HC Deb 09 July 1973 vol 859 cc1042-4
Mr. English

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely the fact that the Separated Milk Regulations 1973 and the Separated Milk (Scotland) Regulations 1973 purport to impose criminal penalties upon all persons in England, Wales and Scotland for the performance of acts undefined by those regulations and, therefore, do so contrary to law. Let me first apologise to you, Mr. Speaker. I have given notice of this matter to you, Mr. Speaker, through the Clerk of the House and your Secretary, but I was unable to do that before noon, as is the custom, because this matter was originally brought to my attention only late this morning by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth). He then drew my attention to the 10th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which reports adversely upon the regulations applying to Scotland which I have mentioned. I need not go into details of the Committee's adverse report, because the Committee reported adversely on two grounds, neither of which is the ground that I am now raising.

During my discussions with various Officers of the House and others, however, after my hon. Friend had raised the matter with me, I naturally looked at the original regulations. I found that the Scottish regulations, which came into force on 14th June, are an almost identical copy of the English regulations, which came into force on 1st April.

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments reported upon those English regulations, but in that case did not make an adverse report. Indeed, the Committee said that it did not need to draw the special attention of both Houses to them. With respect to the Committee, I think that that was an error, in the light of its second report.

The essential point, if I may quote from the English regulations, is that: No person shall deliver, or cause or permit to be delivered, on or in pursuance of any sale for human consumption any separated milk which is not semi-skimmed milk or skimmed milk delivered, in either case, as such. The regulations define "separated milk" as milk other than raw milk and whole milk and say that: 'raw milk', 'whole milk', 'semi-skimmed milk' and 'skimmed milk' shall have the same respective meaning as in … Regulation 1411/71 of the European Community.

Regulation 1411/71 does not contain any definition of whole milk. I submit, therefore, that this attempt to impose criminal penalties upon someone is an attempt to impose criminal penalties for an act undefined by law.

This is the second time, Mr. Speaker, that I have had to raise a matter that is the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of Social Services. On the former occasion you will recollect, Mr. Speaker, that the result ultimately was a butter subsidy, which, apparently, originally the two Departments did not know about.

This matter concerns the same two Departments, partly assisted by the Scottish Office. They have apparently looked at an earlier translation—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going very near to a substantive speech on the merits of the situation. He is making application under Standing Order No. 9.

Mr. English

I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker. I think that I have proved the importance of the point. Its urgency arises from the fact that there are penalties, not only fines but imprisonment, and continuing fines, purported to be imposed by these regulations and, therefore, the liberty of the subject is involved.

It is clear that these regulations are void, under Community law and English law, and under Scottish law. I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that this matter deserves urgent consideration.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman was good enough to give notice at, I think, about 2.30 p.m. today, that he intended to make his application. The Standing Order says: A Member intending to propose to move the adjournment of the House under the provisions of this order shall give notice to Mr. Speaker by twelve o'clock, if the urgency of the matter is known at that hour. I am not clear as to how the situation has changed since 12 o'clock or between 12 o'clock and 2.30 p.m. In any event, I do not think that I would have allowed the application. I do not intend to allow it. There are other ways in which the hon. Member can raise the matter. If the hon. Member needs advice as to that, it will be given to him.

Mr. C. Pannell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have just raised the point that my hon. Friend did not give you the due notice. Although my hon. Friend has not given you due notice, he has made his speech and his submission. It seems that it would be far better, with great respect, Mr. Speaker, if you could indicate that at the beginning of a Member's speech. It might save a degree of oratory and save the House some time.

Mr. Speaker

Those seem to me to be two very worthwhile objectives. However, I think I must allow an hon. Member the opportunity to prove to me that the situation has changed since twelve o'clock.