HL Deb 29 June 1915 vol 19 cc152-4


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the object of this Bill is to enable the Local Government Board to suspend, for a period not longer than twelve months after the termination of the war, the operation of the Milk and Dairies Act of last year both as regards this country and as regards Scotland. In order to explain to your Lordships the reasons which have prompted the Government to bring in this Bill, I must say a few words with reference to the Act of 1914. My noble friend Lord Strachie, in the lucid speech in which he moved the Second Reading of that measure, explained to the House that it had a twofold object—in the first place, to enable the milk supply of the country to be produced under as pure and wholesome conditions as possible; and, in the second place, to provide for the retail of milk in towns and elsewhere in an equally pure and wholesome condition.

The Act of 1914 was a far-reaching measure, and dealt with a great variety of subjects. It rather resembled the trunk of an elephant, for there was nothing too great and nothing too small in connection with these matters that it was not prepared to pick up and handle. Perhaps the most important provision it contained was that which extended the powers of the Local Government Board of concurrence with the Board of Agriculture for the registration and inspection of all dairies; and the widest interpretation was given to the word "dairy", which under the Act of 1914 includes any farm, cowshed, milk store, milk shop, or other place in which milk is produced or sold. Then there were powers under the Act of 1914 for the Local Government Board to make Orders to regulate the temperature to which milk was to be cooled down, to prevent tampering with churns, and to prescribe conditions as to the sale of "certified milk"; and the Act also provided for the setting up and maintenance of municipal milk depôts.

The effect of these enactments was likely to be that when the Act came into full operation the owners and occupiers of farm houses might be put to considerable—I do not for a moment say not legitimate—expense in altering and reconstructing their premises, and so on. There was not a great amount of discussion when the Bill was passing through your Lordships' House last year; it was brought in at rather an advanced period of the session. But in the House of Commons there was considerable discussion on the measure. The view that I have alluded to, that great expense might be entailed under its provisions, was certainly put forward in the House of Commons by critics, not necessarily unfriendly critics, of the Bill. One hon. Member, in. the debate on July 20 last year, said the Bill was going to make the production and sale of milk more expensive, and another speaker also said that no doubt its effect would be to increase the cost of milk; and I am not aware that those who were responsible for the Act of 1914 ever challenged that statement in another place. As I understand, the Government are impressed by that view, and they realise that great mischief might arise at this moment from doing anything from a legislative point of view that might tend to increase the cost of so important an article of consumption as milk. That is one of the reasons I should like to put forward for the introduction of this Bill. The second is that such reconstruction and rebuilding of farm premises and milk shops as might now be necessary if the operation of the Act of 1914 was not postponed would involve the use of labour and materials, and the Government are impsessed by the necessity for such labour and materials being employed in other quarters at the present time.

The third, and I think the most important, reason that prompts the introduction of this Bill is that the Act of 1914, like many other legislative measures of the last quarter of a century, would entail the appointment of an additional number of officials. I have to point out to your Lordships that the health staffs of local authorities throughout the country have already been largely depleted since the commencement of the war. I do not know whether your Lordships are aware that over one-fifth of the medical officers of health and a great number of the veterinary officers employed by local authorities have already been detached from civilian to military duties, and this depletion is likely rather to become accentuated than diminished as time goes on. It is in these circumstances that this Bill has been brought in. It is hardly necessary for me to point out to your Lordships that if, as is proposed, the operation of the Act of last year is postponed for a certain time, the public will not be left without safeguards in respect to impure or adulterated mills. As noble Lords well know, there is a long series of Acts dealing with this and kindred matters which will be in force just as much as if the Act of last, year were allowed to come into operation at once. For instance, there is the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act of 1878, under which routine inspection is required by many local authorities of cattle and dairies; then there is the Act of 1886 and a long series of Sale of Food and Drugs Acts, besides other Acts with which I need not trouble your Lordships, under which the public will be adequately safeguarded. In moving last session the Second Reading of the Bill in question, my noble friend Lord Strachie said that in his opinion it was a matter in which the House might trust the Local Government Board. I am going to invite your Lordships to be kind enough to trust the Local Government Board in regard to this Postponement Bill. I ought to add, although your Lordships are probably aware of the fact, that this Bill has already passed through all its stages in another place with practically no opposition, and, as I said at the opening of my remarks, it will apply to Scotland as well as to this country.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Hylton.)

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.