§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ The Minister of Agriculture (Colonel Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Since the Milk Industry Bill was withdrawn, it has been necessary to re-examine the whole problem of milk policy especially in the light of the representations that were made from many quarters during the consideration of the last Bill. It is not now possible to introduce this Session any fresh proposals which can even purport to be called comprehensive. Quite apart from the many other considerations involved, Parliamentary time would not permit of that.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
It is true. I should like to sum up the present position and see where we stand to-day. The production of milk and dairy produce is undoubtedly of the most outstanding importance to our agricultural economy. More than 150,000 fanners are engaged in dairy farming in this country, and the annual output of milk and milk products is valued at more than £60,000,000, or about one-quarter of the total value of the output of our farms. It is clear that the future of farming in this country is very closely linked up with the well-being of the dairying industry and the Government, and I am sure all hon. Members, desire to see that industry self-supporting and profitable. There can be no doubt that the fitness and health of the nation will be improved if we can bring about a greater consumption of milk. Only recently, the Advisory Committee on Nutrition has recommended that an average consumption per head of one pint a day is a desirable level at which to aim. Milk consumption has increased in this country, but we are still a long way from that desired level, because the average is still less than half a pint a day.
From all points of view, the aim of any permanent policy for the milk industry must be to increase the consumption of liquid milk, for that is the secure and 1692 remunerative market for the home producer, and at the present moment it absorbs more than two-thirds of the milk sold off farms. At the same time, it is essential that we should give the necessary measure of protection to the milk which is surplus to the liquid requirements. That must be safeguarded from the disastrous effect of a serious fall in prices which may be caused by factors over which the producers have no control. This is desirable not only because it is home-produced milk, but because the milk which is surplus to liquid requirements forms a necessary reserve for the liquid market, and also serves as a supply for the established manufacturing industry. Therefore, we want to see that the milk which is surplus to liquid requirements has a fair measure of protection.
But it is true to say that our main preoccupation must be to devise ways and means of encouraging an increased consumption of liquid milk. Much has been done during the last few years. The producers themselves have succeeded in building up efficient and successful selling organisations, and I think it is a sufficient testimony to the work which has been done by the milk marketing boards to say that no body of responsible opinion inside or outside the industry would advocate a return to the unstable conditions of pre-scheme days. Certainly, I would not advocate it, and I have had some experience in this matter inasmuch as I was a member of the Permanent Joint Milk Committee and a member of the first milk marketing board. The milk marketing schemes have prevented a desperate scramble for the liquid milk market, a scramble which, had it continued, might well have brought ruin to a great number of farmers. This organisation has also enabled the milk producers to sell to the best advantage that milk which is surplus to liquid requirements. Only those who remember the chaotic conditions of pre-scheme days will realise to the full what a debt of gratitude they owe to the milk marketing boards for the work they have done.
Successful efforts have been made to make the nation more milk-conscious. For the past four years, there have been Exchequer grants of the order of £500,000 a year, which have been made under the temporary Milk Acts, to enable schoolchildren to obtain a daily ration of one- 1693 third of a pint of milk at half-price. That scheme has been carried out with the cooperation of the local education and health authorities, the milk marketing boards, the milk distributors, and school authorities and teachers. I want to pay a real tribute to the work which the teachers have done in connection with this scheme. They have had to meet more practical difficulties than anybody else. As a result, the number of children taking milk in schools has gone up from 900,000 to well over 3,000,000, and the number is still increasing.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
I am referring to the scheme for England and Wales, and my hon. Friend who will wind up the Debate will refer to Scotland
The milk marketing boards have under-taken publicity schemes, with Exchequer assistance under temporary legislation. There are also the publicity schemes administered by the National Milk Publicity Council and financed jointly by milk producers and milk distributors. One of these schemes is noteworthy—it is the Milk-in-Industry Scheme. This scheme has been instrumental in increasing to a large degree the consumption of liquid milk. In the last milk-contract year, this increase is estimated to be about 35,000,000 gallons net in England and Wales.
The English board has introduced, and financed entirely from its own resources, a scheme to encourage the production of clean milk, and that has been on such a scale that at the present time over 40 per cent. of the total milk sales are now of at least "accredited" standard. In Scotland, the production of cleaner and purer milk is likewise being encouraged. This drive for ever better and ever cleaner milk has found a counterpart in Government assistance, first under the Milk Act, 1934, and now under the Agriculture Act, 1937. Our efforts there have been directed towards the eradication of tuberculosis in cattle. It is the Government's hope that public confidence will respond to these measures in an increasng demand for milk.
As far as manufacturing milk is concerned, since 1934 Government assistance has been provided to help the milk pro- 1694 ducers to bear the loss on milk surplus to liquid requirements which has had to be sold for manufacturing purposes and has fetched comparatively low returns owing to the very intense competition from overseas. While that has been going on, the milk boards have been doing what they can to help themselves. They have made a big effort to improve the returns on milk sold for manufacture by such means as lie in their power. Steps have also been taken to regulate, first voluntarily and recently compulsorily, the importation of processed milks, so as to secure the stability of the market for our home producers and thereby secure the stability of the prices received by those producers for that part of their output which goes into processed milks.
I think all these activities have had beneficial results to the milk industry, but they have also had their limitations. Milk producers have been able to maintain a reasonable stability of returns and to secure some small increase in their general level. The average pool price for 1937–38 was round about 13d. per gallon for ordinary milk, and Id. higher for accredited milk, and 2d. higher for T.T. milk. This was Id. a gallon higher than in 1934–35 and 1936–37 and 1½d. a gallon higher than in 1935–36. But there is one little snag in that. The results of the costings inquiry, which was conducted by the advisory economists, in collaboration with the Oxford Agricultural Economics Research Institute, appear to show that most of this increase in returns has indeed been offset by an increase in costs.
The quality of milk production and the demands for liquid milk are forging ahead, but I would be the first to admit that there is still scope for very great improvements. A bottom has been placed in the market for milk for manufacture and prices have risen somewhat, but we feel it necessary to take such, steps as may be required to prevent a recurrence of the emergency conditions which we have experienced.
As I have indicated, the Government do not propose to ask Parliament to consider any grandiose proposals during this Session, but we are faced with one really difficult problem and that is that the existing milk legislation is due to expire on 30th September next. The purpose of the Bill which we are discussing to-day is, in replacing that existing 1695 milk legislation for a further period, to the end of September, 1940, to push on with and accelerate the activities about which I have just spoken.
The Bill, therefore provides for three main matters. The first is the encouragement of quality milk production by the provision of Exchequer contributions towards the cost of premiums paid on quality milks by milk marketing boards. The second is Exchequer assistance to enable, with the co-operation of the industry, the milk-in-schools scheme to be continued, and for schemes for the provision of milk at reduced prices to welfare authorities in connection with maternity and child welfare arrangements to be operated. The third is putting a bottom into the market for milk sold for manufacture into butter and cheese.
While milk producers have, on their own account, made substantial progress in improving the quality of milk production, the Government are satisfied that the provision of Exchequer assistance to enable this campaign to be pressed forward more rapidly and to help towards meeting the extra cost involved, will be money well spent and will result in increasing confidence in the quality and purity of the milk supply. The two main milk marketing boards have, since 1st October, 1938, been paying out premiums in respect of quality milk production at increased rates corresponding to those which were foreshadowed in the White Paper on Milk Policy. Clause 1 provides for Exchequer assistance for two years from that date—1st October, 1938—on the scale which was set out in the White Paper and incorporated in the previous Milk Industry Bill. I do not think there is much that I need refer to in detail about these proposals. The rates of premium have been in operation since 1st October last. The boards have incurred a very heavy liability on the strength of the undertaking given on 4th July, 1938, by my predecessor on the Second Reading of the Milk (Extension and Amendment) Act, which was repeated on my behalf on 23rd March, 1939, that if the boards paid quality milk premiums on the scale mentioned in the White Paper on Milk Policy, the Government would be willing to commend to Parliament as part of their forthcoming milk legislation, a provision authorising retrospective assist- 1696 ance from the Exchequer. The boards have taken on that liability, and will have paid out sums amounting to about £1,500,000 in quality milk premiums and to-day we are recommending to Parliament that they should be reimbursed in that amount.
As far as attested herds are concerned, the owners of those herds are, in addition to the payment of the premiums mentioned in this Bill, continuing to receive assistance from the Exchequer under the Attested Herds Scheme which was made pursuant to the provisions of Section 20 of the Agriculture Act, 1937. This consists, in addition to assisted tests, of a milk bonus of Id. a gallon or an alternative capitation bonus of 10s. each half-year. It will be seen that different rates of premium are payable under the Bill according to whether producers sell their milk by wholesale or by retail. This follows the practice which was in operation before the increased premiums were made available. This does not in any way represent discrimination against the producer retailer. In fact, it arises from the steps which have been taken to improve the conditions for the producer retailers generally by reducing the rates of contribution payable by them, and placing these on a flat rate basis varying according to the kind of milk produced. These relationships have not been disturbed by the arrangements in operation since October last, on the basis of the Government's proposals, and they will not be disturbed by the proposals in this Bill. The estimated cost to the Exchequer of these proposals is for the current milk year about £1,900,000 and for the next milk year about £2,200,000. This, of course, is additional to the expenditure under the Agriculture Act in respect of milk from attested herds, which is estimated to be about £300,000 for this year and £500,000 for next year.
Clause 2 provides for the milk-in-schools scheme up to the end of September, 1940, and for any cheap milk schemes which may be brought in for mothers and infants. I do not think I need labour the value of the milk-in-schools schemes. As regards cheap milk schemes for mothers and infants, it is the intention to arrange for the supply of milk at reduced prices to local authorities so that they may undertake extensions of their existing schemes for the supply of milk, either free 1697 or at reduced prices to nursing and expectant mothers and children under five. Already a scheme along these lines has been submitted by the main Scottish Milk Marketing Board for its area and has been approved. A similar scheme is under consideration now for England and I hope it will soon be possible to launch it. In view of the increased consumption of milk in schools—and I desire to go on increasing that—and the proposed maternity and child welfare cheap milk schemes, the Bill does not provide for any overriding limit to the annual Exchequer grants as has been done in the past. It is anticipated that the Exchequer grant towards these schemes for the coming year will be about £1,000,000 as compared with £500,000 a year up to this year and about £800,000 for this year.
The Bill proposes to revise the formula by which the Exchequer grant to the milk marketing boards for these schemes is calculated, so that the grant can represent the whole of the real cost of the schemes to the boards, having regard to the alternative uses to which they might put their milk. This new formula, which is more advantageous to the board than the formula in use under the previous Milk Acts, and which I am convinced is the fairest than can be devised for this purpose, will apply as from 1st October, 1938. It will cover all the requirements of the milk-in-schools schemes, including the recently increased distributive margin allowed for milk supplied to schools, so as to cover an increase in distribution costs on this service. I cannot say, as far as England is concerned, that an agreed interpretation of the Board's loss referred to in the formula has actually been reached for the purposes of a scheme for mothers and infants. Discussions are now taking place, and if, as I hope will be the case, agreement is reached on this interpretation, then such a scheme for England can be launched under this Bill. It is not wise to be unduly optimistic as to the outcome of any negotiations while they are actually taking place, but I have some reason to hope that I shall be able to make a further and more definite announcement on this matter while the Bill is still before the House. The Government do attach considerable importance to these schemes, and whether they be regarded from a business point of view, as the milk producers may regard them, or as a social service, we think the 1698 result should amply justify any expenditure which is necessary to their operation.
While we are carrying through these constructive measures—and they are constructive measures—for the betterment of the milk industry, it still remains essential to safeguard milk producers against the possible effects of a serious fall in the prices of imported milk products, which, of course, would reduce their returns and would prejudice their ability to carry through successfully the constructive part of the programme. Therefore, Clauses 3 to 5 provide for Exchequer assistance for this purpose up to the end of September, 1940. The intention of these proposals is to give the industry an assurance that any losses incurred in the sale of home-produced milk owing to exceptional falls over a period in the values of imported butter and cheese will be limited by means of Exchequer aid. When the average price of imported butter or cheese, as the case may be, has been ascertained by Ministers to have fallen, over a six months winter or summer period, below the appropriate standard price set out in Clause 5, then Exchequer assistance on such milk will become payable to the boards at a rate which will depend, of course, on how much below the standard level the prices have fallen. In accordance with the general principle of price insurance plans, payments will be limited to certain standard quantities of milk, although, of course, production is not limited to those quantities; as the standard quantities are somewhat above the amount at the present moment being utilised for butter and cheese, they are therefore unlikely to limit the Exchequer assistance available during the two years for which these provisions operate under this Bill.
The standard prices for which provision is made in Clause 5 are, in the case of milk for butter, 125s. per cwt. for the winter and 115s. for the summer, and, in the case of milk for cheese, 67s. 6d. per cwt. for the winter and 62s. 6d. for the summer. In the case of milk for cheese these prices are the same as those put forward in the former Milk Industry Bill, but in the case of milk for butter they are somewhat higher than those prices—5s. per cwt. higher in winter and 3s. in summer. There is a reason for that alteration, because under the former Bill the level of assistance on milk for cheese 1699 was higher than on milk for butter, and this did represent the former differences in the value of milk for these two commodities. In present circumstances, however, these values are very similar, and it is, therefore, proposed to introduce a greater degree of parity between these two milk schemes.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
I will come to that later. It is important to realise that this price insurance is related directly to the prices of imported butter and cheese and not to the realisation value of milk for manufacture as under the existing Milk Acts. It differs fundamentally from the existing system of advances to guarantee a certain level of return to the Board-advances that were repayable in certain circumstances. The new proposals are really designed to put a bottom in the market as a means of assistance supplementary to the main assistance which is now being provided in the form of quality premiums. I can understand that the milk producers will want to know what is the value of the price insurance which we are suggesting, and I admit that it is a matter of some complication, but I think the answer, briefly, is that on the present contract terms the assistance may be assessed for the year 1938–39 as; in the case of milk for butter, 6.Id. per gallon in winter and 5.2d. per gallon in summer.
§ Mr. Lambert
Can the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say what amount of milk goes to make a pound of butter?
§ Mr. Lambert
If it takes two-and-a-half gallons of milk to make a pound of butter, I think my right hon. and gallant Friend's calculations are not accurate.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
There is a number of other calculations coming in. Taking it by and large, having regard to the present contract arrangements, it is 6.Id. per gallon in winter and 5.2d. in summer in the case of milk for butter. In the case of milk for cheese, it is 6.3d. per gallon in winter and 5.Id. per gallon in summer. These figures are, of course, average figures for six-monthly periods, and they do take account of the fact that the prices of imports as ascertained by 1700 Ministers will probably differ somewhat from those ascertained by the Board for the purposes of their contracts, because the Ministers propose to take into account quotations for Australian butter as well as for Danish and New Zealand butter, with the result that the average prices for imported butter as acsertained by the Ministers will be lower than those ascertained by the Board, and, therefore, this will react in some degree to the advantage of the Board. Whether the level of price insurance will be exactly the same during the next contract will, of course, depend very largely on the terms which the Board themselves will be able to agree with the trade.
§ Mr. A. V. Alexander
Is it the intention, in making this new differentiation in imported prices, to take the average of the three, or are you taking the lowest price?
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
It is the weighted average of the three. It is true, as the producers have represented to me, that if the contract prices for 1939–40 are not as good as those which have been negotiated for the current year, the level of price insurance for the current year will be lower and the producers will stand to lose to that extent. That is the same as saying that under these proposals the boards will be able to get as good a contract as they did last year. I have great faith in their bargaining ability, and I think that it is one of their functions to exercise that bargaining ability to the full. Apart from the fact that the extent of the producer's risk in this matter is limited to the second only of the two years during which this Bill will operate, I think it right and proper that this price insurance plan should place upon the Exchequer the burden of those risks over which producers have no control whatsoever, and leave to the producers the burden of the other risks against which the milk marketing schemes were designed to enable them to protect themselves.
The price levels guaranteed monthly under the existing Milk Acts are 6d. a gallon in winter and 5d. a gallon in summer. There is again a difference, because in the past it has been monthly figures, whereas the figures that I have quoted will be six-monthly figures, and that may have some effect on the results. Although the price insurance proposals 1701 now are different in conception and in purpose from the existing Milk Act provisions, I do not think their effect is likely to be very dissimilar. This is explained in the Financial Memorandum, where it is estimated that the payments due under the new proposals from 1938–39 may be about £50,000, as compared with £70,000 which would have been due under the previous Milk Acts.
It will be observed that these price insurance proposals cover only milk used in the manufacture of butter and cheese. There have recently been difficulties in regard to the market for condensed milk and milk powder, and of course that is a very valuable market for our milk which goes into manufacture, but these difficulties are being dealt with by means of the regulation of imports under the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1933, which enables such control to be exercised in order to secure the effective operation of an agricultural marketing scheme. The former Milk Industry Bill also included provisions for the regulation of imports, and in that Bill it was considered prudent as an essential part of comprehensive long-term legislation for the milk industry to secure statutory authority for powers of regulation under the Bill rather than to rely for all time on the continued existence of an organisation under the Agricultural Marketing Acts.
The present legislation is of a temporary character and, in the view of the Government, as long as there is in existence an agricultural marketing scheme, their present powers are fully adequate to enable the Board of Trade to regulate imports of milk and milk products in any case where such action is considered necessary in order to maintain the effective working of these schemes. In fact, the provisions of the Agricultural Marketing Act have recently been used to enable the Board of Trade to make an order regulating the imports of condensed milk, milk powder and cream in view of the failure of a conference of the principal suppliers of the United Kingdom market to reach agreement as to the voluntary control of imports of these milk products. I hope that in the future we shall get that voluntary control and that we shall not have to use our statutory powers. We are satisfied that these powers could, if necessary, be invoked to regulate the imports of other milk products, and in the circumstances it is not considered necessary to 1702 seek special powers to regulate imports in the present Bill.
The Bill provides for one or two other matters which for the most part the former Milk Industry Bill also provided. Clause 6 provides for certain Amendments to milk marketing schemes. These are consequential on the provisions for cheap milk schemes and for Exchequer assistance in general. Sub-sections (1) and (2) regularise the Board's financial arrangements for carrying cheap milk schemes into effect, and Sub-section (3) provides machinery for enabling boards to distribute in an equitable manner moneys that they receive from the Exchequer when the machinery under the scheme is not already suitable for this purpose.
§ Mr. Alexander
Could not the right hon. Gentleman tell us something more about the state of the negotiations?
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
As regards cheap milk schemes—no. The negotiations are going on at present with renewed vigour, and it would be improper for me to attempt to say anything about them at this moment. I hope while the Bill is still before the House to be able to give some more information but to-day we are dealing only with the principle. Clause 7 provides for consumers' committees to be brought into consultation with milk marketing boards, and that really places on a statutory basis a procedure which has been adopted recently in practice.
The main provisions of the Bill will operate for the current year and for the next milk year, and, therefore, the Bill is only an interim Measure and is put forward to enable the Milk Marketing Board to carry on their work, which is of great national importance, for a further period. The Bill is retrospective over the period from 1st October, 1938, as regards Exchequer payments, not only on quality milk under Clause 1 but also in respect of cheap milk schemes under Clause 2 and price insurance under Clauses 3 to 5. This was rendered necessary by the fact that Parliamentary time did not permit of the passage into law of a Bill last summer to implement the White Paper proposals, and the Bill subsequently introduced for that purpose was withdrawn.
The Government in this Bill are asking Parliament to authorise substantial 1703 Exchequer assistance for the purpose of encouraging the continuation of the improvement in the quality of the milk supply which is already in progress. They regard this quality improvement as an essential feature of a sound national milk policy directed towards achieving that increased consumption of milk which is so desirable, not only in order to put the industry on a strong financial basis, but also from the point of view of public health. I wish to make it quite clear, however, that in the Government's view such an increase is dependent not only on improvement in quality but also on improvements in methods and organisation, particularly on the distributive side, improvements which we hope will lead to a reduction in costs and eventually to a reduction in retail prices. In our view the objective of permanent milk policy must be a self-supporting milk industry, assisted only as far as may be necessary to prevent the price structure being undermined by low prices of competing milk products from overseas. In pursuance of that aim the Government are continuing to seek a means of approach to problems some of which, as the House will be well aware, raise acute controversial issues. It has been suggested that the Government should initiate an expert inquiry into the cost of distribution, but it must be remembered that a good deal of information derived from various sources, in particular from a recent inquiry conducted by the Food Council, is already available as to costs of distribution and the Government do not propose in this Bill which is essentially an interim measure, to ask for special powers to undertake a further inquiry. If, however, in connection with any further examination of the problem which is being undertaken it is found necessary to add to our knowledge on the subject, the Government will take the necessary steps for that end.
One other aspect of long-term policy to which I should like to refer is the Attested Herds Scheme. The Bill makes the same provision for Exchequer contributions towards quality premiums in respect of milk from attested herds during the two years ending 30th September, 1940, as was made in the former Milk Industry Bill, and the question whether any such provision should be made after that date will be considered in connection with 1704 long-term legislation for the milk industry. But, apart from these quality premiums, owners of attested herds receive a bonus in respect of disease eradication under Section 20 (1) of the Agriculture Act, 1937, the operation of which extends at present to 31st January, 1941. I have recently had under review the future of this scheme and I have come to the conclusion that the payments made under the scheme in respect of disease eradication should be considered, as far as possible, independently of the various considerations affecting milk policy generally. It will be recalled that the former Milk Industry Bill contained a Clause extending the period of operation of this Subsection to the end of September, 1943, that is to say, to the end of the period covered by the quality milk provisions of that Bill. It would be inappropriate in a purely interim Measure to include a long-term provision of that type, but it is desirable that some indication should be given at this stage as to the future of the Attested Herds Scheme as a means of eradicating disease.
It is the Government's intention to introduce legislation at the first suitable opportunity to provide for the extension of the period of operation of the subsection up to 30th September, 1948. In so far, however, as the payments made solely in respect of disease eradication are made by way of compensation for the additional expenditure incurred in ridding a herd of tuberculosis and qualifying it for attestation I do not think they should be of an indefinite duration. This principle is already applied in the case of the alternative capitation bonus under the Attested Herd Scheme which is payable for a period of three years. It is proposed that after 31st January, 1941, milk bonus payments under this scheme will likewise be received only by an individual owner for a period of three years in all, including any period prior to that date in respect of which bonus has been paid. It is also proposed that the rate of this milk bonus up to 30th September, 1943, shall be the same as at present, namely, Id. per gallon, or its equivalent in capitation bonus if we decide to pay on that basis. I am not in a position at present to indicate what the rate of bonus will be in a period subsequent to that given, but that matter will be reviewed during the preceding period in the light of the progress made 1705 by the Scheme and other considerations, and as long notice as possible of any proposed change will be given.
The Clause in the former Milk Industry Bill which extended the period of operation of sub-section (1) of Section 20 of the Agriculture Act, 1937, also provides for the repeal of sub-section (2) of that Section, which enables orders to be made compelling Milk Marketing Boards after the end of January, 1941, to make payments not exceeding Id. per gallon to registered producers with attested herds. The question of this contingent liability of Milk Marketing Boards for payments in respect of disease eradication will be considered in connection with the proposed legislation extending the period of operation of sub-section (1) of Section 20 of the Agriculture Act, 1937.
Clearly, there are many other matters of long-term policy which will require further consideration, but in the meantime I do commend to the House the proposals which are incorporated in the present Bill. They do represent a step forward in a policy designed to help in establishing in due course a self-supporting, profitable dairying industry, on the basis of the increased demand for liquid milk, and also to promote the health and the general well-being of the nation by making available greater supplies of pure milk and milk free from disease.
§ 11.48 a.m.
§ Mr. T. Williams
The right hon. Gentleman has not been Minister of Agriculture very long, but he is fast acquiring a new title, and I think that in a short time he will find a place in history as the Minister of Faith, Hope and Charity, charity well underlined. In his interesting speech the Minister explained that as a result of circumstances and movements over which, apparently, he has no control, this was purely an interim Bill, that the Government could not be expected to go into re-organisation and other controversial proposals just yet. All that could be done in this small Bill was to provide the money, that is to say, all the money is to be provided before the General Election, and re-organisation, if any, will come later. This is called the Milk Industry (No. 2) Bill. Bill No. 1 was still-born because the National Farmers' Union and dairy people generally, producer-retailers in particular, were utterly opposed to the 1706 re-organisation proposals in it. Thinking in terms purely of the industry, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the dairy side of farming is not only the most valuable but the most productive. Any industry producing and selling £60,000,000worth of a commodity must receive the careful consideration of this House at all times.
The virtue of milk need not be further considered. Every nutrition authority recognises the virtue of milk, and on that there is no difference between the Minister and those of us on these benches; but it will be as well to recall what the Minister said about the re-organisation proposals which have had to be set on one side because there was no Parliamentary time to deal with them. That was not the case in November last. The Bill which was produced last November contained 75 Clauses with eight Schedules, and filled 87 pages. It not only provided subsidies for quality milk, for cheap milk supplies and for manufacturing milk, and a proposal to limit the imports of milk products, but set out to establish an independent Milk Commission to re-organise distribution and to confer upon local authorities the power to insist upon pasteurisation. This Bill, containing ten Clauses, with one Schedule, and filling 15 pages, is all that has been preserved from the wreckage. It is no longer a Milk Bill but a subsidy Bill, pure and simple. Well might the "Times" on Monday of this week say:Friday's business will be the" Second Reading of the revised Milk Industry Bill, which has been so stripped of re-organisation proposals as to contain little that can provoke further controversy.That was a very smart summing up of the position—so stripped of all reorganisation proposals that there can be no further controversy left. The duke who marched his men to the top of a hill and marched them down again was an amateur by comparison with this Government. They are the finest retreating army in the world.
The subsidy for quality milk and the subsidy for cheap milk supplies for children and nursing or expectant mothers meets with the general approval of hon. Members on these benches. In fact we were, I think, the promoters of a scheme of that description in Scotland. We have always said that in a certain set of circumstances a subsidy may be justified 1707 if accompanied by appropriate conditions, and have no hostility to encouraging the dairying industry to produce a supply of pure milk, and if Exchequer funds are necessary for that purpose we are willing to give the Government all the support they require. The same observation applies to cheap milk supplies for those who, through no fault of their own, are unable to buy their requirements, and Clause 2 will meet with no opposition from this side. But even Clauses 1 and 2 leave much to be desired, and although the right hon. Gentleman gave a clear exposition of his Bill I am sorry that he did not go a wee bit deeper when dealing with quality milk.
All hon. Members must be anxious to have more than 30 or 40 per cent. of the milk sold for liquid consumption pure milk, and, therefore, Clause 1 does not go to the root of the problem of diseased milk, and whatever reorganisation proposals might have to be delayed to the future I think that the right hon. Gentleman recognising that some 40 per cent. of our herds react to the tuberculin test, the life of a milch cow being 4½years instead of ten or 11 or even 12 years, and the Hopkins Committee having made a scathing indictment of the industry generally, something more than merely making payments for premium milk might have been attempted.
The only positive thing I can recall is that after long and painful years of trial and error the Government have at long last set up a national veterinary service, but they have only 22 veterinary surgeons for the whole of the country. That number seems scarcely enough, in view of the money that we are preparing to put into the industry as an encouragement to it to produce higher quality milk. There may be 25,000 premium producers, but it must be remembered that there are 125,000 producers who are not premium producers. I am concerned not only with that section of the community who can afford to buy premium milk but with the millions of working class families who cannot afford to buy liquid milk which is of a higher grade and a higher price. There is nothing in the Bill, not a solitary word, that has any effect, or that is calculated to have any effect upon the great bulk of producers of non-premium milk.
1708 I suggest that Clause 1 falls far short of what we require. We need a much bolder programme of disease eradication as well as premiums for those who produce the higher grades of milk. We need more veterinary surgeons and perhaps a good deal more research; but, above and beyond all that, we need far better and far cleaner farm buildings than we have at the moment. I put a question to the right hon. Gentleman on Monday, and I was positively astounded when I listened to the reply. I asked the Minister when the last survey of farm buildings had taken place in this country, what was done in the survey and what was the report. The Minister's reply was that he had never heard of such a survey and that there had not been such a survey. I was astounded. Here is Parliament being asked to pass a Bill in respect of £2,000,000 for premium producers of milk and containing other financial gifts, but the Government have-no knowledge of the condition of the buildings out of which the milk emerges.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith
The hon. Gentleman probably realises that the local authorities made the survey.
§ Mr. Williams
I fully realise what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman says about local authorities, but he will probably recall that before the passage of the Act that set up the national veterinary service, local authorities were responsible for that service in their counties, and that there were many more counties where there were no veterinary inspectors than there were counties in which inspections actually took place. Local authorities have the power to examine buildings and to apply the law according to their desire; well. they have failed to use it. Because they have failed, and because the Hopkins Committee said that 40 per cent. of our herds reacted to the tuberculin test, our inspections were inadequate, that there was no safeguard for health and that no one could recommend the wholesale consumption of milk that was not pure, the Government have set up a national veterinary service. The local authorities have defaulted. If the local authorities are defaulting in regard to farm buildings, and as health vitally depends upon cleanliness, I say that the Government have to step in and do the job on which 1709 local authorities are proved to have defaulted. So far, the Government pay little or no attention to farm buildings, many of which are hopelessly out of date, thoroughly unclean and grossly unsuited to the production of pure clean milk.
§ Brigadier-General Clifton Brown
Is it not the case that before you are able to get a licence for any of this quality milk you have to get a veterinary surgeon in the national service as well as the County Sanitary Authority to pass the farm buildings?
§ Mr. Williams
That remark only goes to show that the 22 veterinary surgeons who have been appointed are not sufficient to do the job.
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. and gallant Gentleman probably knows that until the national service was established county councils were responsible for this work, and that they had utterly failed to carry it out.
§ Colonel R. S. Clarke
Surely the inspection of farm buildings is the province of the health and housing committees of the county councils and of the sanitary officials—not of the veterinary service.
§ Mr. Williams
I am always willing to listen to an interjection, because on some occasions one might pick up a scrap of knowledge, but in this case I am afraid that the hon. and gallant Gentleman fails to provide me with something that I did not already know. He must know that the purely rural county councils are dominated by landowners and farmers, and that the paid officials there will say and do nothing against them, and that consequently there has been wholesale default in every conceivable particular. That is why the herds are what they are, and that was the reason for Parliament stepping in and doing the job in which the county councils had failed. Neither of the interjections makes any difference at all. While there are farm buildings such as some that I saw only a week ago, and the landowner will not put buildings into a decent state of repair or give consent for the tenant to spend money, it is obvious that, no matter how clean and hardworking a farmer may be, he cannot qualify for one of these premiums while his buildings are in that state.
1710 Clause 1 fails in that particular. There is nothing bold about the effort to clean up the milk supply. It is a question of subsidy to those who have the buildings, the funds and the equipment to clean up their herds, but not to the 125,000 producers who are not so well-placed and who continue to produce milk as well as they can, but are not fulfilling what the medical fraternity in this country desire. In the last Bill we were not providing for high quality milk or premium milk, but conferring power upon local authorities for pasteurisation, to remove at least some of the risks from unclean milk. The question of pasteurisation may be debatable, but the great bulk of the medical profession supports it and it was the object of the last Bill, from which the Government ran away because the producer-retailers scared the Government out of their very lives. Like timid rabbits, the Government ran away, even from pasteurisation.
In regard to Clause 2, we entirely agree with the proposal embodied in the Bill. We want to see more school children taking a larger quantity of milk, and we do not mind what the subsidy is; we are willing to give the Minister full power to extend that service as widely as he cares to extend it. It is an absolute necessity on grounds of health and nutrition, because, with milk at its present price, it is utterly impossible for millions of families to purchase the milk they require from the standpoint of health. The Milk Marketing Board among its other virtues which have been extolled by the Minister, has been so successful from the producers' point of view that in this country to-day we are paying for milk the highest price of any country in Europe, and, as the Minister truly said, our consumption is the lowest. The Minister will find, if he looks into the matter, that the price in this country is the highest of any country in Europe and that our consumption in this country is the lowest. These two things would naturally go together, and, because so many millions of people cannot buy their requirements of liquid milk, it is perhaps proper from a purely social and health point of view that the Government should step in with these free milk supplies.
I recall that I quoted in this House a Cardiff inquiry conducted in 1934, which showed that there were 24 per cent. of working-class homes into which no liquid 1711 milk went at all, and it is because of the low wages received by those people, the rents they have to pay, and their social conditions generally, that the Government have had to step in to fill the breach. I noticed that an hon. Member opposite sought information from the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor. He asked what was the average level between the price obtained for milk in this country by the farmer and the price paid by the consumer, and how this distributive level compared with that obtaining in Germany, Holland, Belgium, Sweden, France and the United States of America. The following illuminating figures emerged. The price received by the British producer—the farmer—was is. 5½d., less all the deductions. In Germany it was 11.4d.; in Holland, 8.1d.; in Belgium, 6.6d.; in Sweden, 7.6d.; in France, 5.8d.; and in the United States of America, 8.7d. On the other hand, the price paid by the consumer of liquid milk in England was 3½d. a pint. In Germany it was 2.8d.; in Holland, 2.Id.; in Belgium, I.6d.; in Sweden, 1.7d.; in France, I.6d.; and in the United States, 3.3d. In this country, therefore, the farmer—the producer—receives twice as much as in most of the other countries, and the consumer of liquid milk pays twice as much in this country as in most of the other countries. It is an extraordinary state of affairs.
Since the Milk Marketing Board came into existence—and I am the first to agree that it avoided an absolute, utter collapse, that without the Milk Marketing Board the dairy industry would have gone to blazes—it has accomplished a great deal, and among its accomplishments is that it has increased the price of liquid milk to a point that it has never before reached in this country. Clause 2, therefore, becomes an absolute necessity from the health point of view. But when the right hon. Gentleman said that Clause 2 provides an unlimited sum, I was not too certain what his intentions were. We have, of course, only two things to guide us in considering this matter. The Financial Memorandum states that the cost for next year may be round about £1,000,000, but the schemes, if any, will obviously determine the quantity of milk sold at a cheap price and the Treasury subsidy. Are we to understand from the Minister that under Clause 2 the Milk Marketing Board 1712 of England and Wales can promote a scheme whereby all expectant and nursing mothers, and all children between the ages of one and five, can, if the local authorities apply the scheme, secure the advantages of it, and that if the cost of that scheme, coupled with the cheap milk scheme for elementary school children, increases from £1,000,000 to £2,000,000 or £3,000,000, that will be permissible and that is the intention? It is an important question, and perhaps the Minister can reply. If he cannot do so at the moment, it is perfectly understandable, and perhaps the Undersecretary of State for Scotland will reply later.
If there is any possibility of a limitation of the amount under Clause 2 to £1,000,000 it is not going to serve the purpose that we originally anticipated, and I am sure that many hon. and right hon. Members opposite will be disappointed also. Out of the £1,000,000 referred to, according to a certain calculation that has been made, there will be left, if the school milk scheme continues to increase, approximately £270,000 for expectant and nursing mothers and children between the ages of one and five. If the cheap milk is sold at 1½d. a pint, and it calls for a subsidy of 7d., that would supply a pint of milk a day for 204,000 mothers and children. But there are 3,000,000 expectant and nursing mothers with their children, and, unless the Minister is going to be able to say that the £1,000,000 referred to in the Financial Memorandum is merely for next year, and that the figure can be extended to any size in subsequent years, we shall be hopelessly disappointed, and shall be bound to say that this is another typical Tory Act—£1,000,000 for women and children, and £2,500,000 for the farmers and landlords. I hope I am wrong, and that the Minister will be able to explain the matter later.
Another point arises out of Clause 2. The power of the Milk Marketing Board to initiate schemes is purely enablng. So far, to the everlasting credit of the Scottish Office, they have made use of the facilities afforded by the Act of 1938. Their scheme for expectant and nursing mothers and young children was started in March of last year, but, although it is now 7th July, no scheme has been promoted in this country. Will the Minister or the 1713 Under-Secretary tell us who is responsible for the fact that in England and Wales no scheme has been promoted? Is it the Milk Marketing Board itself? Is it the distributors? Or is it a combination of both? Are they both so concerned with their own well-being that they are unwilling to do more than receive subsidies provided by the Government? If the Milk Marketing Board and the distributors in England fail to promote a scheme for nursing and expectant mothers, will the Minister undertake to take power to do the job himself? An enabling Clause of this description can be very good, but it can be very useless, according to the action taken by those who have the power to administer it.
As regards Clauses 3, 4 and 5, which deal with manufacturing milk, I still believe, as I did in 1934, that to the extent to which this House encourages an increase in the production of milk without simultaneously encouraging an increase in the consumption of liquid milk, quantity for quantity, the general price of liquid milk is bound to increase. The proof of what I am saying is this: the liquid milk price is higher to-day than it was when the Milk Marketing Board came into existence, and that is exclusively because of the increased quantity going into manufacture at 6⅘d. and the liquid milk consumer having to subsidise the manufacturer of milk. We want to see the milk output increased, but we want to see milk consumed in liquid form Unless and until liquid consumption does increase identically with any increased output there will be more milk going to the manufacturers at the very small price and there will be no possible chance of advancing the general price of liquid milk.
In the financial year ended March, 1939, 317,000,000 gallons went into manufacture at an average price of 6.81d., while the liquid consumer was paying 2s. 4d. per gallon. So long as the increased quantity goes to manufacture at that very small price, the liquid milk consumer will have to pay a higher price, which militates against an increased consumption of liquid milk. I understand that even in the county districts where the milk is produced, since the Milk Marketing Board came into existence the price has increased from 4d. to 7d. per quart. To the extent that we encourage an increased output and do not encourage an increased consumption of liquid milk, 1714 the dairy industry will paddle its own canoe, and the nutrition experts in this country will be in despair.
That brings me to my last point. The Cutforth Commission made a comprehensive review of the dairying industry and recommended that there ought to be an independent milk commission. They regard it as unsocial that the two sections of vested interests, the producers and distributors, should have full power to fix prices that they charge to the consumer, and I entirely agree with them. There ought to be an independent milk commission helping in more ways than by mere price-fixing, helping in all forms of reorganisation. It is obvious that since the Milk Marketing Board's primary object is to serve the farming interests, other interests are bound to be ignored. We cannot blame the Board; we can, however, blame a Government that fails to provide the consumer with the necessary safeguards. Now one word on distribution. I am bound to confess that more or less what I am saying to-day is not a criticism of what the Bill contains so much as a criticism of what it omits. We do know that every commission or committee of inquiry into the distribution of milk has reached one conclusion, that it is wasteful, inefficient and extravagant, that it militates against milk consumption and to that extent militates against the interest of the producer of milk. The Commission said:We see in the proper organisation of the distributive trade real hope of reducing prices to the consumer.The Food Council in its inquiry into the cost of milk endorsed that view. It said:During the course of our inquiry we have been deeply impressed with the unnecessary elaboration and waste of effort in the present distributive organisation. We have had evidence, for example, of the overlapping of distributors, over 20 operating in one street, and this apparently is not an isolated or unusual accurrence … We are convinced that the rationalisation of distribution would make possible substantial savings in distribution costs.There is the Food Council operating on behalf of the Department and the consumer, and that is its considered judgment. I do not want to exaggerate possible savings, but I am convinced that an efficient distributive scheme could be introduced, a scheme that would be helpful both to the consumer and the producer, and purely from a health point 1715 of view and a nutrition point of view I think that milk distribution ought to be a non-profit-making service. I do not mind whether the municipalities have the power to distribute milk or whether it is done by the Co-operative societies, who also are a non-profit-making body. I would accept either. It is just as well to tell hon. Members what one thinks about it. One cannot say that the municipality which runs its trams, electricity and gas undertakings and return any surplus to the ratepayers, is any different from the co-operative societies that run various services and returns dividends to their members. I would establish, or I hope that some time someone will have the courage to establish, not from the point of view of making profits or of financial interests, but from the point of view of health, a non-profit-making distributive service, and I do not mind whether it is undertaken by the municipalities or the co-operative societies or both. It has been done by other countries successfully and what other people can do we ought to do in the interests of our own people.
The Minister will get his Bill, of course. He has a majority large enough, even if we felt disposed to vote against the Bill, which we do not. We know that the Bill reflects little credit on the Government. It is the weak, half-hearted skeleton of his predecessor. It is one more humiliation, a real runaway victory, for which this Government has become famous.
§ 12.23 P.m.
§ Mr. Lambert
My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) is qualifying for the position of Minister of Agriculture in the next Government.
Therefore, it is essential that the hon. Member should be educated, and I propose to educate him on one point, and that is about the buildings used for the production of milk. I want to tell him and the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) and the House that at the present price of milk it is not possible to put up buildings. Take the case of the owner-occupiers in the country. They cannot afford at the present price of milk to put up buildings.
§ Mr. Lambert
The cost of buildings since the War has doubled, and the hon. Gentlemen cannot deny that while the products of the land have not increased, the cost has gone up. Until the price of milk for the producer is increased buildings cannot be put into a proper condition unless the owner has an outside income. Though I may be critical, I do not want to criticise the present Minister of Agriculture. He has done his utmost for the industry since he has assumed office. He is the victim of past vacillation. I dislike these subsidies. I think they are most objectionable. If agriculture were treated as the iron and steel industries have been treated there would be no need for subsidies. If agriculture had been treated even as the coal industry has been, there would be no need for subsidies. But, unfortunately, these other industries seem to have had the ear of the Government, and agriculture has not. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh!"]. I am going to prove that in a moment.
This Bill is a small matter, and does not touch the question of the disparity between the price received by the producer and that paid by the consumer. I happen to have a small farm in Devonshire, and last month I received just 7⅓d per gallon after all deductions were made. In London they are paying 2s. 4d. a gallon. I asked my wife this morning, and that was the figure she told me. That is nearly four times as much as I am receiving. The distributors are extremely prosperous. This Bill does not affect them. I agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite in wanting to see the profits of the distributor reduced, because there can be no excuse whatever for the producer getting 7⅓ d. a gallon and a consumer in London having to pay 2s. 4d.
That is not all. Milk has to be sold at the legal limit of 3 per cent. butter fat. I find that some cows give 3½ to ¾per cent. butter fat. The distributors pasteurise the milk, and I am not sure that they do not standardise it down to 3 per cent. I observe that in London "coffee cream" is sold. In Devonshire I find that on the milk from our cows a much thicker head of cream rises than on the milk in London. Therefore, I think, that not only is there the distributors' profit which we can see, but there is also a concealed profit made by standardising 1717 the milk down to 3 per cent. butter fat. My right hon. and gallant Friend's predecessor, the right. hon. Gentleman the Member for Cirencester (Mr. W. S. Morrison) encountered a tide of opposition to his Milk Bill. I do not think that that opposition was justified. He was made the victim not only of the producers, but of the distributors. They did not want to see their profits reduced.
I have referred to the difference between the price in London and the price that I get as a producer. I will go further, and point out the position in the villages. I am not complaining for myself; I am content to go on. My farm is about five minutes' distance from the village. In the old days, the women used to come down and get their milk at a is. a gallon in the summer and is. 4d. in the winter. I told the House a moment ago that I get 7⅓d. per gallon. I have to take the milk in a churn to the village, but if I sell a gallon to any of the villagers I must perforce charge them 2s. That is ridiculous. Milk Marketing Board or no Milk Marketing Board, here is the milk in the village, and it cannot be bought by the villagers unless they pay 2s. a gallon. I would repeat that I am not complaining for myself; I am merely giving this as an example. There are school children in the villages. We cannot supply them with milk, because it is not pasteurised or bottled. I wonder how the population grew up in olden days before this pasteurisation was thought of. I have taken a great deal of trouble with our cows to see they are free from tuberculosis. There are the school children, five minutes away from the farm, but they get no milk, because it has not been pasteurised in the way that these omniscient Whitehall gentleman ordain. The vivisection of animals is illegal, but Whitehall is vivisecting our villagers with regard to milk.
The hon. Gentleman opposite made a great point about what is called price insurance. I had the privilege last Tuesday of attending a reception at the marble halls of the London County Council—and I think we in this House might take an example from the magnificent buildings and facilities of the London County Council. I met there a member of the Milk Marketing Board. I asked him how much milk it takes to make a pound of butter. He said two and a half gallons, and added that a gallon of milk would be 1718 required for a pound of cheese. The calculations in this Bill are beyond me. I went to the Royal Show yesterday, and I am certain that there was no exhibitor, and not a single farmer there who could understand the Minister's calculations in respect of the Agricultural Development Bill, much less the calculations of the Milk Marketing Board and the Pigs Marketing Board. I have a son who has just passed his examination as a chartered accountant. He has worked the thing out, and says that, with butter at 125s. a cwt., it works out, leaving skimmed milk out of account, at 4.46d. a gallon for milk. Nobody will get very rich on that. At 115s., the figure will be 4.11d. a gallon.
Cheese at 67s. 6d. per cwt. in the winter works out at 6.03d. per lb., and at 62s. 6d. in the summer it works out at 5.58d. per lb. Nobody is going to get rich out of that. Has the Ministry of Agriculture chartered accountants who work out these calculations? Really they baffle me, a simple farmer, absolutely, and I entirely give it up. I do not blame the present Minister for this, but no one is coming into the industry because of this interim Bill extending to 1940. If we are to have a dairy industry in this country, we must give some stability and fair prices. The right. hon. and gallant Gentleman said that it is all-important to agriculturists, but it is also all-important to the country itself. I looked at the trade returns last night and found that out of the 9,500,000 cwt. of butter brought into this country last year, no fewer than 4,000,000 cwt. came from the Baltic States, Denmark, Finland, Holland and other European States. If there were a state of emergency that would be stopped.
§ Mr. Lambert
There was not much butter coming from Denmark during the last War. However, I put that aside. I am only saying that it is essential for the provisioning of our people with fats that we should maintain a prosperous dairy industry. The whole of the legislation—and I can remember it for a good many years—has not been to help the producer but to help the distribtuor and the distributor's agents. Take the case of the distribution of milk. The roundsmen, I believe, are under a trade board. They 1719 have a 48-hour week, and they receive a fixed wage. Is there a cowkeeper in the country who is under a wage board? Does he have to work only 48 hours a week? I would like to see the cowkeeper who works only 48 hours a week. In fact, if these omniscient Whitehall gentlemen would invent a Whitehall cow that did not want to be milked on Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning and Sunday night, it would be a very good thing. The cowkeeper has to milk his cow 14 times a week, otherwise the old lady would go dry. There is no mistake about that. She has no nonsense about it. But the distributors work only 48 hours a week. Why should that be? Why should the producer be crucified that the distributor should fatten? I do not know. But these are the facts. My right hon. and gallant Friend has introduced his Bill, and possibly I have been a little critical—as I have said, I do not blame him as he is the victim of circumstances—. but I hope his Bill will pass. It is only a little thing and cannot do any harm, but I am afraid it will not do much good.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Roberts
It is a pleasure that I find myself so much in agreement with an old Member of my party. Almost everything the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) has said is very much to the point. I am told that the right hon Gentleman has the great distinction of having sat in this House with Mr. Gladstone, and that, I feel, may perhaps be the common link. But I could not help feeling, also, that the Minister was not introducing his Bill with any very great enthusiasm. It might have been made the occasion for reviewing the milk producing industry, and possibly the distribution of milk, which, after all, constitutes the largest single section of the agricultural community. We have heard there have been difficulties with regard to the Government's milk policy. I could not help feeling that the Minister did not appear to relish this Bill, and was not in a very pleasant position in having to introduce it. I do not know whether the Minister is in the cavalry section of the Army or not, but he seemed to charge through his Bill at a very high speed when dealing with its very difficult provisions. I am afraid that I may not have understood all "that he said, because the Bill, as far as it 1720 goes, is a very detailed and complicated Measure, with parts of it terminating at various points, and if in what I have to say I misunderstood him, I hope that he will correct me.
As far as the Bill provides for some increase in the consumption of milk and some improvement in quality, we certainly welcome it very much, but we regret that the Government have run away from the much bigger problem which has been considered on so many occasions in this House, and which we had hoped, until the great outcry which destroyed the last Milk Bill, might be tackled. I do not say that the methods by which the last Milk Bill proposed to deal with the situation were necessarily the best, and no doubt many interests were concerned, some of whom were likely to feel dissatisfied. It was not the consumer who destroyed the last Milk Bill or who caused the outcry against it. I do not think that there is anything in this Bill which will substantially help the consumer, who is ultimately the arbiter of the fate or the future development of the milk industry. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) pointed out that nearly 1,000,000 gallons a day are surplus to liquid milk requirements, and I should have thought that it was absolutely clear that in the interests of the future development of the milk industry an increase of consumption is vital. Milk production is steadily in creasing, and the provisions of the Bill for price insurance are not very generous, and if the proportion of surplus milk continues to increase, I do not believe that they will be found to be adequate to deal with the position. I welcome the small addition to the welfare scheme which the Bill contains, but if the £1,000,000 is a maximum—
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Roberts
It is not the maximum. Then that is an advantage. It will, however, entirely depend upon the initiative of the Milk Board to start these welfare schemes. I see no provision in the Bill that anybody else is concerned except the Milk Board in initiating and preparing the schemes. If that assumption is wrong, I hope that I shall be corrected later, but the fact remains that the Milk Board has not shown itself enthusiastic about this work in the past, because provision was made for money 1721 provided by the Government, to be spent, which has not been taken advantage of. That is only one illustration of the fact that it was a wise suggestion originally that there should be independent representation on whatever authority controls milk production. It seems to me that what is proposed in the Bill will mean but a very small increase in the supply of pure milk for pursing mothers and children below school age.
There was a phrase which the Minister used which caused me some little surprise and alarm, and I do not know whether it applied to all the welfare schemes or only to some. He said that there would be an increased margin allowed to the distributor. I was not clear whether that applies only to school schemes or to other schemes for cheaper milk. If it applies to all, I very much question whether it is really reasonable. There have been some small schemes in the Special Areas for supplying the families of the unemployed with cheap milk, and in regard to the four schemes the increased milk consumption has been in the region of 60 per cent., or rather more. I notice with interest than in Whitehaven, where the reduction in the price of milk was greatest, the increase in consumption was also greatest, and went up to about 90 per cent. The Board, in reporting on these schemes, stated that the increased turnover as a result of increased consumption amounted to another 22 per cent., a considerably increased turnover per customer. The additional cost to the distributor who handled that extra milk could not have been great. If it is proposed in the milk-in-schools scheme to allow the additional margin, it seems to me a very questionable expenditure of the little money which is available for increasing the consumption of milk.
I listened with very considerable interest to what the Minister said about the proposals for increasing the production of pure milk, and especially with regard to the Attested Herds Scheme. I hope that whoever replies to the Debate will be able to give us some information as to the number of herds which are now attested, and the progress of the scheme. There is no arrangement whatever by which the milk which is produced from tuberculous free cattle under the Attested Herds scheme or under the old Grade A. tuberculin-tested scheme, finds its way into liquid consumption. In this Bill one 1722 of the things which might have been provided for, or which should be provided for, is to see that this milk does not go into butter manufacture or cheese manufacture. The taxpayers are contributing considerable sums towards keeping up of clean herds, but the consumer is not necessarily getting that milk; he is frequently buying the ordinary milk. I am not one of those who think that ordinary milk is not a valuable food product, but I think that the attested milk product is a very much better product, and at present there is no certainty that the attested milk is not being milk mixed with ordinary milk or that it is not going into manufacture. Seeing that the Government, the taxpayers, are contributing towards the production of that milk, the Board ought to be required to see to it that milk goes into liquid consumption.
A part of the Minister's speech which worried me somewhat was when he stated that, under the arrangements for cleaning up the herds which is to continue until 1948—that is, the assistance given in the testing of cattle for tuberculosis and possibly for other diseases— the quality bonus is only in future to be enjoyed by any one producer for three years. That seems to be a most unfortunate set-back to the scheme, which is now going ahead very satisfactorily. It took some time to get the Attested Herds Scheme under way; farmers were doubtful about it. Speaking for my part of the country, they are now interested in it, they understand it, and it is developing. Therefore, the limitation of the quality bonus to three years will be a set-back in the eyes of the farmers. I can speak from knowledge that it is infinitely more expensive to produce attested milk of the bacteriological standard that is required, and to maintain that standard regularly throughout the year, than to produce ordinary milk. Therefore, the limitation of three years seems to me to be a most unfortunate proposal on the part of the Government in this interim Measure, and I hope it will be seriously reconsidered.
Sooner or later, the question of distribution will have to be tackled by some Government. If it is not tackled by this Government, it may be tackled in a way that this Government would not like by some other Government which gets into power. There is no question that the cost of retailing milk is 1723 lower in many instances than that allowed by the Milk Board. I can give an example from a large Midland city, where the retail cost of a large business is only 9.d. a gallon, because they insist on only one delivery, which is all that is necessary, and they will not deliver the wretched half pints, which are more bottle than milk. There can be no doubt that means could be found, as means have been found in other countries, of reducing the cost of distribution. I fear that if we are involved in a war, in order to economise in man-power and generally to produce efficiency, the distribution of milk will be rationalised in a most violent way. It will then possibly cause the greatest inconvenience to consumers, producers and distributors. It is short-sighted from every point of view not to make a beginning on this vital problem now, and it is with regret I find that the Government have run away from this problem because of the outcry of certain vested interests.
§ 12.56 p.m.
§ Mr. York
I feel that on this Bill I must say a word as to the way in which it will affect landlords. I would very much like to see hon. Members opposite in the possession of land; they would then know how very much a Bill of this kind and the subsidies which the House has passed for the industry affect the pockets of the landlords. I have had to deal with landlords for several years, and I have found that every piece of legislation with which this House deals invariably means more and more expense to the landlords and less and less return from the farmer. In regard to the first Clause of the Bill, I agree that it is a pity the limitation should be brought forward. I understand that it is not intended that the Bill should be permanent, and that under the main Bill, when it comes before us, there will be a further extension to perhaps five years, or it may be longer. During the past seven years we have seen the milk boards slowly getting under way, but during all that time the producers have had all the burdens and little or no compensation until quite recently, and now, when things are looking brighter, it would be a great pity if we were to stop in any way the incentive to do better all round.
Farm buildings have been mentioned to-day, and in that respect I would like to point out that, in my opinion, buildings 1724 are not of first importance. I have seen milk produced in the worst type of dirty, ill-ventilated buildings, which has come out with a bacteria count of under 1,000, and I believe that T.T. milk has to be under 30,000. One farm with which I have had to deal with had no concrete floor, low ceilings and long old-fashioned standings, and although it was not producing Grade A milk, the milk had a bacteria count of under 10,000. Yet people with little knowledge of the actual conditions under which farmers are producing milk have the temerity to say that almost the only reason for dirty milk is old-fashioned and insanitary buildings. That is not the case at all. It is the care and attention which the farmer gives to his milk, the cleanliness of his cows and of his utensils, which make for clean milk.
In the case of the cheap milk scheme we had but a brief account from the right hon. Gentleman, and although the matter is still under discussion with the various authorities, I would like to ask him when he is working out the exact loss which will be incurred by the board, whether he will consider the amount of milk from the liquid market which will be lost and which is being lost in these cheap milk schemes. Seventy per cent. of the milk which is used in these cheap milk schemes would in other times, be in the liquid market, and only 30 per cent. is represented by the increase under these cheap milk schemes. It is, therefore, necessary, if the board is not to incur an actual loss, that the actual price which the Bill gives to the Milk Marketing Board should be a price of 1s. 2d. per gallon. I hope the right hon. Gentleman when he has finished his discussions with the various authorities will be able to produce a figure of 1s. 2d. per gallon. I know that there are many ways in which one could increase the consumption of milk, and that of increasing the supply and reducing the prices to schools and mothers is excellent. I would like to see the price to nursing mothers and children in schools reduced still further. We have gone part of the way in reducing the price, but I think it should be possible later on, when we are not spending so many millions on weapons of destruction, to spend one or two millions and reduce the price of milk to 1d. per pint. I hope that one day this will be possible.
Clause 7 provides for consultation with consumers' committees. I have always 1725 found when I have been talking with farmers about milk that their main complaint is the fact that there is this large financial gap between what the producer receives and the consumer pays. There are many reasons for this. There were certain reasons for it which the late Milk Bill tried to amend, although, in my opinion, it set about it in the wrong way. If we are to put the milk industry on a proper basis we must have a better relationship between these two prices, and even if the Bill is only a temporary Measure, and we have to wait some time before the full Measure comes before us, I feel that it would be a good thing at the present time to have a Government inquiry into this matter on the lines of a previous commission, and see whether the distribution costs could not be cut down still further and so give the farmers a better price for what they are producing.
There is one point I should like to mention in regard to milk and butter. Under the price insurance scheme the prices which the figures in the Bill will work out at are 5d. per gallon in summer and 6d. per gallon in winter. An economic investigation into this problem has pointed out that the average cost of production over the whole country is somewhere in the neighbourhood of 9½d. If, therefore, the manufacturing price, upon which is based the insurance scheme under the Bill, is to be worked, as it is, on a price of 5d. and 6d., the loss to the Board will be very great, and the bottom which the price insurance scheme is to put into the market is very much too low. I believe that the whole industry welcomes this instalment, which I sincerely hope is to be regarded as only a very small instalment. We shall wait anxiously for the developments that will come forward and that will present themselves very shortly, I hope, in a large and full Bill, but a Bill that will be devoid of those medical dictatorships which were the ruination of the last Milk Bill.
§ 1.6 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Morgan
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, congratulated the various interest which are affected by the Bill. I feel that he might have congratulated hon. Members on this side for having allowed him to get away so conveniently with this 1726 Measure, in view of the real disappointment which the Bill represents to most elements in the House in regard to the major problems of the milk industry as a whole. I was glad to hear the right hon. and gallant Gentleman pay a tribute to the work of the Milk Marketing Board. There is one aspect of the Board's activities to which I should like to draw attention. It is often alleged that these organisations set up to manage products under statutory authority are expensive institutions, and cannot handle the business effectively. Here we have a proposition of about £60,000,000 a year, which has been brought into being in the last few years, and yet its administrative revenue has been derived from 0.099 pence per gallon over the year and one-eighth of a penny per gallon for one month for publicity. That is an extremely efficient point of administrative costs to have reached, and I think the Board are to be congratulated on having attained it.
There is another point in connection with the work of the Board to which I want to refer. It is a fact that so far they have been able to raise about one-third of the milk available for liquid consumption to the "accredited" level on payment of a comparatively small premium. That is to the good. The "accredited" level is roughtly the level to which we should expect all milk to attain at the earliest possible moment. There can be no satisfaction in feeling that two-thirds of the milk available is still below the standard which Government Departments, such as the Ministry of Health, regard as satisfactory. The point I want to emphasise is that this volume of milk must be produced by the larger farmers of the country, and this indicates that it is capital resources that have enabled them to qualify for the premium and to supply this volume of milk, for the number of farmers who provide this milk is only about 23,000, while there are 100,000 or more farmers supplying milk. It looks as though the little man is having some difficulty in qualifying for the "accredited" premium. If that be the case, there must be good reasons why he is unable to do so. It is not that he is unwilling, because a premium of 1d. a gallon or thereabouts represents to the ordinary farmer a fairly good sum, and is worth having. There must be some reasons why he is not qualifying for it. Although I sympathise with the position
1727 of the landowners in regard to the cost of buildings and so on, for I have been in that position myself, at the same time I am satisfied that buildings and the cost of having the apparatus deter the farmer from making up his mind to produce this milk.
I should have liked to have seen a move made, even under this Bill, to attack the problem of producing standard milk. The whole point of the Bill is further to assist the production of a quality milk that goes mainly to people who already can afford to buy milk, and even to buy a premium-priced milk. It will do very little in the immediate stages to improve the quality of the milk bought by the vast mass of the people who work for their living on a wage basis, are subject to rather close housing conditions, and so on. The people who are able to buy the attested and T.T. milk are the people who have access to fresh fruit, fish and green vegetables at all times, whereas the people who buy milk that is below even the "accredited" standard are the people who do not have such easy access to fresh eggs and fresh vegetables in the winter and to whom milk represents the protective food that can be expected to get into their households. If, under this Bill, the Government could have authorised the Board to undertake the capitalising of the equipment of buildings to bring them up to the "accredited" standard and then to subject the man's monthly milk account to a deduction of the premium he would have earned until such time as he had liquidated the original cost, I think that would have represented a very much bigger step forward in the production of good, satisfactory milk than the payment of further premiums to this class of milk.
A point was made by the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) which ought to be taken into account. A sum of £2,000,000 is to go to super-grades of milk with no guarantee that the milk will ever get into liquid consumption. This milk may be completely wasted from the point of view of the actual consumers by going into creameries for manufacturing purposes, or being bulked with the general run of milk. The moment it is bulked it ceases to be attested milk or T.T. milk.
§ Mr. Morgan
Yes, that is true, and that leads to the point which I shall make in a moment or two. In concentrating the premium assistance on this class of milk, there are no guarantees that it will reach liquid milk consumption, and in fact, it means virtually wasting quite a proportion of this rather substantial sum of money. A second thing, however, is this, that even where it does reach liquid consumption, it reaches it through the channel of the producer-retailer. All credit to him. But it reaches consumption through the channel of a retailer who is already getting the full price, and who is not suffering from the extraordinary but very typical condition mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert)— 7¼d. per gallon at the farm for milk which may be distributed at 2s. 4d. Actually I understand the position to be that, taking the year through, the net return to the farmer is round about 10d. at the farm, with all deductions, while the net figure paid by the consumer through the year is 2s. 2d.
That is not a satisfactory position. It is the main position that ought to be attacked, as the last speaker indicated, at the earliest opportunity. But a farmer who is getting only 10d. at the farm is in a far worse position economically than a man who, even though he is producing attested T.T. milk can command a price of 2s. 4d. for liquid milk and is well protected by the scheme. Yet the main effect of this assistance will go to that class of person, who will also, incidentally, be relieved, because of his agitation and the inconvenience of dealing with him, from paying his fair quota of the original levies under the main scheme. So, generally, this substantial amount of £2,000,000 is going to the privileged consumer and the privileged producer and therefore to that extent is not a satisfactory use of the substantial amount available.
I would not like to speak in a Debate of this kind without offering some practical alternative, especially as hopes have been held out that this is an interim Measure, definitely short-dated with the purpose of bringing in a more substantial Measure later. There are areas in the country where the problem which I have indicated about this class of milk not getting into consumption exists and these give us pointers as to the way to deal with 1729 it. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin) will be able to take part in the Debate later. Carmarthen is an area where farmers are producing high grade milk with no guarantee that that milk will get into liquid consumption. I would like to see the Board have power to go into that area to stimulate the maximum development of that production of milk, and then secure that that volume of milk gets into the right hands, that it goes to places such as clinics and hospitals—you must start somewhere—and to ensure, at any rate, that it does get into use in an area of need which can at the same time give full economic benefits to the producers in that area.
If there remains an element of producers in such an area who, for one reason or another, decline to or are unable to produce that satisfactory milk, let their milk automatically go to manufacturing uses at the manufacturing price without any additional assistance from the original levy. Let the producer who is producing the right quality get the full effect of his initiative, and while the other fellow is penalised and is not supported to the extent to which he is supported at the moment—3d. and even 4d. a gallon. It could be done in certain districts in Scotland such as Ayrshire, in precisely the same way. Satisfactory developments are taking place there and the boards should be encouraged to treat those areas in the way I have suggested.
There is another point which I wish to stress as a means of enabling the Board to function more effectively. There are hon. Members here and some people outside who charge the Board with being responsible for high retail prices, and who point to the Board's activities as having that effect. I do not think my right hon. Friend meant it in that way but he left the impression on the House that the Board's activities had resulted in this country having the highest price for milk in Europe. The position is simply this. The reason why the Milk Board is in the retail market at all is because it was made part of what was almost a piece of blackmail in the negotiations, that in order to get the producer a reasonable price they should become parties to enforcing retail prices so that the distributive trade might be protected, incidentally, from the activities of elements like the producer retailers who—I 1730 must be fair—were threatening to undercut the position of the co-operative societies, the multiple combines and other people.
The fact is that the Milk Board was forced into taking these powers and it cannot operate these powers unless requested to do so by the federation of retail distributors in a particular area. I would like to see the Board relieved of any right or reason to be in the retail market at all, fixing retail prices. There is no reason why they should be in that position; they ought to get out of it as quickly as possible and have machinery available to get the producer a proper price, without regard to the distributor's position. I want to make that point clear. I would like the Minister to relieve the Board of the necessity of being in the retail market at all. The sooner they get out of it the better for their position. I would also like to see the Minister taking powers to give the Board the right not only to sell milk on a contract basis, but also to make sure that the milk produced by the farmer is sold to the most economic user. As things are, there are roughly 140,000 to 150,000 farmers who are now free to sell their milk to whoever they like and because they cannot be expected to know where the best market lies, and have to rely upon people coming to them with offers, they very often sell their milk to the wrong people from the point of view of the Board, and also from the point of view of the general average of price that has to be paid by the consumer.
I am not here to criticise the Board. I indulge in as much criticism to their faces at their own quarterly meetings as I do anywhere, but there is the simple fact that 25 per cent. of the total milk' sold in England and Wales is bought by the industrial co-operative movement. They are the Milk Board's best customer and the farmer's best customer at this moment. It is from this angle and not from any sentimental angle we ought to regard this matter—also having in mind the fact that while they buy 25 per cent. of the milk, they buy 22 per cent, of it at the top liquid price and only 3 per cent. goes into manufacturing uses, at 5d. or 6d. I have no other criterion from the point of view of the milk producer. In Scotland the position is even more marked because 50 per cent. of the total milk bought in Scotland is bought by the industrial co-operative movement and very 1731 little of it goes into the manufacturing market. That is why on the whole, the milk position in Scotland—not generally regarded as a milk producing country— is slightly better from the producers angle than the position in England and Wales. You have there as a customer a society organised on a national basis throwing the maximum amount of its business organisation into developing the liquid milk market.
The next largest buyer in England and Wales is buying about 22 per cent. but is not a good customer because only about 14 per cent. of the milk finds its way into liquid consumption and the rest goes into manufacturing uses. That is a source of embarrassment to the Board because it has to be made up. It is very unsatisfactory that a business organisation that has its feet in two camps should be allowed in a sense to be in that position at times of negotiation, because that brings in the need for some kind of independent Commission to have a say in the matter. A business organisation that has 14 per cent. interest in the liquid milk market and eight or nine per cent. in the manufacturing milk market does not care a hang how high the liquid milk market goes, because it knows that when the price has got to a point at which it closes the flow of milk into the liquid market it automatically goes into the manufacturing market, where they make just as satisfactory a profit. They have no real interest in attempting to sell milk in the best market, from the farmer's point of view. They do not care a button, because there is a disposition, because of the strength that it gives them in other directions, to force milk into the manufacturing market. They do not really take a profit out of the liquid milk at all, but out of the eggs, butter, dry groceries, and so on which they are now taking round on their vehicles. If that is the case and they are making a profit out of the manufacturing end, it is very unsatisfactory indeed and ought to be taken into account.
I would ask that the Milk Marketing Board be authorised to sell the milk on behalf of its 100,000 fanners, because it would exempt those taking advantage of the average liquid milk price by being producer retailers, but that it should have power to sell milk on behalf of all the 1732 farmers. At the moment it has power to divert milk that is not being used, if the liquid milk market is not being fully supported, but if it had full power to sell milk on behalf of all the farmers, the Board would, of course, press milk into the liquid market, and the more milk that goes into that market the more hopeful a prospect there is of a lower retail price, because there is no shadow of doubt that the comparatively high retail price of milk in this country is another consumers' subsidy to the manufacturing end of the business. Here is the poor farmer trying to support the sale of milk into the manufacturing end by an inter-regional levy of about 3d. a gallon on his milk, and here is the poor consumer also subsidising the same volume of milk by a high retail price. That, clearly, is the point for a main attack from those who really want to improve the position from the point of view of the producer on the one hand and of the consumer on the other. I hope that at some time, early, when this comprehensive Measure that is suggested is forthcoming, the Minister will take the Board fully into his confidence and, by administrative changes of this kind, give them all the enabling power he can and at the same time take them out of the retail arena, because they have no need to be in it, and it brings them into the front line of an attack which is not properly directed at them.
Finally, I would like to say that we shall never solve this question of a proper standard of quality of milk while we are giving a farmer Id. or 2d. a gallon on what he may produce. First of all, it is not satisfactory to have to give him a premium on the standard quality of milk that you really ought not to be asking for. There ought to be a standard quality of milk, and no farmer should get the price for that milk unless he is selling milk in that category, but you have to face the fact that many thousands of farmers cannot produce that milk today, partly because of their buildings and partly because of their cows. Therefore, you will have to have the right of access to farm buildings before long. I regret very much the Minister's admission that no survey exists, so far as he is concerned, with regard to the present condition of dairy buildings in this country. He ought to take steps to see that he gets it at the earliest possible moment.
1733 He ought to bring pressure on the Ministry of Health to supply him with the data that they must have in their possession, and if they have not, the local authorities should be required to give him the data, because the line of attack in milk production must be through those buildings, and at the earliest possible moment. I should be surprised to hear that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman had not had representations on this point from the Milk Marketing Board itself. We are now facing the fact that the increase in accredited milk is practically static. Jumping off with about 15,000 to 20,000 farmers, they have crept painfully up to the level of 23,000 in the last year, and they are aware that they are being held up by the physical conditions on the farms.
With regard to the animals, I think the Minister could come confidently to this House and ask for quite a substantial sum of money if he indicated that he was going to direct an attack on the problem of the diseased cow in the stall. He should attack it on a basis that would make a fanner welcome the inspector into his stalls and not, as now, work hard to hide the real facts from the inspector. If there could be for a little time, say for three years, a definite programme of taking out from the dairying stock of this country 200,000 cows a year, on a subsidy basis of £5 or even £10 a cow, you would have disease cut out of those stalls in three years. As things are at present, the farmer, when there is any question of disease, begins to scheme and contrive to get his cow through the meat market without being found out or having any kind of penalty or embargo placed upon him. The problem of the man who wants to improve his milk supply is how to get rid of the cow that he knows is a wrong 'un. If you could have 200,000 of these cows a year out of your market for £10 apiece, which is £2,000,000 a year, for three years, or £5 apiece for three years, which is £1,000,000 a year, you would be making a more direct, immediate, and effective attack on the source of unsatisfactory milk than by giving £2,000,000a year to the producers as you do at the present time.
As I said in the opening, the Minister must congratulate himself on the fact that we have no intention of opposing his Bill, but at the same time all sides of the 1734 House are registering a very real hope that he will put himself to the task of producing a flow of good milk and protecting the producer by reorganising the marketing and distribution of the milk and at the same time giving the advantage to the consumer. It is a task that any Minister would be glad to do, and he would come out of it with the credit that is awaiting the Minister who will attack the problem.
§ 1.34 p.m.
The hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. J. Morgan) and the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) both laid great stress on improving our farm buildings in order to improve the quality of milk. I would like to cross swords to a certain extent with them on that matter, because it does not necessarily follow that if you have perfect farm buildings, you will get better quality milk, as I think the hon. Member opposite representing the medical profession would agree. I remember very well five years ago the Central Landowners Association, of which I was President at the time, and the National Farmers' Union saying they would do their best to speed up the provision of better buildings and of better quality milk, and I think we can fairly say that in those five years we have done a great deal towards achieving that end. Nearly half the milk produced in this country now is a better class milk. Although it may turn out that a great many delinquencies still. exist, a great effort has been made, so far as landlords are allowed to find any money, to improve farm buildings, and the Bill will help to continue an experiment which has been progressing favourably
But what is even more important than better buildings is clean milkers. There is no question that, in the last five or six years, education amongst the farmers and the milkers is as much responsible for cleaner milk and the smaller statistics of tuberculosis amongst human beings as better buildings, though I do not say that we ought not to provide better buildings. The hon. Member for Don Valley quoted statistics showing that foreigners pay less for their milk than we do. I believe that is true, but I should like him to have been with me a year ago last Whitsuntide when I went round some milk farms in Holland, and 1735 others 50 or 60 miles outside Berlin. There is no comparison between the conditions there and in this country. They get over the difficulty by never milking the cows in the stalls. They have sheds outside their little farms, probably with concrete floors, and, winter and summer alike, snow or not, they milk their cows outside. I went into some more or less experimental farms and there I saw quite good conditions as far as the buildings are concerned, but nothing that would beat our own. What struck me was that the man who took me round shouted at the boys who were milking the cows, and their evident fear led me to think that their men, working 14, 15 and 16 hours a day, were treated in a way that we should not like to see any of our milkers treated, I do not think you can make any comparison between milk prices here and in the best countries abroad because the expenses are very much less.
I think we cannot put too much emphasis on clean milkers but, instead of criticising farmers so much, it would be better to see that housewives keep tins over their pails and that churns are properly washed out before being sent back to the farm. That would do more to clean up the milk supply and give quality milk than any amount of extra money spent on better buildings. Another matter that has been referred to is that the producer retailer has shown a good deal of discontent at having to make returns to the Milk Board, but I am sure that is the right line to take. The Milk Board must have their returns and they are quite entitled to insist on them, because these men are only robbing their fellow producers. The Minister proposes to make good losses incurred by the Board under Clause 2. I have no doubt that he is investigating the matter with the Milk Board. I hope he is successful in his negotiations, because it is a vital point. If we are to have too many people who are to get milk cheap, it is going to knock the liquid market, and the price to the producer in consequence. There is a delicate matter which wants arranging very carefully in fairness to all concerned. There have been a good many criticisms of the dropping of the Milk Commission. I was one of those opposed to the Milk Commission, a big overriding body who would interfere with producers, retailers 1736 and consumers alike, often from a point of view which shows a great lack of knowledge.
Clause 7 gives the consumers' committees more power to get to know the real facts, to give advice, even to hold up schemes if necessary, and to put that before public opinion and use the weapon of public opinion to redress grievances against the Milk Board. I believe that Clause will fulfil what the Milk Commission was intended to do. I believe that the extension of the powers and functions of the consumers' committee is a move in the right direction which will do what is necessary. The only real criticism that I have to make of the Bill is that, like all Bills nowadays, some of the Clauses are so complicated that it seems impossible to make out the calculations. Nowadays, unless one is a lawyer or chartered accountant there are not many businesses in which one can do any good, and I hope those responsible will be able to master those figures, and that they will find that they give the producer a fair margin of profit when he has to sell his milk at cheaper prices. With these few words I welcome the Bill, and I hope that it will soon be passed into law, and that the money will be repaid to the Milk Marketing Board and will be used further to extend the supply of pure milk in this country. This Measure provides a helpful means to that end during the two years until we get the permanent legislation.
§ 1.46 p.m.
§ Dr. Haden Guest
One of the greatest needs of this country is an increase in the consumption of liquid milk. On health grounds nothing can take the place of milk, and the present consumption is very definitely below what it ought to be, especially among the poorest classes of the population; but I am not sure whether this Bill will help materially to improve the position. It perhaps conceals some things which might be made clearer. The Explanatory Memorandum tells us that Clause 2 deals with milk for consumption by school children, expectant and nursing mothers and children under five, and there is no doubt about the importance of increasing the consumption of milk by those classes. That was also the object of the Milk (Extension and Amendment) Act, 1938, but when, on 30th March this year, I questioned the Minister as to the amount of milk which 1737 had actually been supplied for nursing mothers and children under five, the answer I got was:No sums have yet been paid under this Act in respect of the provision for milk for mothers and for children below school age." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th March, 1938, Col. 2240, Vol. 345.]Under that Act £250,000 was put aside for the supply of milk to nursing mothers and to children under five, and yet up to 30th March none of it had been spent. I should very must like to know whether any of it has been spent up to now. I believe I am right in saying that none of it has been spent. So we have this ridiculous state of affairs that this House passes an Act giving money for milk, at reduced prices for certain classes of the population which everybody agrees is an admirable object, and yet it is not spent. Why? Because the Minister has not been able to come to an agreement with those who are concerned in the production and distribution of that milk. I lay that responsibility on the Minister's doorstep and he cannot get away from from it. In his speech he skated round the subject of the milk supply for expectant and nursing mothers and children under five. He said very little or nothing about it, because there is nothing to say. The powers were given by Parliament to the Ministry, but they have not been used, because the Ministry have not had the business acumen to make the necessary arrangements to get them carried out. The Minister may think it is beyond his powers.
§ Sir R. Dorman-Smith indicated dissent.
The Minister does not, and I am glad of it, and I should like to know, as I am sure all the nursing mothers and the unfortunate children who did not get the milk would like to know, why those powers have not been exercised during the last 12 months. Payments for milk are, under this Bill, made retrospective to 1938, but, unfortunately, we cannot give milk retrospectively to nursing mothers or children under five, so that for them it is a permanent loss. The fanner may not suffer the loss, and I hope that he will not, but the children and the nursing mothers will, and nothing can ever make up to them for that loss.
Some pleasant things have been said this morning about the Minister's administration and about this Bill. I am sorry 1738 that I do not feel inclined to join in the chorus. I think that the Government are just paltering with this question. They think they are acting in the interest of the farmers, but in fact they are not. The farmer gets rather a raw deal over this business. He gets a very small price while the distributor gets a very high price. The farmer should get a better price and the consumer could get his milk at a lower price. I believe that by rationalisation of the methods of distribution the situation could be very considerably improved. At any rate, that is the angle from which the problem ought to be approached.
At present we have a policy of restricted production and restricted consumption, and prices here are higher than in any European country and higher than in many parts of America. The real policy for the farmer is the same as it is for the consumer. There should be greater production and prices as low as possible. That is the lesson of all modern commercial and industrial organisation. Commodities have to be mass-produced if they are to be supplied to a large population at as low prices as possible. In other industries it has been found possible to do that and at the same time to secure that conditions in those industries and the return upon the capital invested are adequate. We see it in the clothing industry, and in the motor-car industry; and in Government departments, in the telephone service where a reduction of charges has led to an immense extension of the use of the telephone. There are many more examples with which I will not weary the House. There can be no excuse for a policy of restrictive consumption and high prices in the case of milk, which is of primary importance to the nutrition of the country and which can be replaced by nothing else. There is nothing that can take the place of milk.
I have been looking up what has been reported by various commissions in the past. The Grigg Commission reported an increase of from one-third to two-fifths of a pint and the Cutforth Commission reported a slight increase in the volume of liquid milk consumed and an enormous increase in the amount sold for manufacture, adding, by the way, that rather less had been produced on the average than had been produced during the previous four or five years. Here is another quotation from the Cutforth Report: 1739So far as consumers are concerned the principal effect of the schemes has been to raise retail prices throughout most of the country.What is the advantage of that kind of organisation? I do not want to be hypercritical, I realise the difficulties that faced the Government in the organisation of this industry, but it is surely time to put the organisation on a better and more economical footing. Milk consumption in this country is lower than in any other country of North-West Europe or the United States of America. According to the standard recommended by the Advisory Committee on Nutrition it is less than half the consumption which is required. I do not want to make extravagant claims for milk, but it would be of the greatest advantage if the average consumed by all children could be over one pint a day, by expectant mothers two pints a day and by other adults, on the average, half-a-pint a day. If milk is 3½. a pint and you take the case of a normal family of a father, mother and three children, then at the higher level of prices which I have quoted the milk would cost that family 14s. 3d. per week, and if you were to cut the price down by 50 per cent. it would still be about 7s. That expense is impossible for ordinary working class households to pay. Something must be done to reduce the price of an article which is of such prime necessity to the public health.
It is well known that the milk consumed in this country is largely consumed by people in the higher income groups. Many people in the lower income groups consume very little milk, and sometimes hardly any at all. They very often consume not the milk produced in this country but condensed or tinned milk of some kind imported from abroad. I remember when I was a candidate in Brecon and Radnor being appalled to discover that in that county, which is extremely agricultural, a great many of the population were not consuming the milk produced immediately around them, but tinned milk imported from overseas, while the local milk was sent elsewhere. That is a grotesque situation. The Minister, no doubt, is aware of the results of many of the investigations which have been carried out. To-day he chose to present the rosier side of the picture, but he must know that a large number of families in 1740 this country with an income of 10s. per week per head consume so little milk as to make it hardly worth while calling it milk at all. The average in this case is something like a quarter of a pint, and that is extremely little. The important point is that this group of people who consume so little milk covers 10 per cent. of the general population and, unfortunately, includes a stratum of the population which produces 25 per cent. of the children.
That means that 25 per cent. of the children, under the present arrangement for the marketing and supply of milk, are not getting sufficient milk for the needs of their growth. That is a matter which requires a great deal more attention than do some of the complicated calculations to which the Minister has treated us to-day, and which are not of comparable importance with fundamental questions concerning the health of the nation. I do not mean to say that those calculations are not in themselves important, but they must be put into the proper perspective and relation. The really important thing in regard to milk is nutrition and health, and if you put the figure of a child's needs at one pint a day, we have to admit that at least one-quarter of the children of the nation are getting only one-fifth of what they need. That is something which you cannot ever put right. Milk is an irreplaceable food. I will quote the Government's Advisory Committee on Nutrition which says:Milk is a food of such outstanding value that the consumption of a sufficient quantity of it may be regarded as the key to proper nutrition.The policy of the Minister ought to be founded on the need of milk for nutrition primarily, rather than on the other matters about which he has been talking. Of course, the Government have not supplied the demand. In the 1938 Bill they pretended to supply a part of the demand in regard to expectant mothers and children under five, but they have not carried out the intention expressed in that Bill to supply those classes with milk at a cheap price. What reason is there for believing that they will carry out their intentions under the 1939 Bill? It is true that under the 1938 Bill they took power to send £250,000 for the purpose, and that in the Bill now before us they are asking for power to spend a considerably greater amount, but what reason 1741 is there for thinking that the Government will spend this money? We ought to insist upon the Minister making a statement which will reassure the House on that point. We are now asked to believe that the Government will do something about which they gave a similar assurance in 1938, but have not yet done anything.
The Bill is a substitute for the Milk Industry Bill which was produced in 1938 and was a very much more complicated Measure. It differs from that Bill in many ways, but chiefly in regard to the directive brains of the industry. The Milk Commission has gone, which seems to be a tragedy. Some time ago the Grigg Commission proposed that the brains of the industry should be a joint milk council to be independent and to be appointed by a board of trustees, one of whom was to be the Speaker of the House of Commons. The Cutforth Commission proposed a permanent Milk Commission, because they said that the determination of buying prices should no longer remain solely in the hands of the producers' board. They proposed an independent price-fixing authority which would stimulate liquid milk consumption. They said that there was an overwhelming case for the setting up of an independent body. This body was to be a central authority on all matters relating to milk, advising and implementing Government policy. It was to increase consumption and to make improvements in the industry while dealing with the prices of production, the development of the industry, and so on. The chairman and four other members were to be appointed by the Minister of Agriculture, the Secretary of State for Scotland and others, and there were to be consultants. It was to have very great power to deal with the milk industry. All that has gone, and we have a makeshift which cannot be regarded as satisfactory from any point of view. It is hardly satisfactory even for a temporary period.
The Bill is at best a marking time Bill, and at worst a window-dressing Bill. It certainly does not protect the consumer, and does not reduce prices. It is not fair to the primary producer. It does not develop the industry or help the farmer in any permanent way. There is a statement in the Bill with regard to a consumers' committee, but what will be the value of a consumers' committee with no voting power and no power to fix prices. If the powers in the Bill were 1742 used to the full there would be milk in the schools as now, and something fewer than 250,000 mothers and children would get milk. That is only a small proportion of the total number of people who ought to have milk. The amount proposed in the Bill is £1,000,000 but you need £1,000,000 for school children alone, and another £2,000,000for expectant and nursing mothers and those under five years of age. The milk industry is ripe for direction as a social service. It ought to be placed under the control of a commission which should report, as was suggested by one of the signatories of the report of 1936, Sir John Orr, who said that it ought to be put under the control of a commission which should conduct a large-scale survey of the industry and should report on what changes were necessary, in the public interest. We should at least double the liquid milk consumption in the country, and we should reduce the price very substantially. I believe that both those things could be done.
Milk should be made so cheap as to be universally available to all people. If you reduce milk prices, that would be a first step towards the reduction of food prices. We ought to make cheap, healthy and nutritious food as much an every-day supply as are clean air and pure water. Of all food, milk is most important for the rising generation. No other single measure will so much promote healthy development and resistance to disease as will a large increase in the consumption of liquid milk. Under the proposals of the Bill—which we shall pass because we will not stand in the way of something which, although it is unsatisfactory, will carry existing arrangements on—we shall not get a greatly increased consumption. I wonder whether we shall even get as much as the Minister suggested in his introductory speech. But one does want to reach a condition where the quantity of milk used for domestic consumption will be at least doubled.
One generation of scientific nutrition and farming policy for the nation will transform the generation on whom you are acting. I do not want to put the claim too high, but it would be possible to transform the present standards of the elementary school population into those of the secondary and public school population in one generation by altering the policy with regard to milk, even if it 1743 were not altered with regard to other foods also. At the present time I doubt very much whether we shall get over the difficulties of the milk supply and be able to bring about a large increase in the quantity of liquid milk that is consumed by the ordinary poor people in the population, and, unless that is done, whatever advantages this Bill may bring to special classes of producers, and more particularly to special classes of distributors, it will not be doing what it ought to be doing, that is to say, raising the standard of nutrition of that 10 per cent. of the population whose standards are the lowest in the country at the present time, but who, by a reasonable policy with regard to milk and other foods, could be raised at any rate to the level of the bulk of the population.
By that one thing alone it would be possible to wipe out a very large proportion of the disease which at present exists in the population, and to improve their physique in a way that would also improve their mentality and make all our social problems very much easier. If, however, this policy of a very high price for milk, with not very high standards of quality and bacterial content, is persisted in, I do not think we shall get a large increase in the supply of milk or do anything very effective to improve the standard of nutrition of that 10 per cent. of the population who really need help and who ought to be helped.
§ 2.8 p.m.
§ Colonel Clarke
I hope the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) will forgive me if I do not follow him beyond saying that, as a representative of producers, I appreciate his sympathy with producers as well as with consumers. I am certain that nothing is more in the interests of producers than to have the sympathy and help of the medical profession. I want to refer to one other question that has come up in this Debate, and that is the question of access to buildings. Surely to-day the Government have access to buildings, not only indirectly through the local authorities, but directly through the inspectors of the Ministry of Health. I have in my hand a report to my county council, from an inspector of the Ministry of Health, on cowsheds in the area, and I believe they have adequate facilities for ascertaining 1744 the condition of these buildings. Possibly it would be better if the whole of the powers of inspection of buildings and examination of cattle were combined together in the Ministry of Agriculture, instead of being in the hands of two Ministries, but I think it is quite wrong to say that the Government have no opportunities of finding out what the conditions are in regard to accommodation for cows at the present time.
I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. J. Morgan) express some sympathy with the expenditure to which landlords have been put, and I think that any county agricultural committee who have in their area a number of smallholdings concerned with milk production will substantiate the fact that landlords, whether private or public, have been put to very considerable expense in the last three years. I agree that, to some extent at any rate, the increase in the number of accredited producers may have been slowed down by lack of suitable buildings, but that is not the only reason. As a landlord and as a member of a smallholdings committee, I have come across a number of cases where farmers whose buildings would pass have hesitated for some considerable time to apply for a licence, mainly, I think, because of a prejudice against the filling in of forms and additional visits of inspectors. That, of course, is unavoidable, and I think that as time goes on such cases will be fewer.
I welcome the Bill, as others have done, but I regret its somewhat slender proportions as compared with the more bulky Measure that was withdrawn last December. Actually, I was one of the minority who were prepared to support the greater part of that Bill. I do not consider that it was all good, but I believe that, after a good critical Second Reading Debate here, and some dog-fighting upstairs, it might have been made into a very workable and comprehensive Measure. I wish there had been a little more propaganda before its birth, and perhaps rather less precipitate criticism on the part of important bodies like the Milk Marketing Board and the National Farmers' Union immediately after its birth. In those circumstances it might not have been strangled so soon. I am glad to hear that the present Bill is really only an interim Measure, and that permanent planning is 1745 foreshadowed. Until some permanent planning is brought into being, there is bound to be a great gap in our agricultural legislation if milk is not included in the general scheme, and I am very glad indeed to hear that that further planning is expected to include measures that will take the Attested Herds Scheme up to 1948, because I have always felt that five years was not a long enough period in which to clean up the herds.
I regret that in the present Measure there is no reference to one very vital problem, which other speakers have already mentioned, namely, the problem of more economical distribution. I am not going to pursue that matter, but I hope the Minister will bear in mind two things. The first is something that he said from a much less exalted position almost two years ago to-day in this Chamber. Speaking to the late Minister, he said on 12th July, 1937:I hope also that he will cause the problem of distribution to be examined, because I have a feeling that certain savings could be made."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th July, 1937; col. 906, Vol. 326.]I should also like to refer to the very admirable presentation of the case for such an examination that is included in the Report of the Standing Committee of the Council of Agriculture for England, printed in the Journal of the Ministry of Agriculture for January, 1938. I think it puts the case, in a brief space, as well as it can be put. I hope, however, that the Minister, when planning how to reorganise the industry, will not either hand over the whole of the distribution to the cooperative societies or divide it between the co-operative societies and the local authorities. The co-operative societies already, through their own efforts, I admit, have obtained at least 25 per cent, of the trade. But one does not want to see the whole thing a monopoly. You would then be merely transferring your allegiance from King Stork to King Log; and I think that even worse would it be if the larger part of the retail trade was done by public bodies who could make up from the rates any loss that accrued. I believe that a measure of reorganisation which retained competition enough to stimulate hard work between the various distributors but which avoided unnecessary overlapping and advertising and other unnecessary costs, could be devised in order to put the matter right.
1746 I hope not to keep the House very long, because this is a Bill on which a great deal cannot be said. It is also so complex that some of its provisions are very difficult to understand, and will remain so until there has been a consideration of the Bill in Standing Committee. I wonder whether it would not be possible, when Bills like this are brought in, Bills that many people who have not much time or opportunity or education to help them in studying them but in which those people are keenly interested—I refer to farmers in particular—for some even more simple explanation than the one that is to be found on the first page of this Bill to be devised and published so that as many farmers as possible could see it. I know that a great deal has been done in this Explanatory Memorandum, but particularly on the second page there are certain things that are still by no means clear.
With regard to Clause 1, premiums on accredited milk, this of course really confirms the gifts that were received last autumn. I believe that this system is having valuable results. The average standard of cleanliness in the cowsheds of the country has been very much improved. The conditions under which milk is produced have been much improved too. In fact there are many cases where the milk is produced under conditions which compare very favourably with the conditions in the premises of the distributors, particularly the small distributors, in the towns. This, of course, is chiefly due to the accredited licences. The improving of the health of the herds, which is the other valuable result, is perhaps due more to the T.T. and attested licences. But both of these results are of considerable help to producers. Cleaner milk produces more consumers. It also gets the approval of doctors, who will recommend the consumption of liquid milk rather than of milk foods. The good will of the doctors is vital to our industry if we are to increase the consumption of liquid milk. From another point of view it helps the producer by adding to the milking life of the cow, a life which is all too short in this country at the present time. Therefore, of course, it reduces the depreciation that the farmer has to pay each year.
It is a good thing that there are what one might term these by-products 1747 of the scheme, because I am not sure that in the case of the attested and T.T. licences the extra money, particularly in the first few years, really meets all the costs or meets them with any margin to spare. Of course the accredited 1¼d. largely conies out of the pocket of the landlord, who has to get buildings into a condition in which accredited milk can be produced. Then there is the question of uniformity in graded standards. There is an idea that there is a lack of uniformity both in the strictness with which the 1926 Order is carried out and the strictness with which tests are taken, particularly that there is a lack of uniformity in different parts of the country. The south-east imagines that it is much easier to get a licence in the north-west, and possibly the northwest thinks it is very much easier in the south-east. That can be put right, I suppose, only by more inspectors from the Ministry; I know the difficulties when the Ministry have not got them. But this is a thing which is in some ways acting rather prejudicially at present towards the popularity of the scheme.
I have one other point to make about T.T. herds. This is really the least valuable grade. After all, your T.T. tests really show you only what cattle have not yet had tuberculosis. They do not show you which cows are proof against tuberculosis. A cow that passes the test one day may a few days later have an attack of tuberculosis. But if some system of vaccination could be brought in whereby cows which have been found not to have tuberculous could be promptly vaccinated and kept clear of it afterwards, it would be a most valuable addition. I know that up to the present moment vaccination has not been a success. There is no sure method as yet discovered, but I hope that the Ministry are pursuing experiments in order to devise some method by which vaccination can be made a success in the future. I believe it would make a great difference to the T.T. scheme.
As to Clause 3, which deals with payments for financing' the provision of milk to mothers and children, I would say that I think this scheme will be welcomed in all parts of the country. It is of the greatest importance from the point of view of the health of the community. I am glad that more children under five are 1748 now included. In the past it was optional whether children between three and five should be included. Some counties included them and some did not. Now, from the age of three months before birth to the age of 18, all young people are included in the scheme. I hope that the difficulties that have arisen in some country districts with regard to distribution will be overcome. They have been referred to already to-day and were the subject of questions yesterday. I hope too that medical officers will not be too particular in insisting on certain grades of milk and on bottling in remote country districts, where really the time which is taken between the milking of the cow and the drinking of the milk is very much shorter than in the case where milk has to be taken to the towns, and the period when infection can take place is therefore very much less.
I know that I am getting on to perilous ground when I deal with the question of pasteurisation, and I shall not pursue it to-day. But I do believe that these schemes for providing cheap milk for young persons and mothers are of great value, not only to the persons concerned but to the industry, too. Women's institutes and others have reported time after time on how little milk is consumed in country districts, and how a generation is growing up with no taste for milk. This scheme is one of the finest advertisements for the consumption of liquid milk. It inculcates a milk-drinking habit. I hope there will be, in future, more national direction of the scheme, because, whereas in some counties it has been pursued and has had a very practical effect, other counties have done very little about it. It would be better if it could be extended throughout the country. I do not refer to Clauses 2, 4 or 5, because my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. York) has already dealt with them. As to Clause 7, I am sure it is very reasonable and necessary. Any scheme involving a monopoly cannot be too scrupulously framed to protect the consumer.
Finally, may I say again that I welcome the Bill? When one realises the size of the dairy industry, with its £160,000,000 to £170,000,000 fixed and working capital, and the fact that, as the Minister once said, it is the last ditch of so many fanners, one appreciates the importance 1749 of its well-being. In this last ditch, where a good many of them are recovering to a certain extent their financial position and, through security of sale and regular monthly cheques, are getting back on to firmer ground, we hope that in time they will recover sufficiently to come back to mixed farming, because cow-farming by itself is not enough. I hope the Bill will have a good passage through Committee, and very quickly become the law of the land.
§ 2.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Hopkin
I have the honour to represent a county that sends 20,000,000 gallons of milk annually to London and has now 2,000 tested herds. I believe this is a record for any county throughout the whole country. In addition, the county is almost purely a dairying county, and, therefore, to the farmers of that county this Bill is of the very greatest importance. Farmers in all parts of the country are waiting with very great interest for the long-term policy which has been promised by the present Government. Most farmers now recognise that no long-term policy can possibly be based on subsidies They recognise that subsidies, at best, are purely temporary measures, and many intelligent farmers look forward to the time when, after the rearmament programme is completed and there comes the inevitable slump, the Government will go to two places in order to save money—education and agriculture. It will be a most serious matter. They have had experience of it in the past. The Minister himself I believe, was hard hit by previous Measures. The farmers know that in the past the props have been knocked from underneath them, and they have been left in a worse state than they were in previously. The House recognises that both agriculture and the Minister have to face real difficulties. The Government show that they recognise the difficulties by placing at the head of the Ministry a soldier. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman's predecessor was a soldier, and his predecessor, too, was a soldier. The Government recognise that in this office some exceptional courage is required.
The national policy with which I agree is one of cheap food. Imported milk, in the shape of butter and cheese, comes here at the rate of 5d. or 6d. a gallon, but it costs 9½d. to produce a gallon of 1750 milk on the farm. The problem this House and the country have to face is that of filling up the gap between the 6d. and the 9½d. This House is free to say one of two things. It can say, "The dairy farmer must look after himself; if he cannot, so much the worse for him." Or else it can say, as it has said, "We must come to his assistance, even temporarily, by means of a subsidy."
I believe that the Minister has support from every part of the House for that part of the Bill that deals with quality milk. In my submission, the first thing required to increase the sale of quality milk is confidence. I have heard repeated here to-day the statement that has been so often made in this House, that 40 per cent. of our herds have T.B. With the permission of the House, I would bring to the notice of hon. Members the evidence and the premises upon which this deduction has been made. I would ask the House then to draw its own conclusion. The matter arises from the Gowland Hopkins Report. The committee say that they examined 144 herds—may I pause for a moment at that figure?—out of 140,000. This is what they found. Of 5,199 cattle examined, 2,333 gave a positive reaction. That is one part of the premises upon which this disastrous statement has been founded. The other part of the premises was that the People's League of Health had reported that of 55,318 cows slaughtered at various centres, 39.5 per cent. were found, on post-mortem, to be infected. We do not know over how many years that was, but the conclusion is based on these 55,000, out of perhaps 1,000,000 or 2,000,000.
My submission is that the conclusion drawn by this very eminent committee on such slender premises is fantastic. That statement has done more harm to the milk industry and to the truth than any other statement of which I know. To examine only 144 herds out of 140,000, and then to come to that conclusion is most unfortunate. If this distinguished committee were to send down a representative to Carmarthenshire he would find herd after herd with no reaction, and that, in face of the statement that 40 per cent. of our herds are suffering from T.B., the actual facts regarding West Wales are nothing like it. Less than 2 per cent. of the cows tested in West Wales are first 1751 reactors, and, therefore, I hope that no one will repeat the statement that 40 per cent. of our herds are T.B. unless he has better evidence than that.
The farmer has to spend a good deal of money. He has to spend money on eliminating cows which react. He has to put his barns and cowsheds in order, and to see that every field is properly surrounded with barbed wire. But is there any evidence at all that dairy farmers need any help? There are 80,000 in this country, and about 50,000 producer retailers. Each of these 80,000 farmers has, on an average, 17 cows, which, on an average produce 30 gallons of milk per day. The fanner has 2d. per gallon profit, which makes 5s. per day. In order to feed these 17 cows he has to farm 100 acres. Five shillings a day is £91 5s. 0d. per annum as the return that he receives In this figure is included a wage for him of about 30s. per week, but it leaves out any recompense at all for the work that is done by his wife. Anyone who knows anything at all about the countryside is aware that the farmer's wife, particularly on small farms, works equally as hard as the farmer himself. It is by holding up and dangling this figure of £91 5s. 0d. that it is hoped to get people back to the countryside in order to farm the land properly.
I have read Clauses 3, 4 and 5, which deal with price insurance, with a good deal of disappointment. We have heard the Minister in his most salad days speak as to the principles upon which price insurance should be founded. As he said to-day, there must be a bottom to the market, and this is the bottom he puts to the prices for milk and I am rather astonished. He says that the standard price of butter should be 125s. per cwt. in Winter, which is equivalent to about6d. per gallon for milk, and in the Summer, 115s. per cwt., which is equivalent to 5d. a gallon, or an average of 5½. per gallon for milk. Is there anyone in any part of the House who would deny that it costs 9½d. to produce one gallon of milk at the farm. If that is so, how can the Minister defend a price insurance of 5½d. a gallon for milk? May I suggest two figures to him? We think that the winter price should be 150s., which is only 7d. per gallon, and summer price 137s., which is only 6d. per gallon, making an 1752 average of 6½d. It would not hurt him to do that, and in that way he would at least put the bottom a little higher. The figure of 5½d. has no relation at all to the cost of production of the article on which he is putting a price insurance.
I feel certain that in every part of the House a sincere welcome would be given to all cheap milk schemes. Those of us who live in South Wales and who know the valleys of South Wales know that the experiment which was carried out by the Milk Marketing Board in the Rhondda Valley was a very great success. Anyone who examined that scheme would naturally desire to extend it, and, if possible, to bring more mothers and children into such a scheme or a similar one. This is a social problem, and indeed, as much a social problem as the question of the shortage of houses. Private enterprise failed to produce the necessary number of houses in which to house the people of this country, and this House granted subsidies in order to encourage the production of houses. It would be unfair and I do not really believe that it would be the will of this House, to ask the farmers to bear any undue proportion of the cost of these schemes, but seeing that it is a social problem, the burden should be borne by the people as a whole. We have to try to find out the best way of working these schemes.
Clause 2 (1) places upon the Minister an onus he ought not to bear. It is certain that, following this Bill, there will be at least 1,000 schemes, for each town will have its scheme, and, according to the wording of this Sub-section, each one of these schemes must be examined and the cost ascertained. I submit that will be quite impossible, and that the Milk Marketing Board themselves had a far better way out of it. In the last two years they have carried on four experimental schemes and they know from the working of these schemes that it really costs about Is. 2d. per gallon. It would be far better, if, instead of going into all this complicated arrangement of bookkeeping, with everybody unwilling to enter the scheme in such conditions, the Minister were really to say to the Milk Marketing Board, that for every cheap milk scheme he would pay to the Board Is. 2d. per gallon, or else an agreed price. It seems to me, as an outsider, that that 1753 would be perfectly fair. I say so, and I am quite unbiased, that in putting that figure we should not be putting on the farmer the burden of paying for a scheme which it is really the duty of the community to provide. For these reasons, I hope that the Minister, when he has finished with this Bill, will start on his other work—which I am afraid he will find far more difficult—of producing a long-term scheme that will satisfy the farmers and the general community.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I should like to make only a few remarks. I congratulate the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin) on having mentioned the farmer's wife, and I should like to say a few words on an aspect of the work which she would do, but in many cases is not doing on the farm. In the Bill there is still lacking sufficient encouragement for the production of cheese on the farm. It is possible to argue in the case of butter that it is better manufactured in factories, because the product is of a more standard quality and has certain other advantages. Personally, I think, and I think most people would agree, that in these days a policy which encouraged a certain amount of decentralisation in the processing of milk might have certain advantages adhering to it, but when you come to cheese-making on the farm, you are in a very different sphere.
It has always been admitted that the best cheese produced in this country has been the cheese made on the farm. At the present time, however, the evidence seems to be that there is a diminishing amount of milk being used on the farm for the production of cheese, and that means in some parts of the country, and I believe it to be true of that part of England which I have the honour to represent, that there is no daughter or maid assisting the farmer's wife and the farmer on the farm, because there is not sufficient employment for her in the care of poultry alone, or some other activity which the younger women on the farm used to carry out. This denies to the farmer's wife herself that help which is very essential to her if she is to carry out her own duties in a proper and responsible way. This may not appear to be a very important thing to those who have not the pleasure and I consider the honour, of living in the countryside to-day; but the 1754 fact is that the denying of this help, through these causes, to the farmer's wife has a most catastrophic effect on the family life of many a farm. Therefore, I would urge the Minister when he is considering the Clauses which affect the payments in respect of milk used in the making of cheese on the farm, not to cut out of his mind the picture of the difficulty of the old cheese-making farms to-day, but to see whether he cannot evolve some means of helping the manufacture of milk on the farm to continue, where a sufficient standard of efficiency can be reached.
This problem applies in a great many other ways. It is absurd and ridiculous that thousands of gallons of milk, whole milk, should be transported from the farm and sent to a central factory, perhaps many miles away, and that the skimmed milk should return to the farm in bulk, thereby wasting a great deal of transport. If only that milk could in one sense be processed on the farm it would save a great deal in tonnage of transport, and the residue if wisely fed would be of extreme value to the stock on the farm. I cannot enlarge on this point because to do so would be outside the scope of the Bill, but it is important. I know the Minister realises it, and I hope that he will do his best to assist in the processing of milk on the farm. The hon. Member for Carmarthen mentioned the cheap milk schemes. I hope that in considering the working of this Measure we shall not forget that a part of the country which, perhaps, is as much in need of a cheap milk scheme as any other, is the countryside itself.
§ 2.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Price
I should like to refer briefly to one point which concerns the cleaning up of herds as provided for in the Bill. I am inclined to agree with certain remarks made by hon. Members opposite, the hon. and gallant Member for New-bury (Brigadier-General Brown) and others, who suggested that it was not just a question of the improvement of buildings alone which could deal with this difficult matter. My own experience is very much along those lines. Buildings are, of course, part of the problem but only one part, and not by any means the biggest. I am inclined to think that where herds are kept out in the open in the daytime and at night, 1755 as they are over large parts of the West of England both day and night, the possibility of contact with infection is enormously reduced. Where the buildings are not perfectly good, by the careful use of disinfectant and by effective means of dealing with the sputum of the animals, you can reduce the danger to almost a minimum, without any very large expenditure on the buildings themselves. Moreover, there are ways and means of improving buildings without the enormous expense incurred in times past. Many of our buildings were erected at a time when labour was disgracefully cheap and consequently it did not matter at all about the relative labour expense, but there are now new ways which are as effective as the old ways by which improvements can be carried out by cheaper materials, I am convinced that even so, the main problem will not be dealt with by buildings.
On the other hand, it is true as regards accredited milk, it is a question of securing that the milk shall be free from germs. Here you have a different problem, and it is very necessary to instal plant for sterilisation and so on, and that in the case of old buildings it will cost money. Therefore, you have a problem of buildings in regard to the accredited herds. The milk Board have reached a point beyond which they do not seem to be able to go. Some 22,000 accredited herds seem to be about as far as they can get. It is true that the small owner occupier and the impecunious landlord is not in a position always to spend the money that is necessary. When I decided to go in for accredited milk, five years ago, when the scheme started, it cost me over £100 to start, in getting the various improvements. On the top of that, comes the annual cost, the cost of coal and fuel for the running of the sterilising plant. The additional Id. per gallon just about covers the expense. This is a matter which will have to be dealt with, because it is absolutely essential that milk should be brought up to the accredited standard, if not to the attested standard.
I strongly urge the Minister to look into the matter and suggest to the milk Marketing Board that they should evolve some plan whereby the owner-occupier or owner who is not able to provide the money should have advances, which 1756 should be a first charge on their rents to enable these improvements to be carried out. Something like that will have to be done, otherwise we shall stick at the present level. Then we come up against an even bigger problem. The more I look into it the more I am convinced, how little I know about it, but I am convinced that the question of contact—I am speaking of tubercular herds—is not the only question to be decided. I have had experience, and I know of others who have had the same experience, of keeping cattle, beef cattle, who do not come into contact with buildings at all; they are out on the fields for months and months, and yet they still react to tuberculosis when a test has been taken. There is a strong suspicion that on certain farms in certain areas there is tubercular infection in the land
§ Mr. Price
Yes, and rabbits as well. The hon. Member for Carmarthen is fortunate. He is in an area where the herds are extraordinarily clean, and it looks as if it is going to be one of the areas which we shall get entirely clean. I believe Ayrshire is a similar area, where the same improvements are taking place. I have a strong suspicion that the question of climate comes in, well drained soil, where stagnant pools do not hang about for months in winter as they do in some parts of the west of England. All that eliminates the possibilities of contact, quite apart from the danger of of contact in buildings. All these matters will have to be carefully considered. I have found, after 14 years milk production in Gloucestershire, trying to raise the milk yield of a dairy herd, with some success, that as fast as I raised the milk yield the resistance to disease seemed to decrease. You get a greater wastage the higher your milk yield; there is a greater tendency to get reactors when you get a higher yield from your herds. That opens up a big question; and it is not a question of contact at all.
We must approach the problem from the point of view of trying to get disease-resisting herds, find out the methods by which we can counter any weakness caused by high milk production. I am informed that some of the research stations are at work on this problem with a 1757 view of finding what kind of mineral mixtures can be given to cattle in such a form that they can absorb them into their system. This is a problem which will also have to be looked into in order that mineral mixtures which can be easily absorbed may be put on the market. This is not only a question for the Government; it is a question for science and research together with practical farmers throughout the country, who in their hundred different ways try to carry out the slogan of the Royal Agricultural Society, "Science with progress". That is the way in which ultimately we shall defeat this terrible problem of tuberculosis in cattle.
I naturally approve of all the measures in the Bill to continue the work of assisting the cleaning up of herds and assisting the production of milk from buildings which are suitable. On the other hand, I must express my disappointment that there is nothing in the Bill dealing with the problem of distribution. We made a beginning in the Bill last winter but, unfortunately, the Government withdrew that Bill, It did not go as far as I should have liked, but it did make a beginning. It set up a permanent commission to advise the Minister on matters concerning distribution and other things as well, and I am satisfied that until we deal with the matter in that way this unsatisfactory, expensive and wasteful method of milk distribution will still make it necessary for consumers to pay far too much, and for producers to get far too little. That Bill was withdrawn owing to an unholy alliance of interests who did not want the problem tackled. The big distributive combines, the producer retailers, and last, but not least the National Farmers, Union, turned against it, so that the late Minister of Agriculture might very well say when that happened:" Et tu Brute, then fall Caesar!He certainly did fall, but the new Caesar has not tackled the problem as yet. I hope he will do so in due course. He has not done so in this Bill, but I hope it will not be long before he does in some other Bill. After all, this Bill is only a stop-gap; it carries on the work of the former Bill, which was good as far as it went. Having seen a former Bill die, I was bitterly disappointed when I saw the present Measure, which I thought was really going to make a beginning in the right direction. I see it now like— 1758Imperial Caesar, dead, and turned to clay, Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.I hope the Minister will have more courage and will deal with it in a more comprehensive way at an early future date.
§ 34 P.m.
§ Mr. Macquisten
It is with unusual diffidence that I take part in this Debate amongst so many experts. The last speaker has referred to the last Milk Bill. I think the late Minister of Agriculture was really slain by his own bureaucracy —the Milk Board. Like all other marketing boards they were an emanation from a body of men going up and down the country looking for jobs, and they have the cleverness to create jobs for themselves. They got hold of the farmer, who was sometimes very astute and sometimes very simple, and they persuaded him that if farmers would only join up altogether compulsorily, they would get monoply prices and conditions would be very much improved. But what about the consumers? To the consumers, milk is very much more expensive than ever it was, and there is practically no milk in the country districts, where the people are all taking tinned milk and dried milk. The whole thing is an old trick. It was started to some extent in Canada. The farm boards there had chairmen and paid executives and a great number of officials. How we are ever going to help any industry by piling a lot of officials on its back I do not understand, but that seems to be the general belief.
In Canada, they had milk boards, fruit boards, tomato boards, maize and wheat boards and I believe banana boards, although they did not grow bananas there. Every sort of board was created. Comfortable gentlemen with a power of public speech could bamboozle the farmers. The farmers were always given the right to vote, and thinking that they were going to get their hands into the Government's pockets, they all voted for these gentlemen, and then found that to some extent it was their own pockets that were suffering. The farmers are not suffering so much here because the Milk Board has given them a share of the plunder at the public expense. I can remember the time, not so very long ago, when milk was a penny a pint. It was perfectly good milk. It may not have been tested and put through all the operations it has to go through now, and there was not a big army of inspectors to be paid for at 1759 the farmers expense, but there was good milk and plenty of it, and people could buy it. Now milk has become a luxury. No working man with a reasonably-sized family can possibly afford to provide his children with milk. The children get a miserable third of a pint at school for ½d,but every child ought to have a pint or a pint and a half of milk daily. The parents cannot provide it under the present system.
The other Boards are just as bad. For instance, take the Potato Board, and consider the absurdities it is engaged in. It is now sending round ballet girls who stand on their heads to show what a good thing it is to feed on potatoes. Can hon. Members imagine anything more ridiculous? These boards are like pigs in clover at other people's expense. The expenses all have to be borne by the wretched farmers when the time comes. It is no good thinking that you can make an industry prosperous by loading it with officials and asking it to fill up forms. We have heard of one farmer who enjoyed doing that, but he ought to have been an Income Tax inspector and not a farmer.
§ Mr. Macquisten
Yes, but the milk is so much dearer. I decline to accept statistical statements because, although the milk has so very much increased in price, the farmers are not getting so much more. Why, there are thousands of little farmers who have been driven out of business by the Milk Board. Why is there this gross Ogpu system of fining the farmers sums up to £100 because they do not fill up some forms? Why does all that happen? It is because they have taken the example of the American system started originally by the London Passenger Transport Board. They provide so much for publicity. What does publicity mean? It means the publication of large, foolish advertisements in newspapers, and the newspapers, being business concerns with shareholders, naturally are not going to quarrel with their advertising customers.
The result is that instead of the welkin ringing with the outrages that are being perpetrated whereby several thousands of 1760 small men have had to go out of business, silence reigns in the Press. In Scotland they are driven out of business by the Milk Board. These little men used to drive round in their carts selling direct to their customers. Now there is a levy on them and they have to contribute towards the people who do not sell direct to the customers. What an inequity. I will sum up the matter by quoting an answer which I gave to the farmers of Kintyre who came to a meeting of mine at Campbeltown and were indignant with me because I denounced the Milk Board. They asked me whether I was not ashamed of myself as they were getting Is. where they used to get 3½d. less from the United Dairies. Replying to them, I said, "From where do you get that money? You get it from the farmers in Cowal on the other side of the Clyde, who sell direct to their customers and pay 3d. and 4d. levy on each gallon. Where is the morality of that?". I said to them, "If you took a boat across the Clyde and went to those farms and helped yourself you would be a thief, and you would know that you were a thief, and you would be punished as a thief. What difference does it make that the Milk Board is legally authorised to do the stealing and then having taken its own cut of the booty to hand the balance over to you except that you now are a reseller or a receiver after the fact? That is all that has happened."
All this system of levying is an iniquity. Look at the outcry that there was among Members of Parliament, when they were asked to contribute £1 per month to their unhappy elder brethren who, having served 10 years in Parliament found that they were useless for any other occupation. We do not like levies. Even the Cabinet when they pooled their salaries during the War, soon got tired of it. The Milk Board and the Potato Board and all the other Boards impose their decrees ruthlessly. They fine people savagely and in secret. The reason why they did not leave the ordinary law courts open to the wretched farmers was because they knew there would be such a large number of cases that there would be a public outcry. What they do now is to take these people up and "do them in," secretly. It is nearly as bad as the concentration camps in Germany. I am advised that the solicitors to the Milk Board are making tens of thousands of 1761 pounds out of the bankruptcies of small farmers. I would like very much to have a look at their books and to see what they are making to-day.
All we have done by these Boards has been to grow an enormous crop of bureaucracy. It has already destroyed one Minister of Agriculture and one wonders what it will do next. All these various boards have the same technique. They all go in for what is called publicity. That is what was done in Canada. That is what the London Passenger Transport Board goes in for, when it wants to do anything which it knows the public will not like. We see a quarter of a page taken in all the newspapers to boost the underground and the tubes and then while the public are being crammed into their vehicles like sardines in tins, there is not a word about it because the newspapers are not going to quarrel with their own customers. I do not blame them I would not do it myself. When the Herring Board was started the first thing that they got out was a picture which appeared in all the newspapers of a very repulsive looking dyed kipper. It is the same with the Milk Board. We see a picture of a big fat soft man who is obviously utterly out of bodily condition, drinking a huge measure of milk with the legend "Drink more milk." But the milk is not drunk by the poor because they cannot buy it. It has been made far too dear.
I know that I am like a voice crying in the wilderness. Once you get these bureaucracies started they have such a pull that nothing short of bombing would ever get them out. Incidentally, if there is any bombing to be done in this country I hope that the first bomb that falls will hit the Milk Board offices. All they do is to destroy enterprise and make everything much more difficult for the farmer. As for the farmers having to fill up these forms and having to apply tuberculin tests to cows, it seems to me that the logical outcome of all this will be that the farmer will have to be qualified both as a veterinary surgeon and as a chartered accountant. There is nothing more abominable than filling up forms as hon. Members know who at certain times have to fill up the forms for their railway vouchers. They sometimes sign in the wrong place. It has happened to me once or twice— and in the morning, too—and I know what the filling up of forms means.
1762 This is another stage. These farming boards should never have been originated. The whole thing started in Canada, and they have been the cause of any amount of trouble. Large numbers of cases have come before the Privy Council over here to be dealt with. I hope the Minister will have the courage to clear them out, root and branch. Let him get rid of them, and give the farmer back his liberty. Why should not a farmer have his liberty? That would be the way in which to develop the industry. You do not need all this propaganda. It only makes the milk more and more expensive for the consumer, and you get less and less milk drunk as a consequence. As for the doctors propaganda about pasteurised milk, they will not allow the people to boil their own milk, but they must take it from one or two large combines, and they do it so that they will get a grip of the whole trade. I am talking of the Co-operatives, United Dairies, and so on, and they will get a big profit for handling it. You have the medical profession that allows people to eat dyed kippers and women to wear distorting shoes and does not protest, joining in with these huge monopolists to increase their profits. The whole thing is wrong. During the war some of these people found out that money could be made out of the food industry, and now you have more and more combines and associations working to create monopolies, with the only result that food is becoming more and more expensive and more and more sophisticated; and that is not good for the body politic.
§ 3.18 p.m.
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Wedderburn)
I have been reading the Official Report of the Debates which took place at this time last year, and at this time the year before that, on the Milk Bills then before the House, and I have been struck by the similarity both of the speeches made and of the hon. Members who have taken part in these Debates. Two years ago the then Minister of Agriculture began by saying he hoped that that was the last occasion on which he would have to introduce in the House of Commons a temporary Measure dealing with milk. Last year he again had to fall back on a temporary Measure to carry on quality payments and make the necessary financial provision before a larger Bill could be pro- 1763 duced. Now we have before the House a Bill which is very similar indeed to the Measure that we discussed last year, the only difference being that whereas then we were all looking forward to a birth, now we are looking back to a miscarriage. Hon. Members who have referred in the House to-day to that sad event have said that they regret it very much, and I do not know whether they are representative of other hon. Members who are not here, but this Bill, as the hon Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) pointed out, contains only a very small proportion of what was in the principal Bill which would have been introduced at the beginning of this Session. There is hardly anything new in principle in this Bill as compared with the Bill of last year, but there are one or two extensions in it.
One or two questions have been asked to-day which ought to be replied to. Questions have been asked about the progress of the accredited herd schemes. In Scotland last October, when the offer of premiums became available for quality milk production, there were about 1,200 producers holding licences for standard and T.T. milk production, whose sales during that month amounted to about 2,000,000 gallons, and the number of producers holding such licences increased by April to 2,500, and their sales in that month amounted to about 5,300,000 gallons, which is about half the total sales under the Scottish scheme. I also have figures for England which show that the total number of accredited herds has gone up since February, 1938, from 24,000 to 28,000, and the total number of gallons from 30,000,000 to 48,000,000.
I am not so certain about the English figures as I am of the Scottish. That is the total production of accredited and T.T. milk. It is about 43 per cent. of the sales under the marketing scheme.
§ Mr. Alexander
That is a different thing altogether. I think the hon. Gentleman is dealing with monthly figures.
Yes, I gave the monthly figures. The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) and the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. 1764 Guest) made some observations about Clause 2. The latter appeared to think that the amount of money that should be spent on these projects was limited to £1,000,000, and the hon. Member for Don Valley pressed me to say whether, if local authorities took the necessary action, all children under school age and all nursing and expectant mothers would have a chance of securing the advantages of these cheap or free milk schemes. The answer is, Yes. The figure of £1,000,000 in the Financial Memorandum is simply what we estimate the cost is likely to be during the present year—an increase of £200,000 over last year's rate of expenditure. But there is absolutely no reason why that figure should not be greatly exceeded in the coming year if the celerity with which the schemes are put into operation should happen to be greater than we expect, and there is in the Bill no limit at all upon the amount of money that may be used for this purpose.
As the hon. Member for Don Valley pointed out, the Scottish Milk Marketing Board scheme has already been approved. The terms are, I think, that they are paid by the Exchequer the difference between the consumer's price and 8d. per gallon, and we have already received seven local authority schemes. One of them, the Glasgow scheme, has already been approved and is just coming into operation. Six other authorities, including Stirling burgh, Dunfermline burgh, the town of Dumbarton, the county of Dunbarton, and the county of Selkirk, have submitted schemes for the supply of cheap or free milk which are now being considered for approval by the Department. That for Glasgow has begun this week; I think the 1st July was the date on which it came into operation. I think the House will agree that the main object of this Bill now is —
§ Mr. Alexander
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the cheap milk schemes—I recognise that he speaks mainly for Scotland, but he is replying to the general debate—we are anxious to know why it has been possible for Scotland to be so advanced and why we are not in the same position in England and Wales.
I do not know that Scotland is so very much in advance. My right hon. Friend said in his speech that he hoped very shortly to make an 1765 agreement with the English Milk Marketing Board, but that at the moment he was unable to give details of the negotiations which were going on. Once the agreement is reached I do not think it should be a long or complicated matter for the local authorities in England to prepare their schemes.
Under the Act of last year provision was made for the spending of £250,000 on milk for expectant and nursing mothers and children under five. I understand that none of that money has been spent. Can the Minister say when these schemes are to begin? There has been a year's delay.
There has been some alteration of the formula since then. I remember this point coming up last year. The amount mentioned in the Bill was, I think, £750,000, mostly for school schemes already existing, and some hon. Members pointed out what a meagre increase it was. I think it was said then that we did expect that it would take some time for the schemes to get under way, but that when they did no obstacle would be placed in the way of more money being spent upon them. I cannot tell the hon. Member what exactly are the points remaining to be settled between my right hon. Friend and the English Milk Marketing Board, but, as my right hon. Friend said, I hope that an agreement will very soon be reached, and I do not think it should be long before the local authorities begin to submit their schemes, as they are doing now in Scotland.
I was just going to conclude my remarks by pointing out that since the proposal for the reorganising of the distributive side of the industry has been postponed, as the Minister explained in his speech, what is probably most important to us is this matter of assimilating the various schemes for the supply of milk on more favourable terms to those who are in the greatest need of it. The main object of the Bill is to increase the consumption of liquid milk. I am glad to say that the proportion of liquid milk consumed, as compared with manufactured milk, is continuing to increase in this country. It is increasing both in Scotland and in England. The Minister gave figures for England; those for Scotland are very similar. Though the Bill is small, and admittedly very much less 1766 ambitious than that which was withdrawn last autumn, we believe that it will be a help to the farming side of the milk-producing industry and that it will help to bring some benefit to at least a portion of the community who are in the greatest need of better nutrition.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander
I am sorry that I have to regard the speech of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is unsatisfactory. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) put up a case. It is not treating us fairly that the arguments advanced should be dismissed in a more or less general manner. We have been trying to assist the Government in respect of the Financial Resolution by giving proper time for the Under-Secretary to reply to the Debate, but the fact that the Government have dropped for the time being the pasteurisation Clauses of 1938 is being altogether overlooked, Not only the Ministry of Agriculture but the Scottish Office ought to be vitally interested in this matter. The question of pasteurisation was raised in the most active form by the promotion of pasteurisation Clauses in the Bill of the City Corporation of Glasgow. They were in reality taken out of that Bill in another place at the instigation of the Public Health Department because it was said that definite legislation was to be proposed upon a general basis.
On the English side of this matter, the same difficulty arose in the legislation which was promoted by Bournemouth Corporation after a serious outbreak due to the fact that pasteurised milk was not available. It was at the instigation of the Department concerned, probably in this case the Ministry of Health. If they were acting in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture to include compulsory pasteurisation in that Bill, we are entitled to say to the Corporation: "You should not proceed with compulsory Clauses when we have the purpose of making the matter general in character." Twelve months have gone by, and here is a Bill with nothing in it about pasteurisation. We are entitled in the interests of public health to know what is the purpose of" the Government in dealing with this side of the matter. When is the Bill for pasteurisation to be introduced? Is it the intention to go forward? Is it a question, 1767 of the controversial views of producer-retailers and the like? We ought to know. The progressively minded corporations in the country, and those who have had to deal with severe epidemics such as we had in Bournemouth, want to know where they are, and so far in this Debate we have not had a word about it. I have a very great regard for the right hon. Gentleman, and do not wish to be in any sense critical of him personally, but on the general attitude of the Debate I think we ought to know what is going to be done in regard to that question.
If I may say one word more, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not think that I wished to leave out any reply to the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) that ought to have been made. I took careful notes of his speech. He spoke a good deal about reorganisation, which, of course, is not in this Bill, but was in the other Bill which has been dropped. He asked particularly about the scope of Clause 2, and I thought that that was the main question on which he wished for a reply. The right hon. Gentlemen the Member for Hillsborough now asks me to state the position as regards pasteurisation. So far as Glasgow is concerned, it is true, as he pointed out, that, since the Milk Bill that was introduced last autumn contained provisions with regard to compulsory pasteurisation, it was felt that it would be better for them not to proceed with their Private Bill; but now that the Bill introduced last autumn has not been proceeded with, there is no reason at all why any local authority that wishes to get compulsory pasteurisation powers should not again proceed to introduce a Private Bill for that purpose. It may be regret table that in the case of Glasgow a delay of six or eight months occurred through their not knowing that the Bill was going to be withdrawn, but it does not in any way prevent them from introducing again a private Bill to give them these powers. The present Bill does not contain any thing at all about pasteurisation —
§ Mr. Alexander
This question has become very important, because, from what the Under-Secretary has just said, it seems to me at first sight that the only thing the Government have in mind, in regard to compulsory pasteurization 1768 powers, is that each corporation should promote a separate Bill giving these powers. That is an amazing situation for a National Government who, after grave consideration, last year asked individual corporations not to proceed with Private Bills because they recognised the necessity for general legislation. Do let us know where we are. If the Undersecretary cannot tell us, perhaps the Minister of Health can tell us.
All I was about to say was that I should have thought that compulsory pasteurisation was still a fairly controversial subject —
§ Mr. Alexander
May I point out, with great respect, that the health authorities of the Government came to a conclusion last year, and the draft proposals were put before Parliament? That is the issue, and we ought to know where we are going to be.
It is conceivable that, when the Bill was introduced and Parliament had had an opportunity of expressing its views upon it, a great many different opinions might have been expressed. I do not think I can take it as an axiom that we are under an obligation to introduce a national Bill for pasteurisation, and I certainly could not give any undertaking of that sort so far as this Bill is concerned. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, pasteurisation is not included in this Bill. That does not mean that we have turned down the question, but I cannot give any undertaking, and I do not think it would be reasonable to ask for one on this Bill, that we intend to introduce a Bill on the lines which the right hon. Gentleman contemplates.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for Monday next.—[Mr. Grimston.]