HC Deb 11 November 1954 vol 532 cc1503-7
Mr. Amory

I beg to move, in page 13, line 7, after "milked," to insert—

  1. (i) at any stage of a journey to or from a dairy farm,
  2. (ii) at a slaughterhouse or knacker's yard, or
  3. (iii).
The object of this Amendment is to enable regulations to be made prohibiting the sale for human consumption of milk obtained from cows which are milked while on a journey. The Clause did not provide satisfactorily for this circumstance; some Amendments were suggested but not moved, and I think that this Amendment deals with the situation satisfactorily.

Sir L. Plummer

The Minister is to be congratulated on this Amendment. Anyone who has seen cattle being driven to and from a sale or a market will appreciate that it is impossible to produce milk in ideal and hygienic conditions, quite apart from the fact that the animal is worried and anxious. There was a gap in the Bill, and I think it is now properly filled, for which we are grateful to the Minister.

Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)

I subscribe to the point of view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer). I have some recollection in my early days of the sort of thing happening which this Amendment seeks to prevent. I remember farmers making quite sure that no milk would be lost, and it did not matter under what circumstances the milk was produced. Under the second head relating to slaughterhouses and knacker's yards, I saw things which were even worse. I have seen cows being milked when they were waiting to be killed in slaughterhouses. I do not think anybody nowadays would say that that practice was either hygienic or desirable.

I have much pleasure in associating myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend, and although we are getting a little tired of these compliments at this late stage of the Bill, I suppose it does no harm to exchange these little pleasantries. I am glad that the Minister is doing something to meet a very legitimate grievance, and I hope that he and the Parliamentary Secretary will follow this example later when we come to some equally important Amendments with which, of course, I cannot deal now in anticipation. All I am hoping is that this spirit which has been manifest in this connection will not be entirely absent as we proceed with these Amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 13, line 10, after "registered," insert: in pursuance of regulations made."—[Mr. Amory.]

Dr. Summerskill

I beg to move, in page 13, line 13, at the end, to insert: (e) for prohibiting the use of milk churns (whether by the persons to whom they belong or other persons) otherwise than as containers for milk, where the churns are in use for the purposes of the business of a dairyman. I hope that the Minister, having reconsidered this matter, will now make a further concession. As he will see, the Amendment asks only for the prohibition of the use of milk churns, and the arguments which the Parliamentary Secretary made previously as to the unenforceability of the Amendment therefore do not hold. It is quite possible to exercise a close supervision of milk churns, and by doing so we shall at least have gone some way towards avoiding the horrible practices which were referred to in the last debate.

Dr. Hill

The right hon. Lady is quite right. We did undertake to look at this point. I pass over the fact that she immediately called a Division in order to induce the Committee to reach a conclusion upon that point, but it was a real point, and we are happy to accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Pargiter

I beg to move, in page 14, line 6, to leave out from "collected," to the end of the subsection.

The position under the Clause has been altered to some extent because the question of possession has been much more clearly defined, and some of the points which I raised originally have now been met. It is still open to substantial objections, however, because under Section 71 of the principal Act the defence can be put forward that some person other than the farmer or his servant adulterated the milk in question.

In practice it is most unlikely that at any stage any such person would adulterate milk. He might break the seals and take out some of the milk, but it is not very likely that any person other than someone who has an interest in putting in water would adulterate the milk. Only under very exceptional circumstances would someone outside do so. A farm servant might, because he might want some milk to drink and might also wish to give the impression that no milk had gone, but that would be the farmer's responsibility.

Nobody but the farmer would have such an interest in adulterating the milk, and there are some farmers who would have an interest in selling water for the price of milk. Under the present provisions it is extremely difficult to deal satisfactorily with the matter, because although the seals may have been broken the farmer can plead, "The milk was sealed when I left it." It may have been sealed in the presence of a witness, but the farmer can still break the seal, and he can put forward the defence that he did not do so. The Amendment seeks to lay responsibility very definitely upon the farmer, and it seeks to prevent anybody putting forward the defence that someone else has put water in the milk.

Mr. G. Darling

I beg to second the Amendment.

Dr. Hill

As the hon. Member fairly said, we have dealt with this problem to some extent by defining "possession" as including the churn at the end of the lane. That being so, bearing in mind that the farmer is now deemed to be in possession of a churn that may be 100 yards, 200 yards or even a mile away, we must surely allow him to put forward the defence under Section 71 (2) of the principal Act, which says: It shall be a defence … to prove that the churn or other vessel in which the milk was contained was effectively closed and sealed at the time when it left his possession, but had been opened before the person by whom the sample was taken had access to it. As we are now deeming the farmer to have possession of something which may be out of his physical possession and view, we must surely leave that defence undisturbed.

8.45 p.m.

Sir L. Plummer

I do not want to disturb the harmony that is prevailing tonight, but I would appeal to my hon. Friend not to press this Amendment. He said he thought that it was extremely unlikely that anybody would seek to adulterate milk if it were collected at the proper point of collection, but let me put to him the case of a farmer supplying a retailer who is not associated with the farmer except as a customer, the farmer acting as wholesaler as well as producer.

The retailer collects the milk. Suppose the retailer has criminal instincts and decides to water the milk. Then it would be very unfair that the farmer should be unable to plead the defence given to him in this Clause. I think that my hon. Friend's proposal puts too much on the farmer. It virtually says that he is to be responsible for the milk he supplies to the time of its acceptance by the ultimate customer, the consumer.

He may not be distributing the milk to that customer. Somebody else may be doing it who is not his agent, and it is wrong that in those circumstances he should be held responsible for that person's misdeeds. Although I support my hon. Friend in almost everything he says, I think that in this case it would be better in the interests of justice if he took the advice of the Parliamentary Secretary.

Mr. Pargiter

I am not at all sure that the interests of justice would be better served if there should be an unscrupulous farmer and an unscrupulous retailer, and in that possibility lies the difficulty. However, I appreciate the difficulty which the Amendment makes, as described by the Parliamentary Secretary and my hon. Friend, and now that possession has been defined, and as that considerably helps the purpose I had in mind, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.