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I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The reason why I am introducing this Bill at this stage of the Session and asking the House to pass it before we adjourn, is because in 1915 a Milk and Dairies Bill was passed, the operation of which was postponed until after the War, and which comes into operation automatically on the 1st September. The Act of 1915 was a very large and ambitious Measure, dealing with the question of milk and milk production on a very elaborate and expensive scale. It was felt at the time the Bill was introduced that it was impossible to put it into operation during the War. The condition in which we find ourselves now, both in regard to the finances of the country and the industry of agriculture, is such that it will be generally agreed that the Act is not one which we can wisely put into operation at the present time. I, therefore, had to adopt one of two courses. One course was merely to postpone the operation of the Act of 1915 for a further number of years, when both of the causes I have mentioned may have been very much ameliorated, and the other course was one which I have adopted, namely, to endeavour at the present time, in the least ambitious and least expensive way, to improve the supply of milk and the production of milk, which is very far from satisfactory from the public health point of view.
The Act of 1915 required large staffs, and placed very heavy duties upon the county councils, and was estimated to impose a charge of something like £800,000 per annum, rising to £1,000,000 in the cost of administration. Everyone will admit that this is an expenditure which we cannot possibly undertake at the present time. The Bill put expenses on landlords and farmers which in the present financial condition of the industry I am quite sure neither of them would be ready to carry out. With the very natural anxiety to get our milk supply improved, so far as quality is concerned, we are a little apt to overlook the fact that a great many milk producers, if we place too onerous conditions upon them, will cease to produce milk, and will adopt the more easy form of growing beef, and devoting their attention to other forms of agriculture. You cannot compel the farmer to produce milk. There are many other directions in which he can divert his energy. Therefore we always have to be very careful, in dealing with a problem of this kind, not to stop our already too scattered supply of fresh milk which is so very essential to the welfare of the country.
The Bill I am now introducing has already been passed through another place, where it has been very carefully considered and several Amendments introduced. It is the result of very careful consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture, the Central Chamber of Agriculture, the Farmers' Union, the leading producers of high-grade milk, and all those who have taken most interest in the clean milk question. I am glad to say that the Measure has met with the approval of all those somewhat conflicting interests.