HL Deb 18 March 1948 vol 154 cc989-1009

3.52 p.m.

LORD DOWDING had the following Notice on the Order Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government, whether they will (a) forthwith extend to other domestic animals the provisions applicable to cattle and calves in licensed slaughterhouses, (b) forthwith prohibit the slaughter by knife of domestic animals in full consciousness, in any circumstances, and (c) at the first opportunity legislate for the improvement of existing slaughterhouses, both in design and in capacity, so as to obviate all cruelty in the process of slaughter; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is with some diffidence that I have taken it upon myself to raise this question in your Lordships' House. There are many noble Lords who are more qualified by experience to deal with the question, and many perhaps who know more about the facts; but I yield to nobody in the depth and sincerity of my feeling on this subject, and this must be my excuse for rushing in where angels, for one reason or another, have not recently trod. For convenience in handling, I have divided my subject into three parts. The first part deals with the killing of animals in licensed slaughter-houses; the second part aims mainly at practices obtaining outside licensed slaughter-houses, and the third part deals with the adequacy both in capacity and design of the slaughter-houses themselves.

In the Slaughter of Animals Act, 1933, provision is made that the humane killer, or some mechanically operated appliance, shall be used on all cattle and calves killed in licensed slaughter-houses; further, that a mechanical or electric stunner must be used on all pigs killed in bacon factories or slaughter-houses where electric power is available. But that is all; there is no statutory protection for sheep and lambs, and only partial protection for pigs. It will be noticed that there is no provision that the mechanical stunner must be used in those slaughterhouses where electric power is not available. In addition, every local authority had to decide within one year whether they would pass a resolution bringing sheep and lambs under the protection which was afforded to other animals.

The present position in England and Wales is as follows. There are 1,440 local authorities, and of those 1,198, or about 85 per cent., have voluntarily accorded to sheep and lambs the protection afforded to other animals. Of the remaining 242 authorities, 31 have refused to give that protection to sheep and lambs, and the remaining 211 authorities do not include in their areas slaughter-houses which are active to-day. Before the war there were 17,600 slaughter-houses, and that number has now been reduced to 600; so it is not impossible that some slaughter-houses may be re-opened in the territories of the 211 authorities which have none at present under their jurisdiction. Therefore, my first question to His Majesty's Government is whether they will make this protection statutory instead of leaving the question—which is one for the national conscience—to the chances of debate in the councils of local authorities.

I should like to take this opportunity of saying that there is no political criticism expressed or implied in this matter. It is nearly fifteen years since this Act was passed, and the responsibility of the present Government is correspondingly reduced. Nevertheless, the question was raised in another place just over a year ago, but then the discussion covered a much wider field than that covered by the questions which I raise today. It dealt, for instance, with cruelties alleged to be committed in the market place, and the discussion even wandered into the hunting field. Nevertheless, at that time the responsible Minister did say—and I am reading from Hansard: Finally I want to say that that Slaughter of Animals Act, 1933, covers completely all the objections the honourable and gallant Member makes to this slaughtering of animals. The animals are protected within that Act. I think perhaps I have already said enough to show that the protection is only partial, and animals killed outside slaughter-houses receive no protection whatsoever.

This brings me to the second part of my question. Before the war, owing to the plentiful provision of slaughter-houses and the small number of amateur stock raisers, the number of animals killed outside slaughter-houses was reduced to a very small proportion of the total. But now the situation is very different. Out of 17,600 slaughter-houses only 600 remain, and there has been a great increase in the number of pigs privately raised. I have found it difficult to get exact figures, but I think I shall not be far out if I say that in a year the number of pigs slaughtered outside licensed slaughter-houses is somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000. A large proportion of those poor animals, together with uncounted sheep and lambs, are killed with the knife, in full consciousness. I shall not attempt to harrow the feelings of your Lordships with any description of the process. If I can lay no claim to a tender heart I have, at least, a queasy stomach. But this I will say—that the cumulative mental and physical agony of these poor creatures cries to high Heaven, and it is all absolutely unnecessary. It could be stopped by a stroke of the pen. It is necessary only to legislate for the use of the humane killer in all cases.

The humane killer, as most of your Lordships are probably aware, is a kind of pistol. It fires a captive bolt which just protrudes far enough to reach to the brain of the animal and then is retracted into the barrel of the pistol. I have examined several types of humane killers. The cost of one type which I examined—and I should say that this is about the average cost—is eight guineas. Doubtless that price could be reduced considerably if manufacture were undertaken on a large scale. The cartridges are in two sizes; one for cattle and one for smaller beasts. They cost three-farthings apiece. One society with which I have been in touch—it is called the Council for Justice to Animals—has distributed gratis more than 150 humane killers. They have given some to sanitary authorities to lend to licensed slaughter-men, and others they have given direct on the recommendation of inspectors. But it is not right that we should depend on private charity in a matter of this kind, nor, indeed, could any private body meet the large total requirements.

Now the objections which have been raised to the use of the mechanical killer are as follows. First, it has been suggested that the weapon is dangerous. Secondly, it has been claimed that the carcases of animals killed with it are imperfectly drained of blood, with the result that the meat is inferior both in appearance and keeping qualities. A third objection is made on the ground that the cost of slaughter is materially increased. Taking the first objection, that of danger, I say there is none. The pistol does not fire a bullet; it merely fires this captive bolt, which protrudes not more than an inch or an inch-and-a-half and is afterwards withdrawn automatically into the barrel of the pistol. As regards the argument about the blood content, I maintain that it is altogether fallacious. I could produce a great volume of evidence, if that were necessary, but I will quote only a few samples of the kind of testimony which is available. A test was made in the Birmingham slaughter-house in the presence of the chief veterinary officer, and, as a result of that test, the blood content, surprisingly enough, came out in favour of the humane killer. The figures were 2.5 per cent. of residual blood, as against 2.8 per cent.

The late Colonel Dunlop Young, an acknowledged authority on meat inspection, who was for many years chief official at Smithfield under the Corporation of the City of London, gave his opinion after examining the carcases of 1,255 animals stunned with the humane killer at Islington. He said: We have carefully examined the meat of the above animals in carcase form and we desire to state emphatically that no exception can be taken to the efficiency of the bleeding—the meat was sold at Smithfield, and no complaints were made or received. We are even of the opinion that it would have been impracticable to have selected otherwise than by chance the carcases of those animals slaughtered after preliminary unconsciousness had been effected by mechanical means.

Then there is the evidence of Mr. F. W. Stillman, the head of a big meat organisation at Exeter. He says: I claim to have killed over 50,000 animals, large and small, with the use of the humane killer, and I have received a large measure of support from those lovers of animals who form a big percentage of our population to-day. But if practical proof were needed of the efficiency of the mechanical killer, I would merely state that of the twelve hundred odd local authorities who have contracted sheep and lambs into the protection afforded to other animals, not one has rescinded its decision, nor has any complaint been received from the 95 per cent. of slaughter-houses where power is available and pigs must be stunned. All the big bacon factories use the electric method. As for the cost, it is entirely negligible. It amounts to three farthings on a carcase, once the initial cost of the weapon has been defrayed.

I come to an aspect of the question which I had hoped to avoid. I refer to ritual laughter by Jews and Moslems for their requirements. I had hoped to make plain that it is quite unreasonable that we should be hampered in the process of setting our own house in order in this matter, which affects the national conscience, by the religious ceremonial of the strangers within our gates: I still maintain that view very strongly. At the same time, it is unfortunate that the specific immunity granted under subsection (1) (b) of the first section of the Act should undermine the law in all slaughter-houses where the two methods are practised concurrently. If a complaint is made that the law is being broken, it is only necessary to plead that the infractions are due to the requirements of the Jewish population and the issue is hopelessly clouded. The members of the Animal Defence Society subscribed to build a model abattoir at Letchworth. They leased this out to a private tenant under the most rigid guarantees that only humane methods of killing would be used. The Government stepped in and took over the abattoir: and then what happened to all the guarantees!

Two other points in connection with this immunity are that it is granted specifically as regards animal slaughter without "unnecessary suffering" and for the food of Jews and Moslems. This latter proviso is openly flouted. Many more beasts are killed by the Jewish method than are required by the Jews. The balance are sold to Christians. As regards the former proviso, that animals shall be slaughtered without "unnecessary suffering," I do not know what was in the minds of those who drafted the Act when they spoke of "unnecessary suffering." What suffering do they consider to be necessary? A noble lady, noble in every sense of the word, the Duchess of Hamilton, has told me that she was present at a demonstration of the Jewish method of slaughter and she timed the proceedings by stop watch: it was seven minutes before unconsciousness released the poor victim from its pain. Seven minutes, my Lords! Think of the two minutes silence which we used to observe between the wars on Armistice Day. Think how long that seemed. Take three of these periods; add another half for good measure—and then talk about necessary suffering.

I make the broad assertion that the partial statutory protection under the Act is habitually set aside in all slaughterhouses. If it is observed anywhere, it is only because of the humanity of the management. The conditions may be even worse than I fear, because in these days it is not easy to find out what goes on in slaughter-houses. Accredited officers of humanitarian societies have been refused access to slaughter-houses. Take, for instance, the case where the supply of cartridges for the humane killer runs out, either through faulty prevision or for some other reason: is anybody so simple as to suppose that the process of slaughter comes to a standstill? I have now finished what I have to say on sections (a) and (b) of my Motion. I maintain that the conditions constitute a blot on the national conscience. They can be removed by a stroke of the pen. I urge with all the force at my command that that pen stroke be made.

As regards my question (c), in regard to accommodation, the arrangement and design of slaughter-houses, I agree that some delay may be unavoidable. It would not be reasonable to press that manpower and material should be expended on slaughter-houses when there are so many human beings who have not a roof over their heads. Nevertheless, the matter is urgent enough. Conditions in some slaughter-houses are a disgrace to a nation which calls itself civilised. The first thing that occurs to one is this fantastic proportion of slaughter-houses closed down in relation to those remaining—17,000 to 600. I rubbed my eyes when I saw those figures. I thought a stray nought had slipped in from somewhere else. But not so; those figures were substantially confirmed in the debate in another place which I have previously mentioned. Would it not be possible to mitigate overcrowding, at any rate, in the slaughterhouses by re-opening some of the vast number that have been closed? Of course, it is not only a question of overcrowding. Some of the conditions can only be described as atrocious. I have heard from two independent sources of a West Country town where the terrified beasts are dragged across the road to a shed with open doors where they are dispatched coram populo and the children gather round to watch.

There are two kinds of cruelty. There is the infliction of pain and there is the infliction of terror. I do not know which is the worse. But I can say that both kinds are perpetrated in full measure, even when the final act is preceded by stunning, when the terrified animals are forced up to the killing point through the sights and sounds of previous operations and the smell of blood and entrails. What are the Government going to do? That is what everyone wants to know, and what nobody can find out. Are they going to hand the slaughter-houses back to private enterprise? Are they going to hand them over to local authorities? Or are they going to nationalise them? In the interests of decency and humanity this question ought to be answered, so that plans may be considered and may be ready for implementation when the national situation allows this blot to be removed from the national conscience. These facts, these figures, these statistics, are but trees in the wood. I have dealt with them in detail so as to show that the difficulties are not insuperable, and so that no one shall say of me that I could not see the trees for the wood. But it is upon the wood that my eyes are fixed—the great dark wood of human callousness and cruelty. If the remedies were ten times as difficult and expensive to apply, I should still plead for their application.

Who is to blame for all this? We are all to blame. I am to blame. I have lived on this planet for sixty-five years and this is the first time that I have raised my voice in the interests of the animals. Why? Because I did not know. Why did I not know? Because I did not choose to find out. I was one of those many people who ignore all the proceedings between the gambolling of the lamb in the field and the appearance of the joint on the dinner table—and some of those proceedings are not pretty. I am not one of those who believe in the literal truth of every word of the first chapter of Genesis, but I do believe that man was placed over the beasts of the field by the Creator in a position of trust. To all intents and purposes, man is god to the beasts; they have no appeal from his decisions. I am not a tilter at windmills—but I believe that in the long course of human evolution the time will come when man will no more need or desire to eat the flesh of animals. But that day is not yet. In the meantime we shall continue to use them for food. Well and good. There is, however, this proviso: that when they have spent their humble lives in our service, we shall take those lives with every precaution that humaneness and mercy can devise. Man, through his association with animals, is responsible to God for their evolution. Man can take, but he cannot destroy life. If in his greed and blindness he sends his charges across the border, crazed with terror and agony, he sets in motion a cause which by immutable law will be followed by its inevitable effect. I beg to move for Papers.

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, provided the honour of making a maiden speech is not entirely eclipsed by the boredom of those listening to it, one hopes that it is going to be welcome. As an agriculturist, I feel that I may briefly contribute to the debate on the last part of the subject raised by my noble friend. The Englishman, formerly one of the greatest meat-eaters of the world, ought to be able to arrange these matters satisfactorily; and it is a subject about which the Englishman has been traditionally conscientious. The present system grew out of the war and the necessity for rationing, and it contains several evils which have come to light. The main evil, which has already been mentioned, is that of overcrowding live animals before slaughter. I myself have visited a public abattoir, and I was not convinced of the adequacy of the premises. When I was informed that soon the number of killings in that abattoir were to be doubled, in order to reduce difficulties in other abattoirs, I felt that the position must be growing very serious. The first thing over-crowding causes is cruelty, even if it is unintentional.

Another matter which I think I should mention is that animals are kept too long under bad conditions before slaughtering. That causes also financial loss. Not only do the animals become thinner, but the bruising of the meat through their being kept in too small a box is bound to spoil its quality. On going round the slaughterhouses one cannot but be impressed by a great many of the other inadequacies which should be mentioned. Hand in hand with the difficulties of accommodation for live animals goes the shortage of hanging capacity for the meat when it has been killed. Those two factors must be partially responsible for the reputation that home grown meat must be acquiring in this country to-day. The whole question needs careful attention. No adequate study of the advantages and economies of central slaughtering seems ever to have been undertaken; but now that we have had experience of central slaughtering for some time, it may be possible; to discover a great deal more about it than we knew before. I may mention that I believe that there are now doubts about its rigid application, particularly to rural areas. I think that that long-term policy should be considered, although I fully understand that it cannot possibly be implemented to-day. If we are experiencing loss of meat, it may be justifiable to spend something on accommodation; and if we are to spend something on accommodation, we should know the direction in which we are to proceed.

Meanwhile, as has already been stated by my noble friend, every effort should be made to open more slaughter-houses wherever possible. This is the best, the cheapest and the quickest remedy. I have also had in mind the question of the slaughter of meat according to the requirements of the Jewish faith. I should mention that the Slaughter of Animals Act, 1933, provides that animals shall be slaughtered in a separate chamber from the one in which they are subsequently bled and hung. That applied to all slaughter-houses built after 1933 and applied also to Jewish methods of slaughter.

In the case of slaughter-houses built before 1933, however, where the full facilities were not available, the slaughter of animals actually in the chamber where the bleeding was done was permitted. That is a loop-hole in the Act to which I think attention should be drawn. It causes great distress to the animal and is deplored by slaughter-house staffs, who speak very strongly about it. I should like to say how pleased I am to have the opportunity of addressing you and of bringing these matters to the notice of your Lordships' House.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, it is a high privilege to have this opportunity of warmly congratulating on your behalf the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, on making his maiden speech to-day in your Lordships' House. He has spoken frankly and straight-forwardly of his own experiences in matters of which he has personal knowledge. I am sure it is your Lordships' wish and hope that he will come to your Lordships' House on many future occasions. I intend to intervene in this debate only for a short time but I would ask the noble Lord who is to reply two questions. First, is he satisfied with the present statutory position? The 1933. Act has been on the Statute Book for fifteen years. It is, of course, common knowledge that that is a private Act. To-day it is impossible for any private Act to be promoted and, therefore, it rests squarely upon the shoulders of His Majesty's Government to say whether they are satisfied with the existing state of affairs, or whether they are not; because it is by them, and them only, that any alteration can be made.

The second point I would like to make is this. Something over a year ago, in another place, I think it was Dr. Summerskill who said: "There is no widespread cruelty." I do not think anybody suggests there is widespread cruelty, but I would ask: Is there any assurance that there is adequate inspection? Supposing there were widespread cruelty, how would the noble Lord know? I believe I am right in saying that all, or virtually all, public slaughter houses—indeed all abattoirs—are under the control of the Ministry of Food. Therefore, His Majesty's Government have a direct responsibility in this matter. I would like to ask whether there is adequate inspection both in the cattleyards and in the matter of slaughter itself. I submit respectfully that it is not enough to say that every official at an abattoir is necessarily an inspector: I do not think that is the case. The inspection in this matter is a special task, which should be undertaken only by those who are specially detailed and specially qualified to do so.

I would like to press the point which the noble Lord, Lord Dowding made—that there should be permitted the entry of accredited representatives of recognised societies. I feel that this is a case in which they are entitled to access. I believe I am right in saying there are something of the order of 30,000 to 40,000 animals killed in this country every day; that is a very large number. It is impossible to believe that those who engage in those tasks do not in some cases become, shall I say, a little casual, not to use any stronger word. It is the sort of task in which it is almost impossible that that should not be the case. It is necessary, I suggest, that someone should have the task of saying that the full standards—which I am sure the Minister would wish himself—are in fact fulfilled to their utmost.

I would like to refer your Lordships to the speech of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition in the Foreign Affairs debate when he said: The things which unite us"—. and I am quite sure that this is one, are— the love of liberty, the hatred of cruelty and oppression, the belief in justice…. It is only a question of how we can most effectively put them into operation.

4.36 p.m.


My Lords, I should first like to say how grateful we are to the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, for having raised a subject which most people would be apt to overlook. I would also like to take the opportunity of congratulating both the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, and the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, on their most excellent maiden speeches. I hope that this House will often have the benefit of hearing their remarks on future occasions.

With regard to the Motion which is before us, I quite agree with the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, that there will be complete agreement on all sides of the House that we should, so far as possible, ensure that the most humane methods will be used in any necessary slaughtering of animals. I think we can start from that point with a considerable measure of agreement, and I do not think anyone on any side of the House would venture to disagree. So far as that goes, I am entirely in agreement with the noble Lord who moved this Motion. After that we come upon some practical difficulties, and it is only fair to say, looking at the question from the other side, so to speak, that this country is in the forefront in regard to the measures and precautions taken to ensure that cruelty is reduced to the minimum. We are not at all behind, but are in the forefront among the nations to-day. It is not the case, however, that we think there is no room for improvement. Obviously, the Government are only too glad to hear the views of your Lordships upon this matter, and to look into any possible steps that might be taken to improve conditions or to eliminate abuses. But when we come to the facts one sees that the problem is rather more difficult than perhaps at first it seems.

I should like to begin by concentrating on the question of animals killed in licensed slaughter-houses. As your Lordships know, cattle and calves have to be stunned or rendered senseless before slaughter. In other words they must be "instantaneously slaughtered or by stunning be rendered insensible to pain until death supervenes." This should be done by mechanically operated instruments in proper repair. I am dealing now only with animals in slaughterhouses—with calves and cattle. In regard to them, I think the provisions of the Act are fairly adequate. I do not think one could criticise or improve the conditions and rules which have been laid down. In regard to pigs the matter is slightly different. In slaughter-houses pigs should be and are, whenever possible, stunned by electricity. Whenever power is available that method is used; but it is quite true that where electricity is unavailable it is not possible for this practice to be followed. I am informed that in the Ministry of Food slaughter-houses pigs are stunned before actually being killed.

With regard to sheep and lambs, the question, as your Lordships will know, was left to the discretion of the local authority. As the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, has pointed out, of the 1,440 local authorities—that is the figure, according to my information—1,200 insist on sheep being stunned, whereas 240 have not come into these arrangements. As regards the killing of goats and pigs, those animals can be excluded by a local authority from the protection given by the Act, if the local authority so wish; that is to say, however, that the animals have to be stunned unless the local authority pass a resolution to the contrary. Actually, there is a very small number of these animals killed in slaughter-houses. I have not been able to get the number of local authorities who have opted out of this provision, but I should think it is very small.

The point which surprised me in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, was his objection to the reduction of the number of slaughter-houses from about 16,000 to approximately 600. His implication seemed to be that that was a reactionary step. I should have thought that in practice it was an improvement, because before the war slaughtering was carried out in all sorts of little backyards, knackers' yards and so forth, in which no adequate inspection could possibly be made or enforced; whereas getting slaughter-houses under central inspection is surely the first elementary step to (insure that proper measures are taken.

Now I come to what is, I admit, an extremely difficult problem, and that is the methods of Jewish and Mohammedan slaughtering. As your Lordships know, those methods were excluded from the Act, the reason being that under Mosaic and Moslem laws animals have to be killed by an authorised slaughterer and according to a certain ritual. If the animal is not killed in that way it is pronounced unclean by the Rabbi or other authority concerned, and no Jew or Moslem is allowed by his religion to eat the meat. How great the suffering is compared with that caused by the humane killer I am not prepared to say—it is a question of which I, personally, have no knowledge—but I believe there is some doubt among experts.

I would, however, put to your Lordships this problem. If we brought in a law or regulation which stopped this method of slaughter, then automatically we should be stopping the supply of meat to a large part of the community at a time when, first, food is extremely short and not only meat but potatoes and bread are rationed, and secondly the Government have had to call on everybody for the maximum amount of effort and exertion. I would remind noble Lords that this is a matter not for my own Department but for the Ministry of Food; and it is the opinion of my right honourable friend the Minister that legislation could not be introduced to alter the present position. However, there is one device which has perhaps ease d the situation a little, and that is the Weinberg Pen. This reduces very considerably indeed the time taken for this method of slaughter, by holding the animal and turning it round so that it can be slaughtered much more quickly than in former times. I ask your Lordships to realise the problem that the Government have to face in regard to the slaughter of animals for the Mohammedan and Jewish communities.

I come now to another point which is also difficult—the question of private premises. Could any legislation be brought in which would ensure absolutely that all animals killed on a farm or on private premises were killed humanely, or as humanely as possible? It is not a question of our being unwilling to secure that end, if it could be obtained, but we are up against big difficulties. The greatest perhaps is the question of inspection. Some farms—and other premises—are in remote districts, and it would be almost impossible to maintain continual and adequate inspection of all those premises. Moreover, I think your Lordships will agree that there is no point in bringing in legislation which cannot be rigidly enforced.

The second difficulty is that of cost. I think it was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, that the humane killer should be used universally, but, as he himself said, the cost of the humane killer is eight guineas. It would be difficult to compel every farmer to buy what is quite an expensive instrument and not in plentiful supply. I am told, too, that it is an instrument that must be used by someone who understands it and is skilled in using it; otherwise the cruelty and suffering that might be caused would be even worse than that occasioned by other methods. For these reasons, I think it is difficult to maintain that thousands of farmers should be compelled to possess and taught how to use this particular instrument.

Another question—a very important one—was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, and that is the question of the construction and the capacity of premises. We have no illusions about the fact, nor do we believe that all is well in regard to premises used for slaughtering. We know what conditions are needed, and we envisage a time when slaughter-houses will be properly constructed and adequate. But in these days of acute difficulty in regard to materials—steel, bricks, timber and everything needed for building—when we are crying out for factories and for houses for the people who still have not a roof over their heads, the improvement of slaughter-houses is not a reform that we can immediately bring into operation. But that does not mean that the matter is not very much in our minds, or that we do not appreciate the necessity for extending and improving slaughter-house premises. Some of them are badly dilapidated, but that does not necessarily mean that inhumane methods of slaughter are used in them. We try to ensure that everything possible that can be done shall be done to prevent cruelty. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, raised one or two points. He asked, how do we inspect these premises to make sure that cruelty is avoided as much as possible? There is a system by which Ministry of Food inspectors examine these premises. I agree that the accredited representatives of the societies—


Are these Ministry of Food inspectors not veterinary inspectors who inspect meat, rather than the methods of killing animals?


So far as my information goes, these inspectors are quite definitely given instructions not only to examine the meat but also to see that everything is carried out in a regular and proper fashion, and that cruelty is not practised in any way. I did not know that the accredited representatives of societies were not allowed into the slaughter-houses. This has, however, been brought to my attention, and I will bring it to the notice of my right honourable friend. Then there is the general question of premises, which I think is a vital one. I may say that at this moment we are examining the Lucas Report on marketing, and the planning of slaughter-houses. The Report will have far-reaching effects, not only on marketing and slaughtering, but I cannot say what will be our future plans concerning slaughter-houses until this Report has been discussed further and we decide what the policy will be in regard to distribution of meat, slaughtering and everything else.

I would suggest to your Lordships that the chief weapon we have against any cruelty or barbarity in this matter is public opinion. I think we should pay a tribute here to men like the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, and to the societies which have carried on their campaigns to educate the public on this matter. I think that in the future that will be our greatest safeguard and method of approach. It is the gradual awareness of the public which will make cruelty impossible. One of the difficulties which I understand my right honourable friend is up against is the fact that people will not come forward and report cruelty when they see it. We occasionally receive reports of animals being driven to the slaughter-houses with unnecessary violence, and of the infliction of undue punishment, but we can hardly ever pin down someone who will come forward and give us the facts. It is an obligation, because under the Protection of Animals Act it is the duty of any policeman to arrest without warrant anybody who is inflicting cruelty on animals. If anyone will inform either the police or the local authority of the facts they will if necessary immediately institute proceedings. I am afraid that what I have said may in some ways be unsatisfactory but I hope I have been able to convince your Lordships that we have taken note of this subject. We hope that when we have framed our policy in regard to marketing, we can take great steps towards regulating the whole position concerning abattoirs, the collection of animals and their despatch in the most humane possible way.


May I interrupt? The noble Earl spoke about private slaughter-houses. I would ask, does he see any hope of extending the humane killing of sheep to public slaughter-houses to make it 100 per cent. humane?


Under the Act, it is left to the local authority, but I cannot say, without notice of the question, whether that point can be brought in under the new Act.


All the slaughter-houses are under the control of the Minister of Food, are they not?


I think practically all slaughter-houses are at the moment. Certainly in the ones that are under the control of the Ministry of Food, stunning is carried out. When a local authority are outside that control, it is left to the local authority. However, I will examine that point.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that I shall be allowed to intervene even at this late stage of the debate, although I was not present during its earlier stages. Certain remarks have fallen from the lips of the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, in a reply which I think all your Lordships feel was informative and helpful, in so far as it could be and these remarks have prompted me to speak now. The noble Earl spoke of the reduction of the number of slaughter-houses down to a figure of 600. The noble Earl spoke rather as if the elimination of these small slaughter-houses was being achieved, or had been partially achieved. I confess that what is in my mind now is not the slaughter-house where animals are killed for food, but the knacker's yard where beasts are slaughtered for dogs' meat or other offal. Many of these still exist.

I have in mind one such place which is not far from where I live. I do not want to harrow your Lordships with any description of what obtains in that place, but I know only too well that the legs, the skeletons and the entrails of animals are scattered about outside. Any animal that is to be slaughtered is openly driven through the lane leading to the yard, in which I myself have seen horses' feet thrown about as though they were stones—quite apart from the skeletons and the offal. I am afraid that, contrary to my usual practice, I have acquired no knowledge of the law in the matter under discussion. I have not applied myself closely to it, and I confess that I have no knowledge of how the law stands. I do not know whether these knackers' yards are inspected. I do not know, if they are not supplying meat for food, whether they are subject to the same control as the recognised slaughter-houses. From what I have seen, I rather suspect that they are not. If that is the case, I am sure that the noble Earl, whose sympathy is undoubtedly with us in this matter, will do what he can to see that this state of affairs is rectified. I shall be happy to give him full particulars of the place I have in mind, if they will be of any assistance to him.

The next point is the question of the humane killer. Obviously, I am in favour of it, but I think that to a certain extent the public are misled by what is said about it. I believe the real cruelty is caused before the animal is killed. I question whether there is any difference between stunning an animal skilfully and killing it with a humane killer, but there is a difference between driving an animal through a yard full of the remains of other beasts to have its throat cut and having it stunned and taken in to be killed in a properly constructed abattoir. I feel that the places which I have in mind are supported in error by the public, because the advertisements about knackers' yards say, "Send your worn-out horses to us. We pay the highest prices. We kill them with the humane killer." But often there is much cruelty before killing. Often they do not kill those animals at all. They take the worn-out hunter or the broken down racehorse and sell it again; and, so far as I know, there is no law to prevent them doing that. Whiles I feel that it would be out of place and unnecessary to make any appeal to your Lordships in this matter. I would take this opportunity to make a very strong appeal to the public and to urge those sending any worn-out animals to be killed at the knackers' yards to change their minds. I hope that, when the van comes to take the animal away, they will see that it is killed on their own premises. It comes to the same thing in the end, and it avoids all the suffering to which the unfortunate beasts would otherwise be exposed.


To answer one question which the noble Viscount asked me, as the noble Lord knows, the killing of all horses is subject to the provisions of the Slaughter of Animals Act; and they would have to be stunned. Knackers' yards are under the control of the local authorities. I should be grateful if the noble Lord would send me details of cases where unkind treatment of animals occurs.


I am much obliged to the noble Earl. I am sure he will forgive me for not having mastered me law on the subject before I spoke.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl who has replied for the Government for the courteous and kindly way in which he phrased his refusal. I do not suppose that Joshua expected the walls of Jericho to fall down at the first advance of his army, and perhaps I may have an opportunity of sounding a trumpet again if I am still permitted to address your Lordships' House. I do not know what is "cooking," and perhaps that opportunity will be denied me. For that reason I would like to take a little, more time, if I may, in dealing specifically with the answer I have received. In the first place we are told that this country is in the forefront of the countries of the world in scientific humanitarianism. I would say that that was a self-delusion. I would say that Switzerland is far ahead of this country. I know that Switzerland would not for a moment tolerate the Jewish methods of slaughter in their beautifully constructed and conducted abattoirs.

This matter of the Jewish and Moslem slaughter is one which I maintain should be fought. A Jewish Rabbi during this, last summer spoke in a series of talks on the wireless called "What I believe," and this is what Rabbi Dr. Mattuck said in July, 1947: The way is charted for man by the Law. The Law is therefore also a gospel, it promises salvation. Leaving aside its ceremonial prescriptions, which, as the Prophets taught long ago, have only a functional and therefore a relative and changing value, it shows the way of the good life. That is the point that I want to emphasise: the ceremonial of the law is essentially ephemeral. We put a stop to the practice of suttee in India. The Mormons are no longer allowed to exercise unrestricted their activities in America. Even the right reverend Prelates who sit opposite, through the intervention of St. Paul, are severally restricted to the enjoyment of one wife; and I personally maintain that we should not take it for granted, that because this is a canon, or rather a custom, of the Jewish priesthood it is therefore unalterable. I understand that many Jews had to eat unsanctified meat during the war, and I have yet to learn that they suffered any ill-effects. Be that as it may, if the Government do not sec the question from my point of view, if they say, "No; we will not stand out against the Jews in that respect," then at least surely they can ensure that the Jewish practices are not carried out in our slaughter-houses and that a totally unnecessary number of beasts are not slaughtered by the Jewish method for sale to the Christian community.

When the noble Earl indicated that the reduction in the number of slaughterhouses had resulted in an improvement, I was not able to follow him. If all those 600 slaughter-houses that remain were modern, decently designed and constructed abattoirs, there would be strong point in what he said. But they are not. Some of these 600 places are mere dirty shambles, like the instance I quoted in the West country. With regard to the main point, which is the vast number of animals that are slaughtered outside slaughter-houses, I quite agree that it would be difficult (impossible if you like), to enforce absolutely the use of the humane killer throughout the whole country. But, on a whole, we are a law-abiding people, and if it were the law that the humane killer should be used surely a great number of people who do not use it now would then use it. I saw in a newspaper the other day that Mr. Strachey, for quite another reason—namely, to prevent the black market slaughtering of pigs—is contemplating an order that privately owned animals must be slaughtered by licensed slaughtermen. If he is considering that, there is a means of bringing into force what I want, because they are licensed slaughtermen and they must all be provided with the humane killer. I offer that point to the noble Earl, in the hope that he may go into it a little further.

Finally, there is this question of public complaints. That was why, at the beginning of my speech, I said that I wished to confine my remarks to the slaughter of animals for food, and not to consider external cruelty. If any noble Lord wishes to raise the question of cruelty to animals in any form whatsoever, he will find a stout supporter in myself. But the question of public information about such cruelty can come into this question only in market places, or by drovers, and so on; the public do not know what goes on inside the slaughter house. That is one of the points I make. When I put down this Motion I was asked whether I wished to divide the House upon it. I do not want to divide the House; I want to unite the House solidly to the active pursuit of the question so that a really humanitarian result may be obtained. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.