HC Deb 28 October 1965 vol 718 cc407-19

5.52 p.m.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Cornwall, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I gather that we are now to deal with the following Motion, which is in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) and myself: That the Milk (Special Designations) (Specified Areas) Order 1965, a draft of which was laid before this House on 8th July, be not made. I understand that it is the custom, laid down by the previous Speaker, that the Minister has an obligation and duty to make available in the Vote Office all the necessary Acts to which a particular Order refers. This has not taken place on this occasion. I have gone to great trouble to find the parent legislation to which this Order refers and it has been impossible to find it. This is an extremely complex matter and I think hon. Members will find it very difficult to follow the debate on the Order unless we have some guidance and help from the Government in providing in the Vote Office documents to which the Order refers. It was ruled by your predecessor in the Chair that this should be so. I ask you to see that the Government shall so provide.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Samuel Storey)

The hon. Member is quite correct. There is an obligation put on the Minister in charge to see that the documents, a reasonable number of copies of the documents, are in the Vote Office or, if some are out of print, whether they should be reprinted. That undoubtedly is the position.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Further to that point of order. Perhaps, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you could give guidance to myself and to the House. The Minister has completely failed to satisfy this obligation, and it is only fair to say that hon. Members are placed in difficulty as a result. There are no copies of the 1955 Food and Drugs Act available and there is only one unamended copy of the Order. The regulations are not available in the Vote Office. May I seek your guidance as to how we are to proceed? It is extremely difficult to be coherent and constructive in discussion of this important Order without having the necessary documents.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Mackie)

Perhaps I can help the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins). This is an Order placing on a particular district of the country the same conditions as apply to all other areas in the country and it has nothing to do with the detail of the Act mentioned. It is simply an Order placing an obligation on this particular area to provide clean milk. It may be that the hon. Member and his colleagues have some points to raise concerning the Act. I do not know, but, if that is so, I suggest that it would be out of order.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

It is absolutely monstrous for a Parliamentary Secretary to suggest that what an hon. Member might say would be out of order. It is entirely the prerogative of the Chair to say that. This Statutory Instrument refers specifically to certain Acts of Parliament, and, in particular, the 1955 Act. As I understand your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, there is an obligation on the Government to see that that document is available in the Vote Office for hon. Members. It is not so available. I seek your guidance as to how we should proceed in these circumstances.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am afraid I cannot help the hon. Member. This Ruling has been given and this obligation undertaken after consideration, but it is not for the Chair to enforce. The responsibility is on the Government and I am afraid I cannot help the hon. Member.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

The Government have failed in their obligation which was clearly laid down in the Ruling. It is clearly for hon. Members to ask the Government to withdraw the Order and to bring it forward again when the necessary documents are available as they have made a further error in administration.

Mr. John Mackie

I should be perfectly prepared not to withdraw the Order but to give time within the 40 days—there are still plenty of days left—for the Opposition to put down this Motion again. It is not a Prayer but a Motion that the Order should not be made. I do not split hairs over this, but it is a Motion that the Order should not be made, not a Prayer in the accepted sense of the word.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I now understand that the Parliamentary Secretary is giving a firm undertaking that in this Session the Government will give specific time for this Order to be prayed against. He is aware of the difficulties and the pitfalls. The Government know that such a debate might come on after half-past ten. If they are giving a firm assurance that time will be provided on a day when proper time for praying against the Order is available, I am happy to accede to the Government's assurance.

Mr. John Mackie

The Opposition will have to put the Motion down again. If that is done the only guarantee I can give is that, if possible, it will be given time. I do not know whether it is in order to mention this, but I have gone into the whole question dealt with by the Motion which has been put down for today. If the hon. Member for Cornwall, North thinks it important to have all the Acts concerned before him, I cannot understand why this Motion was put down. The Order is designed to give the people of one small area the same rights to have clean milk as people in the rest of the country. Why the Opposition should kick up a fuss on a point of procedure which is not so important, I cannot understand.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

This is impossible. I must ask for the help, guidance and protection of the Chair. I do not want to be pedantic, but the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has gone much wider than the matters I have raised. Of course, I accept it from him that the Order gives the protection of clean milk to certain people. It also places on others an obligation to spend money. These are the matters we wish to talk about. The Government have not provided the documents to enable there to be proper discussion of the Order.

With the permission of the Chair, I asked the Government if they would guarantee to provide us with time. I understood the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to say originally that they would. He is now withdrawing from that position and saying that the Government will see what they can do if we table the Motion again. This is wholly unsatisfactory. Hon. Members need the protection of the Chair when Ministers flagrantly fail to live up to the obligation imposed by Mr. Speaker's predecessor that they must provide the necessary documents. When Ministers fail to do this, I hope that the Chair will protect hon. Members and that the Government will take the necessary and honourable action of assuring the House that time will be provided to discuss this matter when the documents are eventually made available.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I think that I can only say to the hon. Gentleman that there are two courses open to him—either that he should move his Motion and discuss it now even without the documents, or that he should not move it and should accept the assurance of the hon. Member in charge of the Order that he will arrange for time later and, I take it, will ensure that the documents are available.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Perhaps the Joint Parliamentary Secretary would like to answer the question I put to him, whether he will give this assurance.

Mr. John Mackie

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I am not the Leader of the House. I can only give the assurance that I will try to find out if my right hon. Friend can give time. I would suggest that the hon. Gentleman takes the advice of the Chair and carries on with the Motion.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

As I understand it. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you advised that there were two courses open. It is not for the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to try to anticipate what course I should take. Your advice that was that I should take either of the two courses. I accept that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is not the Leader of the House. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman sends for the Leader of the House or for the Patronage Secretary and gets his approval to giving an assurance. After all, we are not asking for very much. I am merely saying that we want praying time with the proper document at our disposal—the document being the Food and Drugs Act, 1955. Unless we have that, it is very difficult to continue with this. If we cannot get a guarantee of time from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, improperly helped as we are and without the necessary document we shall have to do the best we can and proceed with the Motion. I think that the only honourable course is for the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to give this assurance. He seems unwilling to do so. I am sure that he knows full well that he is under an obligation to answer what I have said.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. George Willis)


Mr. Scott-Hopkins

It cones ill for the Minister of State from a sedentary position to say "No". He must remember what he used to do on points of no substance when he was in Opposition. I believe he would be the first to admit that the point which I am raising with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, is of great substance. I hope that the Minister of State will not only stay in a sedentary position but keep quiet, too. I once more ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for an assurance.

6.4 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Howard (St. Ives)

As it appears that we cannot get the assurance, I think I should proceed to move the Motion.

I beg to move, That the Milk (Special Designations) (Specified Areas) Order 1965, a draft of which was laid before this House on 8th July, be not made. I support everything my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) has said on the subject of the papers not being available. My object in moving the Motion is to find out the Government's intentions. This applies to the Isles of Scilly, which are in my constitutency and which are, as we all know, well known to the Prime Minister, who has a holiday home there. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that we are all trying to get clean milk. This is true.

My object in raising the matter tonight is to draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Isles of Scilly are in a very special position. Ever since taxation was put upon them, unfortunately by our Government, it has always been the case with the Isles of Scilly of, "Heads you win, tails we lose". They do not get half the advantages and subsidies which are available to agriculture on the mainland. I know that they get certain assistance under horticultural schemes, but that is not covered by this Act and I shall not mention it. They get fertiliser grants, but they get no calf subsidies.

I am sure that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who I welcomed in the Isles of Scilly some time ago, knows as well as I do the very special problems which people in the islands face with regard to costs. As the hon. Gentleman knows, everything has to be imported to these islands over the sea for at least a distance of forty miles. The on-costs from the mainland for St. Mary's are about £2 a ton and for the off-islands they are perhaps another 10s. a ton, making £2 10s. to £3 extra. Therefore, everything they order from the mainland costs this much extra, but they do not get the advantages of subsidies.

I ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for an assurance that, if the Order is applied to the Isles of Scilly, they will get all the grants and subsidies available to the mainland. Will the winter export of milk be allowed? What will be the cost to the islanders? Somebody coming on an inspection may, in the course of trying to implement the Order, say that certain buildings or the holding generally is not up to standard and cannot be passed. If that happens, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary knows that the additional costs to the islanders concerned will be considerable, if they have to make up their services and buildings to the standard which applies on the mainland.

It may seem to be somewhat off the point, but when Mr. George Tomlinson was Minister of Education an Order was promulgated to the effect that when schools were built there had to be wonderful playgrounds made of asphalt. I took him to the Isles of Scilly and showed him some of the island schools. He agreed with me that the Order was nonsense as applied to the Isles of Scilly and was unnecessary because there were already wonderful natural playgrounds there.

I do not oppose the idea of getting clean milk and improving standards. Obviously, we all want the consumer and everybody concerned to have a better standard of milk. No one wants to see this brought about more than I do. However, it is a question of the additional costs. I have had years of experience of conducting a lone battle on behalf of these islands. They are the only ones of their kind in England and I have not got anyone to support me. My experience has been that nice answers are always given but when it comes to the crunch it is always said, "You are a special case, because you are a long way away and therefore we cannot give you" whatever it may be.

This is why I move the Motion. I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary can give me an assurance that these islands, if they come under the Order, will not lose by having to pay enormous sums of money to be brought up to standard.

6.10 p.m.

Mr. John Mackie

May I first apologise for the slip-up in procedure of which the hon. Member for Cornwall, North made the best, and say that, although we slipped up, the point in the Order does not arise in the Act except in so far as the Order is made possible by the Act. The Order affects an area and not a particular issue within the Act, as the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) has pointed out. I am obliged to the hon. Member for St. Ives in that, when I went to the Scilly Isles, he showed me round and introduced me to many people there. I was very interested in the area. Its remoteness is slightly exaggerated. I found it easy to get there.

Mr. Howard

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that as of yesterday there had been no helicopter flights to the Isles of Scilly for four days? I do not call that easy to get at.

Mr. Mackie

Let me put it that we got there very comfortably.

Mr. Howard

Yes, in the summer.

Mr. Mackie

Apart from that, I did not find it a remote area, in the sense that it seemed to me to have all the amenities one could wish to have. One pays no licence for a car and I could mention many other advantages which seem to cancel out the disadvantages. The hon. Member for St. Ives said that the area was in a special position and that it received no calf subsidies. The reason is that the people there do not rear any cattle which would qualify for calf subsidies. I do not want to go into detail as to why they do not rear calves and receive subsidies, but, as the hon. Member knows, the Duchy of Cornwall, who are the landlords, do not allow cattle there. It is quite a ridiculous feudal attitude, but there it is. I am surprised at it, but that is the reason why these subsidies are not paid. It has nothing to do with this Order.

The hon. Member asked whether, if the Order were approved tonight, all the grants and subsidies available would be paid. They are all paid now. All grants and subsidies paid to other farmers go to farmers in the Isles of Scilly. The payments are mostly concerned with horticulture and the fact that milk is not sold through the Milk Marketing Board, which does not function there, means that there is no price control by the Board. The hon. Member will remember that I said to the farmers there at the time that they could charge more for their milk if they so wished, up to the maximum retail price allowed. They can therefore do that if there are any increased costs.

Mr. Howard

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not leave out the point which I made at the end of my speech. If a market inspector goes over there and says, "This, that and the other must be done", will they receive the appropriate grant for it? That is the simple question to which I should like to have a reply.

Mr. Mackie

I was coming to that. The Order was not made in any way hurriedly, and it applies only to St. Mary's and Tresco and not to any of the other outlying islands. Before the Order was made there was a complete survey of all the producers to find out whether there would be any extra cost on buildings or equipment if the Order was applied. Apart from the case of one person, the survey showed that little or no extra cost would be required. This does not mean that under any future regulations which may come along there will be no need for extra expenditure, but such a case would apply all over the country and I see no reason why those new regulations should not apply also to St. Mary's and Tresco.

Meanwhile, the survey showed that there was only this one person involved, and she was not too worried about the situation. All the bodies concerned were consulted—the Council of the Isles of Scilly, the Duchy of Cornwall, the County Council, the N.F.U., the Milk Marketing Board, the Central Milk distributive Committee, the National Association of Creamery Proprietors and Wholesale Dairymen, the National Dairymen's Association, and so on.

The whole purpose of the Order is simply to give people who buy milk in these two areas the same protection as is given in other areas, which I am sure hon. Members must admit is necessary. If this protection is not necessary, then there must be something wrong with the Orders made by the previous Government. This is the last area to be tackled, so as to give everybody there protection in the buying of fresh milk.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Cornwall, North knows all the details of the four standards of milk and that he is conversant with the Act, a copy of which he could not find. The Order merely provides protection so that people can obtain clean milk, and hon. Members know the risk if dirty or contaminated milk were consumed, for example, in the schools. This is the reason for the Order and I therefore respectfully ask that the Motion be withdrawn so as to allow these constituents to have the advantages of these Regulations, in the same way as the rest of the country.

6.18 p.m.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I accept the Parliamentary Secretary's apology for the further mistake in not providing the right document. Two mess-ups by the Government in one day make almost an all-time low, but I suppose that we shall have greater lows in the next few months. The hon. Gentleman has neither answered the main question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard), concerning the winter milk surplus, nor explained the purpose of the Order.

When I was in the hon. Gentleman's present position I, too, went round the Isles of Scilly and visited the islands of St. Mary's and Tresco. The hon. Gentleman said that the Order merely applies to the two islands the same provisions as apply to the rest of the United Kingdom in that consumers of milk will be ensured of clean milk, but what does this mean? The Order designates the two islands as specified areas but what does the expression "specified area" mean? The hon. Gentleman has singularly failed to tell the House what it involves.

The hon. Gentleman said that I knew the provisions of the Food and Drugs Act, 1955, but I have only an unamended version and the hon. Gentleman knows that there is only one amended version available. Section 31 of the Act says that special designation shall be obligatory for the purposes of the sale of milk by retail for human consumption, and Section 35 describes what special designation regulations are. There is a whole mass of regulations which presumably must be complied with by retailers of milk. I suppose that this must be so, but once again the hon. Gentleman singularly failed to explain to the House what this would cost and what the implications of the regulations will be for milk producers. In a very nice way, he said that he and his Department had undertaken thorough investigations on the two islands to find out whether producers of milk would be put to any great expense, and he was glad to tell my hon. Friend that he thought that they would not be, save for one particular lady. But do people really understand what regulations will apply to them now that they are to be in a specified area subject to the designation of various kinds of milk? I very much doubt it. Do they really understand—do hon. Members understand—what all the regulations are? There are pages of them. Do they know which particular regulations will apply? I am not exactly sure myself.

The whole situation is most unsatisfactory. The hon. Gentleman has not given the right answer. One may wonder whether he himself understands what is involved. This is possible, though I am fairly certain that he does know and he was just being reticent because he did not want to expose the fact that, more than possibly, it will cost quite a lot of money.

The Parliamentary Secretary is fully aware that on these two islands at present milk production caters for the large number of visitors who come in the summer and there is, therefore, quite a surplus of milk in the winter which has hitherto come over to the mainland and been disposed of at a very low price. It has not been possible for a very great deal to come over because of the milk regulations. Are we to take it that, because these two islands are now to be specified areas, the winter surplus, if there is a surplus—the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well what the position is as regards surplus—can come to the mainland and be sold in Cornwall, for instance? If so, what provision is he making? What provision for inspection will there be to ensure that the special designations are complied with now that an obligation is to be put on producers and retailers of milk in the islands? Will he set up an office in St. Mary's—I assume he will—or will someone from the mainland have to go over?

There is a host of questions which the hon. Gentleman has not answered. He has dealt with the matter in a most unsatisfactory way. Of course, we all want to see consumers in these two islands lave clean milk. I can understand the hon. Gentleman's desire to hurry the thing alone so that his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will get particularly clean milk. I am sure we all agree with him there. But there is the other side of the coin, which he must not airily dismiss by saying that only one lady might have something to pay out. I do not believe it. In my view, these regulations, of which there are many, will mean quite considerable expense not only for producers but also for the dairymen. The point my hon. Friend made about subsidies is relevant, too, although I do not think that this is quite the moment to deal with it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will seek the leave of the House to speak again and give a brief answer to the questions which I have raised. The position at present, following his answer, remains most unsatisfactory.

Mr. John Mackie

By leave of the House, I shall try to answer most of the slightly irrelevant points which the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) has raised. This Order has nothing to do with the sale of surplus milk, with the price or with anything else like that. When I was there, as the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) knows. I quizzed the farmers about whether they wished to come under the aegis of the Milk Marketing Board, and they said not. Therefore, if they do not wish to do that, they must get rid of the surplus milk as they have done. It is a small quantity in the winter anyway, and they get it to the mainland for manufacturing purposes. That answers that point.

As regards the Order in relation to the Act and the designations, I think that I should be almost out of order if I were to go through all the details now. The Order simply specifies the area of St. Mary's and Tresco as coming under the Order which provides for designation. If anyone does not know, perhaps I should explain that the various designations of milk are pasteurized, sterilised, ultra-heat treated—that is the new process—and untreated milk. Untreated milk can also be farm bottled milk. There are the two varieties of untreated milk.

I do not see why people in Tresco or St. Mary's should be treated any differently from people anywhere else in the country. There is an Order laying down certain conditions for the labelling of milk in certain ways and providing for certain conditions in the production and sale of milk to be observed, and it will be their duty to find out what is required and carry out the law of the land. As I have explained, we made perfectly sure that they could. This has not been done in other areas of the country, where people ha: to carry on for themselves, but in this case we made sure that there was, for example, a pasteurising plant established before we made the Order. We undertook a survey. We treated the whole area very liberally indeed in every way.

The hon. Member for Cornwall, North, has made an awful lot out of very little. He is very good at it, and I compliment him on it, but I assure the House that the Order is fully necessary. This is not a debate on our milk and dairies legislation. It is simply a question of whether this area should be specified to give the population clean milk as the rest of the country has.

Mr. G. R. Howard


Mr. Speaker

Order. I understand that the hon. Gentleman has spoken.

Mr. Howard

Yes, Mr. Speaker. I moved the Prayer and I have it in mind to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

I wish to say again to the Parliamentary Secretary that, unfortunately, we have heard this sort of thing before. People ask why we should not do the same as everyone else, but, when we have occasion to ask for assistance as a special area, the answer is very different. This is all I am ventilating this matter for in the House tonight. As a result of the hon. Gentleman's assurances, I shall expect that, if we have additional costs for anything to be done, this aspect of the matter will be taken into consideration. With that in mind, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Arising from what I gathered you were about to say to my hon. Friend, I should like to ask your guidance. A similar situation arose last night when I was the mover of a Prayer, and I was told by the Chair that I had not the right, without the leave of the House, to reply to the answer which the Minister had given. May I have your guidance as to whether the mover of a substantive Motion such as a Prayer has the right to speak again without seeking the leave of the House? I do this purely to have on the record exactly what the position is.

Mr. Speaker

I make no comment on last night. It is a bad practice to go back and consider earlier Rulings. The position is that an hon. Member who moves a Prayer has the right to reply. I intervened just now because I did not know that the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) had moved the Prayer.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Ifor Davies.]