HC Deb 11 June 1940 vol 361 cc1119-22
37. Mr. Price

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food what steps he contemplates taking to secure that milk shall be offered at special rates to families with small incomes, in order to sustain the national effort in war time?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Mr. Boothby)

Perhaps the hon. Member would be good enough to await the statement I hope, with permission, to make at the end of Questions.


Mr. Boothby

The Government fully recognises the paramount importance of milk in the diet of the people of this country and regards it as essential to maintain milk production at a level which will ensure a continuance of adequate supplies for those who need it most.

The cost of producing milk, like the cost of producing other foods, has increased under war conditions. To meet these increased costs the producer was guaranteed a price for every gallon of milk sold during the summer months, which substantially exceeds the price he received a year ago. The costs of distribution have also risen since the outbreak of war, but, in spite of these two factors, the consumer to-day, after nine months of war, is paying the same price for milk as he paid in June of last year.

The disparity between revenue and costs was reduced by a Government subsidy during the first three months of this year, and more lately by increasing the price of milk used in manufacture. This expedient, however, will not produce sufficient revenue to bridge the gap which already exists, and my Noble Friend has been forced to find another solution.

The Ministry of Food has recently completed a detailed investigation into the costs of distributing milk, and my Noble Friend is satisfied that these costs have increased since the outbreak of war. The milk distributors have, therefore, been informed that an increased margin will be allowed for the period up to the 30th September next. In the interval, my Noble Friend is arranging for an exhaustive inquiry into the present system of distribution, with a view to bringing about a substantial reduction in the cost.

Pending the result of the inquiry my Noble Friend decided that there was no alternative but to increase the retail price of milk by 4d. per gallon from 1st July next, but he was not prepared to do this until he had made satisfactory arrangements to avoid hardship to those members of the community, namely, expectant and nursing mothers and young children, to whom milk is an indispensable food. A comprehensive national scheme is now in course of preparation which it is hoped to bring into operation on 1st July, or on the earliest possible date thereafter, under which one pint of milk will be available daily at the much reduced price of 2d. per pint for the expectant or nursing mother and to children under school age in every household which desires to take advantage of the scheme.

The scheme will also make provision for the supply of milk free of charge to those households which cannot afford to buy it. For this purpose, a simple criterion of need will be necessary in order to prevent abuse, but there is no intention of instituting a detailed inquiry in the form of a "means test" as that term is commonly understood. The scheme will be administered under the central authority of the Ministry of Food through local officers. The details of the machinery are now being worked out in consultation with the Departments concerned, and with the milk retailers who have agreed to distribute all milk under the scheme at a reduced charge.

The scheme will take the place of the arrangements in force in certain areas under the scheme put forward by the Ministry of Health shortly before the outbreak of war, but will in no way affect the milk-in-schools scheme, which the Government hopes will now be more universally adopted and taken advantage of by a higher proportion of parents for the benefit of their children. The scheme will not affect the power of a local authority to supply an additional quantity of milk under its own arrangements to any person, on the advice of the medical officer of health.

My Noble Friend is certain that the cheap milk scheme will commend itself generally, and that he may rely upon the co-operation of all those engaged in this great national industry in making it a success for the real and lasting benefit of the people of this country.

Mr. Garro Jones

By whom will the proposed inquiry into the cost of milk distribution be conducted? Will the hon. Gentleman assure the House that this inquiry will not be as tender towards milk distributors as former inquiries into their operations have been?

Mr. Boothby

The inquiry will be conducted by the Ministry of Food. I do not think it will be unduly tender.

Mr. Garro Jones

The Ministry of Food is a very nebulous body. Can the hon. Gentleman give us any further details?

Mr. Boothby

I thank the hon. Gentleman for describing me as a nebulous body. I can assure him that he may repose absolute confidence in myself.

Mr. John Morgan

Who is to share the 4d. increase and what proportion of the 4d. is to be divided up—[Interruption.]

Colonel Sir Edward Ruggles-Brise

May I ask my hon. Friend how the extra 4d. is to be divided, to meet the extra cost of production on the one hand and of distribution on the other?

Mr. Boothby

The price to be paid to the producer is a separate matter altogether and is now being considered with the Agricultural Department. A statement on this point will be made in due course.

Mr. Craven-Ellis

When will the hon. Gentleman adopt a policy whereby people are in receipt of a satisfactory wage so that they may be able to provide milk for themselves?

Mr. Morgan

In the event of the milk supply falling in quantity will the first charge on that supply be the cheap milk scheme?

Mr. Boothby

I think that would be the case, but I would like to look into it. The point will be borne in mind. It is not at present anticipated that there will be a serious fall in the milk supply.

Mr. Morgan

But it is falling.

Dr. Edith Summerskill

Has the hon. Gentleman any plans to make cheap milk also clean milk and prohibit the sale of infected milk in this country?

Mr. Boothby

That scarcely arises out of the Question.

Mr. McGovern

The Minister has stated that there will be a simple test regarding cheap milk at 2d. a pint; can he tell us the test?

Mr. Boothby

Final details have not been settled.

Mr. Davidson

Will the opinion of school teachers be taken into consideration?