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Orders of the Day — MILK AND DAIRIES (AMENDMENT) BILL [Lords.]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 19th July 1922.

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Photo of Sir Alfred Mond Sir Alfred Mond , Swansea West

The consumers' point of view has been very carefully con- sidered, and I think, as I develop my remarks, my hon. Friend will agree that it is on the consumer that I am very largely relying in this attempt to improve the quality of milk. I am introducing this Bill with a view to endeavouring to encourage the production of good milk. When I say "good milk," I mean that I wish to establish a grade of milk which is not so dear or expensive that it cannot be used or bought by a large part of the population. Instead of endeavouring to act by a form of compulsion, I want to act by a form of persuasion. The best form of persuasion, undoubtedly, lies with the consumer. If the consumer asks and insists on having a better standard of article, my experience shows that he will always get it. Practical experience shows that to be the case. I was interested in a hospital situated in a very poor part of London, and which concerned itself with infants under 12 months who suffered from mal-nutrition. To the out-patients' department mothers from a very poor strata of society brought their children. When one talked to them of the good milk which they ought to have, they went to the retailers and refused to take the bad milk which they had been given in the past, and thus they effected in that district an extraordinary revolution in the quality of the milk. Therefore the consumer has it in his power to deal with this matter by demanding a better article, and I hope he will exercise that power. I hope the retailer, also, will insist on the producer producing good milk, and by this chain work I have no doubt that a very considerable improvement can be made.

Local authorities already possess very considerable powers of securing sanitary conditions in production, storage and distribution of milk. The Milk and Dairies Order, of 1885, really gives very large powers to local authorities, and if it were more generally in force we should have gone much further than we have at present in the direction of obtaining clean milk. The powers of the Orders of 1885, 1886 and 1899 provide for the registration of all dairies and milk shops; the lighting, ventilation, cleansing, drainage and water supply of premises, and for precautions against infection or contamination. The Sale of Food and Drugs Act, 1885, Section 6, makes it an offence to sell to the prejudice of the consumer an article of food which is not of the nature, substance and quality demanded. The Order of 1885 requires local authorities to keep registers, but outside London there is no general power to revoke registration once it has been granted. The result is that if the local authority has once registered a dairy, it has no power, at present, however much complaint may be made of any person who carries it on, to take away the registration. I propose in this Bill to give that power, and I think the local authorities will find it extremely useful in keeping those places on their registers under better supervision and control.

I have endeavoured to guard against, arbitrary action on the part of the local authorities against the retailer. If a revocation of a licence of registration is intended, seven days' notice is required, with the reasons, and the man must be given a hearing, with an appeal to a Court of Summary Jurisdiction, and, if necessary, an appeal to a Court of Quarter Sessions. This power will be a very valuable one, because obviously, if you have power to register a dairy, and if you have not the power to take that dairy off the register in cases where it is not conducted as it should be, you cannot exercise the necessary supervision-and control. I am endeavouring at the present time in this Bill to work on the methods of grading up. We have made some progress in that direction already. We have at present certified and Grade. A farms which are properly controlled, and in which a very strict inspection is made, with tuberculin tests in regard to the cattle used. The number of licences for' the certified grade and grade A has in creased from 17, in March, 1920, to 57 in July, 1922. That is some increase, but it is on a very small scale, and this milk is at present rather a luxury article than one useful to the great mass of our people. The reason, for that is that the tests which are asked for are really more rigid than was thought at the time that the average farmer would be ready to comply with. I propose to try and provide a system under conditions by which any reasonably careful farmer ought to be able to supply this quality of milk without any great additional cost to himself. We want to set up, as a standard article, milk which for health purposes ought to be satisfactory. I do not want pure milk to be any longer the luxury of the rich, but I want to try and make it a common commodity for the use of all our citizens. I am certain when that is understood the demand will grow, that the producers will meet it, and there will be a general levelling up of the standard. The grading will be done by Orders,. which will have to be drawn up when the Bill is passed and which, of course, will have to be submitted to the House.

I was saying a word a moment ago on the question of milk, and of the tuberculin test for cattle. I do not want to go into too much technical detail, but I would say that what we want to get is milk which is free from tuberculosis bacteria. It is not the case that every cow which reacts to the test gives tuberculous milk. At the present- moment, the Medical Research Council, at my instigation, is carrying on an elaborate investigation into the whole question of the value of the tuberculin tests. I propose to go on the lines of testing the milk rather than the cow, and I am laying down a standard of a bacteriological kind in the milk test rather than dealing with the animal which is producing it. By an investigation into these problems we shall find many new and interesting facts about which at present our knowledge is very obscure, and finally arrive at something more satisfactory.

In Clause 4 we introduce provisions for prohibiting the addition of colouring matter or water and other things of this kind to milk. This is a continuation of a Food Control Order of 1921. This Order will naturally lapse on the 1st September this year if it is not embodied in this Bill and made part of our permanent legislation. Under the Food and Drugs Act already there are many offences as to the sale of adulterated milk with which it is difficult to deal. If a customer asks for a pint and does not say "milk" to the retailer, it would be difficult to prosecute the retailer for selling adulterated milk. Under this Clause it is made an offence to sell, offer or expose for sale adulterated milk. That is, it is immaterial whether the customer asks for pure milk or any other kind. The mere fact of a man exposing for sale adulterated milk brings him under the penalties of the Act.

Under Clause 5 it is made an offence for any person knowingly to sell milk from a cow with tuberculosis of the udder. The penalties are severe. For the first summary conviction there is liability to a fine not exceeding £20, and for second and subsequent convictions a fine not exceeding £100 or imprisonment with or without hard labour for a period of six months. The penalties are purposely made severe because a person selling milk of that kind is retailing not food but poison. That is crime against society, and society has a full right to protect itself against it to the best of its ability. This continues Article 15 of the Dairies, etc., Order of 1885, as amended by the Order of 1889.

Clause 8 gives the Minister power to make Regulations for the prevention of danger to health from imported milk. The quantity of milk imported is small, but there are no Regulations at present for dealing with it, and it is only right, when we place upon our own people obligations imposed by Parliament, at the same time to see that no milk is allowed to come into this country which is not of equal quality. It is not a question of condensed milk, but a question of fresh milk. Condensed falls under another category. The question of the standard of condensed milk is one more of food value than of liability to spread tuberculosis. Regulations not yet settled may-lay down some standard such as bacteriological count, and empower appropriate authorities to reject milk not up to standard. I would not at the moment like to say what they shall be. I have not considered all the details.

Considerable powers already exist under milk and dairy Orders issued in the past, but in many cases even existing powers have been allowed to become a dead letter. Under Clause 11 powers may be exercised by a county council where a district council within the county have failed to exercise any of the powers under this Bill or any enactment relating to milk and dairies or any Order or Regulations made thereunder. The Minister of Health may after such inquiry as he thinks necessary by Order determine that all or any such powers and duties be transferred to the county council either for a definite period or until the Minister shall otherwise direct. This, I think, will be a very valuable provision in certain cases for equalising, standardising, and enforcing these Orders throughout the country. Up to the present, enforcing these Orders has been very unequal. In some districts existing Orders are being enforced with very great zeal. In other parts of the country they have been let lie as a dead letter.

This is bad from several points of view. It is not fair to the producers of milk that one man in one district has got to put up his standard and that the retailers of milk in one district have to put up their standard, while in another district producers and retailers are not asked to observe that standard. It is equally unfair to people living in the district. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that by extending the power to a county council and giving a larger area, some county councils being more zealous and more responsible than some of the smaller district councils, we shall get a better and more uniform administration of the Orders and Acts which we are now discussing. The Orders, of course, which will have to be framed, will have to be laid before Parliament in the usual course. Consultation will have to take place between myself and the Minister of Agriculture on the framing of these Orders. That, I think, is only a reasonable provision. There is a number of other smaller provisions, with which I need not trouble the House at present. They can, if necessary, be discussed in Committee.

The Milk Act, 1915, is not in any way repealed by this Bill. I am merely postponing it for a certain number of future years, and the House will be able then to make up its mind as to whether or not more complex Measures shall come into law or what further Amendments, if any, will be necessary. I have endeavoured to frame a small and modest, but, I think, a useful, Measure, which will be a good step forward in the production and retailing of a better class of milk. We are all anxious to see progress made in this very important matter. No one can be very proud of the position we occupy, compared with the United States, on the question of our milk supply. As I have indicated, I propose to move by gentle steps. I thought that that was better than to take a purely negative attitude or to postpone any improvement. I hope that this Bill, when passed, will carry us a stage fur- ther on the long road, which has been travelled for many years, to provide the people of this country with a better and purer, and I hope not more expensive, supply of milk, which is so much needed.