HL Deb 25 July 1907 vol 179 cc12-7

rose to ask the Minister of Agriculture what course the Government propose to take in regard to legislation affecting the dairy industry, and in response to the deputation which waited upon the Board of Agriculture on 27th February last. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I crave your indulgence for a few minutes while I try to explain the Question which stands in my name. First of all, I must say how sorry I am that Lord Carrington, to whom the Question is addressed, is not able to be present, because he is suffering from a cold; but I understand that the noble Lord who represents the Local Government Board is prepared to give a reply. In February of this year a very important deputation waited upon the Board of Agriculture. That deputation consisted of representatives of the Central Chamber of Agriculture, of the leading dairy associations, of forty-six affiliated societies, and sixteen outside bodies, their object being to try to secure from the Government a promise of legislation which would affect the distribution. of milk all over the country. They felt, in the first place, that it was the desire of everybody that the milk supply of the kingdom should be pure, and that the present Model Milk Clauses, which were the outcome of an inquiry held in 1899, had not in anybody's opinion succeeded in effecting this object. The cause of this is that the clauses are not compulsory. Although they may be applied in one district, there is no reason why the animals affected should not be moved to another part of the country. I do not wish to go into the question as to whether milk from a tuberculous cow is dangerous to human beings or not, but I think it is quite reasonable to assume that it is not and cannot be a wholesome food for anybody. What the deputation desired I would like to read to you in a very few words from the report of the deputation. Mr. Middleton, representing the Central Chamber of Agriculture, said— We earnestly hope that at an early date the Government will take upon themselves the duty of passing a comprehensive measure relating to the control and the production and the sale of milk. We consider that the Dairies, Cow-sheds, and Milkshops Orders of 1885 and 1889, if carried out, fairly meet the case and are ample protection, but they are not adopted everywhere. We ask that they should be made compulsory and should be strictly enforced throughout the whole country under the supervision and control of a Government Department. Mr. James Sadler who also represented the Central Chamber of Agriculture and the Cheshire milk producers, said— In one important particular we are of opinion that the model clauses do not go far enough. They give power to inspect the cattle, they give power to sample the milk, they give power to isolate the cows the udders of which are suspicious, but they do not give power to slaughter the animal. The net result of this is that the cow that has been isolated and cast out from one herd may quite easily be drafted into another dairy herd, and the milk from that condemned cow may find its way after all into the milk supply. Now, whether it is true or not that tuberculosis can be conveyed through the medium of cow's milk to human beings, am not going to presume to offer an opinion on. What we say is this: that the tuberculous milk, whatever else may be said of it, cannot be regarded as wholesome, and therefore it ought not to be sold for human food. Therefore every cow that by any possibility can give tuberculous milk ought to be immediately slaughtered. We would therefore advocate that power should be given in a general Bill promoted by the Government, and backed by the Board of Agriculture, that all cows which show symptoms of tuberculosis of the udder should be immediately slaughtered; that, having been slaughtered, compensation should be paid for them out of Imperial funds. On such lines as these we hope the Government will introduce a Bill very soon. The various bodies concerned are anxious for some legislation, and I trust that we shall receive a favourable reply.


My Lords, I have been asked to reply to the noble Lord's Question in the absence of my noble friend Lord Carrington, and also partly because the Question is to a large extent concerned with the question of public health as well as the dairy industry. In fact the main points raised by the deputation which waited on the President of the Board of Agriculture, from the report of which the noble Lord has read some extracts, concern the Local Government Board rather more than the Board of Agriculture. The deputation to which the noble Lord has referred urged that there should be an end of piecemeal legislation on the subject of milk supply. I think most of us will be agreed that this is very desirable. As your Lordships are aware, there is a series of clauses known as the Model Milk Clauses, which have been inserted in a number of local Acts dealing with the subject of milk, and are specially intended to guard against the risk of the spread of tuberculosis through the consumption of milk from diseased cows. Whether they have that effect entirely I would not like to say; but I am rather inclined to agree with Lord Kenyon that they have not secured that result as far as we might desire.

The deputation urged that any further legislation on the subject should be dealt with in a Government measure applicable to the whole country. They went so far as to suggest that cows even suspected of suffering from tuberculosis of the udder should be slaughtered and compensation paid out of Imperial funds. On that point, raised by Mr. Sadler, I will not follow the noble Lord. It is a large and rather a thorny question, and I have often heard it discussed in another place when the question of compensation under local corporations' private Bills was being considered. That certainly is a matter on which the Treasury would have a good deal to say, and I am not prepared to follow the noble Lord in regard to it at present. There are also in force Orders made under the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Acts, 1878 and 1886. These Orders, made by the Local Government Board and their predecessors (the Privy Council), are called the Daries, Cowsheds, and Milk-shops Orders, and relate to various matters with respect to dairies and cowsheds and the sale of milk, and empower local authorities to make regulations on these subjects. All these matters are referred to in the report from which the noble Lord opposite has quoted. Some of the points urged by the deputation were not so strictly concerned with matters of public health, but the other points which are have received and are receiving the attention of the Local Government Board. Moreover, the attention of the Board has in other ways been drawn to the subject and especially by the second interim Report of the Royal Commission on Human and Animal Tuberculosis, issued at the beginning of this year, in which the Commissioners state that— A very considerable amount of disease and loss of life, especially among the young, must be attributed to the consumption of cows' milk containing tubercle bacilli. They add that their results clearly point to the necessity of measures more stringent than those at present enforced being taken to prevent the sale or consumption of such milk.

All this is receiving the careful attention of the Local Government Board, who have come to the conclusion that legislation at an early date should be undertaken by the Government on the subject of milk supply, and they propose during the recess, in consultation with the Board of Agriculture, to give their careful consideration to the whole question, but of course where the question of compensation is concerned the Treasury would have to assent. I cannot pledge the Government or the Local Government Board as to the exact proposals of any measure which they may introduce. In framing their proposals their object will be, whilst doing what they can to secure the purity of the milk supply, not to press unduly on the dairy industry. All the points urged by the deputation are engaging the earnest and careful consideration of the Local Government Board and will continue to do so in the preparation of their Bill. But it must not be understood that the Government commit themselves to the acceptance of the suggestions, or of any particular suggestion put forward by the deputation.


I think the announcement which the noble Lord has made will give a measure of satisfaction to those who are interested in this question. It; is a question of very great importance, not only to the business mainly concerned, but also to the health of the population at large, and I am sure that the House will welcome the announcement that His Majesty's Government intend to deal with the subject at an early date. But there was one matter mentioned by my noble friend behind me, namely, us to the compensation to be paid for cows which may be found to be affected with tuberculosis, to which the noble Lord opposite did not, refer further than to say he did not intend to follow my noble friend into the question. But that is one of the most important questions that can be dealt with, and we should like to know what is the view of the Government upon it. Is the cost of compensation for the animal slaughtered to fall upon the taxpayer or upon the ratepayer in the locality concerned? Your Lordships may be aware that in London the London County Council alone amongst all the authorities has an Act of Parliament which enables it to give compensation, not for the whole but for a proportion of the value of the animal destroyed. I very much hope that the Local Government Board, when they are dealing with this matter, will very carefully consider the question upon whom the cost of compensation is to fall.

The noble Lord referred to what are known as the Model Milk Clauses. These clauses were settled after very careful consideration by the parties concerned, and in my Department of the Private Bill Office we have always closely scrutinised any attempt to depart from the Model Clauses which were agreed upon at that conference. They have never been departed from until this year, when the London County Council introduced a Bill in which they proposed to give compensation to the dairyman when he is summoned to come up to London to give evidence. That was a concession to the dairying interest to which I did not feel justified in offering any opposition. But until the Government introduces some general legislation dealing with the whole subject, I very much hope that your Lordships and the other House of Parliament will not materially interfere with the Model Milk Clauses. I will not go into the general question now, though it is a very interesting and important one. I will merely say that I hope the Government will deal with it at an early date. A general Bill was introduced in which this question would have been dealt with, but I understand that at the instance of the Local Government Board it was taken out of that Bill on the understanding that the Local Government Board would deal with the matter at an early date, and I hope your Lordships will see a Bill dealing with the whole subject placed upon the Table early next Session.