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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 Francis Acland Sir Francis Acland , Camborne

I am sorry that there are so few Members present to hear my right hon. Friend's interesting explanation of the Bill. There must be many hon. Members who at present are more practically interested in other fluids than in milk. Otherwise I am sure they would have been here. I am glad of this Bill and am in favour of it. I may claim to have done my little best, at any rate, to create an atmosphere, so far as I could, in which the right hon. Gentleman would have good hopes of making progress in this extraordinarily important matter. There was a great deal of disagreement among societies interested in milk production. That seemed to me to be unnecessary. Therefore, a few months ago, as Chairman of the Agricultural Organisation Society, I took it upon myself to have a Conference, which came to certain conclusions, and generally to agreement for the first time on lines very similar to those of the Bill. It is an extraordinary fact that, if this Bill reaches the Statute Book, it will be the first Milk Bill to become an Act in force in this country. We have the 1915 Act, but that is not to come into force yet. It is rather remarkable, when one realises the extraordinary importance of milk to public health, that there is no Milk Act, as such, in force in the United Kingdom—only certain Clauses in the Sale of Food and Drugs Act. It is high time that we made a beginning of practical action in the matter. I hope that this Bill will not be the last step forward.

The general line taken by the Minister of Health is right. He is going to make a great effort, first to improve the milk supply and, secondly, to popularise the consumption of better milk. I hope he will have the assistance of all persons interested in public health. I believe he is right in beginning from that end. If a considerable proportion of our people, persons in schools, persons with families of young children, and so on, can be got into the habit of asking for one of the simpler grades of really good milk, it will be the beginning of real progress. It is right to try that, especially now, when the farming community is so utterly dis- gruntled and depressed, instead of harassing the producer with regulations as to his cow-sheds and all sorts of elaborate inspection, with safety pins on cows' tails and all that sort of thing. The farmer simply will not stand having a Government inspector on his farm, and until he has forgotten something of the way in which he has been treated, first in the passing of the Agriculture Act and then in the repeal of that Act, he will not come to any better frame of mind. It is justifiable to postpone the Act of 1915, although that Act contains all sorts of valuable provisions from the point of view of health. The fact that it necessitated inspectors going all round the premises of every producer of milk would be fatal to its practical working, and we cannot stand the extra expense for officials of from £800,000 to £1,000,000.

The only person whom I have yet read of who wished to bring the Act of 1915 at once into operation, is the Noble Lord in another place who has a feeling of paternity towards the Measure. It is surely right that the licences hitherto given, or supposed to be given, by local authorities, should be made revocable, so that when a retailer's premises are not fit for retailing milk he can be put out of business or he can be required to abate the nuisance—take his cesspool away from the place where he sells his milk, or something of that kind, or at any rate put his methods of milk retailing into proper condition. Then, of course, there is the simplification of grades. There has been some development in the consumption of graded milk, but when all is said and done it comes to one common end. Either "certified" or "grade A" now is very much less than it ought to be. A simplification of grading ought very quickly to lead to greatly increased consumption of really graded and tested milk, which is what we want to aim at.

I am glad that, although bodies like the Co-operative Congress and a committee of the Trade Unions Congress have wanted to go farther, and to bring all the powers of the 1915 Act into force as soon as possible, yet they have, I understand, passed resolutions in favour of a development of the simplification of the grading of milk. The general basis of examining, not the farmer, but the milk itself, seems to me to be right. That is the thing that counts—the condition in which the milk reaches the consumer. If the milk comes up to a reasonable standard, I am sure you can trust the people who handle the milk to see that milk of that standard is produced under reasonably good conditions. If it once pays the retailer to sell this new A milk on the simplified grading, he will see that he buys from the producer milk that is either produced under proper conditions, so that it will not develop too many bacteria, or milk that is passed through proper pasteurising processes, which make it the best grade of milk for human consumption. There will be much quicker progress in getting the retailer to look after the producer by these means, than by pushing Government inspection right away to the producer himself.

I wish to raise a few points by way of question. The first is, what is to be done in those districts in which at the present time the registering of retailers is practically a dead letter and where, even although my right hon. Friend proposes to give the county councils powers, the county councils do not choose to exercise those powers? It will he no good to say retailers are to be registered, if they are to be registered in some counties and not in others. There must be uniformity, and that is one of the things which is really important if we are to get a better milk supply. At present there is no power in the Bill for getting uniformity among the district councils. The only power is that the county council "may"—not "shall"—if it pleases and if it finds a district council is not registering the retailers properly take over the power of that district council and do the work for it. What will be done if not only the district council but the county council fails to take proper action?

Secondly, I think we should know what exactly is covered by the word "retailer"—if the producer, the ordinary farmer who, as so many of them do, sells a few quarts of milk to private customers is to be covered, even though in the main he is a wholesaler and sends his milk off by train. I imagine there is no intention yet of having registration of the ordinary milk producer in the country if he happens to retail a little milk, but sends practically all his milk off by train. Probably that is as far as we can go at present. I do not think you can register all producers of milk, but I would like to have that point cleared up, and to know to what extent registration applies to the ordinary farmer and whether it covers him if he is in fact to any extent a retailer. Then with regard to the grading which is intended in the Bill I am bound to say that, both in another place and here, all that has been presented to us rather as a pig in a poke. I admit it is an easier task for my right hon. Friend to get the Bill through without having to tell us what he is going to do with regard to these grades. That, however, is one of the central points of the Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman will have to be a little more explicit—as will also his representative in another place—as to what is definitely intended. He said to-night, and it was said in another place over and over again, that the new grading "certified," "Grade A" and so forth would be worked out afterwards. The House cannot be asked to give all sorts of powers of grading and not to know at all what is intended. I have no reason to think there will not be fairly considerable agreement on the matter. In regard to what is meant by pasteurised milk, for instance, I think most people agree it must be pasteurisation by the whole process, and there will be agreement, too, as to the new Grade A that it should not be merely tested bacteriologically, but should go much further than that. Before the Bill leaves the House and is passed into law we should have some closer idea of what is really meant, and I should like to know whether the Minister has it in mind to set up any standard of visible dirt in milk. I do not think it is possible to do that usefully. That is another matter in which people who are interested in the question ought to know the line the Minister is likely to take with regard to these grades before we give him power to set them up.

10.0 P.M.

In Clause 4 the Bill provides that no person shall add any colouring matter or water or any dried or condensed milk or any fluid reconstituted there from to milk intended for sale. There is no prohibition, however, as to selling reconstituted milk as milk. There is no prohibition against a man taking dried or condensed milk, adding water to it, and selling that as milk. It is something very different from milk, and should not be sold as such. Clause 5 deals with the prevention of tuberculosis. I think my right hon. Friend ought to go slow about that extraordinarily important and very difficult question. I believe the hon. Member for the Wavertree Division of Liverpool (Lieut.-Colonel Raw) is one of the greatest authorities on the subject of tuberculosis alive at the present time, and I have seen it stated as his opinion that as long as children can get enough milk a certain amount of cow tuberculosis infection in that milk is not harmful, but may be beneficial, because it tends to immunise the children who take it from human tuberculosis. If that is so, it revolutionises a great many of our previous ideas, and we ought not to hurry too quickly with regard to Regulations as to tuberculosis. Many people hold that the repeated testing of cows with the tuber culin test is a mistake, and it has been suggested recently—again quite contrary to previous theory—that the constant testing of cows with the tuberculin test tends actually to infect the cows with tuberculosis and to make them react, whereas if they had not been tested so often they would not have reacted at all With regard to tuberculosis in cattle as in human beings there is a great deal to learn medically. My right hon. Friend has not laid down the law with regard to that matter, but has put it over into the domain of a Committee of Medical Research who, if anybody can arrive at a conclusion, is the body to arrive at it. The only other point which is of particular interest to the farmer arises on Clause 9. The farmer has long suffered under the grievance that he was capable of being convicted on the analysis of a sample of his milk taken after the milk had left his custody and taken out of a vessel which had not been sealed or effectively closed. The farmer has alleged that in such cases the vessel has often been tampered with. It is often alleged that porters at a railway station or other persons have taken the lid off and taken a couple of pints out and put water back instead of the milk or that the milk has been tampered with in some form or another. I am glad the Bill proposed to deal with this matter. The Bill provides that a person shall not be convicted in respect of a sample taken after the milk has left his custody, if it is proved to the satisfaction of the Court that the churn in which the milk was contained was effectively closed and sealed at the time when it left his custody and was not so closed when it reached the person by whom the sample was taken. It has been suggested to me that it is going to be rather difficult to administer the Measure in this respect and I ask for further information on this point. The railway companies sometimes refuse to accept churns which are properly closed and sealed. That may at first sight seem to be a difficulty. The railway companies, I suppose, refuse to accept a sealed or closed churn because there are unscrupulous farmers who try to swindle them by saying that the churn is half empty and only paying for the transport of half the milk, when really the churn is three-quarters, or it may be quite, full; and the railway companies have said, "We must have the right to open these churns to see how much milk is in them." It seems to me that that ought to be capable of being got over. I think the railway companies ought to accept the churns properly closed and sealed in order to meet this important point. Of course, the way to detect the attempted fraud by the farmer is to weigh the milk, but the difficulty is that the milk is landed at the station in the early hours of the morning two or three minutes before the train goes, and is rushed by the porters across the platform into the waiting vans, but I think it would be fair for the railway companies to say, "If you want not to pay for the full churn, you must have your milk at the station a quarter of an hour before the train is timed to leave, so as to give a chance of weighing it."