HC Deb 20 June 1958 vol 589 cc1529-52

Order for Second Reading read.

1.42 p.m.

Mr. Robert Mathew (Honiton)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce this useful Bill in the absence of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Captain Corfield). Its scope lies within the very small compass of permitting the sale of milk to the public in containers, bottles or cartons containing one-third of a pint. Milk supplied for the milk-in-schools scheme is already pre-packed in containers holding one-third of a pint, but milk for general sale must, under the provisions of Section 7 of the Food (Weights and Measures) Act, 1926, be in quantities of half a pint or multiples of half a pint.

Many people in the dairy industry, including the Milk Marketing Boards in England and Wales and Scotland, believe that there would be a ready sale for milk in quantities of one-third of a pint, especially in factories, canteens, railway stations and places where people take refreshment to drink on the premises. One-third of a pint is a convenient amount for a single drink, and is about as much as the contents of an ordinary tumbler. Bottles and cartons are filled under hygienic conditions and can be kept pure by refrigeration up to the very time of sale. I need not tell the House that milk sold in this way makes a very pleasant drink as well as a drink which is of first-class food value.

The milk industry has already achieved a great deal by publicity and in other ways to promote the sale of liquid milk. I have no need to tell the House of the good lead given by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer when presenting his Budget to the Committee of Ways and Means, which he did with the aid of this admirable drink, milk. Perhaps I ought to declare an interest and tell the House that I run a very small dairy farm. To that extent I am a producer of milk, and so I have a limited interest in the subject.

Milk as a drink is in competition with various soft drinks, such as squashes and that type of production. These drinks are free from restrictions about the sizes of containers in which they are sold. The milk industry considers itself unfairly handicapped in its efforts to promote the sale of liquid milk by the legal restrictions relating to sale in multiples of half a pint.

Mr. Frank Beswick (Uxbridge)

Would not more milk be sold if a container were available holding one-sixth of a pint less than half a pint?

Mr. Mathew

It is the view of the Milk Marketing Boards in all three countries that it would help their campaigns to promote the sale of liquid milk as a drink if they could be rid of these restrictions. The hon. Member will be aware that the large majority of containers hold about one-third of a pint, which is a convenient quantity for drinking from a tumbler.

The House will also be aware that the amount of milk produced in this country far exceeds that which is consumed in liquid form. Large quantities are therefore sold for manufacture into various dairy products, including butter and cheese. Hon. Members have often heard that the prices obtained for milk used in manufacturing purposes is substantially lower than for milk sold for drinking. This affects the price received by the producer. It is therefore very important that the proportion of milk sold for liquid consumption should be as high as possible.

Another reason why the House should support the Bill is that people living alone, old-age pensioners and people in poor circumstances, usually do not require a pint of milk per day and in certain circumstances they cannot afford to buy as much as a pint every day.

Sir Charles Taylor (Eastbourne)

Can they not buy a half pint?

Mr. Mathew

Half-pint bottles are available in London and in certain large towns, but in the smaller places in the countryside where milk is bought in bottles it is difficult to get half-pint bottles. Milk distributors say that there are not sufficient half-pint bottles to justify adapting the machinery for filling and capping them.

There is nothing mandatory about the Bill, which is permissive. If there is a demand, and if distributors wish to meet the demand, they will find that the restrictions have been removed and that they can sell milk in bottles containing one-third of a pint. The only exception at present is in the milk-for-schools scheme. The old-age pensioners and the people I have mentioned usually have not the means of refrigeration. It is a matter of general knowledge that they usually accept the only alternative open to them, which is to use condensed milk or milk powder.

Bottles containing one-third of a pint are already used on a large scale in the schools scheme, and it is hoped that if the Bill is passed the use of these bottles will become widespread. That will make it easier for distributing dairymen to supply the needs of old-age pensioners and others who want to buy only a small amount of milk. About ten years ago the whole question of weights and measures legislation was reviewed under the chairmanship of the late Sir Edward Hodgson. His Committee reported in 1950. It had considered whether the sale of milk in quantities of one-third of a pint should be permitted, and it recommended that the law should be amended to allow this to be done, provided the milk was packed and intended for sale for consumption on the premises of the ultimate seller. That is to say, it could be made up in one-third pint containers, but only if it was to be sold for refreshment rooms or for catering uses. That restriction, which is more restrictive than what is intended in this Bill, was because the Committee considered the difference between half-pint and one-third pint bottles was so small that bottles could be confused in ordinary retail distribution. The Committee thought there was a risk of the consumer being served with one-third of a pint instead of half a pint, but it did not think that would apply when the milk was supplied in canteens, refreshment rooms, and so on.

The House will see that this Bill does not restrict the use of one-third pint containers for sales of a particular character. The House will welcome the work done by the Hodgson Committee, but I am certain that a restriction of that kind would be very difficult to administer. For example, it would be difficult to be certain that a person purchasing a carton of milk in a milk bar or cafeteria actually consumed it on the premises. I think the risk of confusion between one-third pint and half-pint bottles is not likely to be as great as the Committee feared.

To ensure that the consumer will not be misled, the Bill provides in Clause 1 (1) that a one-third pint container shall bear a clear indication of the quantity in the container. There is an exemption to that requirement for the time being in respect of glass bottles used to supply milk to schools in order to enable existing bottles used for this purpose to be replaced. I am told that the changeover may take anything up to three years. Subsection 3 of Clause 1 enables the President of the Board of Trade to make an order appointing a date on which the marketing requirements will be applicable to bottles supplied for milk in schools as well as generally.

In commending this Bill, I stress that it is purely permissive and is merely removing a restriction. An hon. Member has this morning referred to Private Members' Bills introducing niggling restrictions on the public, but the object of this Bill is to remove a restriction and to put the dairy business on the same basis as other businesses which provide refreshments to the public, soft drinks and so forth. It is permissive and not mandatory. No one will be forced to do anything as the result of the proposals in this Bill. It is my opinion that the Bill will serve a useful purpose. Its provisions are in the interests of the public as a whole, the farming community, old-age pensioners and others who live alone.

For these reasons, I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

1.55 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

I approach this Bill with a perfectly open mind. I am quite prepared to say that there are objections to it, but on balance it ought to be given a Second Reading.

The doubts in my mind are as follows: first, the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Mathew) did not support by statistics his belief that there would be an increase in the consumption of liquid milk as the result of its sale in one-third pint containers. Presumably, those statistics are not available. All he was able to say was that the Milk Marketing Boards are in favour of this provision. I do not know to what extent people engaged in the sale of milk would want to embark on the capital expenditure involved in the manufacture of more bottles of third-pint size and of equipment for filling and washing bottles, which may have to be installed. Those are all technical questions entailing some capital expenditure. Whether that capital expenditure would be justified by the sales which are likely to accrue is an open question.

On the other hand, I believe that so far as we can do so we should remove unnecessary restrictions of any kind. If people engaged in the milk trade want to sell milk in bottles containing one-third of a pint and they think there is a market for them, I see no reason why they should be prevented from doing so. After all, they would be risking their own capital. If there were public demand they would get their money back, and if there were not the permission given by this Bill to sell milk in third-pint containers would not be used.

I do not think we are embarking upon a very great risk as a legislative assembly if we provide this facility to those who want to take advantage of it, whether they be large or small in number. I do not very much like the continued adherence to the out-dated system of weights and measures we have in this country. We are strengthening the antiquated system under which we labour if we add to the various measures which now exist. One of these days we shall have to adopt a decimal system, not only for coinage but for liquid measurement and all these things we have to learn at school and which some of us very soon forget after leaving school. To the extent to which this Bill may delay or impede the introduction of a decimal system, it is to be deplored.

However, the hon. Member for Honiton was very fortunate in being able to introduce this Bill on Second Reading. We have had a lengthy number of Bills before the House today. If I had been asked to forecast Whether or not this Bill would be reached, I would have said the chances were very remote. Now that the Bill has been reached, I do not think we should be incurring any very great risk or acting contrary to the public interest if we allowed it a Second Reading.

1.59 p.m.

Mr. Harold Gurden (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

I wish to support this Bill and, to some extent, the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Mathew). I say that because I cannot go the whole way with him in anticipating a vast increase in the sale of milk by reason of this Measure.

I do not believe that the average householder, even including old-age pensioners, will in fact demand milk in one-third pint bottles. To that extent, some of the suspicions of the dairy trade associations and their alarm that this Bill may demand delivery of millions of bottles of milk containing a third of a pint instead of a pint or even a quart will be allayed.

May I comment on some of the very sensible and helpful remarks of the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton)? I agree with what he said, but let me assure him that very little, if any, additional capital expenditure by the dairy trade would be required, because by and large they already have adequate plant to cope with the demand for one-third pint bottles. That is certainly the case unless both he and I are wrong in saying that there would not be a big demand for these bottles by ordinary housewives. To that extent, therefore, there would be no need for great capital expenditure. There is extensive plant in most dairies, certainly in the larger dairies, for providing one-third pint bottles of milk. The same machines are used as for half-pints, in many cases pints and even quarts; the machine is adjusted.

The hon. Member spoke about weights and measures authorities. I was once chairman of a weights and measures committee. Let me assure him that the Bill would be a great help to weights and measures authorities in the country in that it would clear up an anomaly. Let me explain what that is. I was the founder of the one-third pint bottle expressly for supplies of milk to schools in the late 1920s. I did not for one moment foresee that this would extend to any other type of trade; I thought that the pint and half-pint bottle would be sufficient for all other purposes. In fact, certain canteens, catering establishments and factories—even down to the work bench—found that there was a demand and a need to be met for one-third pint bottles of milk. The trade, of course, took advantage of this and of the need to supply more milk in any form. If there is a demand for smaller bottles to be handed out once or even twice a day, it should be met.

From that moment weights and measures authorities were in a difficult position, because under the existing legislation they ought to take out summonses against these dairymen for supplying this milk. For over twenty years this difficulty has existed of deciding whether to issue a summons and to prevent the sale of milk in one-third pint bottles, when, in all reasonableness, these supplies should be maintained. They had to choose between issuing summonses and holding their hands. All this time, I believe, they have been asking successive Governments to introduce this legislation.

We have to decide today whether we shall stop the sale of milk to factories, canteens, catering establishments, milk bars and other places all over the country in one-third pint bottles, because if the Bill is not passed today, or ultimately, we can be sure that weights and measures authorities will say, "Parliament has considered this matter and by rejecting the Bill has declared that these sales should not take place. We will forthwith take out summonses against the dairymen for supplying one-third pint bottles of milk."

Mr. Lipton

Is the hon. Member suggesting that a large number of prosecutions which could have been embarked upon have in fact not been embarked upon in recent years?

Mr. Gurden

That is so and has been so for over twenty years. It is so because it was thought possible that Parliamentary time would be found by this or other Governments for this legislation, or perhaps because it was thought by Parliament that a reasonable time ought to elapse to see whether there was a continuing demand for this size of bottle.

Those are the reasons which I give for supporting the Bill, and I believe that they are very sound reasons. Let me say, in parenthesis, that I have now no interest to declare in the dairy trade. My hon. Friend the Member for East-bourne (Sir C. Taylor) may tell you that he has an interest and may oppose what I have said, for one reason because he has and for another reason because the National Dairymen's Association, when he has finished speaking, may prove to have a very sound case in opposition to the Bill. I doubt it.

There are other reasons why we ought to think twice about this Measure, and they have been advanced by the Association. I do not believe that it is the intention of the Government or the House to try to extend the sales of one-third pint bottles of milk willy-nilly to vast numbers of householders, but if the dairy trade feel that that is a possibility it is up to them and their association it is the job of their association to say to its members, "This is uneconomical and is likely to reduce the sale of milk, and we should not offer to the general public one-third pint bottles of milk." The association fears that this would lead to a reduction in the sale of milk. But all this is no reason why we should not make it possible for the factories and canteens to continue to receive their one-third pints.

The dairy trade say that there would be an enormous demand for one-third pints and that it would be a serious matter in that it would perhaps reduce the consumption milk. I do not believe that. Further—which no doubt would be true if that happened—they say that it would put up the cost of milk to the public. But the dairy trade must ask themselves whether that happened with the half-pint bottles. In fact it has never happened. The general public do not order vast quantities of half-pint bottles of milk. The vast majority of people in this country take their milk in one pint bottles.

It is true that half-pint bottles are not available to the public in many parts of the country, and to that extent I think that the dairy trade are failing in their duty, because there are certainly many members of the public, including old-age pensioners, who at times require a half-pint bottle of milk. In the City of Birmingham it is not possible for those people to buy a half-pint bottle of milk. I plead guilty in that during the many years I was in the trade I joined dairymen in not meeting that obligation, but the times are now different. The shortages of milk of the wartime have passed, as has the need for the great economies which existed in those days.

Today, it is more important than ever that the trade should meet that need. It is no more sensible for those concerned in the dairy trade, or for anyone else, to say that these serious things will happen to the trade if this Bill goes through and that there will be this tremendous demand for one-third pints than it is to say that the half-pint trade is a serious matter and one that ought to be made illegal. There is so little difference between one-third and one-half of a pint, as they rightly say, that if the one-third pint bottle is not a good thing for the public then neither is the half pint; but I think it is agreed by all people, and certainly by those in the London area, that there is need for the half-pint bottle.

The dairy traders have to live by the profits they make, and it is quite natural that they should oppose this Bill, because they are protected by the present position. The individual dairyman who does not want to do this trade can, at present, say, "You cannot buy a one-third bottle of milk for your factory or canteen." They can blame the Government, whether Socialist or Conservative. On the other hand, the dairyman who wants to do the trade can say, "Well, no one takes any notice, so I can meet your demand."

It is no part of the duty of this House to give any trade this sort of protection, but it would be sensible, if possible, to make Amendments to the Bill in Committee. It might even be sensible and desirable to limit the sale of milk in one-third pint bottles to, say, 24 bottles in any one purchase. That would, perhaps, confine the sale of this size to economic quantities and thereby not decrease the sale of milk, or encourage the householder to demand this size. As I say, there is no doubt that if a large number of thirds were demanded it would add to the cost of living. I do not think there would be that large demand, but if it did happen the householder would have to pay as much as 3d., which is an increase of 1½d. a pint—

Sir C. Taylor

It would be ¾d. a pint.

Mr. Gurden

Very well, an increase of ¾d. a pint in respect of bottles purchased in that size.

I support the Bill at this stage in its present form only because I believe that we have to clear up our present weights and measures legislation. I do not, of course, say that the House ought to amend the Bill so as to introduce this minimum purchase of 24 bottles, but I do think that that would meet the case if the House felt that there was a danger of increasing the cost of living by encouraging the housewife to demand the one-third-pint bottle.

I cannot, of course, commit my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne in anything that he is likely to say, but I believe that he is prepared to put the dairy trade's case more fully. However, I have touched on some of the points outlined and have said why I think that this Bill should get its Second Reading today. I hope that my hon. Friend will not oppose it; that the dairy trade will take all legitimate and honourable means of carrying out its obligations and see to its own domestic problems in the proper way by telling its members that it is not a good thing to have an unsatisfied widespread demand for one-third pint bottles from door to door. I hope that he and the trade will support us in this attempt to put the weights and measures authorities in a decent and proper position, and not force them to take action against retailers for selling-one-third-pint bottles.

2.16 p.m.

Mr. Frank Beswick (Uxbridge)

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) always speaks in an engaging and persuasive manner, and I think that today he could have equally persuaded hon. Members against the Bill or for it. With respect, I think that he tried to have it both ways. On the one hand, he said, "There is not a great demand for this, it will not make any difference, because there will not be great numbers of people wanting the one-third-pint size. Therefore, it will not put up the cost of distribution." On the other hand, he suggests that it is only right and proper, and in the interests of the people of Birmingham—now that he is not in the milk trade—that they should be allowed to have the one-thirdsize—

Mr. Gurden

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I just wanted to clear up my own personal position. I wanted to be fair to the trade, and to many of my old friends in the trade who have put these points to me. I did not want to put entirely the case for one side only.

Mr. Beswick

I understand, of course, why the hon. Gentleman put the two arguments and, as I say, he put them both so persuasively that one can be torn either way.

There are two considerations that ought to weigh with us here. The first is the general convenience of the public, and the second, whether or not we shall be encouraging a greater consumption of milk. If we are to make any changes in the existing law, those two matters ought to be considered.

As to the convenience of the public, I have yet to hear from anybody of any kind of demand for this one third-pint bottle. There has been no evidence, no market research about it. The Hodgson Committee went into the matter quite fully, and was not convinced, as it stated, that there was any such demand. I certainly think that there are a number of people who have a grievance in that they cannot get the half-pint size, and if the hon. Gentleman had wanted to increase the consumption of milk I think that he should have encouraged companies, or distributors, or dairymen to make the half-pint size more readily available.

There is a very real grievance there, but I cannot myself believe that there is an adult person in the factories and canteens of which the hon. Gentleman speaks who would refrain from drinking milk because it was available only in half-pints. After all, between a half-pint and a third of a pint there is a difference of only one-sixth of a pint, which is negligible. I cannot believe that there are these people who are demanding this different size bottle. I therefore do not think that the convenience of the public comes into it at all.

What about the consumption of milk? That depends very largely on the price, though there are other considerations. We can do a lot more by propaganda and education, perhaps, but there is undoubtedly a relationship between the price and the consumption of milk and, as the hon. Gentleman has just said—and he has some knowledge of this business—if there is any increased demand at all for this size it is bound to affect the cost of distribution. If we increase the cost of distribution, I cannot see how we can increase the consumption.

Moreover, it is quite possible that knowingly, or unwittingly, if the Bill goes through, a number of people will be served with one-third of a pint, whereas otherwise they might take half a pint. If the Bill became law, its effect would be a reduction in the consumption of milk. That is the opinion of a good many informed people. Even the hon. Member for Selly Oak, who supports the Measure, says that the possibility is that it would lead to a reduction in the consumption of milk.

Mr. Gurden

I was putting the dairymen's case. They said that it would lead to a reduction in the consumption of milk.

Mr. Beswick

I understood the hon. Gentleman to say that if it be the case that there is a demand for one-third of a pint it will mean a net reduction. A great demand for one-third pint bottles could mean an increase in the total consumption, but I understood the hon. Gentleman to say that if there were this increase in the demand for one-third pint bottles it would mean a net reduction in the consumption of milk. Therefore, if the convenience of the public is not being served, if it is to lead to a reduction in the consumption of milk and not an increase, we ought to be against the Measure.

I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman a question arising from his reference to the capital costs involved in handling the one-third pint bottles. My information is that the majority of the machines in the country could neither clean nor fill the smaller bottle. In many cases it would be necessary to have separate machinery. That, again, would add to the capital cost of milk production. Therefore, I suggest that as the interests of the public will not be served, and the cost of the distribution of milk will be increased, the Bill should not receive a Second Reading.

2.22 p.m.

Sir Charles Taylor (Eastbourne)

I hasten to declare the fact that I have interests in the milk industry, and I feel it only right to acknowledge that fact now. The fact that the companies with which I am connected contribute very large sums of money to the Milk Publicity Council campaign for the sale of more milk would, I think, prove that we are just as much interested in increasing the sales of milk as are the retailers or anybody else.

We ought to realise what the present position is. We are governed by the Sale of Food (Weights and Measures) Act, 1926, which prohibits the sale of pre-packed milk except in quantities of half a pint or multiples of half a pint. That means in half-pint, pint or quart bottles. The only exception which has ever been permitted to that rule is that milk may be served in one-third pint bottles to schools where it is made available free for the use of children attending school.

My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Mathew), who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, said that he believed that it would lead to increased consumption of milk and also that it would be useful for old-age pensioners if they could purchase milk in one-third pint containers. The National Dairymen's Association, which has about 7,500 members throughout the country and handles probably 80 per cent. of all the milk sold retail, except through the Co-operative societies, strongly objects to the Bill because it believes that instead of increasing the overall retail sale of milk it will have precisely the opposite effect.

If I thought that there were any real demand among the old-age pensioners for one-third pint bottles, I think that there would be a case for this Bill, but I do not believe there is. I believe that the old-age pensioner is quite prepared to buy a half-pint of milk and, if necessary, allow it to last for two days—it will certainly keep for two days—and that it is far more convenient for such people and for the dairymen who supply the milk if it is supplied in half-pint bottles.

Mr. Gurden

My hon. Friend will be aware of what has been said about the old-age pensioner and others in this connection. I should like his comments. In many parts of the country covering millions of the population a half-pint cannot be purchased.

Sir C. Taylor

I am very sorry about that. Certainly the companies with which I am associated supply milk in half-pint bottles, but I think the argument that my hon. Friend adduces defeats itself, because if there is a sort of arrangement among dairymen in certain areas that they will not supply a half-pint bottle, what earthly hope is there of them supplying a third-pint bottle?

Mr. Mathew

Is that a reason for not removing the restriction?

Sir C. Taylor

I will come to that in a moment.

The granting of permission to deliver milk in third-pint bottles would obviously increase the cost of milk distribution. I would point out that milk is still subsidised, and the amount of profit which a milk retailer is allowed to make is very closely supervised and guarded by the Government and by the Milk Marketing Board. The profit is one which is considered to be reasonable. Therefore, as milk is subsidised, if there is any increase in the cost of distribution, that increase has obviously got to fall upon the public in the form of further taxation.

There are several technical reasons which I should like to mention why the third-pint bottles are not practicable. To begin with, plant and equipment for filling and washing third-pint bottles takes roughly one-third of the time more than is taken to fill or wash pint bottles of milk, which must mean that the plant has got to work longer. Even if the plant is available, it has to work one-third of the time longer in order to wash and fill third-pint bottles. That obviously must put up the cost of milk for distribution.

Two gallons of milk in one-third pint bottles occupies the same space as three gallons of milk in pint bottles. Therefore, there has to be additional storage space in milk depôts. There has to be additional cold storage space, which is very expensive, and there has to be additional space on the vehicles which deliver these bottles on the milk rounds. All these things will increase the cost of distribution.

The quantity of milk carried on a vehicle is also restricted by the weight factor. A milk pram can take only so much in weight as well as so much quantity. Two gallons of milk in one-third pint battles weighs 10 per cent. more than two gallons of milk in pint bottles. That is a very serious increase in the amount of weight which can be carried on the milk delivery vehicle.

Anything which decreases the quantity of milk which the milk salesman, with his pram, can deliver will obviously have serious consequences on the actual sale of milk. For example, it is far better for the milk salesman to have more milk and less weight of bottle on his rounds to deliver, for he will obviously sell more milk in that way by taking less glass and more milk.

It was estimated by the Ministry of Agriculture, in connection with fixing the permitted distributors' margin, that to bottle milk in one-third pint bottles costs two-and-a-half times what it costs to bottle in pints or quarts. To bottle milk in one-third pint bottles costs 6.72d. per gallon, as opposed to 2.66d. per gallon when bottled in one pint bottles.

Mr. Mathew

Before my hon. Friend leaves those last three points, I think that he should make it clear that, when he is comparing additional expense in processing, bottling, and so on, he is comparing one-third pint bottles with whole pints. The law now allows the distributor to distribute half pints. There is already an increased expense in distributing half pints.

Sir C. Taylor

I agree, and I thought that I had made it clear that it was the one-third pint bottling costs which were two-and-a-half times the cost of bottling in pints.

Today, ordinary milk costs 7½d. a pint and 3¾d. per half pint. One-third pint bottles, if charged pro rata, would cost 2½d. If an additional price were authorised because of the increased bottling costs, and if the price were, as my hon. Friend the Member for Selly Oak said, put up to 3d., the difference in price between half a pint and one-third of a pint would be ¾d. Does that very small difference justify all the additional expenses which would be put upon the dairy trade?

Under the amendment to the Milk Marketing Scheme in 1954, a joint committee was established representing the Milk Marketing Board and all buyers of milk from the Board, the creameries, the Co-operative societies and private dairymen. That committee informed the Standards Department of the Board of Trade, in a letter dated 26th May, 1955, that there was unanimous agreement that the one-third pint measure should not be legalised for household delivery purposes. As the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) said, when the Hodgson Committee considered these matters it did not recommend that there should be any general legalisation of the one-third pint measure.

In my view, the National Dairymen's Association has an overwhelming case against allowing the supply of one-third pint bottles. Undoubtedly, if it were done, there would be a danger of an increasing demand from people for one-third pint bottles. If there is that increasing demand, the sale of milk will go down and the cost to the taxpayer will go up. In conclusion, I can only say that, if my hon. Friend the Member for Selly Oak were still in the dairy industry and had not liquidated his investments in it, he would perhaps be taking a different attitude from the one he has taken today.

I ask the House not to give the Bill a Second Reading.

2.35 p.m.

Sir Hugh Linstead (Putney)

I must, first, express my regret to my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Mathew). His Bill came on earlier than I had expected, and I did not have the opportunity of hearing his speech. I must ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary also to acquit me of any discourtesy if I have to leave before he has finished his reply, owing to an appointment elsewhere in the building.

Although the Bill deals with a subject with which we are all familiar from day to day, there are certain rather complicated technical matters involved which, I feel, we are inclined to take a little too lightly. My first reaction on reading a proposition such as we find in the Bill is this. If I want to buy a pint of milk, half a pint of milk or one-third of a pint of milk, why should I not be able to buy whatever I want? However, we are considering here an industry which is a complicated and, by now, highly mechanised one. One has only to continue the argument a stage further and ask why one should not be able to buy a quarter of a pint, a sixth or an eighth of a pint to see how quickly one reaches absurdity in a mechanised industry dealing with a bottled product.

After listening to such nicely balanced arguments as we have heard today, I am bound to say, coming to the matter as an outsider, that I am rather in the position of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden). My mind is nicely balanced as to the rights and wrongs of what should be done. In such circumstances, one is driven to support the conclusion of an expert Committee set up to do what we can hardly do here today, that is, to weigh carefully the evidence on both sides. That is what the Hodgson Committee did.

Mr. Gurden

I wonder whether my hon. Friend heard what I had to say about the impossible position we find ourselves in, when weights and measures authorities wonder whether to prosecute or not those people who are selling one-third pint bottles in quite large quantities in factory canteens and the like.

Sir H. Linstead

It is possible to have a half-way house, by the interim provision in the Schedule to the Bill, which is to allow the extension of the milk-in-schools scheme to certain premises such as are referred to there. They are, presumably, premises such as those to which my hon. Friend has referred where, at present, the one-third pint is found useful.

If one is not to fall back upon the report of experts, why have experts and committees to hear and consider what the weights and measures authorities and other people concerned have to say? In general, in a nicely balanced case such as this, I feel that the recommendation of an expert Committee should be followed. The Hodgson Committee recommended that it should be made legal for milk to be pre-packed and sold in quantities of one-third pint where it is intended for sale for consumption on or at the premises of the ultimate seller. It should, however, remain illegal for pre-packed milk to be sold or delivered on sale in quantities other than half a pint or multiples thereof where the foregoing provision does not apply. Faced with that recommendation, I come down on the side of not supporting the Bill.

I want, in addition, to draw attention to one specific point which I do not think has been mentioned so far, but which is important. It may be only a Committee point, but I do not think we should pass it by. Clause 1 is in substitution of Section 7 of the 1926 Act. In Clause 1 (1, c) it is proposed to enact that in the case of one-third of a pint bottles the container in which the milk is pre-packed must bear on the body thereof a mark or label indicating that it contains that quantity of milk. In other words, the manufacturer of the bottle has to guarantee the amount of milk in a bottle which he does not fill. I do not think that that obligation should be put, by inference, upon the manufacturer. What it is doing in fact, I think for the first time, is to make the container a statutory measure. The seller is to warrant that in that container there is a certain quantity of milk. I am told that it is not possible to manufacture bottles of that accuracy. It is possible to manufacture milk bottles of an accuracy which is such that 100 one-pint bottles will contain 100 pints of milk, but it is not possible to guarantee that each one of those bottles will contain precisely a pint.

Mr. Gurden

I may be able to help my hon. Friend here. The responsibility, as I understand it, is to be placed upon the dairyman, where it has always been, to give a full measure. My hon. Friend is quite right in what he says about bottles being manufactured near enough to contain the measure; but the responsibility is still with the dairyman, and, as I understand, will remain so under the Bill in respect of one-third pint bottles as it is now for one pint or other sized bottles. At the risk of being lengthy, may I support my hon. Friend by saying that I think it ought to be possible, by Amendment in Committee, to say that marking the cap would be sufficient instead of the body of the bottle, as it is now? I agree to that extent.

Sir H. Linstead

I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friend, but I do not think that he has entirely met the point.

When a manufacturer of a bottle sends out a bottle upon which are embossed the words, "This bottle contains one-third of a pint", that is a warranty by the manufacturer of the bottle that it contains one-third of a pint. It is not, apparently, to be required in the case of one-pint or half-pint bottles, but for the first time it is to be required in the case of one-third of a pint bottles.

We shall have to examine this point very carefully if the Bill gets a Second Reading and goes to Committee, to make certain that whatever wording appears on the bottle is not a warranty making that bottle a statutory measure. I should not have thought it beyond the wit of man to find words to give effect to that, but I do not think the present wording of the Bill achieves this purpose.

Mr. Mathew

I agree that that is a Committee point and I have no doubt that the introduction of the word "approximately" or the words "This bottle is designed to hold one-third of a pint" would mean that no warranty was implied. I take the point fully, but as I have said, it is a Committee point.

Mr. Beswick

Would not the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Mathew) agree that this is more than a Committee point? It is an illustration of another objection to the Bill, namely, the confusion which arises from the fact that the difference in size between one-third of a pint and half a pint is so small that there is liable to be, wittingly or otherwise, the wrong measure sold to the customer. That has already happened with school milk bottles. They have passed into circulation and some members of the public have been given one-third of a pint whereas they paid for half a pint. The point that I would put to the hon. Member is that it is not stated that it necessarily should be embossed on the bottle. It can be a mark on the bottle, affixed by the dairyman; but in so far as this has to be done, then, because of the confusion, it will add to the general cost of distribution.

Sir H. Linstead

What will happen is that the dairyman will try to throw his responsibility back on to the manufacturer by requiring that this has to be embossed on the bottle when it is bought. I agree with the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) that the difficulty can be solved in other ways.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for Honiton for saying that this is a matter which he and the sponsors of the Bill will consider sympathetically if it reaches Committee. I take the point that the hon. Member for Uxbridge has made, and I add only that this is an example of the tendency to legislate piecemeal which we are rather too apt to follow. A recommendation was made in the Hodgson Committee for substantial reforms in the statutory provisions governing weights and measures, and then, instead of dealing comprehensively with them, we proceed to nibble at them by minor changes of this kind in the law.

On the whole, for the reasons that I have given, I hope that the Bill does not receive a Second Reading. If it does, there are one or two points, such as the important one that I have mentioned, which ought to be put right in Committee.

2.47 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. J. B. Godber)

I am glad to have the opportunity of making known the Government's attitude towards the Bill. I have listened with considerable interest to the points made by hon. Members on both sides about the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Mathew) gave the House a broad picture of what he had in mind and the reason why he and his hon. Friends brought forward the Bill. I shall hope to try to clear up perhaps one or two of the misunderstandings in relation to the Bill as I go along.

First, I should like to remind the House once more, if it is necessary—there have been plenty of references to it—that this proposal arises to some extent from the report of the Hodgson Committee, which considered a very much wider field of weights and measures legislation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) said. He may be right in saying that one should not do these things piecemeal, but unfortunately it has not been found possible as yet to introduce legislation to cover the whole of this field, and I would have thought that there was nothing intrinsically wrong in dealing with certain points which have arisen.

The Hodgson Committee made a number of recommendations. The recommendation relating in particular to milk has been read to the House by more than one hon. Member. The important thing that the Committee stressed was that legislation should be introduced to make it legal for milk to be sold in one-third of a pint bottles, but put an important restriction on it.

I think that is what hon. Members had in mind. In considering the implementation of this recommendation, it would be very difficult, certainly administratively, to restrict the provision to a particular class of sale. One has to decide one way or the other whether one shall allow the sale of milk in one-third of a pint bottles and, if so, not to put this particular restriction on it because it is wrong in principle to introduce legislation that would be difficult to administer in this way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton, who introduced the Bill, indicated that it might lead to an increase in consumption. Other Members have taken a contrary view. In considering this point, it is of value to remember that the producers' organisations who are keen to see an increased consumption of milk and have done a great deal to promote increased consumption are, I understand, very much in favour of the Bill. I should have thought that was strong support for the belief that the Bill will help to open up a fresh source for consumption. The fact that the producers' organisations support the Bill should be taken into account by Members of the House in considering that aspect.

My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton referred to the possibility of assisting the supply of milk to people like old-age pensioners and others living alone. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor) took up this point and argued that if they were willing to buy a third of a pint they would equally be willing to buy half a pint. My hon. Friend will, I am sure, agree—as he did, I think, in reply to an intervention—that unfortunately in many parts of the country for different reasons it is not possible to obtain half-pint bottles of milk. My hon. Friend went on to say that if it is not possible to get a half-pint bottle there will be even less likelihood of getting a third, pint bottle. Surely, he realises that third-pint bottles are available all over the country for the purpose of the school milk scheme. For that reason, there is no justification for saying that there would be greater difficulty.

Sir C. Taylor

I did not mean it in that way. I meant that if a dairyman will not serve half-pint bottles because he does not wish to do so, as is the case in some parts of the country, he certainly will not want to sell it in third-pints.

Mr. Godber

That was the point I was taking, but I do not wholly agree with it. There may be an extra imposition in specially bottling a small number of half-pints, but where third-pint battles are readily available, there should be no difficulty in this respect. Those who have spoken as representing the view of the Dairymen's Association have overstressed their case in this respect.

What hon. Members must realise is that the Bill is purely permissive. It will not seek to force anybody to sell a third-pint bottle of milk. It is evident already that, although every retailer has the right to supply half-pint bottles, not every retailer takes advantage of that. My hon. Friend has expressed his regret that this should be the case, but he will not deny that it is so. Therefore, as I see it, there is nothing whatever wrong in permitting people to supply thirds of a pint.

Mr. Beswick

If the hon. Gentleman wants to increase the consumption of milk and look after the interests of the old-age pensioners who at present cannot get half-pints, instead of wasting his time with the Bill, would it not be better to encourage or compel the distributors to make half-pint bottles available before we move on to the third-pint stage?

Mr. Godber

The hon. Member is seeking to take me far wide of the terms of the Bill. I am dealing with what it seeks to provide. It is a Private Member's Bill and I am stating the Government's view on it. The question of compulsion concerning the provision of any particular size is outside the scope of the Bill. As I see it, there is nothing whatever in the Bill to compel anybody to provide any different size of bottle to what is already available. Where people are ready and willing to provide the third-pint bottle, it makes it possible for them to do so.

There are plenty of areas where, because milk is available in third-pint bottles, no considerable difficulty would be caused. I should be surprised if in many cases the retailers were actively opposed to supplying these third-pint bottles. Why, therefore, should they be prevented by legislation from doing so? That is the simple point at issue. No question of compulsion arises. In his most interesting speech, my hon. Friend went into detail on the problems facing distributors, including the increase in costs. He will, however, realise that these should not be a complete bar if anyone wishes to provide milk in these quantities.

An important point and one which, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton had very much in mind is the possibility of making third-pint bottles available more in canteens and in works to open up a new source for the sale of milk to industrial workers and others who at present do not have it available. A third of a pint is roughly about a glassful of milk. In a number of other countries, industrial and other adult workers make far more use of milk in this way. If we can open up a new market, surely it is a good thing from the viewpoint of the consumer—nobody denies that milk is an effective and good food—as well as providing further outlets to producers for their milk.

I would have thought that by and large the Bill deserves support. The Government

Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).

welcome its introduction. We feel that it could be of advantage. Having listened carefully to the arguments which have been put forward, I see no possible reason why it should be a disadvantage to anybody. I have emphasised its permissive character. Incidentally, from the Government's point of view it would make for simplification in that it would abolish the need for maintaining under the Defence Regulations the authority to supply school milk in third-pint bottles. If it is right to supply school milk in this quantity, I would have thought it right also that it should be available to other people in this quantity.

While I recognise the point of view of my hon. Friends and of hon. Members generally who have voiced the fears of the Dairymen's Association, I suggest to them that their case has been somewhat overstated. In the circular issued by the Dairymen's Association, it is suggested that if the Bill is given a Second Reading it should be amended in Committee. Let the Bill have a Second Reading. If hon. Members wish it to be amended in Committee, they know perfectly well—indeed, the promoters have said so—that points which are raised can be met.

I would have thought this was a Bill worth having. It is not a large Bill, and it does not seek to do a great deal. Equally, I do not see that it could do any harm. Therefore, on behalf of the Government, I urge the House to accept the Bill.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 30, Noes 9.

Division No. 162.] AYES [3.0 p.m.
Body, R. F. Glyn, Col. Richard H. Parker, J.
Boyd, T. C. Godber, J. B. Pitman, I. J.
Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton) Gurden, Harold Plummer, Sir Leslie
Bryan, P. Hobson, John (Warwick & Leam'gt'n) Renton, D. L. M.
Butcher, Sir Herbert Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)
Castle, Mrs. B. A. King, Dr. H. M. Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Chichester-Clark, R. Kirk, P. M. White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Deer, G. McAdden, S. J. Winterbottom, Richard
Drayson, G. B. Mitchison, G. R.
Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West) Page, R. G. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Finlay, Graeme Paget, R. T. Mr. Mathew and Mr. Brockway
Barter, John Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.
Beswick, Frank Linstead, Sir H. N. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Edelman, M. Snow, J. W.
Foot, D. M. Thomas, George (Cardiff) Mr. Holman and Sir C. Taylor.
Houghton, Douglas