HL Deb 14 June 1944 vol 132 cc236-42

THE DUKE OF SUTHERLAND had given Notice that he would ask His Majesty's Government what steps they have taken to ensure that unclean milk is not being sold to the public; and move for Papers. The noble Duke said: My Lords, I want to take this opportunity of congratulating His Majesty's Government on producing a Milk and Dairies Bill which is passing through another place at the present time. Although there seems to be a division of opinion about certain portions of it there is no doubt that there is general unanimity that such a measure is urgently necessary for obtaining a pure milk supply in this country. Only recently I myself took over a farm from one of my tenants at his request in order to convert it into an attested farm with a pedigree herd and to improve the quality of the milk supply. After taking over the farm I found that the conditions of milk production on it had been in the past far from desirable in every sense of the word. I will not weary your Lordships with details, but the milk conditions on this farm were very far from clean, and if such conditions occurred on this farm there was no reason to suppose they would not be found on other farms all over the country. It suggested to me that the same conditions must exist far and wide. Therefore I took the opportunity of inquiring into it and finding out what was happening on other farms in other parts of the country and even in Scotland.

I ascertained that there were many similar cases, especially where there was no hot water provided. In some cases even no water was laid on at all. To go into mere intimate detail, in some cases cows' udders are not washed nor are the men who wash the cows properly washed, while sterilization of the milking plant is not attended to. There are many other things such as dirty dairies—dairies which are neglected and where general hygiene is imperfectly and carelessly controlled. Under the present system there is no doubt whatsoever that a very considerable quantity of impure milk is being sold on the market both to adults and to young people. I think it will be agreed that it is our duty especially to safeguard the health and future of our children. The inspections at present are carried out by local authorities, but in some places cleanliness is not enforced. There is no doubt about that. While in some areas cleanliness may be present, in other areas it is non-existent. In some places, even if the inspection takes place, the rules of cleanliness are not enforced by the local authorities.

That is why I welcome the Bill to which I have referred, as that does, I think, in effect, put the full responsibility for inspection and clean milk on the Minister of Agriculture himself. Under that Bill State veterinary surgeons will do all the work that is so necessary at present to ensure that cows are healthy and free of tuberculosis and that the milk, even if not of the best quality, is clean and free of germs. No one should be permitted to sell diseased cows at auction sales. The exercise of proper control is required in this direction. It is true that the local authorities have quite full powers, but they do not always exercise them, and that is why I am very glad that the new Bill is to be passed as soon as possible. I took the opportunity of inquiring what were the views of the dairying industry both with regard to the Bill and the present conditions of milk supply in this country, and I found that their views were absolutely the same as mine—namely, flat the milk at present is often not clean; that in fact a great deal is not clean.

I have here a letter from a prominent man in the dairying industry, who writes: There is not the slightest doubt among progressive men in the dairy industry that the supervision of milk production is very unsatisfactory with several authorities dabbling in it. We all feel we must come down heavily on the side of the new Bill, and anything that can be done in stressing a few hard facts in to-morrow's debate will he most helpful to us. Whilst it is true to say that many of our dairies maintain a high standard of hygiene, there are also hundreds of dairies where conditions are far from perfect. An official of the National Milk Testing and Advisory Scheme told me last week that in something like 70 per cent. of our dairies milk is either uncleanly bottled, or unclean milk is bottled. He revealed that in 8o per cent. of dairies handling zoo churns a day and over they have no churn washer. As you know, hand washing of churns is notoriously inefficient.

He goes on to say that a very prominent member of the Lanarkshire County Council told one of his representatives that from a survey of Lanarkshire milk supplies to schools it has been found that complaints were made in 51 out of 73 schools visited. The complaints concerned dirty bottles, sour milk, cracked bottles, and foreign matter in milk. I understand that 60,000 bottles of milk a day are supplied to schools in Lanarkshire, and that this county council has been very much alarmed as the result of their investigation. Then his letter goes on to state that from Gloucestershire a very well known alderman says in a report which he has sent me that of 1,140 samples bf milk suplied to Gloucestershire schools between July 1 and October 31. 1943, nearly half were declared to be unsatisfactory. He says that local authorities throughout the country have not used their powers to see that milk is handled in dairies under good sanitary conditions. The effect of the new Bill will be clear cut and will mean a country-wide minimum standard by which the Ministry of Agriculture takes power to inspect the cattle on dairy farms. This can be the starting point of a national drive to eliminate disease from our dairy herds. I think I have said enough to show that undoubtedly the condition of milk in this country is not clean. Of course we have compulsory pasteurization, which may help to a certain extent, but it is not a good thing that we should pasteurize all milk and allow it to be dirty at the same time because we say pasteurized milk is safe. That is the wrong way to go about it. Milk must be clean to start with.

It must be remembered that in the twenty-four years from 1912 to 1935, for which official figures are available, 150,000 people in this country contracted tuberculosis of bovine origin by the consumption of tubercular milk and butter. Sixty thousand of these died, many of them after years of great suffering. Contrast this story of Britain with what is going on in American cities where such cases are looked upon as clinical curiosities only to be seen when imported from areas where the pasteurization of milk is not enforced. In America milk is kept extraordinarily clean and people over there write to ask whether compulsory pasteurization will not militate against the cleaning up of dairy herds. This is entirely contrary to fact. On making reference to authorities I find that the 100 per cent. of milk pasteurized in most American cities is the produce of 100 per cent. tubercule-free cows. The fact that pasteurization may make milk safe does not justify the continued production of diseased or dirty milk. Another country I would like to quote is Finland which is very much in the news just now. In Finland they have completely eradicated bovine tuberculosis by tuberculin testing, segregation on the Bang system, and if necessary by slaughter. In Finland only 0.02 per cent. of the cows are tuberculous while in Britain the percentage is not lower than 40. Finland is a poor country. If they can do that surely we can do the same thing.

In the opinion of a very prominent member of the dairy trade, the case for the Ministry of Agriculture taking over the powers of the local authorities is overwhelming. Local authorities have deplorably and conspicuously failed to ensure a safe and satisfactory milk supply. Quite rightly counties with good records will be no worse off under the new provisions, but on the other hand the many idle local authorities will be no longer able to affect the quality of our milk by allowing terrible conditions of production to continue to exist. For instance, only too often we hear of the mixing of good and bad milk so that the good milk is spoiled by being mixed with the bad. I beg to move.


My Lords, the Motion put down by the noble Duke is one of great importance and the short answer to his question is the Bill which is now before Parliament. That Bill will be presented to your Lordships in the very near future, and I feel therefore that the best reply I can make to my noble friend to-day is to give him a picture of these various regulations concerning milk from both the production and distribution sides and to mention also the various departments and local authorities who are concerned in those regulations. In that way I hope to be able to paint a picture which will show the reason why this Bill is before Parliament. During the war, as your Lordships know, milk has been priority number one. Consumption has risen very largely, but as we do not yet produce enough milk to meet all our requirements we cannot see the end of rationing—that is if we are to give the priority classes such as nursing mothers and children the milk which they ought to have and the quantity which they want. We must therefore see that as little as possible of the milk which is produced is wasted either because of its being unclean or because of its going sour.

In the efforts which we hope to make to continue the upgrading of the production of milk we must see that we get better quality cows in order to get better quality milk. That is the side for which the Ministry of Agriculture is responsible and in 1942 the Ministry introduced the National Milk Testing and Advisory Scheme. The principal aim of this scheme is to improve the keeping quality of milk both as it is produced on the farms and during the handling of it in the creameries, the depots and the dairies to which it is delivered from the farms. The methods used for this purpose are to test bacteriologically the milk supplies and the utensils with which the milk comes into contact and where necessary, as a result of the tests, to advise the producer and the distributor how best they can improve the efficiency of the production and handling of milk. The supplies of 77 per cent. of the milk produced in the country are now tested every fortnight. The proportion of producer-wholesaler supplies tested is 89 per cent.; and, while the proportion of the producer-retailer supplies tested is much lower, the supplies of the latter are being tested much more frequently. The results of tests which prove milk unsatisfactory are sent to the county war agricultural execu- tive committees and their advisory staffs. These staffs are being strengthened as far as possible and these people visit and advise the producers on how to improve their efficiency. The whole of the work of the scheme is under the supervision of a strong headquarters Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Agriculture, on which are represented the Ministries of Agriculture, Food and Health, the Milk Marketing Board, the National Farmers' Union, the distributors rid other interests. The Committee works largely through three sub-committees—the Milk Distribution Sub-Committee, the Farm Advisory Sub-Committee and the Technical Sub-Committee. Standards and techniques used throughout the work are laid down and supervised by the last-named sub-committee.

So much for the actual production of the milk. Now I come to the buildings in which the milk is produced. The Milk and Dairies Regulations, 1926–1943, which are enforced by local sanitary authorities, broadly cover the following matters it relation to all dairies. Regulation I, which deals with registration, sets out that no person may carry on the trade of cow-keeper or dairyman or use any premises as a dairy unless he and the premises are registered with the local authority. Section 22 of the Act enables the authority to refuse or cancel registration in the case of persons registered or applying to be registered as retail purveyors of milk, if they are satisfied that the public health is, or is likely to be, endangered by any act or default of the person concerned. A person aggrieved may appeal to a court of summary jurisdiction. I am taking the opportunity of reading this to your Lordships as it will be concerned with the Bill when it comes before your Lordships' House. Conditions and methods of production also come under the Regulations as well as matters of conveyance and distribution, and measures to deal with infected milk. With regard to infected milk it is provided that a supply of milk may be temporarily stopped if the medical officer of health has evidence that human infectious disease has been caused by it, or that the milk has been infected with such disease.

The measures concerning the production and distribution of milk which I have outlined to your Lordships are, at present, the responsibility of three Gov- ernment Departments—namely, the Ministries of Agriculture, Food and Health—as well as county councils and local authorities. All these bodies have a hand in milk production. The noble Duke referred in his speech to Scotland. As I have had to mention certain matters which come under so many authorities already, I hope you will forgive me if I stick to this side of the Border. It is not too much to say that it is vital that all steps should be taken to see that all the milk which is produced is clean and safe to the consumer. The Government believe that certain powers held by the local authorities should be transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture in order that we should get better uniformity throughout the country. The question which is really the crux of the Bill I have mentioned is where the line of demarkation is to be. I think I need not go further to-day because your Lordships will have a chance to discuss this matter fully when the Bill comes from another place. In conclusion, I would say to the noble Duke that my picture is not finished, but that I hope he will be satisfied with it so far as it has gone. I welcome the speech which he has made to-day, and I hope that he will allow me another sitting.


My Lords, I would just say that I am more than satisfied with the noble Duke's reply. I look forward to the time when the Bill of which he has spoken will come before your Lordships, and I now beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.