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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 Dr Christopher Addison Dr Christopher Addison , Shoreditch

Those who are interested in this Bill will regret that it has come on so late at night. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health made one remark in regard to this Bill with which I thoroughly agree. He said it was a little Bill. Last week we had a Bill introduced ostensibly as a little Bill, which some of us had no difficulty in showing was a very big Bill. This is a little Bill. It is an exiguous affair. This professes to be a Milk Bill. I notice that in one of the Clauses it is made an offence to add water to the milk. Clause 4 provides that no person shall add any water to the milk—a thoroughly original and enterprising proposal. As a matter of fact, the Bill ought to be described as a "Milk and Water Bill." That is what it is. As the right hon. Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland) said, the Bill will be the first Milk Act to be put into operation. As he said, and as the Minister of Health indicated, it is very discreditable to this country that that should be so.

What are the two big requirements of the day in this matter? It is not a question of harrying unduly the unfortunate middleman who has a shop, nor of imposing swarms of inspectors on the farms of the producers. We shall never get what is needed in this country until we frame our policy to encourage the production of a much more abundant supply of cleaner milk. That is what the public really need. I cannot see that this Bill—I am sorry to say it—with the exception of one provision, is going to help us on that road in the very least. Let me refer to two of the main points in the Bill. We know that in the milk sold there is often, unfortunately, a great amount of dirt of various kinds. I am not going into details, the question is how it gets there. It gets there, to some extent, in the cowshed; not so much in the shop; but a good deal in the homes of the people. If we want to prevent this dirt getting into the milk, let us try to frame our policies and proceedings to help people to keep it out. Under the Act of 1915, there are, in this connection, some very valuable proposals, which would, at least, accomplish something. In this Bill, so far as I can see, there is nothing whatever to improve the cleanliness of milk, except that a local authority, by whom a register of milk is kept, may do something or other to a man who is on the register. A man need not be on the register to sell milk, and it does not follow that a local authority need keep a register. All they may do is something to the man who is on the register if the public health "is likely to be endangered by any act or default of any person being a retailer of milk." That will mean that a certain number of men, whose milk is perhaps grossly dirty, will be proceeded against, but we are not going to remove the causes of the uncleanliness of the milk in that way. You will, to some extent, prevent its condition becoming worse, but there are provisions in the Act of 1915 which would have gone some distance in that way. Under various paragraphs in Clause I of that Act the Local Government Board is given power to issue instructions and directions For securing the cleanliness of milk stores, milk shops and milk vessels used for containing milk for sale by such persons;For prescribing the precautions to be taken for protecting milk against infection or contamination;For preventing danger to health from the sale for human consumption, or from the use in the manufacture of products for human consumption, of infected, contaminated, or dirty milk. In other words, we should have had, under that provision, a body of persons in the country whose duty it would have been to do their best—corporations, farmers, producers and the people who brought the milk round-by the dissemination of sensible, practical instruction, by demonstrations and the rest of it, to try and tune up the general standard of public opinion on this question. As soon as public opinion is instructed on this question it will begin to make its influence felt all along the line as far back as the cowshed. We shall not get clean milk in this country until we have so instructed public opinion. The Act of 1915 tried to approach the problem to some extent from that end. All this Bill does is to impose certain penalties on unfortunate persons who have shops, but they are not to be told, and the public are not to be told, where the dirt comes from, and what steps are to be taken to prevent it getting there in future. But that is the only thing that matters.

The Act of 1915 contains certain provisions, the place of which is now taken by Clause 5 of this Bill. I suppose that that is put in because we have got to say "tuberculosis" somewhere or other in a milk Bill, but it is absolutely inoperative. It says that no person shall "knowingly" sell milk from a cow with a tubercular adder. The man is not to be subject to a penalty unless it can be proved that he knows that the milk came from a cow with tuberculosis of the udder. Milk comes hundreds of miles to London through various channels, and the milk from one place is mixed up with the milk from other places. How can any man know that milk is infected with tuberculosis, or that it comes from any particular cow? The Clause will be inoperative. There were certain provisions of Section 5 of the Act of 1915 which I think might be modified with advantage. I remember being on a Committee which endeavoured to secure some modifications. I am certain that when this Bill gets into Committee the Committee will not allow it to stand as it is. The Act of 1915 enabled milk found to be infected to be traced from one area to another to its source. All this Bill will do will be to enable a man to be prosecuted for selling milk which he knows to be tubercular, but there is no provision for tracing milk which is found to be tubercular home to its source.

11.0 p.m.

What is wanted is a sensible arrangement whereby the milk can be traced back to its source. There is no authority here to trace the milk to the source. I cannot understand what is the policy. Unless it happens to be the farmer who retails the milk, there is no possibility of getting at the source of supply, for the great bulk of the milk sold in the towns is sold from the shops of retailers who are not producers. There were practicable means of tracing milk to the source under the Act of 1915. The reason why that provision is not incorporated in this Bill is that it would involve the employment of a few people who are competent to do the tracing. That would be very unpopular. There would be the usual newspaper stunt served up about more salaried officials. It is playing the game of the ostrich to pretend that yon can do anything to reduce tubercle in milk unless you go the other way about it The truth is that we are afraid to incur the odium that would fall upon us, because the "Daily Mail" or some other paper would have, large head-lines about swarms or inspectors, and all that sort of thing. Therefore, we are to be content with hospitals swarming with children who have swollen glands in their necks, the convalescent homes at Margate and Rams-gate and all around the coast, with their shoals of inmates infected with bovine tuberculosis. We shall continue to spend money on these lovely homes, rather than incur the odium of employing a few people who can trace the source of the disease. This Clause is a futile expedient. As far as Clause 5 is concerned, it is contemptible window dressing, and I hope no member of the public will think that his child will be in the least safer because of Clause 5. We want to devise a scheme, if one can be devised, whereby the farmers will have their interests and the dairymen will have their interests in producing and selling clean milk. That can only be done by a thorough-going process of popular, commonsense, instruction and the spread of information. There is not an atom of that provided for in the whole of this Bill. There has been a great deal of talk about the provision of clean milk and undoubtedly clean milk can be produced as has been shown by certain pioneers, like Lord Bledisloe and the hon. Member for Southend-on-Sea (Viscount Elveden) who have done a great deal to educate the people. What is wanted is to spread information among the public. You want to get it into the mind of the mother of the child exactly what pure milk means and she will be willing to pay more for a better supply; indeed, she will demand it. But all we have got here is this Clause 3, which enables us to grade milk. As far as it goes, it is the only part of the Bill which is of any use. It enables us to do something about the grading and designations of milk and so on, and my right hon. Friend says that Regulations dealing with these matters will be laid. We shall see how the matter develops under these Regulations, and what it may be possible to do so that the public will know they are getting clean milk, and milk can be clean just like any other fluid. At any rate, by intelligent methods—and not costly methods—it can be prevented from being made very dirty, and these are the lines we should follow. I have relieved my mind as to the whole of the Bill, of which only Clause 3 is any good. I think that is going to help us along the road, but the rest of it, as far as I can see, achieves nothing, and may, indeed, prove a danger to the public by giving them a false sense of security. I hope this discuission will do good by directing attention to the subject. We have more to gain by commonsense discussion and by the spread of wholesome information than we have by all the Bills which this House can pass.