HC Deb 24 July 1973 vol 860 cc1545-8

9.48 p.m.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

I beg to move,

That the Separated Milk Regulations 1973 (S.I., 1973, No. 369), dated 28th February 1973, a copy of which was laid before this House on 9th March, be withdrawn.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)

Perhaps it will be convenient to discuss at the same time the related motion,

That the Separated Milk (Scotland) Regulations 1973 (S.I., 1973, No. 914), dated 8th May 1973, a copy of which was laid before this House on 24th May, be withdrawn.

Mr. English

Hon. Members will recollect that on 9th July I endeavoured to debate in the House the Separated Milk Regulations.

Several questions need to be asked in connection with the regulations. First, I wish to ask why the regulations are necessary. They are supposed to he regulations implementing EEC regulation 1411/71. That regulation states: This regulation shall be binding in its entirety and directly applicable in all Member States. I am well aware that, in part, there is derogation in respect of the United Kingdom because, under the Treaty of Accession, for reasons I will come to shortly, there was a derogation from that regulation. This may be the reason, but I should like it better explained than it has been so far. No explanatory memorandum attached to the English or Scottish regulations makes the situation clear.

The English regulations were made on 29th February, laid before Parliament on 9th March and came into operation on 1st April. They are in the name of the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State for Social Services. The Scottish regulations were made on 8th May, laid on 24th May and came into operation on 14th June.

When the English regulations came out, the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments included them in its list of statutory instruments which it did not draw to the special attention of both Houses. This is rather odd, because, in its Tenth Report, it drew to the special attention of both Houses the Scottish regulations, which are almost identical.

Therefore, my first criticism might be directed at the sources of information of the Joint Committee. It seems that that Committee was not fully informed, in the case of the English regulations, of what it was informed about in the case of the Scottish regulations. I do not know who advised the Committee possibly your Counsel, Mr. Speaker—but whoever it was did not give the Committee the information in the case of the English regulations which he gave in the case of the Scottish regulations.

In its report, the Joint Committee produced some valid criticisms of the Scottish regulations. Its basic criticisms are twofold. It drew the special attention of both Houses to the regulations on the grounds … that they make an unexpected use of the powers conferred by the statute under which they are laid, that their form and purport call for elucidation and on other grounds which do not impinge on their merits or the policy behind them". The Committee's first criticism was that many of the definitions in both sets of regulations are made by reference to definitions in the EEC regulations. So it is impossible to determine the law by looking solely at the English and Scottish regulations. But it added that both sets of regulations relate to EEC regulation 1411/71, … as replaced or amended by any subset quent directly applicable Community instrument ". So this would be changed, as a result of some amendment in Brussels and nobody would be aware, from reading the English or Scottish regulations, that the law had changed.

I would draw a particular case to the Parliamentary Secretary's attention. In the NEDO document," Milk and Milk Products ", in its "United Kingdom Farming in the Common Market" series, it is pointed out that there is a special amendment to the EEC regulation. It gives the reference L233 / 12 in the legislative series of the Official Journal of 16th October 1971. The problem is that that reference is obviously wrong. Having looked it up—it exists in French but not in English—I find that it relates to rice.

What is even more interesting is this

if it were passed on 16th October 1971, there was an amendment already well in existence before the English and Scottish regulations were laid, and that has not been mentioned.

To assist the Minister to trace it—I am sorry I cannot give the exact reference, for the reasons I have explained—it is the one which allowed Channel Islands milk at a higher butterfat content than standard milk in the Common Market. That is obviously very important not only to the Channel Islands but, because their milk is sold here, to us as well.

If the NEDO in an excellent series of publications can make a mistake, and if it is almost impossible for anybody in the Library of the Honse to trace it, how on earth are other people supposed to trace the changes in these laws and to know them and to obey them? We are making a law almost impossible for people to obey.

The situation is even rather worse than that. The regulations themselves do not seem to be wholly clear. Since 1 represent an English constituency I will take the English regulations, but I think my argument applies equally to the Scottish ones. The regulations say that it shall be an offence to 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 definition is that 'milk' has the same meaning as in regulation No. 1411/71 of the Council of the European Communities". This is a point which the Statutory Instruments Committee criticised. Then, 'raw milk', 'whole milk', 'semi-skimmed milk' and 'skimmed milk' have the same respective meanings as in the said regulation No. 1411/71". Apparently the Statutory Instruments Committee did not look at the original regulation of the European Communities because the Committee could have made a third point. There certainly is in the EEC regulation a definition of milk, of raw milk, semi-skimmed milk, and skimmed milk, but there is no definition of whole milk.

I therefore submit that the regulation is void in law. I do not see how under it a prosecution can be brought and succeed in a court of law, since all these definitions relate to one another; the various sorts of milk are all based on the definition of milk, and obviously, separated milk is skimmed or semi-skimmed. They all relate to one another, but if the key and essential definition is not there because it is not in the EEC regulation, 1 do not see how anybody can be expected to enforce the law. We are saying to every milkman in the country, to every dairy, to every farmer, "You must not do something, but what that is we are not telling you; but if you do it, you will be subject to criminal penalties."

The penalties are £5 a day for a continuing offence. For the original offence the penalty is a fine not exceeding £100 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or both, and that is for something which is not clear.

Before we were in the Common Market there was an unofficial translation of the EEC regulations and many of us used it in the debates on the Common Market. Naturally, being a semi-official translation, it did not have the force of law. We were not in the Common Market and it did not much matter if it contained errors.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.