HC Deb 22 June 1915 vol 72 cc1123-9

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


I have to ask the House to consent to a small Bill to postpone the operation of two Acts of Parliament: the Milk and Dairies Act applied to England, and the Milk and Dairies Act applied to Scotland—Acts which were passed with the general approval of the whole House last year. The Bill is a one-Clause Bill, and enacts that these Acts shall not come into operation until such date, not being later than the expiration of one year after the termination of the present War, as the Local Government Board and the Local Government Board for Scotland may respectively by order appoint. The Acts, therefore, must come into operation within one year of the termination of the War, and they may come into operation at an earlier date. The House may expect me to remind them very shortly of the provisions of those Acts. They were designed to improve the supply of pure, unadulterated and uncontaminated milk. Whilst the House has never agreed in demanding pure beer, it did agree in demanding pure milk, and it not only agreed in demanding that, but, after many years of controversy, it agreed on a Bill which was a compromise and which harmonised the conflicting interests, and those two Acts went through the House with the general approval of the House.

The Acts prevent the sale of tuberculous milk, prevent the sale of milk that has been exposed to contamination and dirt, and prevent the sale of adulterated milk. In order to do this, it is quite obvious that more stringent regulations had to be applied to the milking industry, and a more systematic and detailed inspection had to be set on foot, and it is equally obvious that if you have more stringent regulations, more detailed and systematic inspection, you must have more inspectors. At the present moment it is extremely difficult to add to the number of veterinary surgeons. Veterinary surgeons now are otherwise employed, and they are very difficult to get for the purposes of this Bill and, if you want to bring the Acts into operation, undoubtedly the staff of the authorities must be enlarged. Just now they are very much limited, and it would be very difficult indeed for the local authorities to enlarge their staff at the present time. Moreover, there must be a good deal more direction and supervision by the Chief Medical Officer of Health. He is at the present time otherwise engaged, as we all know, and engaged in doing very high duties and performing things very necessary. Unless we postpone the operation of these Acts, which will otherwise come into operation on 1st October, we shall undoubtedly embarrass the local authorities, add to the burden of the ratepayers, and in all probability increase the price of milk to the consumer, which is the very last thing we should desire to do, particularly at the present time. Therefore I ask the House to pass this Bill, and for a time to forego the advantage which the community would naturally enjoy from those Acts.


Representing an agricultural district, I entirely agree with the object of this Bill. The only matter which seems to require some attention is the provision which permits the Acts to be brought into operation at a date earlier than that at first stated in the Bill, in which case it would be necessary to see that adequate notice was given to those persons who would come under the operation of the Acts. Of course, the date was fixed, and it was known previous to this Bill when the Acts would come into force. The agricultural community in the stress of war will certainly agree that the time is not opportune to put these Acts into operation.

7.0 P.M.


I desire to say that, although I represent partly an agricultural division, I also represent a large industrial population, and I am quite certain that the industrial population will suffer from what, I believe, is a most unfortunate decision of the Local Government Board. For years we have been trying to get legislation to protect the purity of the milk of the people. For many years an agitation has been going on and infant mortality has been increasing through impure milk. Only last year we succeeded in getting this Bill passed. Now, when we are losing valuable English lives, surely, if ever there was a time when the Local Government Board ought to try to improve their methods and improve the milk supply of the people in order to protect infant life, this is the time! Instead of that we have an Act which ought to be in force, and because of the difficulty of getting inspectors, and our old friend the burden on the rates, this Act is to be postponed at the very time when the children ought to be most protected. I think it is most deplorable, and I hope that the Local Government Board will be able to satisfy the country that it has taken some other precaution to protect the milk supply of the children.


I very much regret that it has been found necessary to postpone the operation of this Bill. I understand the Local Government Board intend to bring in a Bill to protect infant life and mothers, but now they are postponing a Bill which perhaps would have, a very much greater effect in protecting infant life than the Bill they are going to bring in. I know the difficulties of the Local Government Board. The want of inspectors I quite understand and I know the importance of them, but with regard to medical officers of health, there are plenty of them. There is a medical officer of health connected with every small district council. I believe there ought to be fewer of them, and they should be whole-time men instead of local practitioners with small salaries. Why should these medical officers of health not be employed at the present time in inspecting tuberculous cases? A medical officer of health could do that very well. It is most important that young children should not be supplied with tuberculous milk. The subject is one of great importance to a large Constituency like mine. We are told that of all the infants who die nearly 90 per cent. are fed on other than mother's milk, and principally this contaminated milk which is either tuberculous or dirty, and produced amid surroundings which lead to the contamination of the milk by various diseases. With regard to the inspection of cow-sheds and cows generally, I know that that is a veterinary question, but a medical officer could easily see whether the drainage is sufficient or whether the cows are kept in a clean state. There are lots of medical officers of health who are of much superior knowledge to the ordinary medical officer who could assist in this matter of carrying out this Act as regards any inspection of the cow-sheds and the sanitary condition of the dairies where the milk is stored and distributed. I am extremely sorry to think that the Local Government Board, whom I am sure wish to make the Act a great success, think they can only do it by postponing it until after the War. This time of all others is a time when we should preserve our infant life, because we are losing so many of our best and bravest. Although we must consent to the Local Government Board having this Bill to-day, we do hope that they will take into consideration the fact that it may be possible to come here and ask for power to put some of its provisions into force with the assistance of the medical officers of health who are already in existence.


I share the feeling of the hon. Member opposite in deploring the necessity that arises for bringing in this Bill. I represent a Constituency which is wholly urban, and we are slow at seeing the need for the suspension of the operative date of this measure. We only pass measures like this by the general consent of the House after a lot of wrangling and a great deal of whittling down. These measures do not contain anything like a full measure of the reforms which a number of us desire to see carried out in the dairy and allied industries. Still, the concessions we obtained were a gain, and it is an infinite pity that they are to be suspended. The condition of agriculture to-day, owing to the limitation of labour, is really serious all over the country, and you find work being neglected which has hitherto been looked upon as vital to the industry simply because of a lack of hands. Only yesterday I saw in the country the unusual sight of women, children, and old, men working in the fields simply because labour is so scarce. I am afraid that if you try to load any further the machinery of a slow-going industry like agriculture, under the present circumstances, you will run the risk of it breaking down altogether. As to the loss of life among the children even in these days when human life is so sadly treated, that is a real and a serious disadvantage. Inasmuch as this Act does make the new Act necessarily come into operation from a definite date after the termination of the War, and inasmuch as this is not a matter of indefinitely suspending the operation of those Acts, and possibly by a side wind destroying them, I reluctantly feel compelled to give my support to this Bill.


I can see no alternative except to assent to the postponement of this measure on account of the administrative difficulty of bringing it into force. I do hope, however, that when the Bill does come into force the Department will make up for its postponement by firm action in bringing it into force. I cannot help feeling that the hon. Member for Oldham in what he said was rather too severe on the Lancashire farmers when he suggested that 90 per cent. of infant mortality was due to tuberculous or dirty milk.


I was not speaking of Lancashire at all. I said that with regard to infant mortality nearly 90 per cent. of the children are fed on other than mother's milk, and principally contaminated milk, which is either tuberculous or dirty.


I accept what appears to be the hon. Member's correction, but it appeared to me that he stated that the majority of the cases of infant mortality were due to tuberculous or dirty milk. I think that is too extreme a statement to make. I do not depreciate the absolute necessity for procuring an absolutely pure supply of milk, and I hope we shall have an assurance from the Department that when these measures come into force they will be firmly administered.


If I thought for a moment that the Government proposal to postpone these Bills was a menace to infant life, I should not support it, but I recognise that the difficulty of putting the measure into operation is a justification for postponement. It is most important that the measure should be very carefully applied, or else it will defeat the object which we all have at heart that there shall be an abundant supply of pure and clean milk. We know that at the present moment there is a great falling off in our milk supply, due to the heavy cost of food and the difficulty of getting milkers, and this is causing a good many people to give up some of their cows. I believe that if this measure was applied injudiciously at the present time it would cause such a decrease of the milk supply as would be a real and a grave menace to the infant life of our country. Consequently I feel that there is a justification for this Bill. Some hon. Members seem to think that farmers and cowkeepers are indifferent at the present time about the provision of clean and pure milk, but only in exceptional cases is this so, and we want this Bill to deal with those exceptional cases. In the majority of cases the dairyman is as anxious to supply the public with good, sound, clean, and pure milk as the public is to have it. I do not think the insinuations which have been thrown out by one or two speakers with regard to the cowkeepers are quite justified. Everybody knows that to carry on a dairy successfully under existing conditions is an extremely difficult matter, and I hope when the Bill is put into operation it will be done in a way that will secure a still further supply of clean and pure milk, and in a way that will not menace or deter men from producing milk for the people. We know the importance of our milk supply, and we want it clean and pure, and I am sure the decision of the Government in waiting for a more favourable time to give effect to the spirit of the Bill is, under the circumstances, not only justified but necessary. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is proposed to deal with the Bill for the consolidation of the Dairies Acts in this way. There is another Bill before the House to consolidate all measures dealing with the milk supply, and I would like to know if that is to be postponed as well?


No, there is no intention of postponing that Bill, and we hope to get it through very shortly.


Does the Bill provide, if the Local Government Board thinks the Act should come into effect within less than a year after the War, that ample notice should be given?


If the Local Government Board should think that, undoubtedly adequate notice will be given to the country that it is being brought into operation.


I think that the Government have come to a wise decision to postpone the operation of this Bill. I do not think that the House of Commons could do worse business than to pass a measure when there is not a chance of the machinery being available to carry it into effect. We are all in favour of a pure supply of milk, but we have got milk Orders in operation which have been effective in checking much of the risk that was run, and it is beside the mark to say that the milk supply at the present time is causing so much of the mortality as was hinted by my hon. Friend (Mr. Denniss). I have no doubt, if this Bill did come into operation now, that many alterations to cowsheds and byres which might be demanded would cause such a difficulty in carrying on the industry that many of the cowkeepers would be driven out of the business altogether. In fact, I do not think that there would be tradesmen in the country—masons, joiners, and suchlike—to carry out the various alterations and repairs which local authorities would enforce. The wise course, surely, is for us to wait until we can carry out the Bill in a proper manner, and then I have no doubt that it will be the success which we all hoped that it would be.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for to-morrow (Wednesday).