§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE EARL OF FEVERSHAM
My Lords, I do not think this Bill need detain your Lordships for long as it does not raise any important new question of principle, but merely provides in effect for an extension for a further year of those provisions of the Milk Acts, 1934 and 1936, which would otherwise expire on the 30th September next. Such amendments of the Acts as the Bill provides for are merely designed to restore the original intentions of those Acts on certain technical points. I need not remind your Lordships at length why the original Act of 1934 was passed. You will recall that in 1933 the English Milk Marketing Scheme and the main Scottish Scheme came into operation just in time to prevent a disastrous fall in the liquid milk price which might eventually have led to a milk famine. But the schemes could not materially improve the returns from milk used for manufacture, since these were governed by the price of imported dairy produce. Under the Ottawa and foreign trade agreements, the Government were precluded from providing assistance by way of tariff or the regulation of imports, and the Milk Act of 1934 therefore authorised the Exchequer to make contingently repayable advances to the Milk Boards in order to provide them with minimum returns on milk used for manufacture. This system had the advantage of enabling consumers to continue to get ample supplies of 997 butter and cheese at very low prices. The Act also provided for Exchequer assistance for schemes for increasing the demand for milk (including the milk-in-schools scheme) and for improving the quality of the liquid milk supply.
Early in 1936 my noble friend Lord De La Warr invited your Lordships to pass a Bill to extend the provisions of the 1934 Act to the 30th September, 1937, and he expressed the hope that in the intervening period the Government would be able to put before Parliament legislation embodying a long-term milk policy. But the Report of the Milk Reorganisation Commission for Great Britain was not available until the end of 1936, and, as your Lordships will appreciate, it was then necessary to ascertain the views of the Milk Boards and of representatives of all sections of the milk industry on the important issues raised by the Report. The views of some of these bodies have only been received quite recently and it has not been possible to frame a longterm policy in time for legislation this Session. In the meantime, the case for insuring the industry against depressed prices for manufacturing milk is as strong as ever. Clause 1 of the Bill, accordingly, proposes to extend for a further twelve months to the 30th September, 1938, the period during which payments may be made to Milk Boards in respect of milk used for manufacture into butter, cheese, cream, condensed milk and milk powder. Clause 2 provides that this further payment period is to be balanced by a corresponding extension of the period during which there will be a contingent liability to repay these advances.
Under Clause 3 it is proposed to extend for a further year the period during which Exchequer payments may be made in respect: of schemes for increasing the demand for milk. The most important are the milk-in-schools schemes, which now cover more than 2,750,000 children in Great Britain. Clauses 5 and 6 are designed to rectify certain anomalies which have arisen in connection with the Exchequer payments in respect of manufacturing milk. These anomalies are of importance to the Milk Boards, but they are concerned with matters of detail, and I do not intend to give your Lordships a full explanation of them at this hour unless I am expressly asked to do so. 998 As I have said, this Bill does not introduce any new and controversial principle. It is designed simply to hold the situation until long-term policy can be embodied in legislation; and I therefore commend this Bill to your Lordships for a Second Reading.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Feversham.)
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, in commenting upon the noble Earl's statement I only wish to express the hope, not perhaps the belief, that the long-term policy which we have been promised so long will be forthcoming before the twelve months have elapsed for which this Bill provides. My impression is that we have been promised this long-term policy for at least four years, and we have been bridging over the intervals by grants of money in this fashion. It would be interesting if the noble Earl could give us some indication as to whether this is likely to be the last of all these costly expedients, and if he could shed some further light upon what is to be the nature of the long-term policy which he so properly and so often referred to but which is still shrouded in mystery. As to the grant for schools, I am sure every one of us will welcome the statement as to the efficiency of the administratian which is accompanying this grant, and I hope that the Government will, as far as possible, arrange for its wider extension during the next twelve months.
THE EARL OF FEVERSHAM
My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord, I still hope that my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture will, before the conclusion of this Session, be able to make some announcement to members of another place upon the long-term policy for milk. It would be rash of me to say that this will be the last occasion on which I shall have to stand before this box to introduce a measure of expediency until that long-term measure is inaugurated. That expression was made, I believe, by my noble friend on the last occasion when the Milk Act of 1934 was extended. But I believe that it will not be necessary to make such temporary provision again in the future.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.