HC Deb 14 December 1939 vol 355 cc1392-404

Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."

4.15 p.m.

Sir H. Morris-Jones

I would like to raise one point before my right hon. and gallant Friend leaves the Front Bench. It has to do with the agricultural problem, and no doubt I shall have the sympathy of other hon. Members representing agricultural constituencies. It is a matter which we have discussed before with my right hon. Friend, but I want to make a final appeal to him now as we are about to adjourn for a month. I refer to the question of the requisitioning of land by other Departments of the Government. My right hon. and gallant Friend has adumbrated and sketched out his agricultural policy, and I am sure that we agree with him and wish to give him every encouragement, as we believe that agriculture is the fourth arm of defence. We trust that the proposals which he has initiated will bear fruit, and will help the agricultural industry, but I am quite sure that if, at the same time, other Departments of State are to take over some of the most productive agricultural land in this country, as is being done at the present time, the policy which my right lion. Friend has adumbrated and sketched to the House will certainly not develop, because the very acreage that we want will be drastically cut down at a time when we most need the agricultural use of that land.

I have had experience in my own county during the last few months of an estate of 3,000 acres being taken by another Department of State involving the loss to agriculture of that 3,000 acres of land and the disturbance of 85 families, who had been on that land, some of them for generations with their families. It has involved the immediate requisitioning of a considerable portion of that acreage, and the sale of stock in a surplus market locally—in fact it was impossible to dispose of the stock—with most serious repercussions on the agricultural industry in the area and upon agriculture as a whole. And now in addition to that, right in the heart of my constituency, which contains probably the best grazing land in the United Kingdom, I have been informed by land agents that the Army Department has come along and taken a fancy to a particular thousand acres there. I am sure that if my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture were to send out his experts and ask them to bring to his notice some of the finest agricultural land in the United Kingdom they could not bring to his notice better land than this prticular thousand acres that I have in mind at the present time.

A tenant farm on that land sold three weeks ago for £100 an acre. The Army Department probably knows that it is fairly well sheltered, is in a fertile valley surrounded by mountains, and is far away from attack by hostile aeroplanes. I am glad to say, however, that there is every prospect that, in regard to this last particular piece of land, the requisitioning which I am bringing to the attention of the House may be averted. I appeal to my right hon. and gallant Friend to bring this matter before the War Cabinet again. I know that he has made endeavours before, but I am certain that not sufficient consideration is being given to the character of the land that is being requisitioned. Not enough time is taken in order to find out whether there is other available land in the vicinity or in any other part of the United Kingdom.

I do not think that the air question now is a matter of such immense importance that we could not limit some of our factories to areas where there is a large amount of derelict land, which was utilised in the last war. There are, for instance, places like Gretna, where buildings were put up during the last war at the cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds, which are derelict to-day, and where the land could be used. I appeal not only on behalf of my constituency but on behalf of an industry which is of great importance. I would ask my right hon. Friend to bring the matter before the War Cabinet, that as a matter of policy no land in this country should be requisitioned at the present juncture, where it is productive in valuable agricultural land, unless it can be proved quite conclusively that there is no other available site available anywhere in the vicinity or in some other vicinity which is considered desirable. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would have the agricultural industry behind him and the good will of those who consider that the economic situation of the country is such that requisitioning of this character cannot be in the best interests of the State.

4.23 p.m.

Dr. Summerskill

I should like to say something on the milk policy of the Government as expounded by the Minister of Food this afternoon. I listened very attentively to everything he said, but I confess that I did not experience that pleasure at his statement of the Government's future policy which other speakers experienced. We heard him express sympathy with the farmers, the distributors, the Milk Marketing Board with its difficulties, and he did not forget to mention the cow which also experiences difficulties when she has a change of food; but one section of the community which should have been mentioned and was not, is the consuming section of the community. I have every sympathy with the farmers, the producers and the distributors, but I must confess that if the policy expounded this afternoon is followed, even though the price of milk is not to be raised, the Government is not encouraging the consumer in any way to buy more milk.

Government speakers tell us that food is as important as munitions in time of war. It should, therefore, be an important part of the milk policy of the Government to encourage the consumption of milk. Not only that, but I hoped the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture had put their heads together and decided that if rationing is to be introduced, if the people for the first time since the last war are going to be asked to limit their consumption of most important foodstuffs, bacon, butter, sugar and meat, then surely a constructive Government should come forward and say that as they are going to ask the people to limit themselves in certain foodstuffs they are at the same time going to give them a very important substitute at a reduced price. That seems to me elementary common sense.

The hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) quoted various learned authorities on nutrition, but what he said did not seem to interest the Government a great deal, because he was quoting pamphlets which have been issued during the last ten years and which perhaps they have heard before. May I remind the Government of a recent article by Professor Mottram in which he says that if the health of the people is to be maintained in time of war the consumption of milk should be increased. In my opinion an excellent substitute, I do not say it is a complete substitute, for the articles of food which are going to be rationed after 8th January is milk. It is a short-sighted policy on the part of the Government to say that the price is not going to be increased and to take no measures of any kind to increase the consumption of milk. Let me remind the Government of what happened in 1918 when the same policy was followed, when rationing had been introduced, and when the resistance of the people had fallen to a very low level. In 1918 we had one of the worst influenza epidemics the world has ever known. From time to time we have heard about the marriage of health to agriculture. This ceremony has been overdue for a long time, it has been postponed year after year, and I am beginning to wonder whether, at any rate in the lifetime of this Government, we shall celebrate this happy union.

What I have said has not only to do with the quantity of milk supplied but also with the quality of the milk supplied. Have the Government taken any steps to maintain the quality of the milk supplied? The Minister of Food says that in the future the Government will control the whole milk policy of the nation, but he did not remind the House, and I can quite understand that he did not like to remind the House, that while they are dealing with the quantity of milk the quality leaves very much to be desired, because 40 per cent. of the cows in this country suffer from tuberculosis. It has been said in this House before and cannot be contradicted—it is an absolute fact—that 40 per cent. of the cows suffer from tuberculosis.

What is the position to-day? The Minister of Food said that the most important customers of the Milk Marketing Board, the children, had been removed from the towns to the country. I wonder if the House realises how serious the position is to-day. In the big towns the big milk combines all sell pasteurised milk, not because they are cranks but because they know that to test all milk by a tuberculin test is expensive and the only way to supply safe milk is to supply pasteurised milk. During the last three months, the children of the towns were suddenly dispersed into the country districts, where there are no pasteurisation plants. I am not exaggerating when I say that our evacuated children have been sent to areas which are supposed to be not vulnerable to bombs, but which are in fact vulnerable to tuberculosis. This matter has been raised in the House on one or two occasions. I remember that during the first week of the evacuation, I asked the Minister of Health what he proposed to do about this question. I said that the children in the country were drinking raw infected milk. He did not deny the fact, but said that, surely, that was a small question, and ought we not to congratulate ourselves on the fact that we had removed the children from the vulnerable areas, and that there was very little risk of their being bombed? Really, I cannot conceive of any more ridiculous argument. I agree that we have removed the children from the danger of being bombed, but because we have removed them from what might be regarded as a spectacular death by bombing, should we he comforted in knowing that they are in the country now being infected with tubercular milk, and that, in fact, many of them will die from a death which is less spectacular but which is insidious and certain. This is no exaggeration. Hon. Members have only to look at the statistics of the Ministry of Health and they will find that 2,000 children died last year from surgical tuberculosis in a great part due to milk-borne infection.

Lord Apsley

Were those cases in town areas or country areas?

Dr. Summerskill

They were scattered throughout the country. The Noble Lord may smile, but I am not quoting my personal view. I am not quoting the views of a little group of "cranks." I am quoting statements made by committees such as the Milk Nutrition Committee. I am quoting the British Medical Association. I am quoting some of the best-known scientists in the country. It is not a question of a handful of people. This is something that is well known. The Government know it, because last Christmas the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Food, who was then Minister of Agriculture, was about to introduce a Milk Bill. I would remind hon. Members that Part 7 of that Bill, which was in my opinion one of the most important parts of the Bill, contained a very wise prov5sion. If the Bill had become an Act, that part would have allowed the local authorities to prohibit any milk which was unpasteurised being sold in their areas. If I am echoing the views of "cranks," why did the National Government want to introduce a Bill of that sort last Christmas? In those days, I was very simple and naive in matters of Parliamentary procedure, and I remember going to the Minister of Agriculture in my enthusiasm and congratulating him, and saying that it was one of the finest reforms that had ever been introduced in the House. Within a few weeks the vested interests had read the Bill. The machine began to work. The vested interests began to bring pressure on the Government, and this wise provision, which would have prevented hundreds of deaths from bovine tuberculosis in this country, was dropped. It was pitiful.

I realised then that it was one thing for a Minister to introduce a proposal, but quite another for that proposal to become law. So I would remind the hon. Member who interrupted me earlier that the Government held the views which I have been expressing. Everybody who has studied the subject knows that it is absolutely immoral that there should be traffic in this infected milk. It is even more immoral than making profit out of the sale of armaments. I conclude by asking the Government when they will introduce some provision which will not only increase the consumption of milk, but will also guarantee that every child in this country is getting milk free from infection.

4.36 p.m.

Sir Joseph Lamb

Everybody will agree that it is desirable that the public should drink more milk, but I do not think the hon. Lady has given due weight to the work of the Milk Publicity Board, which has, with the support of the Government, done a great deal to encourage the consumption of milk. It should be remembered, too, that although less liquid milk is consumed in this country than in some other countries, there is no other country in which milk products in manufactured form are consumed to such a large extent. It is not always wise to look at this question purely as one of liquid milk consumption, although I am one of those who would like to see a much greater quantity of liquid milk consumed in this country. While the hon. Lady blames the Government for not encouraging the consumption of more liquid milk, she does what a large number of her profession, I fear, have been doing for a long time past. She switches over immediately to frightening people off the consumption of milk.

Dr. Summerskill

I want them to drink milk, but I want it to be clean milk.

Sir J. Lamb

The hon. Lady quotes figures which would frighten the public into believing that the bulk of the milk produced is not as good as it ought to be. That is not true. If a sample is taken of undesirable milk, unless you know the volume which it represents, you cannot say that the percentage shown by that sample can be spread over the whole of the milk produced. Speaking generally, the bulk of the milk produced in large quantities in this country is of very high quality. It is only in the case of small quantities produced under unsatisfactory conditions, that you get a large percentage of analytical results which are not satisfactory and those percentages must not be taken as applying to the bulk of the milk consumed.

Dr. Summerskill

It is difficult to carry figures in one's head, but I believe that in Middlesex in 1937, out of 100 specimens of milk taken from dairies and farms seven were found to be alive with tuberculosis bacilli.

Sir J. Lamb

I do not like the expression "alive with bacilli." The milk must be alive with something or it would not be worth much, and it has been said that there are bacilli which are beneficial. But when the hon. Lady says that 40 per cent. of the herds of the country are infected with tuberculosis, I question whether that is correct. Even if the figure is correct it may be the result of reaction from test to test over a very small percentage. I have always understood that the more milk is drunk the greater is the power of resistance of those who drink it, to infection which might be there. I wonder whether the hon. Lady would say, if she examined the air that she is breathing, say, in this place or at any rate in some of the trains or tramcars, how many of those samples would be infected. I am sure there would be a tremendous number, but she would not say that therefore she must not continue to breathe. It is all a question of comparison. Much has been done to improve the quality of the milk—far more, perhaps, than the hon. Lady or others appreciate. Unfortunately, the war has stopped a great deal that the Ministry was doing being continued. We hope the time will come when these great milk efforts can be continued and when we shall get better results, but let it not be understood that the milk producers of this country are desirous of supplying to the public something which is not good and sound. That is their great desire, and they have done a good deal and are willing to do anything that is possible, but do not let us, while we are continuing these efforts, say to the public, without qualification, something which will do far more to discourage them taking milk than the hon. Lady opposite may recognise.

4.42 p.m.

Lord Apsley

There is one question of importance that I would like to raise, and that is the question of the ploughing-up of pasture land, which in some areas is being done extremely well and with great care, but in other districts, has been done extremely badly. I have seen some of the most disastrous ploughing-up of low lying pasture, which was good pasture, only needing the drains dug out and further ditches made to be made into good arable, and in the course of the ploughing the drains were stopped up. That land will always remain waterlogged until a new stystem of surface drainage has been put in. More attention should have been paid by the Ministry of Agriculture to this question of drainage, and I view with considerable alarm the lack of fertility that will be caused in many areas, due partly to lack of drainage and partly to soil erosion. Those are two questions which must be dealt with. Those who, like the big graziers in Warwickshire and Leicestershire, know their job, do it well, but in many other parts where land has been sold up and grazing has fallen off sadly, in the course of time the pasture has become derelict. The only remedy is the plough, and I fear that very serious results may follow, which will undoubtedly affect our milk supply. It is one of the most important things that we must consider, because, after all, there is not likely in war time to be a shortage of wheat or oats. In fact, as far as I can see, there will be a severe slump, and many of the farmers who have ploughed up their land will find difficulty in selling their arable produce, except for feedingstuffs, and that is only a limited question.

There may be a shortage of milk, however, and I view with considerable alarm the fact that there has been in some pasture land areas where men have been told to plough up so much land regardless of whether or not it was suitable. The inspectors have come and said, "You must plough up this field or that field," and I have seen dairy farmers put into very great difficulties, and in some cases they have gone out of business and slaughtered their cattle, because they have had to plough up fields which were invaluable to the economy of their farms. I hope the Ministry of Agriculture will send round a warning to all local authorities that this ploughing-up must be done with great care, or far more damage and difficulty will be caused to farming, and much greater lack of production will result, instead of a greater production of milk particularly.

Now, if I may, I will allude shortly to the question raised by the hon. Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill), namely, pasteurised milk. I thought that question had been debunked long ago, especially by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten). Doctors do not always agree, and it is quite easy to get one learned set of medical authorities to say one thing and another set to say something entirely different.

Dr. Guest

Not about milk.

Dr. Summerskill

They are unanimous.

Lord Apsley

I have never known any doctors unanimous about anything. I do not think the farmers are concerned in this matter, but I believe that there is considerable interest at the back of it which is making pasteurised milk and selling it at a great profit. A learned professor in Edinburgh told me that they had conducted a series of experiments on children in Scotland with pastuerised and unpastuerised milk to see which has the best effect. They found that the pastuerised milk was so lacking in nourishment that the children became more liable to disease for that reason alone. As regards infection, he told me that if pastuerised milk were poured into a cup and a fly just put a foot into it, it would react to a severe tubercular test. It cannot be kept clear from infection. Only fresh, good Grade A milk is of benefit to children. The only reason I interrupted the hon. Lady was to ask whether the children who had tuberculosis were in country districts or in towns. Her point would have been good if she could have proved that children infected from tuberculosis increased in the country districts. She quoted Middlesex, but that is not a country area. Pastuerised milk may be infected in the towns, for you have only to put a finger in it to infect it. A good deal of nonsense is talked about pastuerised milk. It is so lacking in nutritive qualities that if you do not get infection from it you do not get nutrition.

Dr. Guest

I would draw the Noble Lord's attention to the report published by the Milk Marketing Board dealing with an experiment on over 6,000 children with pasteurised and non-pasteurised milk, saying that the nutritional difference between the two was insignificant. That is a report published by the board under the auspices of the Government.

Lord Apsley

I prefer the opinion of my medical professor. Whenever I see the names of any learned medical men on a back of a food or medicine which is supposed to have great curative power, I always feel doubtful, for it is always possible to find other medical men who take a different view.

Dr. Summerskill

The Noble Lord is suggesting that somebody is running pasteurised milk as a racket, but does he know that the price of it is the same as unpasturised milk?

Lord Apsley

I am afraid I do not. I have not the figures with me, but I think the price of pasteurised milk is considerably higher than fresh grade A milk. I should be surprised to find that pasteurised milk can be got cheaper, unless some of the nutriment is taken out of it and used for some by-product. If that is so it is more to the detriment of pasteurised milk. I hope that the important question of pastures will be taken up by the Minister of Agriculture because I believe that when there is a war and everything is pooled, there may be a danger of damage to the milk industry owing to reckless ploughing. I hope that care will be taken to see that the authorities concerned are putting men to the job who are practical farmers and know how it should be done.

4.50 p.m.

Mr. Montague

May I as, shall I say, a Cockney who would hardly know the difference between one end of a cow and the other, have the last word in this Debate, in order to bring back the Members who are left here to what I consider the essentials of the problems of milk production and distribution? In most discussions the question is looked at from the wrong angle. The milk problem will not be solved until it is considered from the point of view of the people who need milk—from the point of view of the purpose for which milk, or any other food, is produced, and that is the satisfaction of the needs of the community. I would draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that the organisation with which Sir John Orr is associated and which deals with nutrition has published a list of the foodstuffs, including milk, which are consumed by the average well-to-do family and the average poor family, and from it I find that the consumption of milk is 84 pints per head per year in the poor family as against 296 pints in the case of the well-to-do family. Until we can remove that difference in consumption by different sections of the community we shall not solve any agricultural problem whatever. If that quantity of milk per head is regarded as necessary for the members of a well-to-do family it is equally necessary for the members of a poor family.

Not only have we to consider the case of the milk producer, the farmer, but also the organisation of the distribution of milk. Figures have been published showing that the cost of distribution in the case of the milk supplied to children in schools, who are provided with it either free or for a very small payment, is only 50 per cent. what it is in the case of the ordinary retail trade, and the figures published by the co-operative movement show much the same results, although the comparison is not quite so steep. It is possible to organise the distribution of milk much more cheaply than at the present time, and out of that saving we ought to find some means whereby the people who are consuming only 84 pints per head per year get a quan- tity of milk more reasonably approaching that consumed by the members of a well-to-do family.

I believe that we shall never solve the problems of either the agriculturist or of the people who need milk and other foods until we make the elementary necessities of life public services, until we can say to the producers, "The people want so much milk, so much bread and so much greenstuffs in order to keep fit and healthy; produce, so far as you have the power to do so, and you will find a market for it." We can do that if we make food production a public service. We do it in the case of water. We do not ask people to consider the problem of over-production in the case of water; we make water a public service. I do not say that we can do exactly the same with milk, but if some of the brains in the country, not to speak of the brains on the Treasury Bench, were directed towards this problem of distribution and the possibility of making the elementary necessities of life public services, the effect would be to wipe destitution and poverty from the face of the country. Until that is done I fear that we shall always have the farmer grumbling about his remuneration and the people going short of the necessities of life.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Five Minutes before Five of the Clock until Tuesday, 16th January, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of 13th December.