HC Deb 11 November 1954 vol 532 cc1475-80

As soon as the Minister of Health, the Minister of Food and the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries are satisfied that it has become practicable, they shall by joint order prohibit the sale for human consumption of milk with less than three per cent. butter fat or such other higher percentage as they may from time to time by joint order prescribe.—[Mr. Pargiter.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Pargiter

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

I am sure that the House will have general sympathy with the purpose of this Clause. There are two reasons for this and the following Clause—Construction of s. 3 of principal Act. The first is on the question of public health, it being generally accepted as being desirable that the standard of the content of fat of milk shall be raised; and the second is that the food and drugs authority may carry out their duties under Section 3 of the principal Act of enforcing prohibition against the sale of milk not of the nature, substance or quality demanded.

With regard to the question of the quality of milk and raising the standard of milk, I quote the Working Party's Report, 1953, on Quality Milk Production in which they came to the conclusion that milk of poor compositional quality is still being produced throughout the year by too many producers; and that there is no cause to be satisfied with the present level of milk quality in England and Wales and every reason for taking steps to improve it.

Unfortunately, the working party failed to indicate ways and means by which the standard could be raised. It went on to give many reasons and excuses why the standard was not higher. That may be understandable because the working party consisted, I think, of representatives of producers and distributors with no representatives of either health authorities or consumers on it. So we may be excused if we think that perhaps their failure to present any positive indication of action was due to the fact that certain other interests which might have been concerned with that side were not represented.

I do not say that I want to see 3 per cent. as a fixed standard for all time. Quite frankly, I think that the standard should be more than 3 per cent. It is already established that, generally speaking, when milk is bulked the standard is usually higher than 3 per cent. The difficulty that arises is that farmers and producers keep to the 3 per cent. standard. They have had the excuse in the past that if they can prove that milk is as the cow gave it, no matter how much it may be below 3 per cent., prosecutions will fail, and prosecutions have failed on those grounds.

In one case, it was established that a farmer milked his cow but did not completely milk it. I understand that fore-milk, although I am not a technician on this matter—is that which is likely to be deficient so far as fat is concerned. He took the fore part of the milk out and left the other in the cow, and the excuse was that he left it there for the benefit of the calf. The prosecution failed although the farmer must have known that he was producing milk with less than 3 per cent. butter fat. The prosecution failed because the milk was as the cow gave it. There have been other instances of this kind, notwithstanding the fact that butter fat content has been as low as 2.75 per cent.— .25 per cent. below the 3 per cent. standard.

7.15 p.m.

It is said that the 3 per cent. standard would mean that at some time of the year there would be a shortage of milk. I do not think that is a very good excuse when we want to bring the standard up to 3 per cent. It becomes a question of proper feeding and proper marketing, and unless some positive action is taken people who are careless in this matter will always have the advantage over the good farmer who is particularly careful to see that he gets a yield of good quality milk.

I am sure that it would be the desire of the Minister and of this House to support those farmers and producers who are producing milk of the highest quality and to condemn those people who are consistently producing the milk of low quality. I hope that for those reasons the Minister will consider the possibility of taking some action on these lines.

There are a good many other reasons which may be introduced. I mentioned the case of a farmer who deliberately left the richer part of the milk in the cow. There have been other cases where the milk has been deficient in content, and in all these cases once it has been established that it is as the cow gave it, the prosecutions have failed. I hope that the Minister will do something to strengthen this position.

In this matter we are somewhat backward. We claim to be very progressive in certain matters, but we are far behind the United States in this matter. In the United States, they have laid down in the Model Milk Ordinance, which was issued in 1939 by the Health Service of the Federal Security Agency, a description of milk and what its solid non-fat content should be, and they fixed the milk fat content at 3¼ per cent. This ordinance is not applicable to the whole of the United States, but it has been accepted by many of the States on a Statewide basis and many communities have adopted it. The ordinance covers some 60 million population of America. If that can be done for 60 million people of America, it ought not to be impossible for us to do that with our smaller population, and with the greater degree of control of milk production which can be established in this country.

Even in Scotland they are far ahead of England in this matter. The requirement of the Milk Marketing Board in Scotland is that the butter fat content shall be 3.4 per cent. in summer and 3.5 per cent. in winter, which indicates that Scotland is giving England a lead in this matter. It is appreciated that there may be difficulties in enforcing a standard of this kind immediately. It is a matter which would probably have to be taken in stages.

The Ministers would have the sanctions contained in the Clause and it would be at the discretion of the joint Ministers as to when the standard should be imposed. People here who were producing poor quality milk could be given an opportunity of doing something about it, and a date could be fixed, after an examination of all the factories, so that there could be no question of a shortage of milk at any time. This could be left to the discretion of the Ministers. I think that if this were done at some time, it would be in the interests of the people of this country.

Mr. Hastings

Does this proposed new Clause make it illegal for a farmer to sell skimmed milk, if it is ordered medicinally?

Mr. Pargiter

I do not know. I will leave it to the Minister to make the necessary safeguards with regard to skimmed milk. Skimmed may now be sold if it is described as skimmed milk, and if it is described as skimmed milk it would not be covered by this new Clause, which relates to milk containing butter fat.

Sir L. Plummer

I beg to second the Motion.

Dr. Summerskill

I hope that the Minister will accept the new Clause. People are under the impression that we in this country drink the maximum amount of milk and that the quality is the best obtainable. That is not so, and I think that a provision of this nature is desirable. I ask the Minister to observe that my hon. Friend has worded the new Clause in such a way that there is full protection in the phrase: … are satisfied that it has become practicable … Therefore, there will be no great pressure upon the Minister now. The only point that I did not understand in my hon. Friend's argument was when he said that some farmers are blamed for leaving the best part of the milk in the cow. As a doctor, I have never been able to understand how one can discover if the best part of the milk is left behind.

Mr. Pargiter

Milk comes as what is called "fore-milk," and then there is the full milk. It is the fore-milk which is likely to be deficient in fat content. When a cow is completely milked then the milk has the full fat content. It is legal to sell fore-milk. As long as one can prove that it was sold as it came from the cow that is a good defence.

Mr. Amory

Under existing regulations, it is made a presumption that if milk contains less than 3 per cent. butter fat or 8.5 per cent. other solids it shall be deemed to be adulterated until the contrary is proved. The new Clause would convert that presumed standard into a fixed standard.

The provision is right in line with our general aims. We want to bring about the kind of general improvement in milk to which the hon. Gentleman referred. From that point of view I have no objection to the proposal, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press me to accept it now because, in the state in which it is put forward, it would not fit into the Bill. There are three reasons for that. First, there is a reference to butter fat but no reference to the other solids. Secondly, no penalties are provided for. Thirdly, there is no Parliamentary control in connection with the order which is mentioned.

These three drawbacks mean that at this stage in the proceedings I could not possibly accept the new Clause. If the hon. Gentleman had introduced it a good deal earlier, we might have discussed the matter and seen whether there was any form in which it could have been accepted.

Mr. Pargiter

It is unfortunate that in another place it was designed to do something like this but apparently the Government were not then so forthcoming as the Minister is now. It is a pity that this did not happen in another place. In the circumstances, the arguments adduced are pretty powerful, although they are not aimed against what the new Clause tries to do. Will the Minister undertake to look at the problem with a view to introducing some enforcing regulations which cannot be so easily avoided as the present regulations? If he will do that, I will withdraw the Motion.

Mr. Amory

I will look into the position. I will consider the present regulations and see if anything should be done.

Mr. Pargiter

Will the Minister look at the point that it is a good defence to argue that the milk was sold in the condition in which it came from the cow?

Mr. Amory

I will look at that. In reference to the second new Clause in the name of the hon. Gentleman, it seems to me that that is the kind of case where it ought to be left to the court to decide——

Sir L. Plummer

On a point of order. Has my hon. Friend moved the new second Clause? I thought that we were discussing the first new Clause in his name.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman could not move the second new Clause, because it has not been selected.

Mr. Pargiter

In view of what the Minister has said, I have no option but to leave the matter in the sympathetic hands of the Minister. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.