HC Deb 06 May 1914 vol 62 cc289-90

I beg to move, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to ensure the supply of pure milk to certain persons."

This is a Bill to ensure the sale of pure milk to certain mothers of infant children at a price they can afford to pay. It is not a pauperising Bill, and it does not interfere with any private traders. It will increase the supply of pure milk from dairy farmers and will cost the community but a trifling sum, if anything. It is proposed to make use of the local authorities and the medical officers of health as agents for groups of mothers in districts to enable them to obtain milk at a price which they can afford to pay. In the event of there being any jobbery or corruption it is proposed that the Local Government Board shall fix the price of the milk to be thus sold. It is stipulated that it is to be pure milk. This is very difficult to be found. The best definition is that contained in the Sale of Milk Regulations Act, 1901, and we propose that this definition shall be altered in future if there is a statutory definition better describing what pure milk is. I think the reasons for the Bill are best explained by reading an extract from a pamphlet which was read before several Members of Parliament a little time back by a lady who is intimately acquainted with the poor and their needs, and whose name is a household word amongst the poorer classes amongst whom she labours. In talking of the budget of the poor she refers to milk and says:— Milk is an item apart; the same price—5d. a quart—is being charged in Lambeth as in Kensington, but even when 4d. a quart milk is far out of the reach of a poor family. Not one of our Lambeth children ever tasted milk. The anxious mothers spend from 3d. to 6d. a week on third quality separated tinned milk, that quality which bears round the tin in large red letters, printed by the manufacturer, 'This milk is not recommended as food for infants.' As soon as they are weaned this milk is all the Lambeth children get. Many of the women can nurse but for a comparatively short time: that is the result of their own poor feeding. Common sense teaches them that the man must be fed. He is the wage-earner: his strength has a market value: his strength must be kept up. Common humanity teaches them that little growing children need all the food they can get. The children, therefore, get as much as can be allowed after the husband is fed. A nursing or pregnant mother often lives on what is left when the children are fed. Her milk, therefore, is not always the elixir of life which it might be—which it should be under different circumstances. The idea that the mothers in the poorer classes feed their babies on potatoes and bread instead of at the breast out of sheer light-hearted wantonness and ignorance is a mistaken one. They feed them on these things because they often cannot nurse them, and those things are all that they have, or because when they do nurse them the children are miserably unsatisfied. The Bill provides that the local authority, through their officer of health, shall provide milk to certain mothers in their district belonging to the poorer classes, and the way we have defined poorer classes is mothers who come under the maternity benefit of the National Insurance Act as being the most readily and easily defined way of getting out of the difficulty, and the Local Government Board will fix the price at, which these mothers can obtain the milk. The time during which they can obtain it is a limited period of, say, three months after the birth of the child, and the quantity is limited also, so that the mother could obtain more than she might reasonably expect from this cheap service. Even now in the country districts, as I know from experience, it is extremely difficult for mothers to obtain milk. You would imagine that mothers surrounded by dairy farms would have no difficulty in obtaining milk for their offspring, but in many districts farmers send the whole of their milk for sale in the larger towns, and it is almost impossible to get milk at any price. If this Bill passes, the local medical officer could make arrangements with some dairy farmer and make it worth his while to keep back sufficient milk to be sold to these mothers. At present it is not worth while for the farmers to keep back the small quantities required for isolated and intermittent cases which in the ordinary way would be a very precarious means of disposal. If there is a slight loss on the purchase—and we do not believe that there will be any loss—it will be borne by the local authority, because we think that if the medical officer of health is able to get milk to supply to the mothers in the district, he will be able to do so at no loss at all to the community, but at an enormous advantage to the mothers. There is nothing pauperising or disfranchising in the Bill, for it in no way disqualifies anybody from the use of the franchise. I recommend this Bill to the House as a short, simple, practical, and inexpensive contribution to the great question of public health and the physical fitness of the nation. I believe the subject was sympathetically mentioned by the representative of the Local Government Board in connection with the Bill of last year.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Douglas Hall, Lord Henry Cavendish-Bentinck, Mr. Charles Bathurst, Mr. Astor, Mr. Grant, and Mr. Joynson-Hicks. Presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Monday, 18th May, and to be printed. [Bill 227.]