HC Deb 27 March 1934 vol 287 cc1954-8

11.57 p.m.


I beg to move, That the Scheme under the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931, for the regulation of the marketing of milk in Aberdeen and district, a draft of which was presented to this House on the 29th day of January, 1934, be approved. I do not think that it is necessary to delay the House long with regard to this Scheme. Hon. Members are very familiar with the draft of the Scheme, which does not present any peculiar features demanding detailed explanation. The House are aware that the Minister in presenting a Scheme has to satisfy himself that the promoters are substantially representative of the interests in the area affected. As far as this Scheme is concerned, the number of promoters represent very nearly half the total milk producers in the two counties concerned—Aberdeen and Kincardine, and as far as the number of cows are concerned, it accounts for well over half the total number. Under the Scheme there will be two classes of milk instead of one. There will be the ordinary basic supplies representing the liquid milk consumed, and the surplus. The effect of that will be that the ordinary producer will not have to pay a levy to support the price of the surplus, but it will be the duty of the board to deal with the surplus as best they can and get the best price for it. This will be an interesting experiment and a variation of other milk schemes, but I do not think that there is any reason to sup pose that any trouble will flow from that difference either to the producer, retailer, or consumer. It may interest hon. Members opposite that in Aberdeen, where the largest amount of milk is consumed, the great bulk of the distribution is done by the Co-operative Society, and I gather that from the opposite side of the House there is not likely to be any suggestions as to whether the distributors' price will be a suitable one or not. It is clear that from the price of milk which has hitherto obtained in Aberdeen, there is no likelihood of there arising there any of the questions which may arise elsewhere as to the retail price of the board, and that there will be no increase of the retail price either in summer or in winter. In view of the familiarity of hon. Members with the details of milk schemes it is unnecessary for me to say more.

12 m.


I do not want to occupy more than a few moments, but there are one or two points which come to the surface. At the moment we can speak with a little experience, whereas previously we spoke mostly from theory. At that time we expressed the opinion that some of the points contained in the report of the Reorganisation Committee should have received attention and we were quite right in saying that the general machinery of the scheme was not capable of performing the task required. I know that in this order there is the possibility of co-ordination, but again all the points made by the Reorganisation Committee in favour of the producer have been taken and the possibility of linking the consumer in some more intimate manner with the scheme has been ignored, as in a previous scheme. The object of the joint committee is to promote harmony. I want to make the simple point that if harmony is to accrue in these matters it will only be if the co-operators in the scheme have an equal status; which is not the case at the moment. The scheme to promote harmony provides that if a grievance does arise there is the medium of a consultant, and failing him a committee of consumers is brought in, but the attitude adopted by the Southern Board when requests have been made to them to apply to the consultant is very dictatorial and they have intimated that even if the consultant is brought in they will pay no attention but proceed to levy prices which they think fit. This attitude of the board is not going to make for harmony in the future. I want to express my regret that this power in excess is being placed at the disposal of producers in this matter. I have not referred previously to the Minister of Agriculture, but he said on one occasion that the person who purchases is the most important person in the whole transaction. I agree with that, but the organisation which represents the consumers are aware that the price of milk is 75 per cent. higher than pre-war, whereas in other items it is only 30 per cent. higher, and they are asking why they should be subject to a further imposition of £2,500 per day if the producers' board puts up the price of milk by a halfpenny. These things are bound to create difficulty and the suspicions of the consumers are not going to be satisfied. There is a minor point dealing with milk policy as expressed by the Minister of Agriculture. I can quote his actual words. He said: If an increase in consumption is to be obtained it must be based on public confidence as to the purity of the supply. I have some fears with regard to that because the power is with the producer's board. I have received a communication from a private individual engaged in the milk trade in which he refers to a recent prosecution directed against a fanner, and he says that there are already signs that the producers in their own board may agree to different standards, which have previously been insisted upon. Careful watch will he kept under the Statutes, and if they abuse the power given to them—seeing that hard work and much money has been necessary to bring them up to it—they will find considerable opposition. In regard to the wages paid on the farms, I should like something to be done in regard to the modification of wages upwards in accordance with any advantages that may accrue to the farmers. Something will have to be done to prevent the rent that has to be paid for the farms being increased because of any advantage given to the farmers through the organisation now being given to them. I hope that these two specific points will be borne in mind. We do not intend to vote against the Order.

12.6 a.m.


I have been asked to make a formal protest on behalf of the Aberdeen Town Council. Nothing effectual can be done at this stage. While the Secretary of State for Scotland is the promoter of the scheme there is always the invisible partner who must be referred to but with whom we cannot get into touch. For better or worse Parliament has given up its power to intervene on behalf of either the producer, the distributor or the consumer. At the same time I have to put in this protest against certain provisions of the scheme which will place considerable additional expense on the town council. The Milk Reorganisation Commission provided that those hospitals and other institutions which were receiving a supply of milk at cheaper rates should not be unduly penalised by the scheme; the important thing was that a plentiful supply of milk should be there for these institutions and that the board should see to it that they got it at the lowest possible rates. This was incorporated, though in a modified form, in the scheme; and it was provided that the board if it deemed fit might supply the institutions with milk for charitable and experimental purposes at special rates. In these circumstances the council thought that the position was safeguarded and took no part in the public inquiry. Shortly afterwards the South of Scotland scheme came into force and it was found that under that scheme a large city like Glasgow would have to pay anything from £12,500 to £18,000 yearly additional for milk supplied to institutions within its area.

This matter caused considerable heart searching and calculations being made, it was found that in Aberdeen the amount might involve £2,000 additional expense in the year, and that this would fall entirely on the ratepayers. In the past it has always been the custom that the money spent on milk and other supplies of that sort should be reimbursed by way of grant but now that the grant is stabilised at a fixed sum for five years and cannot be increased, my council considers it unfair that this additional burden should be placed upon the ratepayers when there is no corresponding grant given. If the grant is stabilised, then this additional burden ought not to be imposed. It is within the scope of the scheme for the board to exempt different authorities and exemptions have been given in the case of hospitals having herds in respect of the supply of milk to inmates and staffs of hospitals. The council thinks that these exemptions should have been put in force in favour of the council. It takes 67,000 gallons in a year, and there has been no complaint made that the price paid to the producers was too small. The producers were glad of the assurance that there would be no surplus milk. There is also widespread complaint since the South of Scotland scheme came into force. The general supposition was that the distributive costs would be reduced by this cooperative trading, but once the schemes have come in large staffs of officials have been appointed, and as a result it seems that the distributive costs, so far from being decreased, have been increased. Shortly after the South of Scotland scheme came in there was a demand from the producers for an additional twopence to pay administrative expenses, and then haulage was charged ½d. to 1½d.

The biggest blow of all has fallen recently when the winter prices have been continued into the summer. In the summer this means something like four-pence added to the amount to be paid. That will militate very strongly against the idea that we must "drink more milk." It will mean that instead of more milk, less will be drunk, because people cannot afford to buy it, and there will toe more surplus milk. Then the profits to producers will be likely to come down instead of going up, which was the object of the scheme. There is also certain apprehension about the small distributor, who has to pay a penny more for his milk and has to compete against the large co-operative concerns, which are able to give a discount of 3s. 6d. to 4s. 6d. I have put the grievances as shortly as I can. I know nothing can be done here, but I hope that later these things may be taken into consideration. There is machinery for dealing with complaints, but it is considered to be too cumbersome. Meanwhile, the £1,800 to £2,000 is being paid. I hope that these matters may be looked into by the board.

Resolved, That the Scheme under the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1931, for the regulation of the marketing of milk in Aberdeen and district, a draft of which was presented to this House on the 29th of January, 1934, be approved.