HC Deb 29 April 1949 vol 464 cc566-77
Dr. Summerskill

I beg to move, in page 13, line 21, after "milk," to insert: not so produced or subjected or other things. This Bill, as has been said on many occasions, is not merely concerned with the retail sale of milk, but, as I have just mentioned to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely, with retail sales of full cream liquid cows' milk. Many farmers, of course, sell separated milk or skimmed milk to the public, and, under the Milk and Dairies Regulations, the containers in which separated or skimmed milk are kept must be marked with the words "Skimmed Milk" or "Separated Milk." The dairyman who is selling besides designated milk, skimmed and separated milk, might be a little careless and keep those milks, which are often sold for cooking purposes, in the neighbourhood of the designated milk. We are therefore anxious to introduce a further safeguard so that the designated milk will not be exposed to contamination from the skimmed or separated milk, and that is why we are asking that this Amendment be accepted.

Captain Crookshank

I can see the point of what the right hon. Lady has said, but I cannot understand the meaning of the words "or other things" which she did not mention. If this Amendment were accepted, the paragraph would not even make English. It would read: Measures for securing that milk"— I am leaving out the unnecessary words— is kept away from, and free from admixture with, other milk not so produced or subjected or other things. How can milk be made free from admixture with other things? What are the things? I should imagine that in order to mix something with milk, one must have something liquid, and liquid is not a thing. Therefore, I do not understand what the right hon. Lady has in view, and I hope that she can clear up what those words mean. The essential purpose of the Amendment, as she described it, is one with which I entirely agree, but I cannot understand the value of the last two words.

Dr. Summerskill

I must agree with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that those words are a little confusing, but I am informed that "other things" simply means skimmed or separated milk.

Captain Crookshank

Surely, reference to any dictionary will show that skimmed milk is not a thing?

Dr. Summerskill

I should say that a container of skimmed milk is a thing.

Captain Crookshank

That might be, but one cannot mix milk with a container. I do not know what the result of that process would be.

Dr. Summerskill

I will undertake to look into the words "other things."

Motion made, and Question proposed "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

1.26 p.m.

Dr. Summerskill

I am sure the House will forgive me if I say a few words on the Third Reading because hon. Members on both sides of the House, and particularly the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), have been so helpful in giving this Bill a speedy passage. On the Second Reading, I recalled some of the difficulties which my hon. Friends and I had encountered during the past years in trying to obtain a sympathetic hearing for the principles embodied in this Bill. Therefore, I am very gratified to find that throughout its various stages this Bill has commended itself to both sides of the House.

I wish to say two or three words on points raised during the Committee stage, but which were not raised on the Report stage. One was on the matter of compensation to local government officers. One of my hon. Friends felt rather strongly that, as a result of the provisions of this Bill, certain local government officers might find themselves out of a job, and would therefore suffer as the result of the operation of the Bill. There is no evidence for believing that will happen. We feel that the enforcement officers concerned will be kept on for other work by whatever local authority employed them in the first place, and I want to reassure my hon. Friend on that point. Another thing that was raised was whether we would be prepared to consult with individual local authorities before areas were specified. Again, I want to assure the hon. Gentleman concerned that that will be so.

I think the House will agree that all will benefit from this Bill. The consumers will benefit because they will be assured of a safe milk supply, and will be encouraged to drink what is a very good food. I believe that the dairyman will benefit because, at long last, he can distribute a milk which he will feel is no longer suspect, and the producer, I feel certain, will benefit, even though, perhaps, in the past he has been reluctant to accept the principles embodied in this Bill, because he will know that, having produced good milk, it will, during all its stages of distribution, be carefully guarded and be distributed in the best possible condition.

My last word is that—and I am quite sure the House will endorse this—the passage of this Bill will be regarded by all those concerned with the health of the community as a landmark. I believe it is a charter to safeguard young lives from the crippling and sometimes fatal effects of bovine tuberculosis, and, of course, to safeguard the whole community from the risk of milk-borne disease. Therefore, I want to thank the House for helping me in what to me has been not only a pleasant duty, but an inspiring one.

1.30 p.m.

Captain Crookshank

I should like to thank the right hon. Lady for the references which she made to the assistance which the Opposition have given during the passage of this Bill. Unlike some of our political affairs, this has not been a contest but a joint endeavour to make the best instrument that could be produced by this House for the purpose which is in the heart and mind of every one of us, namely that the milk which is sold in this country shall be the cleanest and purest that can be obtained.

The real answer, as the right hon. Lady would be the first to acknowledge, is to clean up the herds. Parliament cannot do that as quickly as it can pass this Bill, which will certainly serve its purpose in the interval until that happy achievement can be reached. We are very conscious that this is a matter very dear to the heart of the right hon. Lady, and that she was very able in her conduct of the proceedings on the Bill upstairs. We certainly regretted her absence through indisposition, which we hope was not due to faulty milk. If so, I hope that as a result of this Bill, she will no longer have any cause for keeping away from our deliberations and discussions, at any rate until after the electors have given their next verdict.

1.32 p.m.

Mr. Hastings

I hope that I may be excused for saying a few words about this Bill, because I have been concerned with the subject for many years. I have been astounded that so little interest has been taken in it in the country. I have had very few communications except from anti-vaccination societies, which seem to have a special grouse against the domestic cow, presumably because through her aid Jenner discovered the important principles of vaccination. This Bill is a good one and seems to me to be particularly British in its character because it carries out great and important changes by a series of easy stages.

I do not know whether the House realises that as soon as the Bill becomes law, presumably on 1st October next, improvements will immediately occur, because on that date it will be illegal for producers of accredited milk to derive that milk from two or more herds. As most people know, accredited producers, those producers of relatively clean milk, sometimes have a surplus—it may be that schools are not in session—and they have to get rid of this. They sell it to other accredited producers, and besides an accredited producer may use milk from two or three herds and mix it before bottling. While that is legal today, it will become illegal when this Bill comes into operation. That is, as I see it, a very real advance.

Accredited milk is not safe milk. It may be infected with tuberculosis or with other diseases through those handling it. If milk from more than one herd is mixed, two things happen: the distribution of any possible infection is widened, and the difficulty of tracing that infection to any given herd and cow is increased. So, even at first, a considerable improvement will accrue.

Then, as stated in the Bill, this misleading term "accredited" goes in October, 1954, and all those who desire to improve the quality of milk will be glad to see it go, because "accredited" does not imply pure milk but only milk produced under clean conditions. Then, in one area after another, as pasteurising plant becomes available, an order will be issued that only designated milk, that is to say pasteurised, tuberculin tested, or for the time being, accredited milk, may be sold. That is a great advantage.

But even pasteurised milk is not safe unless we are sure that it is bottled immediately after heat treatment; if pasteurised milk is put into churns and transferred to another bottling plant, the possibility of infection arises. I regret that, at any rate, for the time being, this is permitted under the terms of the Bill. I regret it particularly because if infection takes place in this way, and if it can be shown that pasteurised milk is actually a source of danger, albeit through being transferred to the bottling plant, the whole idea of pasteurisation may be discredited. As has already been stated this morning, my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food told us during the Committee stage of the Bill that she was proposing to issue a regulation that after 1954 all milk must be bottled on the spot immediately after being pasteurised. As I have already said this morning, I wish that this was definitely stated in the Bill. I look upon this as the one weak point in the Bill.

Milk is said to be a food for the brain, but the experience of this House is that milk has a very bad effect on the memory of Governments. My right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary in her Second Reading speech gave examples of how again and again legislation for the improvement of the milk supply had been shelved. She pointed out that in 1938 a Bill was introduced which went no further; and that in 1943 there was a valuable White Paper on measures to improve the quality of milk. That was followed by an Act of Parliament in 1944, but that Act was never put into operation. Then, during the war there was Defence Regulation 55G, which gave power to the Minister of Food to order the pasteurisation of milk. That, too, was never made use of. I am afraid that a promise given, I agree in all good faith, by the Government today, that something shall be done in five years, may never come to maturity.

I would again ask my right hon. Friend not to delay for five years the issue of this regulation which she proposes, but to issue it at once, telling the trade that in five years time it will be illegal for milk to be pasteurised and then bottled in some other district, and which will enforce the provision that milk, after pasteurisation, must be bottled immediately. I am sorry to raise this somewhat discordant note, but it is because I appreciate the value of this Bill and because I desire that it should come into operation fully and corn pletely that I make this request today.

1.40 p.m.

Mr. Baldwin

In my opinion, we are going the wrong way about tackling tuberculosis. I believe that this Measure, in the course of 10 or 15 years, will fade out just as the accredited milk will fade out in 1954. The way to tackle the trouble is to compel this country as fast as possible to become T.T., not only with dairy cattle but with beef cattle. I make that point for one reason. I have some experience of using insecticides and weedicides, and I believe that they kill not only one's enemies but one's friends as well. It is my firm conviction that the pasteurisation of milk, the heat-treating of milk, must be a clever process if it kills all that is wrong in milk and leaves all that is right in milk. I am confirmed in the views which I hold by what the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) said both today and in the Standing Committee, namely that heat-treated milk is more dangerous than T.T. milk.

Mr. Hastings

May I say, on a point of personal explanation, that if I made such a statement—which I cannot conceive—it was in error.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

I am not very happy about the turn which the Debate is taking. Hon. Members are entitled to deal only with matters which are in the Bill and not to make suggestions as to what might or might not have been in the Bill. I hope that will be borne in mind.

Mr. Baldwin

In order to clear this up, perhaps I may be allowed to explain that in Standing Committee I raised a question during the speech of the hon. Member for Barking. I asked if: … the risk of the germ getting into heat treated milk is more likely than in the case of T.T. milk? The hon. Member for Barking said: Yes, I think so."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 22nd March, 1949; c. 23.] If there is more danger in pasteurised milk than in T.T. milk, I think it is a very dangerous thing to encourage. In my opinion, the danger of contamination from milk is greater after the milk leaves the doorstep of the house on to which it has been placed. If the hon. Member for Barking did not understand what I asked in Committee, I hope that this point may now be cleared up, because if heat-treated milk is more dangerous than T.T. milk, we should seriously consider our position.

I had hoped that the right hon. Lady would have found a better definition of milk than "raw milk." That is a very bad definition and it could give the public a wrong idea of what milk is. So frequently the word "raw" means dirty. I had hoped that that word might have been deleted from the Bill.

1.43 p.m.

Dr. Broughton (Batley and Morley)

This Bill is introduced for the purpose of launching an attack against dangerous organisms of disease. We have heard that 30 per cent. of the milk in this country is unsafe, and we know that milk can convey undulant fever, diphtheria, scarlet fever, typhoid fever and other diseases, including tuberculosis. We have heard that the deaths due to bovine tuberculosis are estimated at 1,500 annually, and we know that there are many thousands of people who are deformed and disfigured by this dreadful disease. Those who have seen bones eaten by the disease, abscesses oozing pus, distressing cases of tubercular meningitis and other manifestations of tuberculosis, will welcome this Bill which I feel sure, will eradicate this disgrace from a civilized nation. In conclusion, I should like to add my congratulations to the right hon. Lady on the manner in which she has guided this Bill through its course up to its Third Reading.

1.45 p.m.

Mr. Joynson-Hicks

As one who was not a member of the Standing Committee on this Bill and who, therefore, has not had the opportunity to hear so much of the discussions upon it as some other hon. Members who are present today, I should like to add my own expression of support to the Bill. At the moment it is only a Bill; it is about to become an Act, but not even an Act of Parliament can produce clean or tuberculin-tested milk. That is up to the farmers and I am perfectly certain that it is the general desire of all farmers by their efforts to implement the intentions of this Bill.

There is, however, one word of warning which I should like to utter. I am by no means happy about the machinery for the administration of this Bill. I was hoping to initiate a Debate upon an Amendment to the machinery, but unfortunately I was unable to do so. Might I ask the right hon. Lady whether, during the administration of the scheme, after it comes into operation, she will pay particular attention, through her Department, to the way in which and the success with which the Bill is administered in practice? As the House is aware, the administration is done very largely through the food and drugs authorities and, as a result of the introduction of those authorities into the general scheme of milk supervision, we are cutting out some of the existing authorities who, hitherto, have done the job and are giving certain of the powers hitherto vested in them to new authorities for that purpose—the county councils.

In the one case of which I have knowledge, Chichester, I think it is an undoubted fact that the personnel and machinery available for the supervision required by this Bill is already in existence and is working most satisfactorily—the City Corporation. As a result of this Bill, however, these powers will be removed from the City Corporation and transferred to the county council, who as I understand it, have not at the moment the experience, the machinery or the personnel to carry out the job. I am, therefore, doubtful—and I do not put it higher than that, for the transfer is being made to highly competent authorities—as to the wisdom of this form of machinery for the administration of this scheme and the success it will have. I ask that the right hon. Lady should watch it with great care and, if she should have reason to think that the old system is better than the new, that she will have the courage—and she has never given an indication that she has not—to come back to the House and ask us to make a ohange in this, aspect of the Bill.

1.49 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

As a representative of one of the big milk-producing counties in Scotland, I should like to give a cautious welcome to the Bill. I welcome it not with a great deal of enthusiasm, because I believe that we in Scotland have been largely overlooked and that insufficient account has been taken of our experience in trying to attain a reasonable standard of purity in milk. I believe that insufficient account of that experience has been taken in the framing of this Bill. We had last year the Philips Committee, which went round the milk-producing areas of Scotland and took evidence very carefully as to how milk could be made cleaner. We very much regret that this Bill has been introduced without that Committee's recommendations having received the consideration that they should have received. I think that the Committee, composed of people very eminent and experienced in agriculture and in milk distribution, went round all those different areas in Scotland. We did not have the Report of that Committee until the very last Sitting of the Standing Committee, which considered the Bill.

What we fear is that this Bill is too much of a patch-up. In this Bill we are considering methods of distribution, whereas we ought to tackle the question of obtaining pure milk on the farms. In Ayrshire last year we produced 30,654,900 gallons of milk, and 86.31 per cent. came from tuberculin tested herds. We are afraid that, instead of attempting to obtain tuberculin tested herds throughout the country, which is the way to cure the trouble, we are taking advantage of pasteurisation in order to shirk what we believe is the real problem. This point of view has been put to me by one of the leading milk producers in Scotland, who is as anxious as anybody to see that pure milk is produced on the farms and cleanly transferred from the farms to the consumers. He puts it this way: I entirely agree with the objects of the Bill; but I feel, so far as Scotland is concerned, it is not giving any impetus to farmers to go ahead and clear their herds of tuberculosis. In fact, I fear it will have a slowing-up effect in this respect. Let me explain what will happen. A lorry will uplift the milk at the farm; one farm tuberculin tested, the next ordinary, and so on. The driver will deliver it at the creamery, where it will be bulked into another container. After that, all the contents of the man's lorry will be ordinary milk and will have to be pasteurised. The fact that the Bill does not enforce pasteurisation for tuberculin tested milk is only a blind, other than in the case of the producer-retailer and the small retailer who draws his supply from a T.T. farm. Why should a farmer bother with T.T. milk when this happens to it? We feel that a good deal of the machinery of this Bill will be used to sidetrack what is really required, and that is the building up of tuberculin tested herds. We do feel that we have a genuine grievance in Scotland because the recommendations of the Philips Committee were not carefully taken into consideration. A large part of this Bill refers to Scotland, although there are certain reservations. I suggest that the matter should again be referred to the Scottish Office, so that we may have a special Bill for Scotland, and in order that the recommendations of the Philips Committee shall receive the serious consideration they deserve and be embodied in legislation.

1.55 p.m.

Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)

There is one short point I should like to make about the Bill as it stands. We debated at some considerable length upstairs the question of bottling pasteurised milk on the premises at which it was pasteurised, and whether it could and should properly be bottled on other premises after being removed from the pasteurisation centre in bulk. As the Bill stands at the moment, it will be essential for the milk to be bottled at the point where it is pasteurised. This brings up the problem which I raised on Second Reading, in the hope that we should be able to solve it upstairs, and that is, that although there are so many excellent points in the Measure, we have to be very careful in applying it to see that we do not add to the cost of milk, because nothing would be more detrimental to the health of the country than deterring people from drinking milk because of its additional cost. I feel that, inadvertently, we may be adding to the cost, as the Bill stands.

The position now is that a great many small dairymen are in the habit of bottling milk themselves, in what may be called their spare time. They have small plants for bottling; they receive the milk in bulk; and when they are not engaged in selling other products, and so on, they use their time to bottle the milk themselves—and at practically no expense at all. Under the Bill as it stands these men, so far as I can see, will now have to put their hands into their pockets and pay out to the pasteurising and bottling centres definite sums for a fixed bottling charge. That will, undoubtedly, add to the cost of the bottle pasteurised milk.

I do not quite see how we are to get over that difficulty, but equally I do not want to see the dairymen involved in loss as against their present position, or have power to raise the cost of milk which they have not bottled themselves, but which has been bottled at the pasteurisation plant. I hope the Minister will find some means within his powers under the Bill to meet that difficulty. I am quite sure that there is no serious intention to damage the small dairymen, but equally I cannot see how we can avoid their being damaged as the Bill now stands. The Bill had dangers in it, and it has been improved, but I should like to endorse strongly what the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) said, that if this Bill turns out in any way to be a deterrent of the development of tuberculin-tested herds, it will do far more harm than good to the country.

1.58 p.m.

Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)

I am afraid I cannot associate myself with some of the misgivings that have been expressed. Misgivings can always be expressed about a Measure, however excellent. It would seem to me to be more appropriate on this occasion for the House to congratulate itself on the co-operation amongst hon. Members on both sides which has allowed us to produce a Measure which will be of the greatest possible value in safeguarding the health of thousands of children and adults. It will do a great deal to diminish risks of diseases, including tuberculosis, and it will be of immense value.

In any case, this Measure is necessary at the present time, whatever may be the views of hon. Gentlemen about the production of tuberculin-tested herds. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing) knows perfectly well that the substitution of tuberculin-tested herds for the herds existing at present cannot be done except after the lapse of a considerable period of time. Meanwhile, whatever we do, we must protect people against diseases. That is what this Bill does. It is an excellent Bill. I think the Minister is to be very heartily congratulated on having brought it to fruition, and, instead of asking the Minister to think again, the House should itself remain very vigilant in this matter, to see how, without heckling the Minister or interfering with the administration of the Bill, it can make suggestions for the improvement of its administration in the future. I believe that this Bill will prove an historic landmark in the progress of the health of the people and especially the health of the children of this country.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed, with Amendments.