same way as he has given them for England and Wales?

I will make inquiries. The Scottish position is different from that in England and Wales in that there are only two private slaughterhouses apart from some small ones in the Highlands. I gather that the position will remain as it is.

Can the Minister tell the House the position in regard to the promise made to Scotland that it should have a different system from that in this country, that private enterprise would be allowed to participate?

My information is that slaughterhouses in Scotland are open to everybody.

1.12 a.m.

I am sure that we are all very much obliged to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for the information he has given us on the Third Reading. In the milder atmosphere that now prevails in this Chamber, we can perhaps get down to the serious matters which have concerned all of us and especially those who dealt with this matter in Committee. I am sorry that the interference, which may have been well-intentioned, by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's hon. Friends should have led to a great deal of time having been spent in another direction.

I agree with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that the local authorities have done a remarkably good job in the short time that they have had. It is a very good thing that in this country we can always rely upon local authorities whatever their political complexion, to carry out their duties in the best public interest once a decision has been reached. Again we have an example of the excellent work done by local authorities on behalf of the Central Government.

The figures given by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman about licences is very interesting, because the Minister of State in another place gave an estimate of between 3,000 and 3,500. I think that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman thought that that figure was a little high, and that it might be about 2,500. It looks, however, as if the Minister of State's figure might possibly be correct, and that in the final analysis it will be something between 3,000 and 3,500.

It is on that one aspect that I wish to put one or two points to the Minister. We are not getting back to the pre-war position of 11,500 slaughterhouses, which is a good thing, but it must give the Minister a good deal of apprehension to see the number of slaughterhouses rise so very quickly from about 482, which I believe is the figure at the moment, to anything between 3,000 and 3,500, because it is perfectly clear that a good many of them cannot possibly comply with the conditions that he would desire.

I wonder, therefore, whether the Minister feels that this Bill provides him with all the necessary authority and power to persuade local authorities to be fairly uniform in the application of bye-laws in relation to these new slaughterhouses. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman will remember that we had a short discussion lasting about an hour or an hour and a quarter, on this very point when we were discussing an Amendment which sought to lay down certain minimum standards which the Institute of Sanitary Engineers had produced. Those men who are responsible for inspection are people of whom we should take some notice. The Minister did not disagree that some standards were necessary, but he did not feel that he could lay down national standards which would lay a statutory obligation upon local authorities. That being the case, may I ask the Minister—or the Parliamentary Secretary, whom I presume will reply at the end of what need only be a short debate—what the intentions are with regard to this very large number of new slaughterhouses which are to be licensed, which have not been used for many years and where conditions cannot be as we would like them.

What does he intend to do? He really has a responsibility. The new Food and Drugs Bill will presumably be coming before the House very shortly. It will be concerned with very much higher standards of hygiene in relation to food handling. Here, in the slaughterhouse, could be the origin of a good deal of evil with regard to the health of the nation. I know that, in another capacity, the Parliamentary Secretary will be one of the first to want from the hygienic point of view, a very strict examination of slaughtering. That means that the necessary facilities must be provided and that there should be no escape from certain essentials.

At the moment, local government responsible for the licensing of slaughterhouses has the responsibility for making its own bye-laws. It has also had guidance from the Ministry of Food and from previous Ministries of Health and other Ministries responsible for public health as long as 40 years ago. That guidance is very old now and certainly does not meet modern conditions. I therefore wonder if the Minister, if it is not within his own responsibility, would consult with his colleague whose responsibility it may be—the Minister of Housing and Local Government or the Minister of Health, I am not quite sure which—as to whether new guidance should not be sent out. I think it would be very useful.

The last guidance was given some 20 years ago and that, I think, was based on some memoranda of 40 years ago. It must be out of date. I am sure that the Minister of Health must feel the very heavy responsibility he has, because so much damage can be done to the health of the nation if the inspection is not done adequately or sufficiently. It may mean recruitment of more sanitary inspectors. It certainly means better guidance to local authorities. If it is not within the power of the right hon. Gentleman or of his Ministry, I would strongly urge him to consult with his appropriate ministerial colleague with a view to sending fresh guidance to local authorities. I am sorry he could not see his way to putting it into the Bill. However, that is not a matter which we can now discuss. I plead with him to look again to see whether it would not be useful to send guidance to local authorities in relation to the essentials of the slaughterhouse.

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the care he has taken in looking into the few points which I raised in Committee in relation to getting the cooperation of the workers in the industry as well as that of the local authorities and others. This is not a matter of the prestige of the trade unions but is really a matter of the public interest. It is now 15 years since a great many people who will now have to come into the business had any real, practical experience. As a result, there will be put on those skilled in the art of slaughtering and cutting up meat an extra burden of training younger people who have never had the experience.

I am most anxious that there should be the utmost co-operation between those who are actually doing the work and organising the trade unions, the local authorities, the local traders and all those who are associated in any way with what must be a very big task. I am very much obliged, therefore, to the right hon. Gentleman for having taken so much care in making certain that facilities exist for co-operation between local authorities and trade unions. I recognise that where the local authority is the employer there is also adequate machinery for negotiation on wages and conditions.

It may be that a number of my hon. Friends will have a few matters to raise, but by and large we do not depart from what we felt about the Bill as a whole. We still feel that we might have had derationing first, and then decontrol. However, the Government felt that they could not do one without the other. We can honestly say that we have facilitated this Bill because we felt that it was in the public interest once the Government policy was declared, and I think we might have a shorter discussion on the Third Reading than was apparent about half an hour ago.

1.17 a.m

The Government have caused confusion everywhere by the hasty way in which they have proceeded with this matter, and they have used the local authorities as a means of escape from their difficulties. Clause 1 puts the responsibility firmly on the shoulders of the local authority for securing the provision of the facilities that are necessary for slaughtering. The farming community is bewildered and confused, as anyone who has read the national and local newspapers must be very well aware.

I am glad that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) is here, because there is a peculiar difficulty in his division, which I am sure must be typical of many rural areas throughout the country. I have a newspaper cutting which is headed "Minister's 'Yes' to Abattoir at Madron." Madron is a small village just outside Penzance, and in that village there is a very old workhouse which has been a disgrace to the workhouse system and probably one of the worst in the whole country. It was handed to the hospital management committee when the hospital service was established. It was so bad that they got rid of it. Nobody wanted it. Every local authority considered whether use could be made of it, but that was impossible.

Then it was bought by private people, and recently the question of this place being used for slaughtering arose. According to the reports, the local rural district council turned down the whole proposal. Later they reversed their decision. That brought a protest from the inhabitants of the village who signed it nearly 100 per cent. A petition bearing 260 signatures went to the Minister of Housing and Local Government, but apparently before he could give a reply the Minister of Food said that this slaughterhouse could be provided. That is, presumably, another example of muddle among Ministers.

But there is a serious side to this matter, because the local authority has three acres of land on which it proposes to build council houses, and these houses will immediately adjoin this dreadful building which is to become a slaughterhouse. The approach road to the slaughterhouse will be through the middle of this housing estate. The people in Cornwall have condemned this slaughterhouse in Penzance which has been a disgrace both under the last Ministry and under this present one. But local authorities in the Land's End peninsular are to get several slaughterhouses; I think there are to be 12. Why on earth, in spite of protests from the inhabitants of the village, should the Minister have approved of these licences being granted by the local authorities?

It may be that the approval of the Minister is not necessary, but the Ministry of Housing and Local Government should see that it is necessary for it to take action. Because of the hastiness and ill-preparedness of the Ministry of Food in meeting this emergency, the people of Madron have to put up with this dreadful state of affairs. The Parliamentary Secretary pays frequent visits to Penzance to speak on behalf of his party there. I hope that when next he goes to Penzance to a public meeting he will have to answer for his misdeeds.

1.21 a.m.

The reputation of the Parliamentary Secretary as a politician was preceded by his reputation as a doctor, and I should have thought that his knowledge of health statistics of this country before the war, when there was little or no control over slaughterhouses, would have urged him to be very careful in the introduction of this Bill.

Many a Tory fortune has been founded on slink meat, and many thousands of people in the Midlands went to a premature death as a result of the policy in operation in slaughterhouses in the hey-day of Tory and Liberal England. I have read with great interest the reports of medical officers of health in my part of the country. In the early twenties report after report underlined the fact that large amounts of slink meat were being sold to the public. One of the great benefits which resulted from the public control of slaughtering and purchase of cattle was that that practice largely died out. It has also died out largely because of the reputation which has been established, but if this Bill is administered with the same competence as that in which the debate tonight has been handled by the Government, opportunities will again arise for this dreadful traffic in the sale of diseased meat.

I should have thought that when the Government set about reflecting on the problem which would arise from the decontrol of meat and the release of rationing, they would be faced with the problem of the effective control of slaughterhouses. This evening there was a second manuscript Amendment to be moved, and I would be out of order if I said anything about it, but it is a fact that in Scotland there is a movement to bring all slaughterhouses under public control. If they were under public control the sanitary inspector would have responsibility for observing these provisions and would be able to keep an eye on what was going on. I should have thought that we would have had a statement from the Minister of the considerations which led the Government to accept municipal control in Scotland but in England to adopt a contrary policy.

I can only hope that the Government will be courageous enough, if they find that the malpractices of the pre-war years again begin to emerge, not to hesitate to come back to the House of Commons and ask for an amending Bill. I should have thought the Government would have known of these cases, and would have come to the House and said that they knew about them, and that they existed before the war. The Minister of Health and his advisers know only too well, because what I am saying is to be found in the reports of the medical officers of health in all parts of the country. This practice of the sale of diseased meat to the public went on on a widespread scale right up to the outbreak of the war, and it was one of the few blessings that came out of the war that it was stopped.

I would suggest that this ill-considered Measure is being rushed through the House of Commons because, for political reasons, the Government want to get on with their "first of July" and all the political advantages they hope to get from securing that the best cuts of meat go to all the best clubs and the best people. I prophesy that, as a result of this Bill, we shall find in the years to come a rise in the incidence of T.B. and those diseases which spring from the widespread consumption of diseased meat.

I would go so far as to say that if the Government and the local authorities and the reputable butchers are not watchful, the consequences of this Bill—the name of which should not be the Slaughterhouses Bill but the Slink Meat Charter—will be serious. We have not had a word from the Minister about what steps he intends taking to prevent the sale of slink meat, and I regard this as a dereliction of duty. I hope very much that, even at this eleventh hour, we shall get an assurance from the Minister that he will watch this problem and that if it shows any sign of being as formidable in the future as it was in the past he will come back with an amending Measure.

1.27 a.m.

I do not wish to detain the House for more than a moment, but, as the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman), who unfortunately did not give me notice that he was to raise this, has spoken about a matter in my own constituency, it is only right that I should have a word to say myself. The fact is that to both sides of this dispute, who, of course, have consulted me, I have made it perfectly clear, and they agree, that this is a matter for them to resolve. It is not the duty of a Member of Parliament to intervene in an internal dispute of the local rural district council, some members of which agree with one course and some of which agree with another. As my right hon. and gallant Friend knows, I have presented a petition, without taking sides in this dispute, which is purely a local council matter, and many of us feel that it is rather better for Members of Parliament to keep to their own jobs and to leave local authorities to deal with theirs.

1.29 a.m.

As one who represents an agricultural area, I have been watching this Bill go through the slow processes in the House, and I think those hon. Members who represent areas where farmers and others have to earn their living should point out, now that we have reached this stage of the Bill, certain factors of great importance.

I am convinced that I shall be proved right in a few years in saying that the Bill is an interim Measure which will have chaotic results. Neither the industry nor the Ministry have had a chance to estimate what facilities are necessary. Can the Minister tell us how many slaughterhouses we shall need? There were 11,500 slaughterhouses in Britain in 1938. Today we have 482, of which 119 are publicly owned. The Ministry of Food has put up five new buildings since 1950. Is it the intention of the Minister for Housing and Local Government to go forward with a policy of putting up modern slaughterhouses to deal with food in a hygienic fashion so that never again shall we have a recrudescence of that slink meat period that was experienced in North Staffordshire and elsewhere in the early 1930s? Will the Minister continue to carry out that policy or is it to be handed over entirely to private enterprise?

It was said in another place that we should need 3,500 slaughterhouses. The estimate made in this House was 2,500. How many are needed? This confusion is typical of the unplanned system that we shall have cast upon the public and the housewife. The local authorities will also suffer. Under the provisions of the Bill they can be called upon to provide compensation to owners of private slaughterhouses. That will be reflected in increased rates in districts such as that which I represent, unless we have a planned organisation of slaughterhouses.

The Bill means an extensive licensing of private slaughterhouses, and neither the meat trade nor anyone else can give the House an estimate of what is required. In the next few months we shall see a terrific battle between the farmer, the butcher and the auctioneer in the market places. Does the Bill guarantee that slaughterhouse contractors will not make a subtle discrimination against one section or other of private or public enterprise? Are we guaranteed that the Co-operative movement will have exactly the same opportunity of constructing first-class slaughterhouses as any private company that may be formed in the district? The Bill gives owners the chance to recover the cost of modernisation, but no-one in the House seems able to say how the arrangement will work and how the cost of modernisation will be recouped.

The final point which I wish to make is one in which I have been interested for years. The very first Question that I put on the Order Paper when I had the privilege and honour of coming to the House to represent the Leek Division asked the then Minister of Agriculture whether he was prepared to investigate the possibility of establishing a national veterinary service on lines similar to those of the present National Health Service. That question is relevant to this Bill. A national veterinary service would be needed to check up on private and public slaughterhouses in this advanced age of hygienic food distribution. The rôle of the veterinary surgeon in the inspection of slaughterhouses is underestimated.

I am delighted to find that some progressive local authorities, such as those at Birmingham, Newcastle and elsewhere, have advocated that there should be some kind of national organisation for inspection, with veterinary surgeons having the responsibility of guaranteeing the standards of health and cleanliness of the slaughterhouses. However, there is nothing in the Bill to ensure that. There is nothing to stop private enterprise or even public enterprise—

If it is not in the Bill, the hon. Member is not entitled to discuss it on Third Reading.

I accept your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but that is one of the reasons why I object to the Bill. I sincerely hope that the Government, who are freeing so many people, will give us a free road to decent food standards by investigating the possibility of establishing side by side with this system a national veterinary organisation for the inspection of slaughterhouses.

Under the Bill local authorities are obliged to provide adequate slaughtering facilities. How should they assess their requirements? Are they to return once again to the ramshackle empire of 11,500 slaughterhouses throughout Britain? How are they to ensure that the men in the butchering trade are skilled killers? Do we offer the opportunities for training in the meat trade today? These are questions which should be answered as we give this so-called freedom to the Government to establish once again high prices for the housewife, chaos for the farmer, discontent for the butcher and more worry than ever before for the local authorities, ultimately with an increase in rates when, in about four years' time, the Bill proves completely unworkable.

1.37 a.m.

Perhaps I might put a few more questions to the Parliamentary Secretary before he concludes the debate. First, I wish to make it clear that of course we were not critical of what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman did to meet the demands of the Jewish and Mohammedan community. Our complaint was that the House had no opportunity properly to discuss it. I do not wish to put any personal blame on the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. It is unfortunate that those in charge of Government business did not afford the House a proper opportunity for discussion.

The House should note that we agreed to a new Clause which contains a reference to the Ministry of Food. It is now 29th June, 1954, and we are still legislating on the assumption that the Ministry of Food will continue. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to assure us that he is not making a fool of the House and that it is the intention of the Government to retain the Ministry of Food. The hon. Gentleman will remember that we had some discussion about this in Committee upstairs and his right hon. and gallant Friend was at pains to point out that he had never declared that he would abolish the Department but that it was his declared objective, which we appreciate, to abolish rationing. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will have the courage to say that, because it will put him in a stronger position to deal with the 1922 Committee which might not have discussed the matter yet.

I put another question to the hon. Gentleman. He would agree that the provisions of the Food and Drugs Amendment Bill [Lords] are relevant to the Bill under discussion. Can he assure the House that we will proceed with this Bill and put it on the Statute Book this Session? Again, is he awaiting the instructions of the 1922 Committee? We are entitled to know. There has been reference to that Bill both during the discussion of the present Bill and during the discussion of the Slaughter of Animals (Amendment) Bill. These are complementary Bills, but it is now getting late in the Session. Can we be assured that the Bill to which we are now giving a Third Reading will be supplemented by a Food and Drugs Amendment Bill?

My third inquiry may be tedious, because it has been repeated several times during the debate, but we should not let the Bill depart without having the latest information from the Parliamentary Secretary as to the date when we may expect the final report of the inter-Departmental Committee. That is particularly important now, because we have the background to the position, in which a considerable number of applications are still under consideration.

I imagine that some local authorities are deliberately keeping applications under consideration because they are awaiting developments. They want room to allow extended facilities if they should be proved necessary. I may be asking for too much, but it would be of great practical advantage if we could have an indication of when the inter-Departmental Committee is likely to report, and in what kind of terms. Would it not be possible to have a further interim report to indicate, perhaps, the conclusions, if they have been reached, for a particular part of the country, or, alternatively, rather more details of the general basis upon which the Committee is working?

We are obliged to the Minister for the progress report he has presented to the House. He said that there are difficulties in some areas. I mention, naturally, the difficulty in my own constituency. I am not saying anything about the proposed abattoir, because we have mentioned that before and we appreciate that it was not possible to proceed with its erection in time. As the Parliamentary Secretary knows, we had three slaughterhouses. I am informed that two of them will be open, and the third closed. The overall position is that there will be 19 slaughterhouses.

The butchers—not the local authority—say to their members and their association, "Give the local authority power to requisition." We discussed that matter in Committee and it does not arise on Third Reading, but I presume that the Government still have powers of requisition. If it proves necessary—this will be proved one way or the other very soon—will it be possible for the Government to intervene to aid a local authority by exercising their own requisition powers?

The third slaughterhouse was regarded by the butchers as the most up-to-date and the most satisfactory. It has been returned to its original owners, who have decided—we cannot criticise them—that it shall revert to other purposes. The butchers are criticising the local authority, probably thinking that I have greater influence than I have with the Government. They believe that the local authority has requisitioning powers. The local authorities have not, but the Government has. Should it be necessary to intervene, will the Government use such powers to aid a local authority which might feel that it was necessary to maintain premises as a slaughterhouse?

We have information about the number of slaughterhouses and about the number of slaughtermen working in slaughterhouses which are open at present; but what will the position he regarding slaughtermen when we get a vast addition to the number of slaughterhouses next week? This is a matter which must cause anxiety to all concerned with avoiding unnecessary cruelty to animals. It is no answer to say, "Well, there are butchers." Butchers have not slaughtered since 1939. There must be a large number who have had no experience of it. What has been done about this? I am sure that those hon. Members, including the Parliamentary Secretary, who discussed the Bill sponsored by the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) will be horrified if the position next week is to be that a large amount of slaughtering will be done unsupervised by people who have had no experience. We ought to be given some assurance about this.

The Parliamentary Secretary will, I am sure, agree that during the past few years there has been widespread interest in ensuring that all possible steps are taken to avoid cruelty. Responsibility in this matter rests squarely upon the Government. They have introduced this Bill, which was not essential to decontrol and derationing. The present system of slaughtering could have been gradually amended. Have the Government taken steps to offer technical assistance on a wide scale? Have they done anything to advise people who have not slaughtered before of the improvements in slaughtering brought about by the Ministry of Food since 1939?

I repeat my tribute to those in the Department who have been responsible for this. So far as sanitary inspectors, and such public officials are concerned, the Ministry has done a great deal to impart its knowledge to them; but has there been any arrangement for emergency measures to be taken to avoid cruelty? My impression is that the butchers do not think that will be so. One of their spokesmen assumed that there will be worse conditions than existed in 1939, before control began, thus all the progress made by the Ministry of Food will be lost, and that, until public authorities can exercise control, not only the slaughtering arrangements but the operations in some cases, will, unfortunately, be disgraceful. It is a pity that the Government have not shown more foresight in avoiding this position. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to do what he can to allay these fears and to tell us what steps have been taken in anticipation of them.

The Minister mentioned the new slaughterhouses. I was very glad to hear that five of them had been disposed of; it would be most unfortunate against the background that I have been describing, if the other two were not used. I gather that they will be used for the time being by the Ministry of Food for, to use the phrase that the Parliamentary Secretary used on another occasion, the Ministry is not getting out of the business yet. We want an assurance that these premises will be used. They must be used. I know that local authorities are reasonable, and, when I note that these two slaughterhouses have not been taken over, I wonder whether there is any difficulty about rental. If the Ministry of Food were responsible there would be no difficulty about it, because that Ministry realises how important it is that the slaughterhouses should be taken over. Is our old friend the district valuer causing difficulty, or is it the Ministry of Works? In any case, I suspect it is another Department.

What is happening meanwhile in the areas served by those two slaughterhouses? The local authorities must be in a dilemma, and it would be a disaster if, because of delay in determining this question as between the Government and the local authorities, the latter allowed unsatisfactory premises to be opened as slaughterhouses in those areas. I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary will do their utmost to get this position settled. Let us have it settled this week. The end of this week is the critical time. If unsatisfactory premises are opened unnecessarily because the facilities are fully used, it will be most unfortunate. I understand that in one of the areas there is a possibility of most unsatisfactory premises being opened unless this question is settled.

I do not think there has been any mention of the Fat Stock Corporation. The Parliamentary Secretary says it has got nothing to do with it. Of course it has got something to do with it. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary these questions: What licences have been obtained by the Fat Stock Corporation, and what approaches have been made by the Fat Stock Corporation to his Department regarding the new abattoirs built by the Ministry of Food? What has been the attitude of the Ministry of Food to the requests, if they have been made, of the Fat Stock Corporation?

A further point, which was mentioned on Second Reading, and which is relevant to these provisions regarding slaughterhouses, is transportation of meat. My recollection is that in Committee an assurance was given that this was being watched, and I think the impression was created that we would have a statement before we parted with this Bill. What steps are being taken regarding the transportation of meat? That is essential to the question of licences. If we can make the transport of meat efficient and ensure that denationalisation of transport will not upset the efficiency of the transport of meat, then there will be a lesser requirement for licences. It is, I am sure, the wish of all of us—

On a point of order. There is nothing in the Bill about transport.

I was waiting to see when the hon. Gentleman addressing the House was going to make any link between what he is saying and the contents of the Bill.

The connection was this. There are steps being taken regarding the transport of meat that affect the requirements of local authorities. But, I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that I have no wish and no intention of pursuing the matter further. If I have transgressed, I apologise to you and to the House.

Is it in order for hon. Members of the other panty to sit on this side of the House and to take part in the applause which comes from hon. Members on this side?

There is nothing against the rules, and it is probably a very good thing for hon. Members to get a fresh view of the House from time to time.

In reply to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Harris), may I point out that the Bill provides for securing that there shall be adequate slaughterhouse facilities available locally. It is quite clear that it is impossible for a particular locality to deal with supplies of cattle that may come into that locality. In fact, there is a constant move from place to place. It is one of the weaknesses of the Bill that it does not deal with that particular point. I submit that my hon. Friend was well within the rules of order in dealing with the question of the movement of meat from slaughterhouses to a point where it is to be consumed.

I think that the hon. Member himself realised that what he had said so far was in order but that it must not be pursued too far.

Turning to compensation, which the Minister mentioned, I am obliged to him, because I think it was a point raised in Committee, for the information he has given, that use will be made of Section 195 of the Local Government Act, 1933. In view of the interest that the Government obviously have in the question of compensation, I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary will consider if, by administrative means, he could not register the number of licences and so on and get up-to-date information.

I gather that that is obviously the position at the moment. All that I am asking the Minister to do, in view of the fact that we are obviously interested in the question of compensation, is that he should keep up to date the information which he has obviously got today. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman informed the House—and we were much obliged to him for the information—that the compensation will run between £2 million and £3 million.

I hope that at any rate the Government will keep a survey and will keep in touch with such developments as happen subsequent to decontrol. I also hope that they will maintain the technical staff, or some of it at any rate, which they have at the Ministry of Food who are now the most informed people in the country on this matter, and will offer their advisory service to the local authorities after the date of decontrol so that the effective voice of the Government will be heard regarding grants and renewal licences.

I wish to conclude with a few precautionary words. As my right hon. Friend said, we have done our best to expedite the progress of the Bill, and we are not to blame if our good offices received such little response. We recognise our public responsibilities, and very much appreciate, regardless of party differences, the responsible attitude taken under the Bill, and which will be taken under it when it becomes an Act, by the local authorities.

I know of no local authority which has not earnestly endeavoured to fulfil and carry out the intentions of the Government. But the Government have by this Bill failed to face the fundamental problem which has been before us long enough. This Bill, although it has many desirable features, is essentially the mark of a retrograde step, and it may well happen—though we all hope it will not—that on decontrol we shall face some very real difficulties.

I trust that the Government will, as I previously adjured them, bear in mind the final conclusion of the Inter-Departmental Committee which was that
"Private slaughterhouses must not be allowed to slip back into the conditions of the pre-war disorders and numbers. Traders must, however, be given early notification whether they are to be permitted to resume private slaughtering or whether their needs will be met by the provision of public slaughtering facilities."

The hon. and gallant Gentleman, who is sitting on the wrong side of the House, makes an understandable error. He probably does not realise that this is a Measure introduced by a Conservative Administration, but I should have thought that there was nothing in it which would particularly invite comment of that sort from such a quarter. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman wishes, he will be able to take part in our discussions and thus prolong The debate. I am endeavouring to bring the debate to a termination, but it is quite clear that although that is my aim and intention we are quite prepared to discuss the matter further.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will pay regard to the very serious warning which comes, after all, from his own officials. They are saying, "All right, you can go ahead and set up all these slaughterhouses, but make sure that we do not go back to the disorders that we had before the war." Well, some of the butchers, through their spokesmen, say that the conditions which will obtain in these slaughterhouses will be worse than before 'the war, and they are right. The Minister of Housing and Local Government will know that they are right. Therefore there is really a burden on the right hon. Gentleman and on the Parliamentary Secretary to do what they can, after this Bill becomes law, to prevent things getting worse. We all realise that they will be bad enough.

Finally, I would say that I know the Parliamentary Secretary regrets, as I regret, some of the consequences of this step. He regards it as unavoidable. Therefore, notwithstanding this step which he is taking, I hope that he will honour the assurance which his right hon. Friend gave, and has repeated, that as soon as we get the Inter-Departmental Committee report we shall proceed—notwithstanding the 1922 Committee—to an implementation of the policy of moderate concentration.

2.6 a.m.

I think that it will be agreed that of the points raised, the most important was that raised earlier in this debate on Third Reading by the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens)—public health precautions in slaughterhouses. He asked what the position would be. May I remind him that, as matters stand, the position will be protected by local authorities on the basis of Section 13 of the Food & Drugs Act, 1938, on the basis of the meat regulations made under Section 8 of that Act, and also—and here I come closer to the point which so disturbed him—on the basis of new model bye-laws which are now under consideration and which we hope shortly will be issued. We agree with him that the time has come for that. In that connection, as the right hon. Gentleman asked a question on the associated topic of the Food & Drugs Amendment Bill, may I carry it this far by saying that we hope that that Bill will be proceeded with this session. I use the words deliberately—we hope that that will be so.

On the further point that the right hon. Gentleman made as to the part played in this by local authorities, I wish most strongly to stress that local authorities have acted within their own areas and under their own responsibility, and have produced in the aggregate a much more satisfactory situation than might otherwise have been expected. I do not share the gloomy forebodings of hon. Members who say that as a result of the Bill the death rate from tuberculosis following the distribution of infected meat will go up. I do not share the gloominess that seems to afflict hon. Gentlemen opposite in regard to that.

To deal with some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), there will, of course, very likely be difficulties with slaughter-men after a period when—

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I want to deal specifically with these points.

After a period when the number of slaughterhouses has been between 400 and 500 and we are now to see over 2,000 there are bound to be difficulties. It may be assumed, however, that those who have sought and obtained licences have satisfied themselves as to the availability of labour. At the same time there is a difficulty, and the position must be watched if to this trade there are to be attracted the new men to staff the increased number of slaughterhouses.

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am sure that that he appreciates the importance of my question. It is whether the Ministry, in view of the fact that they are the repository of the experience of the last few years, would consider preparing a manual on slaughtering? There have been changes of technique and so on, and it would help the trade to meet what is, after all, a difficult problem.

I note the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. On his other point, as to what is happening to Government slaughterhouses, he asked particularly about the two where there are difficulties. We are actively considering the position, and it may be necessary for us to continue in action in those slaughterhouses for a few weeks until the difficulties have been resolved.

On the question of the amount to be charged in rent, that has to be related at the outset, as an experiment, to the throughput. In order that the rent may be fair in regard to the capital value as determined by the district valuer, of course there are discussions between the local authorities and the Government Departments concerned. But in general the position is satisfactory in terms of the number of slaughterhouses and in terms of what will be available as from the appointed day, the freedom day of 3rd July.

I have taken note of the other points which the hon. Gentleman has raised. I think that if we forget for a moment the mixture of pleasure, fear and hope that has been expressed, it may be said that the situation is likely, for all its difficulties, to be resolved satisfactorily. I should like, on behalf of my right hon. and gallant Friend, to say to hon. Members opposite that we are genuinely appreciative of the help that they have given us in the Committee stage upstairs, and if we may forget the little breeze that took place earlier, in general there has been a co-operative effort to achieve a useful purpose.

I was reassured by what the hon. Gentleman said about the practice which will be adopted by progressive authorities who desire to discharge their duties under the Bill. But what about the bad authorities? The Parliamentary Secretary well knows that in the past slink meat passed from the areas of bad authorities into the areas of the good authorities. What are his proposals to make the bad authorities do their job?

In the main, we rely on the local authorities with their sense of responsibility to administer food and drugs legislation. There are in addition the regulations already laid down under the Food and Drugs Act, and those which are likely to be laid down under any future legislation which specify national standards. But I must end as I began. Fundamentally, this work depends on the efficiency of the local authorities.

Question put.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, is it in order for a Member of the Government party to seek to call a Division and then to go out of the House?

Question agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.