HL Deb 12 July 1934 vol 93 cc523-34

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I venture to think that His Majesty's Government can feel that in this Bill they are putting before your Lordships a really balanced policy for the milk industry. It can be divided into three parts. The first is an attempt to save the industry and to stave off ruin by putting a bottom into the market. That scheme we reckon will cost something over £1,500,000 per annum. That payment will operate over a period of two years and after that period, if prices have risen to a certain height which I will mention later, these payments will have to be repaid to the Exchequer. The second and third parts of the policy constitute an attempt to increase the consumption of milk in this country. The first method of doing that is by cleaning up the herds from the fell disease of tuberculosis which is unfortunately so common among our cow population. The second method is a scheme of milk publicity, of spending £500,000 a year for the next two years very largely on increasing the supply of milk in schools for school children.

If your Lordships turn to the Bill you will find that Clauses 1 to 8 deal with the first part of our policy. There you will find provision is made, as I have said, for putting a bottom into the market. There is to be a guaranteed price to the Milk Board for all milk sold for manufacturing purposes of 5d. per gallon in summer and of 6d, in winter. That will mean that, whereas at the present moment the Milk Board are receiving something between 3d. and 3½d. per gallon for milk which is to be manufactured into cheese, henceforward that sum will he made up to 5d. in summer and 6d. in winter by a grant from the Exchequer. That position will continue for two years.


Would the noble Earl make it clear who gets that? He said it went to the Milk Board.


It goes into the general funds of the Milk Board and the Milk Board are responsible to the farmer.


They pass it on without charge?


They pass it on. Provision is made for repayment in the event of prices rising to such an extent that the Board is receiving 6d. for manufacturing milk in summer and 7d. in winter. If that occurs repayments will be made to the Exchequer through the Board. This advance makes provision not only for all the milk that normally goes to the Board but for all milk manufactured into cheese by farm cheese makers. The quantity of milk in the second category is something over 50,000,000 gallons per annum. This policy has been criticised as being a policy of subsidies just for that type of milk which is least required—namely, manufacturing milk, the milk which is, in fact, responsible for pulling down the price of liquid milk. But this advance is just as much an assistance to the liquid milk market as it is to manufacturing milk, because as your Lordships are aware the milk is paid for at the moment on the basis of there being regional pools. Each region has its pool price settled and then provision is made for certain inter-regional compensation to level up the various regions. Within the pool what is responsible at the moment for pulling down the price of liquid milk is the low price "received for manufacturing milk. Large deductions have had to be made from those who are selling their milk to the liquid market in order to help the price paid to those selling for manufacturing processes. Under this scheme the amount of the deductions would be limited by virtue of the fact that the price of manufacturing milk cannot go below 5d. in the summer and 6d. in the winter.

Now I come to the second part of the Bill which is contained in Clauses 9 and 10. There we find provision made for the cleaning up of the herds. We put the reasons for the need of this step under three headings. The first is public health, the second is the saving of the wastage of the dairy herds that goes on at the present moment to an appalling extent, and the third is salesmanship. It must be clear to all of us that so long as there is in the minds of the buyers distrust of the product put on the market we are not going to sell as much milk as we should sell. Therefore, from the public health point of view and the farming point of view, it is essential that the Government and the farmers between them should co-operate in a campaign for the cleaning up of our herds from the scourge of tuberculosis. For that purpose there is to be a grant of £750,000 from the Exchequer over a period of four years. The details of the scheme have still to be prepared, but it is proposed to give assistance to what we call attested herds. These will be herds completely free from tuberculosis. It will be necessary for a producer who wishes to enter that scheme to have two successful tests of his herd with a six months interval to show his herd to be completely free. As soon as he has done that he can apply to the Ministry for an official test, which of course will be at the expense of His Majesty's Government, and if that test is satisfactory he will be able to enter the scheme for the attested herds. He will receive what will probably amount to a premium on his milk of a penny a gallon. That will account for something over £400,000 of the £750,000 which we have provided for this scheme.

Then, my Lords, there is the position of the certified producers and the Grade A (T.T.) producers, and the question of whether they should come into the scheme. I must ask your Lordships not to press me upon that point at the moment, because discussions are actually in progress. I can only say that I think those discussions are going very satisfactorily, and on behalf of those at the Ministry who are carrying on the negotiations, I would like to express their thanks to the certified and Grade A (T.T.) producers for the manner in which they are endeavouring to meet them. After the attested herd we have another grade of herd—another scheme which will be administered by the Milk Marketing Board, a scheme for accredited herds. Those herds will have to submit twice a year to full clinical examination and their production will have? to attain to the Grade A standard. There will be a premium again of a penny per gallon from the funds of the Milk Marketing Board. I may say in that connection that again there are details of this scheme to be settled and therefore the exact figures must not be taken too definitely.

There is one point which I think is bound to come up in discussion and may come up at a later stage in Committee on this Bill. That point is that complaint is being made in certain quarters of the provision that when this period of four years has expired the Minister is to have the right to ask for the scheme to be continued by the Milk Marketing Board. Some complaint, as I say, is being made of that provision, but it has not been made by the Milk Marketing Board. The Board have fully accepted the conditions of the scheme. They must feel, as certainly we feel, that a very large sum of public money is being made over to the milk producers in order to enable them to do things in the production of their commodity which will assist them very considerably to increase its consumption, and we feel that as a condition of that very large grant they should be prepared to carry on the work at the end of the period and not just let it run to waste.

Now we come to the last section of the, policy, which is provided for in Clause 11 of the Bill—a grant for what we call publicity. Actually it is not intended that very much of that amount of £500,000 a year for two years shall be spent on what we ordinarily understand by advertisement. Rather we would like to see this money spent by giving the best publicity of all to milk, and that is by cheapening it in the schools. At the present moment there are over 800,000 children who are buying their milk in the schools for a penny per day—a third of a pint. We are endeavouring to work out a scheme, and I think I can say that we have very nearly completed it, whereby those children will be able to obtain their milk for a halfpenny a day. I think your Lordships will admit that that is a tremendous advance. There may be some of your Lordships who would like to see it given for nothing. Well, perhaps one day we will come to that, but at the present moment, I think your Lordships will admit that a very big step forward has been taken.

We have in the past been criticised by some of your Lordships for adopting a policy of restriction of production, and I think those of your Lordships who have made that charge against us will be the first who will want to congratulate us on here pursuing a policy of increased consumption. I am really not quite sure that sufficient attention has been drawn to the very important departure in national policy which is here envisaged. Up to now we have felt inclined to spend a very considerable number of millions of pounds a year on public health, and on the other hand, we have spent a great deal of money quite separately on the assistance of agriculture. Here, for the first time, we are bringing the two policies together: we are assisting the farmer in the very best way possible—namely, by getting more milk into the stomach of the child who needs that milk. Again I say that I look forward with very great pleasure to the congratulations that we must receive on this from noble Lords opposite, from the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and from others who quite rightly feel that wherever possible we should pursue a policy of increase of consumption rather than one of restriction of production.

In moving that this Bill be read a second time, I am quite aware that I have perhaps dealt with it rather shortly, but I felt that your Lordships have had the details of it before you for some time. If there are any further questions that arise in your Lordships' minds, of course I shall be here to endeavour to answer them. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl De La Warr.)


My Lords, this Bill is a great evidence of the extraordinary energy of the Ministry of Agriculture. The noble Earl has, of course, played a number of tricks on your Lordships' House with this Bill, and very cleverly. He has made virtues of a whole lot of necessities, the details of which he has carefully kept from your Lordships' House. Of course he realises that what we are suffering from in the matter of milk—and he has said so—is under-consumption and not over-production. He then said that there is a change of policy and that the Government are going in for increasing the consumption of milk. Of course he does not tell you why they are doing that—that we are tied by the leg to the Dominions by the Ottawa Agreements, and that he dare not attempt in any way to limit the imports of milk pro- ducts from the Dominions because of the Ottawa decisions, and therefore his only way out is to attempt to increase consumption in this country.

He did not tell you that we take the whole of the milk products—the whole of the cheese and butter—which New Zealand produces; 100 per cent. of them comes to this country. He did not tell you that we take 90 per cent, of the Australian butter and cheese, and so on. He did not mention that that is the reason why he is attempting this change of policy on the part of the Government. And the reason that he did not mention it is that he knows perfectly well—and if I am wrong upon this I hope he will assure your Lordships' House—that the Dominions have given no guarantee that they will not increase their production and therefore increase their exports to this country when they get the better price which will result from the guaranteed minimum price for manufacturing milk. There is no guarantee of that, and the Dominions are perfectly free to increase their production and spoil the whole of the Ministry's scheme at any time they like, as far as I can understand it.

Then the noble Earl says that we have got to improve quality and increase consumption, and he proposes to spend money on doing those two things simultaneously. Now let us have this perfectly clear: Is he going to vise our money to advertise immediately by an increased consumption of the rotten milk which is now being distributed, or is he going to wait until the milk is really good before he advertises by an increase in its consumption by school children? You can not have it both ways. If the milk is bad, and he has told us it is—




If he has not he ought to have done so. I will give quotations which will prove my facts up to the hilt. If the milk is bad, and the noble Earl should have said that the quality of milk in this country is probably less good than that in any modern civilised country—


I hope the noble Lord will make it quite clear that that is what he says, and not what I said.


I am saying what I say he should have said. He should have given these facts, because they have been given by other members of this House, and have not been controverted, and I am going to make them perfectly clear. First with regard to this question of quality. The noble Earl told us something about the quality of the herds in this country. If your Lordships will read the Report of the Committee on Cattle Diseases you will see that Great Britain has the highest percentage in the world of tuberculosis infected herds. I know perfectly well that the Report tries to gloss over that by saying that it is not believed that it is higher than in other countries, but certainly not lower, or words to that effect, but it says that the generally accepted conclusion is that at least 40 per cent. of cows in dairy herds are infected with tuberculosis adding that that is a statement "which does not appear exaggerated." The Report continues: This percentage of infection may be compared with a percentage of something over four in the United States"— ten times as high in Great Britain as in the United States!— and approximately twelve in Canada.… We have no evidence to show whether the disease is increasing or diminishing in Great Britain, but the widespread neglect of adequate precautions against its increase makes the latter improbable. They do not like to say which it is, but the inference is that as it is improbable that it is diminishing, the probability is that it is increasing.

A member of your Lordships' House, Lord Moynihan, speaking at a meeting at the Mansion House nearly two years ago on the subject of milk, and the results from the 40 per cent. tubercle infected herds, used these words. He said: It is also true that a very large amount of surgical tuberculosis is caused by the drinking of contaminated milk. I have some figures here which show that 59 per cent, of cases of glandular enlargement and 35 per cent, of bone and joint disease in England and Wales are due to the drinking of contaminated milk. In Scotland things are far worse;"— we ought to have had a Scottish debate on this— there, over 90 per cent, of glandular enlargements and over 60 per cent, of diseases of bones and joints were found to be due to the drinking of such milk. What we are accustomed to call 'surgical tuberculosis,' that is tuberculosis of the glands, bones, joints, skin, intestines and so forth, is due in large measure to impure milk. This is the milk which the noble Earl is now going to advertise should be increasingly consumed in this country. Then: It has also become quite clear that a certain proportion of that form of tuberculosis which was supposed to be due to the contact of an individual with an already contaminated individual—that is to say, human tuberculosis—is also due to the drinking of milk. Therefore, against milk a heavy indictment may be brought: that it is the cause of a large proportion of surgical tuberculosis and of a certain proportion of medical tuberculosis. What is the noble Earl going to say to all this? Is he going to advertise to bring about an increase in the consumption of liquid milk by the children of the workers in this country when he knows that the effect of an increase in the consumption of liquid milk from existing herds must mean an increase in the percentage of the distributed milk which is not pure and free from tuberculosis? I think some of the measures which the Minister proposes for cleaning up the herds are good. There is for example the matter of the changed methods of nomenclature. What a fatuous decision it must have been to term Grade A, milk which is the lowest graded milk in this country. It is the worst of the graded milks; and when you take the next grade up, Grade A (T.T.) ordinary people think it is Grade A but somehow lessened in quality; and when it comes to "certified" milk they think it is milk on which there is a certificate which is not as bad as it might have been. The change which is being made was overdue and the old grades were allowed to exist because the producers did not want to be labelled as producing anything but the best milk. We welcome the change which is being made and which is long overdue.

Then there is going to be a campaign, which the Minister has stated in another place will take a long time and towards which he is contributing £750,000, to ensure the proper inspection of tuberculous herds. I want to ask whether he will agree to give to the country a statement at regular intervals as to the progress of the emergence of clean herds, as a result of our expenditure. Could we have a report every six months of the progress of the scheme, showing us the lowering, month by month, in the percentage of infected cattle from which British milk is produced? If we could know that by spending £750,000 we have reduced the percentage from, say, 45 per cent. of infected cows to 43 per cent. in six months, we will willingly double and treble that expenditure, if thereby we can get a proportionate decrease in infected herds, and finally reach the pastoral heaven which was outlined by the noble Earl, when all our cattle will be completely free from tuberculosis.

Then there is a proposal to pay premiums for pure milk. I know that members of my Party have not supported that scheme in another place, but I believe it to be a very good preliminary measure. I happen to have seen this scheme carried into effect in the great Midland dairying combine, which has its centre in Birmingham. There there was a premium paid for each gallon of milk which came below a certain bacterial count test and had more than a certain percentage of fat content, I remember visiting that scheme and seeing the figures of the thirty best farmers who were entitled to the premium because their milk had, as a result of a count of the number of bacilli to each cubic centimetre, got a premium. When I visited the same place two years later the very farmers who had got a premium for the cleanliness of their milk at the beginning were now out of the running altogether because milk of that type of cleanliness would not have been clean enough to earn a premium. In other words, the result of the premium had been enormously to reduce the number of bacteria per cubic centimetre and to improve the fat content.

The scheme provided for the giving of advice by skilled scientists to those farmers who found themselves falling back in the race, and who wanted to secure that they would come up again on to a premium-receiving basis. It was an admirable scheme. At first they did not like it, but afterwards they willingly accepted and applied for the services of the scientific expert, and learnt that, by adequate and rapid cooling, by the use of special milking cans with the orifice at the side, by the washing of the udder and cleaning the coats of the cows and so on, they were able to quality for premiums and get back again on the list. I am very-much in favour of that scheme, and I hope that that will be one of the means by which the Ministry will get to work during the cleaning up period.

Now, with regard to the consumption of milk. It is true that consumption of milk is very low indeed in this country. But I am not surprised, when we know that our herds are ten times as contaminated as they are in the United States, where the consumption of milk is twice as much per head as in this country. Similarly, in Canada the consumption of milk is three times as much per head as in this country, and in Scandinavia, where some of the best milk in the world is produced, the consumption of milk is six times as much as here. And I am not unaware of the immense value of the drinking of raw liquid milk, and even of skimmed milk, to school children. The benefit has been proved again and again by tests and experiments, where children's height and weight and reaction to teaching have been affected. These are good things, but the milk must be pure. How is the Minister proposing to deal with the increase of the consumption of milk1? By spending £1,000,000, mainly, apparently, on advertisements in the newspapers. There may be other ways—I do not know, he has not told us how he proposes to advertise the milk service of the country.


I could tell the noble Lord; I will do so later.


I am glad of that. But of course the indication is that a great deal of it will be by advertising in the newspapers. But the best way of advertising milk is by the children whose health is improved by getting free or very cheap milk in the schools. That I believe to be the best way, and that is to be done when the milk is really good enough for those children. The Minister has told us that he hopes to found the whole scheme on improving the price of manufacturing milk, and that that must be done before the other two aspects of the scheme can be carried through. He has not told us whether he expects that it is going to lower the price of liquid milk. Perhaps that is another point on which the noble Earl will enlighten your Lordships. Does he expect, and can he guarantee, that as a result of the expenditure of this money there will be a lower price of liquid milk to the consumers?—a, very important point.

I said at the beginning that this was a sort of trick Bill. It is a trick Bill. The noble Earl has tried to "get away with it" by bribing mass groups of people to let this measure go through. He buys the support of the producers by guaranteeing a minimum price of manufacturing milk. He buys the support of the Dominions by promising that he is not going to interfere in any way with the imports of milk products in this country. He buys the support of the Press by promising them a share of £1,000,000—£500,000 a year—on advertising matter. He buys the support of the ordinary citizens by promising healthy herds, and he buys the support of what I think I might call the good people, the kind-hearted people, the charitable people, by promising free milk for school children. Well, the whole thing is a trick, and you cannot get away from it. And I might say that the one group that he never deals with at all, with all this expenditure of our money, consists of the agricultural workers. What are the agricultural workers going to get out of it? There is no sign that they are going to get any benefit out of this scheme.

It is a trick, a sort of jig-saw puzzle, from which certain people will get something. The producers of manufacturing milk will get something, the newspapers will get a bit, I suppose we shall do a little towards improving herds, but very little according to the Minister himself. I hope the noble Earl will be a little more clear than the Minister was in another place as to how long he supposes it will take before we get tuborcule-free cattle. I do not think that this sort of trick measure is really going to do what the nation wants. I believe the nation wants, first of all, a prosperous agriculture, with the workers sharing in that prosperity. There is no sign of that in this measure. Then, I believe that we ought to have only really good milk, absolutely guaranteed, supplied to school children. There is no sign of that in this measure. There is no sign that it is only going to be T.T. milk which is supplied to the school children according to his proposals. I think if we are to have these things we have to control also milk imports by quality and quantity.

I think the only way in which we shall ever get a move on in getting pure milk in adequate quantities for the nation is by preventing the sale of non-tested milk by any retailers at all. There ought to be notices put up in every retailer's shop, compelling him to say: "I am selling non-tested milk, I am selling milk which might very well be contaminated." I remember reading the report of one of the medical officers of health of a county close to this Metropolis, in which he said that during the summer the whole of the supply of milk to one of our best known southern watering places was—I quote his own words—"in a state of incipient decomposition." That is the medical officer's report—not a mere idle utterance, but the printed annual report of a medical officer of health. That means that these people were selling milk which they knew to be contaminated. Can the Minister give us any promise that we are going seriously to deal with this problem and force retailers, if they are not selling T.T. milk to put up a notice: "I am selling milk which may be, and very probably is, contaminated, and therefore I warn people who buy from me that they are risking the infection which Lord Moynihan has pointed out may result from buying milk which is not tested"? That is the only way we can deal adequately and basically with these problems, and this Bill contains nothing which deals with them.


My Lords, may I remind your Lordships that there is a Royal Commission at six o'clock, and it would perhaps be convenient for us now to adjourn during pleasure.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.