HL Deb 21 June 1916 vol 22 cc328-36

Board of Education—Report of the Board for the year 1914–1915:

Explosives Act, 1875—Fortieth Annual Report of His Majesty's Inspectors of Explosives for the year 1915:

Economic Conference of the Allies—Recommendations of the Economic Conference of the Allies held at Paris, 14th, 15th, 16th, and 17th June, 1916:

Presented (by command) and ordered to lie on the Table.


THE EARL OF NORTH BROOK had the following Question on the Paper—

To ask His Majesty's Government whether the contract for the supply of milk to Haslar Hospital (which was in force at the time when, early in 1914, the contractors were convicted of supplying to the hospital milk deficient in milk fat), required that the milk supplied should be perfectly fresh and genuine and derived only from the farms, dairies, &c., named in the contract, and from cows tested at intervals with tuberculin, which farms and cows were to be open to the inspection of the medical officer of the hospital, and whether the hospital was not supplied by these contractors with large quantities of milk purchased by them from outside sources over which they had no control, and which were not subject to the inspection of the medical officer of the hospital; whether, subsequent to this conviction, the Admiralty had renewed the contract with the same contractors for much larger quantities of milk; whether, in connection with the proceedings taken by the Hampshire County Council against the same contractors early in 1916 in connection with the supply of milk to the hospital, undisputed evidence was given to the justices that at the time when the sample was taken, and daily during the previous three weeks, the contractors were receiving by rail 85 gallons of separated milk which was not being sold by them as such, and whether during that period any adverse report was made from the hospital laboratory with regard to the milk supplied on any day other than a day upon which a visit of a County Council inspector was made to the hospital, and whether His Majesty's Government concur with the opinion expressed by the Secretary to the Admiralty in his letter to the clerk of the County Council of the 12th January, 1914, that the Naval Hospital had its own special and complete arrangements for protecting the purchaser, and it seemed therefore that a certain amount of unnecessary and undesirable overlapping might occur if the ordinary procedure of the County Council were followed in the case of that establishment; who is responsible for contracts made by the Admiralty for the supply of milk to Haslar Hospital; under whose supervision are the samples of milk drawn for examination in the hospital laboratory, and what are the arrangements made for securing that these samples fairly represent the bulk delivered; whether steps have now been taken to ensure that the milk supplied to the hospital will in future be pure and genuine.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I wish briefly to explain to your Lordships the circumstances which have led me to ask the Question which stands in my name. The Hampshire County Council, at their last meeting, received a Report from their Public Health Committee as to the milk supplied to the Royal Naval Hospital at Husky. The Council were strongly and unanimously of opinion that the arrangements made by the Admiralty for the supply of milk to the patients in this hospital were exceedingly unsatisfactory, and I was requested to bring the matter to the attention of His Majesty's Government. The facts of the case are simple, and, I believe, undisputed. In 1913–14 a contract was in force with a local firm for the supply of milk to the hospital, the contract specifying that the milk should be fresh, genuine whole milk, the product of healthy cows, and derived only from two farms which were named in the contract.

Towards the end of the year 1913 the County Council received information tending to show that fraud was being committed with regard to this milk supply. In pursuance of their powers under the Sale of Food and Drugs Act, an inspector was instructed to take a sample of the milk delivered at the hospital. That sample was taken on November 16, 1913; and analysis showed that, out of a total quantity of 45 gallons which was supplied as fresh whole milk, 28 gallons, or approximately two-thirds of the consignment, was machine skimmed milk, 95 per cent. deficient in milk fat, while the remaining 17 gallons was slightly above the standard laid down by the Board of Agriculture. On January 23 proceedings in respect of these samples were taken before the Gosport magistrates; and the contractors put forward, as a defence, that it was their custom to treat skimmed milk with cream and to make what they called "fresh saleable milk," and they also stated that the doctoring of milk was customary in the trade. The magistrates, however, were convinced that a serious offence had been committed, and they inflicted a substantial penalty upon the contractors.

Subsequent to these proceedings, and subsequent to the admission of the contractors that they had been in the habit of supplying doctored milk to the hospital, the Admiralty renewed the contract, but for a larger supply of milk than previously. Reasons have been given by the Admiralty for the renewal of the contract. To these I will refer presently. For the moment I will continue the history of this firm. At the end of 1915 the County Council ascertained that these contractors were daily receiving large consignments of skimmed milk, although they were not selling any milk under that designation. In consequence of this, a sample was taken on December 8, 1915, of the milk sold in the town by this firm. This milk was found to be seriously deficient in fat; and on February 1 of this year proceedings were taken against the contractors, who were fined £5 and 10s. 6d. costs. It was then considered advisable to take further samples of the milk that was being supplied to Haslar Hospital. Accordingly on February 20 samples were obtained of a consignment of 126 gallons of milk delivered at the hospital on that day, and on analysis this milk was found to be 17.6 below the standard laid down by the Board of Agriculture. Proceedings were again taken against the firm before the Gosport Bench, which resulted in a fine and costs amounting to £51 16s. being imposed on the contractors; and the justices were satisfied that for at any rate a month prior to the proceedings very large quantities of skimmed milk were being Obtained by the contractors. On February 26 a further sample of milk was taken at the hospital, and that was found to be deficient in fat to the, extent of 10 per cent. I understand that in consequence of the proceedings before the Gosport Bench in March last, the Admiralty have now cancelled the contract and struck this firm off the list. But I venture to think that but for the action of the local authority it is very probable that what has been a serious fraud on the public, as well as a hardship on the inmates of Haslar Hospital, might have remained undetected.

I should like to say a word as to the position of the local authority in this matter. The County Council are charged with the administration of the Food and Drugs Act, and I understand that it is their duty to protect purchasers from fraud, whether those purchasers are private persons, public institutions, or Government establishments. I may say that the military authorities have always welcomed our assistance in this matter. They have given our inspectors access to the camps at Aldershot, at Border, and at other places for the purpose of taking samples, and I believe that our assistance has been the means of preventing fraud and securing a proper supply of the articles which various firms are under contract with the War Office to supply. But the naval authorities appear to take a different view of the matter, because the day after the first visit of the local authority's inspector to this hospital the Surgeon-General wrote, stating that the County Council should in future give notice, of their intention to take samples at the hospital. In reply the clerk to the County Council wrote pointing out, what I think will be obvious to your Lordships, that the object of taking samples is the prevention of fraud, and that therefore a certain amount of secrecy is desirable, for if we were to give previous notice of our intention to take a sample it would frustrate the object for which the sample was taken. The authorities at Haslar Hospital then forwarded the correspondence to the Admiralty, and the Secretary to the Admiralty on January 12 informed the clerk to the County Council that the Admiralty had its own special and complete arrangements for protecting the purchaser, and that therefore any procedure on the part of the County Council seemed unnecessary and undesirable in the case of this establishment. I will make no comment on that statement, but will leave your Lordships to judge from the facts which I have put forward how far those arrangements have been successful.

This letter was followed by another from the Admiralty, written on September 10, 1914, informing the County Council that in future their officers were not to enter the precincts of the hospital, but that all samples should be taken at the entrance gates. I will not discuss the legal point as to whether the mere fact of the milk passing through the gates of the hospital would be taken by a Court as being delivery to the purchaser, but I wish to point out that this is an extremely undesirable place at which to take samples of milk. To take samples of, perhaps, seven or eight or more churns of milk, the milk has to be stirred up; then the samples taken have to be divided into three parts, each part being put into a bottle and carefully sealed, and it is extremely difficult to carry out those operations at a public place like the gates of a hospital. Therefore I hope that the Admiralty may be willing to make some modification of this order and give the officer of the local authority greater facilities in carrying out his duties than he has at the present time.

With regard to the renewal of the contract to this firm, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty has recently explained that the question of its renewal was carefully considered, and that it was decided to give the firm one more chance for two reasons. The first reason was that the firm had held these contracts for upwards of ten years with practically no complaints. I take it that the words "no complaints" mean that there were no complaints received as to the quality of the milk which during that period had been supplied to the hospital. The inspector of the county authority has taken samples at the hospital on only three occasions, and on each of those occasions the milk was found to be seriously deficient in milk fat. It seems improbable—I should say almost incredible—that the milk has been of a satisfactory character except on those three days on which the inspector of the county authority happened to take samples. I am aware that the milk received is examined daily at the hospital laboratory, and the results of the analysis are recorded. The hospital authorities have been good enough to supply to us the results of those examinations during two periods of one month each—one month in 1914 and one month in 1916—and it is remarkable that it was only on the occasions when the County Council officer visited the hospital that the records show that the milk was below the 3 per cent. standard. I do not for a moment question that the analysis is carried out scientifically and efficiently, nor do I doubt that the records are most accurately kept. But there is one point on which I should like to have information. I should like to know how and by whom the samples of milk are taken that are submitted to the laboratory for analysis. Are they taken by an official appointed by the laboratory, or is the question of taking samples of milk to be submitted to the laboratory left to some under employees in the kitchen or in other parts of the hospital? It is very important to know whether the samples have been taken, say, from one or two churns only, or whether care has been taken to see that the samples submitted for analysis fairly represent the hulk of the milk supplied on that day.

The second reason given by the Admiralty for renewing this contract was that the contractors had laid out much money to bring their premises and herd of cows up to the Admiralty standard conditions. I have made inquiries into this matter and am informed that this firm of contractors are not the owners or occupiers of the farms in question, nor are they the owners of any cattle whatsoever, but they sub-contracted with the occupier of the farms to take all his milk, and as the quantity was insufficient for the purpose they had to rely on obtaining milk from other places and other sources over which they had no control. I hope that the facts which I have laid before your Lordships will be thought to have justified the County Council in the opinion they came to—that sufficient care has not been exercised by the Admiralty in the method in which contracts are given for the supply of milk to Haslar Hospital, and that though the arrangements for testing the milk may be, as stated in the letter of the Secretary to the Admiralty, special and complete, in practice they have not succeeded in obtaining pure and genuine milk for the patients and other occupants of the hospital. I hope that I may have an assurance that a thorough inquiry has been or will be made into the circumstances of this case, and that steps will be taken to secure in future a supply of wholesome and genuine milk for the patients in Haslar Hospital.


My Lords, the noble Earl's Question raises a great many points which I will endeavour to deal with seriatim. The answer to the first part of the Question is in the affirmative. As regards the second part, the great increase in the quantities required after the war broke out rendered it impossible for the contractor to produce sufficient milk from the farm named in the contract, and it was therefore, necessary to supplement it with milk from other sources. Very great difficulty was experienced in finding farmers willing to comply with the stringent conditions of the Admiralty contract, and it became necessary to accept a certain proportion of milk from cows not tuberculin-tested, subject of course to its being satisfactory on delivery, and to treat such milk suitably at the hospital before issue.

In answer to the third part, the question of striking the firm off the Admiralty list was considered, but they gave an explanation which appeared reasonably likely to be well founded, and as they had held these contracts for upwards of ten years with practically no complaints and had laid out much money to bring their premises and herd of cows up to the Admiralty standard conditions, it was decided to give them one more chance. They tendered lowest to Admiralty conditions in March, 1914, for a new three years contract and were accepted, with a warning that any future similar occurrence might lead to the removal of their name from the list. The Admiralty has no knowledge as to the evidence referred to in the fourth part of the Question, but is aware of this recent conviction of the firm, and has in consequence decided to cancel the contract and strike the firm off the list. This has been done. As regards Question 5, no adverse report was made from the hospital laboratory with regard to the milk supply for the period mentioned, other than on the day on which a visit was paid by the County Council inspector.

The letter referred to in the sixth part of the Question represented the views of the Board, who are satisfied that the internal arrangements at Haslar Hospital for supervising and analysing foodstuffs are efficient, but who at the same time welcome any assistance which the County Council inspectors are able to give to the ordinary course of their duties without involving unnecessary overlapping. As to the seventh part of the Question, the Director of Navy Contracts, acting under the instructions and on behalf of the Board of Admiralty, is responsible for making these contracts, in consultation, when necessary, with the Director-General of the Medical Department of the Navy, or with any other Admiralty Department concerned. As regards part eight of the Question, the medical officer for the time being appointed for duty for the laboratory is responsible. The procedure followed is that, immediately on the arrival of the milk, samples are taken from the various churns, mixed and placed in a sterilised glass retort, sealed and taken to laboratory for testing. As regards part nine, suitable precautions will continue to be taken to ensure as far as possible that the milk supplied is in accordance with the contract stipulations.

I think I have fully answered the noble Earl's Question. I see no reason whatever why we should not work in entire harmony with the County Council. We have the same object in view. I may say that at the present moment we are experiencing considerable difficulty in getting these contracts filled, and it is not possible at the moment to obtain a supply of the standard which we require—namely, from cows tuberculin-tested. This entails further treatment of the milk at the hospital, and if we can have the assistance of the County Council in the matter we shall welcome it most cordially. I believe that the precautions which we have taken will be sufficient to ensure that the patients in the hospital will receive milk which is suitable for their use.


Both the noble Earl and the noble Duke seem to agree that these dishonest contractors have swindled our wounded sailors. I should like to ask what reason there is for the very great tenderness with which their name is being kept back from the public.


Their name is not in the Question on the Paper, but I have no hesitation in giving it. The firm is Home's Dairies, Limited.