HC Deb 20 June 1939 vol 348 cc2177-89

11.10 p.m.

Mr. Cross

I beg to move, That the Processed Milk (Import Regulation) Order, 1939, dated the first day of June, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine, made by the Board of Trade under the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1933,a copy of which was presented to this House on the twelfth day of June, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine, be approved. We now come to an Order relating to processed milk. The purpose is to regulate the imports of processed milks namely, condensed milk, condensed skimmed milk, milk powder, butter milk powder and cream. Under the Milk Marketing Scheme there is a substantial surplus over the actual liquid consumption of milk which must be produced every year in order to safeguard the liquid supply throughout the year. In the milk year 1937–38 28 per cent. of the total milk was surplus to requirements and was manufactured into butter, cheese, condensed milk, milk powder and cream, and the prices of milk for these products are very much lower than those of the liquid milk. Moreover, all the prices are pooled, so that the return to every farmer is directly affected by the sums obtained from milk used for manufacture.

The proportion of the milk produced which goes into processing is large. In 1937-38 more than half the manufacturing milk, or 15 per cent of the total sales of milk by contract in England and Wales, was used for the production of condensed milk, milk powder and cream. Processed milks constitute the largest market for surplus milk and they are also the most remunerative market. Its importance to the milk industry can hardly be exaggerated. Since 1933 we have had a voluntary control of imports from the principal foreign supplying countries, and imports have been gradually brought down. The Dominions suppliers were asked not to exceed their average shipments or the year 1932–33, but in certain ases they have increased those shipments substantially. In 1938 the increased production in this country, coupled with the increased shipments from the United States and certain Dominions, resulted in a serious state of over-supply. Some of the price agreements then in existence broke down and others were in danger of breaking down, and producers in the United Kingdom were forced to sell at uneconomic prices. The outlook, moreover, was bad because there was a definite prospect of increased milk production and there were abnormally large stocks of processed milk on hand. This year an endeavour was made to reach agreement as regards an equitable division of the market between the principal suppliers, but the variations in the quantities shipped in recent years made a uniform statistical basis impossible, and, although some progress was made, the discussions, unfortunately, did not lead to general agreement. Owing, however, to the disorganised state of the market, some immediate action was necessary.

The allocation that has been made represents a reduction, in the case of condensed whole milk, of 34 per cent., skimmed milk 18 per cent., and milk powder 35 per cent., on the imports of 1938. The cream allocation is somewhat higher than imports in 1938, owing to the temporary decline in shipments from Eire, but the allocation for other products shows a reduction of something in the neighbourhood of 50 per cent. Except in the case of Eire, Denmark and the Netherlands, who control their exports, and probably also New Zealand, which is expected to do the same thing, the imports will be controlled by licences issued by the Board of Trade in proportion to each firm's import during the period 1st October, 1936, to 31st March this year. It is proposed to set up a National Processed Milk Conference composed of representatives of the United Kingdom, the Dominions, and such of the principal foreign countries as are willing to cooperate, together with Government observers, and to make arrangements for the representation of the views of consumers. They would arrange for the regulation of the supplies of processed milk to the United Kingdom from overseas, and aim at securing, in the interests of consumers and producers, an orderly adjustment of supply and demand. This import control should, by regulating the quantity of competing milk products, make an important contribution towards maintaining the effective operation of the Milk Marketing Scheme.

11.18 p.m.

Mr. T. Williams

I regret that either the Minister of Agriculture or someone with knowledge of the Department and the facts and figures connected with milk and processed milk products is not here to deal with this Order, for, although the hon. Gentleman has made certain statements about the percentage of milk diverted to processed milk factories and so on, and the apparent effect on the farmers or on general milk prices, apparently he does not know too much about the intricacies of the subject, or he would know that, to the extent to which this Government, or any Government, try to establish an artificial industry in this country for processed milk products, they are consistently imposing a further burden on the consumers of liquid milk. The quantity of milk that goes through processes sells at a price much higher than that of liquid milk, which depresses the general price for milk, and it is the consumer of liquid milk who has to pay all the time. The hon. Gentleman has given us no figures, apart from the percentages diverted to the factories, to show what effect this is going to have on liquid milk prices, nor any idea of the effect on the general consumer. One recognises that during certain periods of the year, when the output of milk is very large, there must, with a standardised liquid milk consumption, be surplus quantities during those periods. But to the extent that we try to erect an artificial processed milk industry, we are imposing burdens on liquid milk consumers.

When our consumption of liquid milk is the lowest in Europe and our price is the highest, there must be something wrong with our liquid milk industry; and the mere restriction of imports is not going to solve the problem. There may be reasons for some kind of an Order, but this Order gives no indication of what the restrictions are likely to be. Once it has been approved by the House, the Board of Trade may at any time declare that imports of processed milk shall be reduced to 75 percent., 50 percent. or 25 percent.; and the House will have no control. That is not the sort of legislation we should accept very readily. When the international conference determine the amount of milk going into any country, are they also able to say anything about the price? Many working-class families which find it impossible to buy liquid milk buy processed milk, thus giving the children a modicum of milk in some form which they would otherwise not be able to get. This Order is wholly unsuited to the situation.

If the Government want an Order of this description, they should give far more information on the details. Until the Minister tells us the intention of the Government with regard to the limitations they may impose on imported processed milk, I should hesitate to agree to the Order in the form in which it now stands. To introduce such a document in this way is not playing the game with the House of Commons. We do not want to do in respect of milk factories what we have done in respect of the bacon factories and sugar factories. We have subsidised the erection of sugar-beet factories, and now we have handed them over to a monopoly. As far as I can gather, these sugar factories, subsidised by the State, are working only half the time. The trouble with the bacon industry is the high cost of curing, because the factories are so small. We are already paying more for liquid milk than is paid in any other country, and our consumption per person is about half what it is in some other countries. Unless we pay more attention to that, we shall benefit neither the producers nor anybody else.

11.25 p.m.

Sir P. Harris

I confess considerable surprise that an Order of this kind is not sponsored by the Minister of Agriculture. Technically it comes under the Board of Trade, and I suppose that the Rules of the House can be satisfied by the Parliamentary Secretary being responsible. The Order has been issued over the signature of the President of the Board of Trade, but it is a matter that involves, and can only be justified by the needs and necessities of, agriculture. I am concerned as the representative of a very poor working-class district, which is at the present time, the House may be surprised to know, suffering from a considerable amount of unemployment and distress due to the special circumstances of to-day. Unfortunately, a very large percentage, if not the majority, of my constituents largely depend upon processed milk, not because they prefer it, but because of its price and cheapness, and convenience in the absence of proper larder and food storage accommodation in their houses. Any increase in the price of processed milk inevitably will cause hardship to the poorest of the poor, the unemployed and people on the lowest scales of wages. To ask the House at this time of night, on this flimsy three-page pamphlet, to give powers to the Minister without any justification and without: any argument or case being put forward in the interests of agriculture, is hardly treating it with the respect that it deserves, and I must make my protest.

11.27 p.m.

Miss Wilkinson

We are accustomed to the present Government concerning themselves entirely with the interests of the producer and more and more leaving out of account the interests of the consumer. Various Members of the Government in their speeches have deigned, on occasion, to note that we need to do something to increase the fitness of the children of this country, but, in endeavouring to meet the interests of the farmers, a very serious attack has been made on the nutrition of the children in the poorer areas. The Minister has already pointed out the small amount of liquid milk that is consumed in this country. As a result of a survey in my constituency of Jarrow, taking even the middle-class people into account, it was found, before the introduction of the special cheap milk scheme, that the amount of milk consumed was less than half a pint per head of the population per week. Many of the children did not even know the taste of fresh milk. The problem of the poorest women is that' they cannot afford to buy the best quality full-cream processed milk. Each rise in price, even if it is only a halfpenny a pint, means that they have to buy an inferior product. Every one of these restriction schemes means an increase of prices to the consumer.

This attempt to protect the interests of the farmers means that the women who to-day cannot afford to buy fresh milk and are now buying full-cream tinned milk will in future be compelled to buy only half-cream mik. But what is to happen to the woman who at the present time is only just managing to get half- cream milk? It means that she will buy skimmed milk, and the terrible thing about that is that the Ministry of Health has pointed out that skimmed milk has so low a percentage of milk fats that it is not fit to be given to children, and yet there will be many young children who do not come under the cheap milk scheme who will be obliged to have this milk which has practically no nutrition value whatever. In attempting to look after the farmers you may actually be increasing the amount of malnutrition among children. I ask the Minister to realise what this means. The report on the health of children points out the various deficiencies which result in their not getting fresh milk, or at any rate in not getting full cream milk. I feel that the Minister has not really taken this into consideration.

It is true that under the cheap milk scheme large numbers of school children get fresh milk, but one of the problems is the problem of the deficiencies of the under five, those who are out of the care of infant clinics and who are not yet under the cheap milk scheme of the schools. That is a very poor section of the people and nothing should be done to increase the cost of a vital food like milk to these children. I hope that we shall register our protest against the ill-effects of this Order.

11.32 p.m.

Sir Joseph Lamb

I think the House will be making a mistake in relying too much on the argument of the price of milk. It is not only a question of the price, it is a question of a market for home-produced processed milk. It is true that the price of liquid milk is much higher than it need be because the surplus milk has to be manufactured and sold here. If you are going to allow unrestricted imports of processed milk to come into this country it will have an effect on the market and there will be a danger of an increased charge being made for liquid milk. Consequently it is in the interests of those who are consuming liquid milk that this Order in regard to processed milk coming into this country is made. It is true that the consumption of liquid milk is less in this country than in any other. I regret it, but on the other hand it must be remembered that the consumption of butter and cheese is greater here than in any other country in the world. I should like to see a greater quantity of liquid milk consumed, but the Order will assist the manufacturers of processed milk in this country and ensure that there will not be a greater strain upon the liquid market.

11.35 p.m.

Mr. David Adams

Everyone must by now be well convinced that the agricultural industry is one of the most lucrative in the country. The millions of pounds that are paid out of the national Exchequer into the pockets of the farmers makes that a certainty. From my experience of the farming industry, at all events in Northumberland and Durham, I say that it is a lucrative industry second almost to none in the country. The Government are entirely without conscience in the matter of still augmenting the profits of agriculture, and we can be certain that, as long as they remain in office, if there be one branch of agriculture that has not received doles, or something equal to the dole, which this is, then the Government will turn their attention to it. They are completely without a conscience in the matter.

The suggestion that the farmer could not obtain an altogether higher figure for process milk in this country, if it was thought desirable to do so, is absurd. The low figure which is charged is a deliberate one. To ask the House to come to the aid of those who utilise process milk for the purpose of manufacture is an entirely sham proposition. The House may imagine that process milk refers merely to one or two types of milk, but it does not—it includes almost every class of milk except fresh milk. Under this Order, process milk means condensed whole milk, condensed skimmed milk, full-cream milk powder, skimmed milk powder, butter milk powder, whey powder, or cream. It is clear that the handing over of these powers for a Customs duty upon imported process milk will mean an inevitable rise— probably a substantial one—in all these different types of milk.

Therefore, those municipalities that are supplementing the low incomes of large numbers of their population will be called upon to pay substantially higher figures than at the present time, and the industrial workers, many of whom are unable to purchase fresh milk except on Sundays as a particular luxury, will even be debarred from the purchase of any fresh milk. They will turn to the condensed varieties which themselves are to have an additional tax placed upon them. The Newcastle Corporation cannot be described as having a particularly poor area at the present time. There is a large industrial population. Yet, that corporation estimates that this year it will spend upon dried milk given gratuitously for nutritional purposes to the impoverished section of the community a sum of no less than £8,600, which is equal to a rate of 1d. in the pound.

In addition to that very large consumption of free dried milk, there is a large section of the population just on the poverty line. We have a teeming population in that centre which will be directly affected by the proposal now before us. I am not interested in the satirical amusement which is being shown by certain hon. Members opposite. This is, to me, a matter of intense importance. Part of my life has been devoted to endeavouring to raise the standards of our people and as chairman of a health committee I have had a good deal to do with the introduction of methods of alleviating the effects of the gross poverty from which they suffer. Now that this attack is being made upon the standards of the many thousands in the North of England who are affected by this proposal, I am very much concerned. A conference was held a few weeks ago in King's College, presided over by one of the educational luminaries of the city, to investigate the question of nutrition, and the conclusion arrived at was that 25 per cent. of the industrial population on the North-East coast were in receipt of such low incomes, as the result of unemployment and other causes, that their nutritional standards were too low for the maintenance of adequate health. For that reason, if for no other, the House should resist the proposal. If a case were presented, supported by figures and data, to show that some measure of help for agriculture in this respect is necessary, the proper procedure would be to do what we have done in the case of sheep and oats and barley and other branches of agriculture, and give a dole from the public purse. I ask the House not to adopt the method of giving agriculture doles out of the hard-earned and slender incomes of the masses of the industrial population, upon whom the major burden of a proposal of this kind will unquestionably fall.

11.43 p.m.

Mr. Davidson

It may be that certain hon. Members desire to get away, but this is a matter which affects Scotland materially, and I intervene on that account, and also because of what seemed to me to be a very obvious mistake on the part of my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams). He suggested that the agricultural industry had been well provided for already by the Government, and I noticed there was derisive laughter at that from many of the farming representatives opposite. My hon. Friend must, surely, have failed to see the pictures in "Picture Post" of our Minister of Agriculture, surrounded by dogs, in his poverty-stricken home. He must have failed to notice the obvious poverty of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) who laughed at his representations concerning the agricultural industry. He must have overlooked the pleading speeches of agricultural representatives, the whining speeches of hon. Members opposite, when they were asking for millions of pounds of subsidy for the industry.

It is true that the agricultural industry from the point of view of the agricultural worker is a poor industry but, from the point of view of the farmer, who, to-day, is petted and subsidised more than any other class, the agricultural industry has been very well provided for by the Government. Recently there was a parade of farmers through London. We did not see any gaunt, skeleton-like men; they were well fed, and yet they are the men for whom the hon. Member has been pleading here this evening. I could take the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade—who is obviously uncomfortable at having to undertake a task which should have fallen to the Minister of Agriculture—to farming districts in Scotland and in very few areas would he find any fanners without at least a decent motor car to take him about, which is something that small employers in many other industries cannot afford.

I rise to-night because we have in Glasgow even to-day, after eight years of this Government—and the Minister of Health knows this to be true—8,000 school children still defined medically as suffering from malnutrition, and the Order which we are now discussing is not one which will bring liquid milk into the homes of those children. On the contrary it will exact further sacrifices from the parents of those children, who are so poverty-stricken that this cheap milk is the only kind they can afford. I also add my voice to the protest which has been made against this Order being brought before the House at so late an hour and with no one on the Treasury Bench to give us a detailed explanation of it, to tell us the financial implications of it or how it will affect local authorities. It is disgraceful that the Government should put forward the Parliamentary Secretary

of another Department to explain a matter of which he obviously knows very little. The Minister of Agriculture ought to have been present to give us the benefit of his experience. I hope that my colleagues will vote whole-heartedly against the Order.

Question put, That the Processed Milk (Import Regulation) Order, 1939, dated the first day of June, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine, made by the Board of Trade under the Agricultural Marketing Act, 1933, a copy of which was presented to this House on the twelfth day of June, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine, be approved.

The House divided: Ayes, 131; Noes, 82.

Division No. 187.] AYES. [11.49 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Hambro, A. V. Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)
Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.) Hammersley, S. S. Reed, A. C. (Exeter)
Albery, Sir Irving Hannah, I. C. Reid, W. Allan (Derby)
Allen, Col. J. Sandemen (B'knhead) Hely-Hutchinson, M. R. Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)
Apsley, Lord Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P. Ropner, Colonel L.
Baillie, Sir A. W. M. Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan- Rosbotham, Sir T.
Baldwin-Webb, Col. J. Herbert, Lt.-Col. J. A. (Monmouth) Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Holmes, J. S. Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h) Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.) Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.
Bossom, A. C. Hunter, T. Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.
Boulton, W. W. Hutchinson, G. C. Sanderson, Sir F. B.
Boyce, H. Leslie Jennings, R. Sandys, E. D.
Bracken, B. Joel, D. J. B. Selley, H. R.
Broadbridge, Sir G. T. Jones, L. (Swansea W.) Shakespeare, G. H
Brooke, H. (Lewisham, W.) Lamb, Sir J. Q. Shepperson, Sir E. W.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury) Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.) Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)
Bull, B. B. Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L. Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.
Burgin, Rt. Hon. E. L. Liddall, W. S. Spens, W. P.
Chapman, A. (Rutherglen) Lindsay, K. M Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Clarks, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead) Llewellin, Colonel J. J. Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston) Lloyd, G. W. Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk N.) Mabane, W. (Huddersfield) Thorneycroft, G. E. P.
Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L. McCorquodale, M. S. Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Cox, H. B. Trevor Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight) Titchfield, Marquess of
Crooke, Sir J. Smedley McEwen, Capt. J. H. F. Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. McKie, J. H. Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.
Cross, R. H. Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. O. R. Turton, R. R.
Drewe, C. Marsden, Commander A. WakeField, W. W.
Dugdale, Captain T. L. Maxwell, Hon. S. A. Walker-Smith, Sir J.
Duncan, J. A. L. Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth) Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Dunglass, Lord Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Edmondson, Major Sir J. Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R. Waterhouse, Captain C.
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Morgan, R. H. (Worcester, Stourbridge) Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.
Entwistle, Sir C. F. Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J. Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Errington, E. Munro, P. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Fildes, Sir H. Nail, Sir J. Wise, A. R.
Fremantle, Sir F. E. Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H. Womersley, Sir W. J.
Furness, S. N. Nicolson, Hon. H. G. Wragg, H.
Gledhill, G. O'Connor, Sir Terence J. Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C.
Goldie, N. B. Palmer, G. E. H. York, C.
Gridley, Sir A. B. Peake, O. Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Grimston, R. V. Radford, E. A.
Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake) Raikes, H. V. A. M. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Guinness, T. L. E. B. Ramsbotham, Rt. Hon. H. Lieut.-Colonel Kerr and Lieut.-Colonel Harvie Watt.
Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W. Rankin, Sir R.
Acland, Sir R. T. D. Barnes, A. J. Daggar, G.
Adams, D. (Consett) Barr, J. Dalton, H.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.) Beaumont, H. (Batley) Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)
Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford) Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W. Dobbie, W.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.) Benson, G. Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)
Anderson, F. (Whitehaven) Burke, W. A. Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)
Aske, Sir R. W. Cocks, F. S. Garro Jones, G. M.
George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey) Lunn, W. Sloan, A.
Green, W. H. (Deptford) Macdonald, G. (Ince) Smith, Bon (Rotherhithe)
Greenwood, Rt, Hon. A. McGhee, H. G. Smith, E. (Stoke)
Grenfell, D. R. Maclean, N. Smith, T (Normanton)
Griffiths, J. (Llanelly) Marshall, F. Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)
Groves, T. E. Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.) Stokes, R. R.
Hall. G. H. (Aberdare) Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.) Summerskill, Dr. Edith
Harris, Sir P. A. Noel-Baker, P. J. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.) Oliver, G. H. Tinker, J. J.
Hayday, A. Paling, W. Watkins, F. C.
Henderson, J. (Ardwick) Parker, J. Westwood, J.
Hills, A. (Pontefract) Parkinson, J. A. White, H. Graham
Isaacs, G. A. Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Han. F. W. Wilkinson, Ellen
Jagger, J. Poole, C. C. Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Jenkins, A. (Pontypool) Price, M. P. Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath) Ridley, G. Windsor. W. (Hull, C.)
Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth) Ritson, J. Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T. Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens) Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Kirby, B. V. Sexton, T. M.
Lathan, G. Silverman, S. S. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Lawson, J. J. Simpson, F. B. Mr. Mathers and Mr, Adamson.
Logan, D. G.

Bill read a Second time.