HC Deb 01 August 1922 vol 157 cc1352-7

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [28th July], "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

Question again proposed,


I do not wish to delay the progress of this Measure, but I want to ask the Minister of Health a question with regard to the date of its coming into force. Some local authorities feel that there is a little doubt on that point. I am aware that the, first Clause of the Bill provides that it shall not come into force before 1st September, 1925. On the face of it, however, there is nothing that insists that the Bill shall come into force on that date. Section 21 of the Milk and Dairies (Consolidation) Act, 1915, which this Clause repeals, provides that the Act shall then come into force on such a date as the Local Government Board may appoint, not being later than the expiration of one year after the termination of the present War, which is, in fact, the 31st of this month. I understand that the effect of Clause 1 of the present Bill is to repeal part of Section 21 of the Act of 1915, but while it does that by implication it is still left to the Minister of Health to fix the date upon which it shall come into operation. If that interpretation is correct then, as this Bill leaves this House, although it cannot conic into force before 1st September, 1925, it does not follow that it will come into force then. I had an Amendment down on the Report stage which, unfortunately, I was unable to move as the Bill came on earlier than was expected. It is too late now to alter the Bill, but I am very anxious that the Minister in charge of the Bill should give local authorities an assurance that, notwithstanding the wording of the Clause, about which they are in doubt, the Bill will come into force not later than the date specified. The local authorities are disappointed that there is this further delay because, as the House knows, the Act of 1915 amended the Milk and Dairies Act, 1914, which was passed in response to an ancient pledge. Because of that Act the local authorities withdrew private Bills which they had before the House dealing with milk supplies. Of course, that is a question of the past, but the local authorities are anxious that there should be no further delay. If the Minister of Health can give an assurance that, notwithstanding this particular phrasing in the Bill, he will bring it into force at the earliest possible date, then, knowing the sympathetic way in which he deals with the necessities of the health of the country, we shall be very grateful.


On the Report stage certain manuscript Amendments were inserted. There is no record of them on any of the Proceedings of the House. The Bill has not been reprinted since those Amendments were made, and in the journals of the House it is merely recorded that certain Amendments were made. I do not want to delay the Bill; I desire it to pass this Session. Unless it leaves this House very soon, I imagine it will not do so. It would, however, be right, as manuscript Amendments were made of which we had no record at all, that the Minister of Health should tell us, before the Measure finally leaves our control, whether or not they were of any substance and what points they cover.


Everyone must regret that the Act of 1915 is not to come into force immediately. When it was passed, I went to the Local Government Board, being much interested in the subject, to try to get them to put it into force immediately. Their plea was that the veterinary surgeons were absent in the War and the Clauses for the inspection of dairy cows could not be put into force while they were away. The Local Government Board said they were particularly anxious that the Act should be a success when it came into force, but for that reason it would have to be postponed. Now I understand it is a question of money. We have the veterinary surgeons, but the House is not prepared to spend the money. It seems to me that is false economy. There is nothing more important to my mind than pure milk for the benefit, not only of the children, but of the race itself. To postpone it till 1925 seems to me to be a very retrograde step. The need for inspection of milk cows is as great to-day as it was in 1915, in fact, it is getting greater every day. Under the 1915 Act any cow which had given tuberculosis milk was inspected, and the milk was not allowed to be sold. The medical officer of health for London has reported that at least 8 per cent. of the London milk contains tuberculous matter, and I think it is pretty well common knowledge now that 40 per cent. of the mills cows in this country are, more or less, infected with tuberculosis. Another case under that Act was that in which a cow was suffering from emaciation due to tuberculosis, in which case the milk always contained tubercle bacilli. The next case was acute inflammation of the udder. That is very frequent in cows, and is often associated with tubercle bacilli. There is nothing whatever in the Act which deals with this case, and our children and grandchildren are to go on, till 1925, drinking this diseased milk. Tuberculosis of the udder is dealt with in the present Bill. But that does not include any of these things I have mentioned. Tuberculosis of the udder is very difficult to be distinguished from suppuration of the udder, which is a very common disease. It is chronic, I understand, and although it does not produce tuberculosis, yet it will give the farmer and those who sell milk an opportunity of getting out of the Bill altogether and making the Clause dealing with tuberculosis of the udder unworkable, because suppuration of the udder includes several diseased conditions and the appearances are very similar to tuberculosis of the udder. Therefore anyone who deals in milk may claim to have been misled by the symptoms, and be able to say he did not knowingly sell tuberculous milk, but thought it was some other disease.

Those are the two weak points of the Bill. The first is that the inspection is delayed until 1925, and there is no proper inspection except in the case of tuberculosis of the udder, and none of these other diseases are made punishable. Milk can be sold from any cow suffering from all these diseases, which are a source of tuberculosis, and I very much regret the Bill in its present form. There is no provision for veterinary inspection in the Bill. Farmers object very much to being inspected by sanitary inspectors, who cannot diagnose the diseases of an animal any more than of the human body, or by medical officers, who may be able to diagnose the diseases of the human body, but not those of animals. I understand the Veterinary Controller of the Ministry of Health gives licences now for grade A certified milk from non-tuberculous cows. In order that that certificate may be given, very elaborate inspection has to be made by veterinary surgeons. There is, first, the tubereuline test. I do not know that that is always advisable. Secondly, there must be the certificate of a veterinary surgeon that the diseases I have mentioned of the udder are not present and that there is no emaciation due to tuberculosis, that there is not even a chronic cough, and that there are no clinic signs of any kind of tuberculosis. In addition, there is a periodical examination of the herd. Very few people are in a position to buy that milk. If ever there was a case of one law for the rich and another for the poor, we have it here. Those who know about it and can afford it can buy the milk. I should not for one be in position to have milk of that quality. That is the object to be aimed at The 1915 Act would have done it to some extent. This Bill does nothing whatever. I understand there are only 16 herds in the whole country which are licensed. The rest of the people who do not get milk from those 16 herds have to suffer from the effects of these diseases of milk cows which are at present practically entirely uninspected except for tuberculosis of the udder. I call attention to these facts, because I hope the Ministry of Health will see their way before 1st September, 1925, to bring in a short Bill to hasten the action or restore the powers of the 1915 Act and their general strict enforcement for the sake of the little children who, after all., form the new generation which is carry on this country, and will, I hope, be Al instead of C3 citizens.

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Alfred Mond)

I do not propose to follow the hon. Member who spoke last into a renewal of the discussion which we had on the Second Reading, but. I cannot agree with him on one point of substance. He says the Clause tit this Bill which makes it an offence to sell milk from a cow having tuberculosis of the udder will be unworkable because the owner of a cow which has suppuration of the udder will be able to say he was not aware that it had tuberculosis of the udder. That defence will not avail him before magistrates, because a farmer who has a cow with a diseased udder will surely be put on notice to find out whether or not he is committing a very serious offence for which there are heavy penalties. The hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson) asked me a question with regard to the interpretation of Clause 1. I have carefully gone into that with my legal advisers and they are quite satisfied that, as the Bill stands, it will automatically come into operation on the date named unless there is fresh legislation, and they have no doubt on the subject. If there was any doubt, I should be glad to say that, as far as I can pledge the Ministry, it will not, unless directed by Parliament, by a fresh Bill, do anything to postpone the Act of 1915. The right hon. Gentleman opposite asked me one or two questions on a manuscript Amendment to the Bill, which has not been reprinted. We only put in four Amendments on Report, of which two were on the Paper. There were two which were not on the Paper. One was an Amendment on Clause 8, which was only putting in other words an Amendment which was on the Paper, which enabled me to prescribe a standard of condensed milk, which had not been the case, before. The other was on Clause 12. It was merely the omission of a few words of no very great importance. I hope now the House will allow me to have the Bill, which we are anxious to get into operation.