HL Deb 28 February 1961 vol 229 cc47-74

4.50 p.m.

LORD WISE rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Skimmed Milk with Non-Milk Fat Regulations, 1960 (S.I. 1960 No. 2331), dated 12th December 1960, laid before the House on 19th December 1960, be annulled. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. As two Prayers have been tabled and there is some similarity between the two, I believe it would be for the convenience of your Lordships' House if the two were discussed together. Statutory Instrument No. 2331, which is the subject of the first Prayer, refers to England and Wales only; and No. 2437, the subject of the second Prayer, refers to Scotland. I hope in discussing these two Prayers together that Scottish Peers who are in the House will be willing to do so and any who are interested will put their points of view during our discussion. I wish to mention to the House that the Minister of State for Scotland, the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, is unable to be present this afternoon. He wrote to me to that effect and to apologise, and he informed me that the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, will act and deal with any matters affecting Scotland which may be raised during our discussions.

Prayers for the annulment of proposed regulations are not often tabled in your Lordships' House. They are not unique, but exceptional. I remember only one occasion during my ten years' membership of your Lordships' House on which a Prayer was moved. However, the Prayers remain part of our procedure and can be moved as occasions arise. On this occasion I make no personal apology for adopting this course, as the matters we have to deal with this afternoon are of considerable importance and interest, particularly to producers and consumers.

The term "filled milk" has become a household term in the last few weeks, and reports of protests and deputations to the Ministry could be found in practically every agricultural paper read by the farming community. These papers seek to serve a large reading public of all political opinions, so there is no political point whatever in the Prayers I have tabled this afternoon. The papers go into most agricultural homes and country homes and naturally tend to formulate country opinion and agricultural knowledge. In my own case, the interests of producers and consumers are uppermost in my mind. In respect of the particular matter we are discussing I expect that at my time of life I am more of an agriculturist than a politician. I hope to be fair in my comments, but no less strong in my opposition.

There is much that can be said about these Regulations. I shall leave most of that unsaid, and, as several noble Lords wish to speak, I will, with reasonable brevity, outline the case for annulment, leaving other speakers to fill in the gaps. That seems essentially to be my position and my function in opening the discussion. The Regulations, unless they are annulled or taken back as a whole—I repeat, as a whole—by the Government for further consideration or amendment, are due to come into operation on September 19 next. I presume (perhaps the Minister will correct me later if I am wrong) that it would be practicable for new Regulations, if desired and if action is taken at once, to be tabled during the intervening months and, if approved, to operate as from the original date. The addition of one new clause to these Regulations would probably make them acceptable.

Considerable opposition has already been expressed by farming, dairying and local government representative organisations and also by individual Members of all Parties in another place, by members of the general public and by some Members of your Lordships' House. I think that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should personally take note of these objections, and I hope that the noble Earl who is to reply on behalf of the Government will be able to satisfy us that the views of responsible bodies and individuals will not go unheeded, even at this the eleventh hour, for annulling the Regulations. I believe that your Lordships will be able to add to the weight of opinion against the Regulations in the form in which they are now presented for our consideration. It has been said that tree Minister has made it clear that he is not prepared to extend the Regulations in the way the National Farmers' Union and others would wish. If this should be the case, it would seem that the Minister has made an irrevocable but untimely decision before the matter has been considered by Parliament. That, surely, is a regrettable position for a Minister to take, and may create an undesirable precedent. I will not comment upon this further, except to say that my conception is that the Minister is responsible to Parliament as its servant, and not as its master. He should not be openly antagonistic to the will of Parliament.

Personally, I feel somewhat sorry for the noble Earl who is to reply. He lives in a dairy county and obviously has around him many dairy farmers, small and large, and all, perhaps, struggling to get adequate livings from milk production. No doubt their lives and activities are wrapped up in milk, and they must be viewing with some apprehension the introduction of Government Regulations which seem to be aimed at extending the consumption of skimmed milk, filled milk and milk substitutes to the detriment of the sale and consumption of fresh, unadulterated milk. That is how I see the position. Many excellent dairy products come from the grasslands of Somerset, but the best of all is fresh, pure milk. From what I have seen of the noble Earl and his chief, neither appear to me to have been brought up on anything but the best of fresh milk. That is what kept me alive, and I want all who need it to have it.

At this very moment when these restrictive Regulations have been introduced, the Minister is reported to have said at Newcastle a few days ago that there was no reason why the nation should not be induced to drink more milk. I wish he would fit his actions to his words. We are told that we are in a time of affluence; but this does not ring true if we are now supposed to bring up our growing children when past their baby stage on skimmed milk dilutions or substitute products, and to tell our old folk they can have the same if they cannot afford fresh milk. Skimmed or separated milk was the beverage of country families in the days of the agricultural depression —low wages and large families. How often is it represented that times are better now than in those good old days? Why should we push the consumption of substitute, made-up and inferior commodities when the genuine articles should be within the means and reach of all? If there is at present a surplus of fresh milk, why not try to build up an export trade, or send it to the starving millions overseas?

The Regulations are full of definitions, applications and non-applications, alternative meanings of words and intricate labelling and container devices and instructions; but, sifting the real matter from all this superfluous wording, it comes down to a dismal base. These Regulations follow draft Regulations prepared, first, in October, 1958, and an amended version which appeared in March, 1959. Neither of these, apparently, reached fruition. At the commencement of these present Regulations, it is stated: The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister of Health, acting jointly, … consulted with such organisations as appear to them to be representative of interests substantially affected by these regulations …. I want all noble Lords to mark the words, "substantially affected", as I wish to make an inquiry as to the measure of such consultation. It would appear that some bodies which were consulted differed from the Ministers' proposals.

Let me refer to two subsections in the Regulations. Regulation 7 (2) states: Each food and drugs authority shall enforce and execute such provisions in their area". The provisions referred to are, of course, the provisions already contained in the preceding articles of the Regulations. The next paragraph, paragraph (3), gives the councils a free hand in instituting proceedings as to which a person who has committed an offence may be liable to a heavy fine or imprisonment or both. That Regulation, as I say, gives the councils a free hand without any reference for approval to the Minister.

The county councils are the food and drugs authorities to which these references apply. They are responsible bodies, and, I should have thought, come within the category of being "substantially affected". As your Lordships know, county councils have an important and recognised association to represent their interests in negotiations with Government Departments and others. I understand that this association was not consulted in any way in the framing of these Regulations, which their members will be called upon to enforce. Here I come to a point of disapproval. The association was consulted in regard to both the 1958 and the 1959 draft regulations, particularly in repect of one provision in the drafts to which I shall refer in a moment, and which has been omitted in the present Regulations. I think we are entitled to hear from the noble Earl as to the reason for this omission in consultation. Was it deliberate, or was it an oversight? If it was deliberate, then who was responsible? Let me say here that, if consultation had taken place with this particular association, it is possible there would have been no necessity for these Prayers this afternoon.

In the draft regulations of 1958, the provisions I have just referred to are these—and, with the permission of the House, I will read them; they are not very long. They fall into two parts. The first part reads: Any person who uses any skimmed milk with added fat, condensed skimmed milk with added fat or dried skimmed milk with added fat in any beverage intended for sale for human consumption Which by common usage is expected to contain milk, condensed milk or dried milk will be required to disclose the use of any such food to the intending purchaser on or before sale. The second part of the provision reads as follows: (2) Any person who supplied any skimmed milk with added fat or condensed skimmed milk with added fat with, and for use in, any beverage intended for sale for human consumption, with, or for use in, which by common usage milk or condensed milk is expected to be supplied, will be required to disclose the description of any such food to the intending purchaser on or before sale.

Now an amended version of this provision was subsequently circulated to interested organisations in March, 1959, and contained a specific requirement that a notice clearly written and legible to intending purchasers should be displayed in any public refreshment room, restaurant, shop or other public premises where such beverages were supplied. Those provisions have been omitted from the particular Regulations which we are discussing. Again, I think we are entitled to hear from the Minister the reason and responsibility for their omission. If it was necessary for the protection of the public to provide safeguards against dilution or inferior products in 1958 and 1959, surely it is equally important in 1961—perhaps even more so, when many people now seem to aim only at getting rich quickly, and trade on the lack of knowledge of the public. What we are asked to do now seems contrary to the good sense of the Weights and Measures Bill which recently occupied so much of our time. That Bill sought protection for the public: these Regulations do not.

In another place on January 26, questions were asked of the Minister (Hansard, columns 315 to 317) as to the use by caterers in restaurants, cafés and canteens of milk substitutes for milk in beverages. Suggestions were made as to the information which should be displayed in such places and given to customers. The point of the questions was that the customer should know what he is drinking. If a caterer is serving skimmed milk preparations, instead of milk, a notice should be displayed to that effect. The Minister seemed to miss the point. He suggested that if the customer wanted milk, or a drink with milk in it, he should ask for it. I wonder how many noble Lords, or Ministers, on going into a restaurant or café for coffee, or for a cup or pot of tea, would make a specific request for milk to be served with it. You might ask for a black or a white coffee, but certainly not for a milk coffee or, in our own language, a coffee with milk. The same applies to tea; one expects to have milk with it; it is a matter of custom. But if, according to the Minister, you do not ask for milk, you can be put off with skimmed milk or some substitute. The same applies to public restaurants. The waiter or the waitress, when serving you with coffee, asks whether you will have black or white, and I wonder which noble Lord would say that he required pure fresh milk?

Again, it is significant that, in order to protect the public, specified foods—and noble Lords will find the definition of "specified foods" in the Regulations—sold in containers must show on their labels and outside wrappings, if such outside wrappings are used, particulars of the contents of the containers. In the same way, advertisements for milk products must state the description of those products. If these safeguards are necessary in these instances, why are they not applicable to the same products if used or sold in smaller quantities in refreshment houses? Those who frame these Regulations might at least be logical and consistent.


My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord, but I have been listening to him developing this argument and I hope he will explain what you do at a banquet. Are you handed a little label by the waiter saying what is in your cup of coffee?


My Lords, that is just the point I am making. It is the custom to have milk, if you want it; not milk substitute. We who object to these Regulations in their present form are anxious that the consuming public should obtain not only what it has been customary to have but what they in fact pay for and expect to receive. That, in my view, is a sensible, fair and just position to adopt. The Regulations will be open to abuse. They lack the necessary safeguard. They could be made more effective. I ask that they be taken back for further consideration, and I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Skimmed Milk with Non-Milk Fat Regulations, 1960 (S.I. 1960 No. 2331), dated December 12, 1960, laid before the House on December 19, 1960, be annulled.—(Lord Wise.)

5.14 p.m.


My Lords, as it fell to my lot last January to lead a deputation consisting of all interested in the production and distribution of milk, not only in England but in Scotland, to the Minister, I had to study this subject deeply; and I welcome an opportunity of saying a few words about it. The deputation, as I say, consisted of representatives of all the producers, including the National Farmers' Union, of the Milk Marketing Board and of all distributing agencies, large and small, both in England and in Scotland. The reason why the Minister was asked to receive this deputation, and to listen to what we had to say, was that we were very apprehensive as to what the future of the milk industry, both for producers and distributors, would be if this sale of filled milk increased at the rate it has been increasing in the country during the last three years. It is true that the immediate reason we asked to see the Minister was because the new Regulations had been published for England and for Scotland in the form in which they appeared before your Lordships, and it was considered that they contained a very serious omission.

The history of the Regulations, as the noble Lord, Lord Wise, has said, goes back to somewhere around 1958, when the introduction and use of this filled milk was beginning to take effect in the country. In a large number of other countries, particularly the big milk-producing countries of the world, so frightened were the Governments of those countries as to what the effect was going to be that they banned the use of these concoctions—this filled milk—altogether, for the protection of their dairy industries. The countries included Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Australia, and 42 out of the 50 States (as it is now) of the United States of America.

From the beginning of the negotiations, as I understand the position (I have no doubt that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong), there was no wholehearted demand for the banning of these substances in this country. The truth is that, from the nutritional and medical point of view, filled milk is as good for the public as whole milk, and the negotiations have always proceeded on the basis that, however unpleasant they were to drink, one could not say that it was bad for the public to use these ersatz concoctions instead of good milk. But what everyone was frightened of was what the effect would be if and when they were used in overwhelming quantities in this country. In fact, they are being sold everywhere at substantially less than half the price of pure fresh milk.

My Lords, there were three points dealt with in the negotiations. First of all, there was the question as to the kind of container and the description on the container. Secondly, there was the question of advertising, and the form of advertising with regard to sales of these concoctions in fairly large quantities. Thirdly, there was the question of what notice was to be given to members of the public when they bought beverages in which they would usually expect to find fresh milk, and not an ersatz concoction. The Regulations as they appear before your Lordships to-day deal, in my view effectively, both with the notices to be put on containers and the form of advertisements, and it is because the Regulations do give those immediate safeguards that I would much rather see them pass, so that they may take effect as early as possible, than be delayed, and delayed indefinitely—because it will be indefinitely—to deal with this much more difficult question about what notice ought to be given to the public who expect to find milk.

If your Lordships would allow me, I should like to give a few figures about what has happened. It seems that seaside resorts and industrial areas are invaded by salesmen for these ersatz products. In one seaside town, not long ago, the result was that a medium-sized hospital immediately dropped 140 gallons a week; an outside caterer dropped 1,500 gallons a week; an industrial caterer dropped 1,200 gallons a week. These are the results of the most effective salesmanship of which I have been informed. In another town, the school authorities decided to substitute these products in their kitchens and canteens (except, I imagine, for the schoolchildren), and dropped 690 gallons a week. Last week, a letter was received from a small dairy in Lincolnshire which, after saying that they were glad to hear that opposition was being put up against the spread of these ersatz drinks, contains this last sentence: I have two cafés here alone that normally took 70 to 80 gallons a day between them in the season. All they have had these past three years is three pints a day to their own use. That is the sort of rate at which these products are being substituted for fresh milk throughout the country, and many people are extremely anxious about what the effect is going to be if this change continues over a number of years. Obviously, the persons who are going to be struck, and struck at once, are the distributors who have a normal demand for hundreds of gallons of milk a week and who find this suddenly dropping altogether. They are going to have their businesses seriously disturbed, and in the end this must result in their costs going up, with the danger of higher prices for fresh milk. Producers also will be affected, though perhaps not quite so directly. Other noble Lords may be able to add a note on this. After all, we cannot get skimmed milk for all these concoctions without having fresh milk first. But it does mean that if these manufacturers of products from skimmed milk increase their production largely, the uses to which skimmed milk are being put at present are going to find a competitor.

In my young days, the road used to be from the milking shed to the creamery separator, and the skimmed milk went back to the farm for the pigs and young animals. In those days, there were not firms trying to buy up skimmed milk in large quantities for manufacturing purposes. In the long run, it looks as if the production of milk is bound to become less profitable, because the price at which these scientific people can produce these concoctions enable them to sell them well under half the ordinary price of fresh milk. So the attraction to big caterers and industrial canteens, and even, as I have quoted, to hospitals and schools, to substitute these products for fresh milk is very great. It would seem as though, in the end, the prospect to producers must be that the demand for fresh milk will gradually become less lucrative and satisfactory to them.

So far as I can see, the difference between the industry and the Ministry is not that the Ministry do not share the considerable anxiety about the substitute products. But what obligation can be put on caterers to inform the public of what they are getting? Many of us believe frankly that if there were an obligation on restaurants and hotels to put up notices in conspicuous places saying that these skimmed milk products were being supplied instead of fresh milk, that would stop a great many of the best restaurants and hotels from supplying anything other than fresh milk. We have not been able to convince the Ministry of that. The present situation is that there is a real danger for the future, but it is up to everyone who is interested to try to get the proper facts and figures and supply them to the Ministry, so that the Ministry may see what in fact is happening in the two countries at the present moment.

If we can get together satisfactory figures which will convince the Ministry, there is no difficulty, so far as I know, in making a further Order at any time. It does not seem to me to be necessary to oppose these Orders in order to make way for a further Order. A further Order can be made as easily as this one. I should have thought that the right thing to do is for all of us to try to get the true facts of what is going on; find out what are the real effects, month after month, on the production and distribution of milk, and then join together in persuading the Minister, if we ourselves are convinced (and I am already more than four-fifths convinced), that some further steps are required, and that he should make a supplemental Order in the very near future.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, I was surprised when the noble Lord, Lord Wise, put down this Prayer and asked us to reject these Orders. Listening to his speech, one felt that there was a tremendous feeling against, these Orders among farmers and in the National Farmers' Union, but I understand that the National Farmers' Union are in favour of the Orders, so far as they go, and that any sins that the Minister has committed are sins of omission rather than commission. The article in the British Farmer of January 21 would lead one to think that they are very anxious that these Regulations should be passed. They say: Our man job has been to ensure that the legitimate interests of milk producers were adequately protected. But they do not want a ban on this product. They go on to say: In the event, the proposed regulations do give a wide measure of protection. Then they mention the point about the milk in tea and coffee; and they end up by saying: The union do not want to lose the substance for the shadow", and that they are very anxious that these Regulations should go through. So I feel that we should be wrong if we did not reject this Prayer.

Really, the point that divides us is the question of whether notices or some other form of warning should be put up in restaurants to let the customer know that on the premises filled milk is being sold. We must remember that the main object of these Regulations is not the protection of the producer but the protection of the consumer. We have been informed that this product is in no way a harmful one. We have heard that it is already being used in some hospitals, and I understand that for some things it has been prescribed by doctors. So I feel that we should keep a sense of proportion. This is not a case of some harmful product being foisted on the public.

There is also the danger that if a notice were put up in a restaurant that this milk was being used it would entitled the restaurant to use it not only in tea and coffee, but in things like milk shakes, and other products which use a great deal of milk, which under these Regulations would be forbidden. There would be two possible dangers: first, that if it was said to be used on the premises it would mean that somebody who used a small quantity at times might be encouraged to use it all the time, because he had already given warning; and secondly, that it might cover the case when it was used in concoctions which had milk in the main, such as, as I say, milk shakes. So there is a danger that the notice might weaken rather than strengthen the Regulations. If we are going to legislate specifically against this product, which has already been described as harmless, surely that opens up a wide field as to what one expects in the foods that one asks for. If you ask for a sandwich, do you expect butter, which is, after all, a milk product, or do you expect margarine? Would it be right to legislate specifically against vegetable fat in one form, as against margarine, which is vegetable fat in another?


My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord a question on that point, because I should like to know what his opinion is. Margarine is sold in different forms already, but it all has to be labelled "margarine". However, some margarine can contain up to 10 per cent. of butter, according to the price charged. What would the noble Lord like that to be described as—filled butter? What is the difference between that principle and that in regard to milk?


My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to intervene. I hope the noble Viscount has read the Regulations and realises that the one phrase you will not be allowed to use in future is "filled milk".


Yes, I have.


The noble Viscount's question seems to point to the difficulty in legislating in this case. If the product were labelled as butter it would have to be butter; but when you ask for a sandwich, you are not in fact specifying whether it is butter or margarine. When you go and buy margarine, I agree it is written on the package; and when you go and buy this product, it is written on the package. The difference comes when the customer is actually given the product in a beverage. If he asked for tea and milk, then if he was given this product the restaurant would be breaking the law or would have to point out to the customer that he was not getting milk. If he asked for a white coffee, he could be given this product; but if he asked for a coffee and milk, then he would have to be given pure milk.

So it seems to me that the situation could possibly be dealt with in two ways. If this problem becomes serious and affects producers to a large extent, then perhaps it should be looked at from the point of view either of some regulation to help the producer or from the point of view of advertising to make clear to the public that when they are asking for tea, if they want milk in it they should specify milk. After all, there are these slogans such as: "Don't be vague, ask for Haig"—I know it is difficult to find a suitable word to rhyme with milk. It is a question, to a large extent, of trying to encourage the public to ask for milk, because I think that if the two products have to compete, and people know that they are competing, they will demand milk. Therefore, I feel that to-day we should not agree to the Prayer, and if the situation gets serious we should—and I am sure the Minister will—look at it again. It would be the case of an addition to these Regulations and not necessarily in substitution for them.

5.40 p.m.


My Lords, I must say that it is great pity that Government and private Business, both in this House and in the other House, has meant that the debate upon this Prayer has been delayed until the last day of the usual Parliamentary period, otherwise perhaps we might have had a little more detailed attention paid to it. Certainly in another place the Regulations will not be debated at all upon a Prayer, because they have not been able to find Parliamentary time for it.

It is suggested that the Farmers' Union, for example, and the Milk Marketing Board are in favour of the Regulations as tabled, but I think it is very difficult to get real evidence of that. The noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, who always states his case very fairly, in trying to prove that, naturally quoted from the British Farmer. I assume he was referring to the four to six-page foolscap leaflet which is circulated every week.




I thought that was what the noble Lord was referring to. It is certainly not one which is read very widely by the agricultural community in general, although certainly by the most loyal Farmers' Union members sometimes in the county districts. But the opinion that I formed was that the campaign raised on behalf of the Milk Marketing Board and, in the first instance, of the Farmers' Union, as well as on behalf of the milk and creamery trades was started not only by them but, according to another type of agricultural paper, the Farming Express, by large numbers of Parliamentarians of all Parties. On February 16 the Farming Express printed the names in detail of 150 Members of Parliament.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Viscount, as he was quoting me? I think the British Farmer I was quoting is the larger one, because it begins: It is clear from recent inquiries that there is a great deal of misunderstanding on this in the branches.


Just about as much misunderstanding, apparently, as will be created by the Regulations in the minds of the consumers.

The whole business of providing Regulations of this kind creates, I admit to the Minister, a good deal of difficulty. It is not an easy matter to regulate for. What I am waiting to hear from the Minister especially is the answer to the question put by my noble friend Lord Wise: what induced the Government to have the proper protective words in the original draft Regulations on two occasions and to drop them in the final set? Why is that? Who persuaded them? Who were the important vast organisations compared to the people, first of all, who have to produce the milk; secondly, who have to process and distribute the milk and, thirdly, who form the public corporation—that is what it really is—the Milk Marketing Board, who are most strongly in favour of the consumer being properly protected? That is what I am waiting to hear, because so far I have had no evidence at all.

The idea that the whole nation is anxious to turn over to this much cheaper —and much less valuable, in food content—liquid instead of milk, is, to me, so far unexplained. In the Regulations themselves we see a number of formulae which have to be used on labels on some of these "doctored" or, as the noble Lord, Lord Spens, said ersatz products. They will be labelled as "Unfit for babies", because they are not regarded as being of anything like the same food value, although they apparently can be produced, as the noble Lord, Lord Spens, said, at somewhere about half the price of milk.

I am just wondering how it is that the Ministry of Agriculture, whose job it is to promote the highest interests of the agricultural industry, could be induced to leave out this protection which will not only be useful for the protection of the consumer, but certainly some aid to the campaign they themselves financed in the other direction, by Government money, with the Milk Marketing Board and with the great milk trades of the country to induce a wider consumption of liquid milk. You are spending Government money on that. You are spending large sums of money, through the Milk Marketing Board and through the producers' organisations. You are spending through the distributive organisations, both wholesale and retail, to induce people to "Drinka Pinta Milka Day". What do you do next? At the request of somebody whose name is not revealed you leave out the protective clause which you yourselves, as a Government, circulated to each of these trade representatives in the beginning as a part of the draft Regulations. I hope that we shall have an answer upon that point to-night. For, believe me, I think my noble friend Lord Wise was very kind to the noble Earl the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry.

I was glad to hear the noble Lord refer to Somerset. It is my county as much as it is the noble Earl's, except that he lives there more than I do. It is a great milk county—I think pretty well the greatest of them all. When I think of the producers down there, and when I think of the plight of the milk producer (except the very large fellows, who have had the capital to develop, with the aid of Government grants, entirely new processes in milk production) I cannot understand the Ministry of Agriculture seeking to put any handicap on the further development and expansion of the sale of full milk.

I have said before to the noble Earl that, so far as the farmer is concerned, the price of milk to the producer to-day, in relation to the increase in costs, is a public scandal. It was 4s. a gallon in December, nine years ago. Last month is was 3s. 3⅞d. But since then farm wages have nearly doubled; all the other farming costs are up, and the farmers are in a continual state of anxiety as to how they are going to keep going. If we leave out the top 200 or 300 farmers—those farming on a very large scale, with wide areas to control, great machinery, and all these new developments, who have had the capital to put up to get the Government grant—that is the state of the rest of the dairy industry. Instead of helping the dairy farmers out of their difficulty, you are going to take this stupid decision, at the request of some body who we do not know; and in the meantime these gallant warriors in another place—150 in one week, and 37 in another week, names and addresses and constituencies all listed—have been gradually talked over; apparently as much talked over, from a purely agricultural point of view, as the noble Lord who spoke last has been.

The noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney, quoted the official circular in the British Farmer, which is the organ of the National Farmers' Union, in support of his case: that is how it seemed to me, but perhaps he will tell me about it when we have a chat about the matter, because I am always willing to learn from the noble Lord—


I did not want to imply that they have dropped the tea or coffee issue at all.


No. I want to say this to the Parliamentary Secretary: that here we have a set of Regulations which, under the Statute, are not subject to Affirmative Resolution. They are subject to negative decision to be taken on a Prayer; that is, we can move only to negative the Regulations. That is a course that I do not want to follow. I do not say that there are not certain parts of these Regulations which I should wish to see continued; certainly proper descriptions when these commodities are sold under other names. But in regard to descriptions which are required for the protection of the consumer who thinks he is being supplied with milk, the Regulations do not give him a proper protection, and they do not make it an offence for suppliers to give him anything else. In this respect I think the Government have made a grave mistake in departing from their original ideas in the first and second drafts of the Regulations which were circulated to the trade.

In the world in which we live to-day the consumer wants a square deal. He is in a sort of miasma to know at all times how he is getting it. I get all sorts of reports on consumer experience to-day. We are being filled up with supermarkets now which are run on cut prices. I hear of people coming back afterwards and saying, "I have been completely deceived. Oh, yes; I got a Cheaper price on this commodity, but when I added up my bill I paid more for my week's supplies than in a full-price shop before." All kinds of things are going on against which the consumer is protesting. And not the least is the fact that when he or she goes to purchase an important article of food, important to every member of the household whether infant or grown up, whether healthy or invalid, he ought to be able to get full protection from the description laid down in the Regulations. I shall especially look forward to hearing what the Parliamentary Secretary has to say about why the Government gave way.

May I just say one last word to the noble Lord, Lord Amherst of Hackney? I am intensely interested in his argument that the sale of milk may be injured in all these places where they make milkshakes and things of that kind. I wonder if the Parliamentary Secretary could give the sales of milk in those particular directions. I wonder how it will compare with the sort of figures with which the Milk Marketing Board have to deal. In 1959–60 the sale of liquid milk has risen to about 1,380 million gallons. There is a vast margin beyond that to go into manufacture. I would not for a moment deny the argument that you might have a little more in the made-up drinks. But what sort of comparison is that to the fact that very little advantage will be gained in the quantity of liquid milk sold, as compared to the growing potential (as was put by the noble Lord, Lord Spens) of the competition of a liquid which the Government are actually going to help promote by these Regulations, and which will be sold at half price? What are the Government doing to help the farmer, I should like to know. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us.

5.55 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for intervening in this interesting discussion. As the noble Lord, Lord Wise, said, this is a Scottish matter as well as an English one. As I understand it, there are two alternatives. Either we accept these Regulations or we throw them out. If that is the case, I humbly submit that we should accept them, because they are definitely a step forward. I think the noble Lord, Lord Wise, said that in future when you wanted milk you would have to ask for "pure fresh milk". As I understand it, you have merely, to say the word "milk" and you will be given full cream milk. As a Scotsman, that appeals to me; you are getting something more than you asked for. That is progress. I suggest that these Regulations should be accepted.


My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Wise, moved to annul these Regulations, because I hope I shall be able to seize this opportunity to try to dispel some of the serious misconceptions that have arisen since these Regulations were tabled. Nothing at all that has been said in this debate makes me feel that these Regulations should be annulled. Many things that have been said only make me feel how necessary and right it was that these Regulations were brought in. I shall be as brief as possible, but to dispel some of these misconceptions I must go back to what we are trying to do and what we are not trying to do and why such Regulations are brought in at all. I must refer to the Food and Drugs Act, 1955, under which the Regulations are laid, and to the section of the Act under which they are laid, and to the section under which they are not laid (if that is not Irish), to bring home my point.

Before I do that, however, why do we want to make any Regulations at all? There is general legislation—for instance, the Sale of Goods Act, 1893—against misdescription of goods, and I think, if I may say so without disrespect to the noble Viscount on the Woolsack, even the courts can, without specific legislation, distinguish between chalk and cheese. If you make a contract to buy cheese and you are given chalk you do not need a specific definition or specific legislation; you will have your protection in the courts. The whole point of the Food and Drugs Act, 1955, was to reinforce, as I take it, the general body of the law where difficulties arise. Section 4 of the Act would be the section to use to make a regulation to ban some product. It would be only proper for Ministers to introduce a regulation to ban some product if it was injurious to public health or (I read the words of the Act) … expedient in the interests of the public health, or otherwise for the protection of the public, make regulations to ban or to control or regulate.

Nobody suggests that the particular product we are discussing to-day is injurious to the public health or is a danger to the public and ought to be banned. The only basis on which we could ban it is the not very noble basis of the type of restrictive protectionism which I am sorry to hear the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition seeming to favour: that we should ban anything that competes with an existing industry. This would ban the railways against the stage coach; it would ban the motor car against the railway; it would ban the aeroplane against the motor car; and it would also ban nylon against wool. We must not do this.


My Lords, I admire that eloquent declaration upon this particular point, but it is not what I said. I did not ask you to ban anything. I asked you to give back to us what you put in your draft regulations for the protection of the consumer.


My Lords, I am coming to that point of the noble Viscount's suspicions as to why we took out something from a draft. But the whole tenor of his speech, and the further regulation which he asked for, was in order to protect the milk producer. My eloquence may have run away with me, but the noble Viscount was suggesting this to protect a sectional interest, whereas these Regulations are made to protect the general public. It is for the Minister of Food to protect the consumer from misleading descriptions. So much for banning.

Section 6 of the main Act, the 1955 Act—for Scotland it is the 1956 Act—prohibits false labelling. I will quote from the section: calculated to mislead as to its nature, substance or quality. We have introduced these Regulations under Section 7 to prevent confusion in the public mind by the similarity of two products. We have the power to prohibit false or misleading labelling or advertising of goods. We cannot say that this is a bad product which will be injurious to public health, but what we must do is to make it quite clear to the public that this is a product very like another product to which they are accustomed, and therefore the labelling of this new product must be clear, so that it shall not be confused with a natural product of which the public are well aware.

If you ask for milk you must get real milk, whole milk. That will be the law if these Regulations are passed. If, when you ask for milk, you are served with skimmed milk from which something has been taken and to which something has been added, or dried milk or condensed milk from which something has been taken and another thing added, then, when these Regulations have been passed, the law is being infringed. So we are protecting the legitimate interests of the fresh, real, whole milk trade. We are protecting the legitimate interests of the consumers of milk in these Regulations and are not doing what the noble Lord, Lord Wise, seemed to suggest that we were trying to do. I quote what he said: the Regulations seem to aim at increasing the sale of substitutes in place of whole milk". He said he was sorry for me because I had to approve all this and, as a Somerset man and interested in dairy farming all my life, I should not want to do such a thing as to aim at increasing sales of substitute products. But that is exactly the opposite to what these Regulations set out to do.

These perfectly wholesome products exist on the market, and it is our duty as the Government to protect the public from being sold one thing when they ask for another. There is no difference in what we are doing in these Regulations from what we have done with margarine and with cream. It is arguable that if you are a country which has a dairy industry you should ban margarine. I believe it has been done in certain countries. But that is not the way we carry on in this country, and it would not be right. What we have to do is to see that if the customer asks for butter the customer is given butter. If the substance which is sticking the ham to the two pieces of bread is not butter, the person who has sold something which is asked for as butter and Which is not butter commits an offence.

These are labelling and advertising regulations. Labelling and advertising can be dealt with only in regard to products which you can label and advertise. I regret to say I interrupted the noble Lord, Lord Wise, towards the end of his speech because I thought he was going to say that when a banqueter asks for a cup of coffee at a banquet, he should in some way be told what the beverage he was going to be given consisted of. How would the noble Lord suggest that that could be done? Would a placard have to be displayed on every table at every banquet saying, "Sometimes filled milk is sold here if we have run out of whole milk in the kitchen"; or should there be on every table a placard saying "Filled milk is always sold here"?—which, obviously, would not be true. The fact is that you cannot analyse a cup of tea. If we started analysing a cup of tea we should get into great difficulties. Are we to say how much tea there is, and how much water there is?


My Lords, all I have to say is that when the noble Earl talks about a banquet he should remember that the organisers of big banquets are in any case in a much stronger position to protect the consumer, because they have a contract. They contract either with a hotel staff or directors or with a big firm of refreshment contractors. I could give the names of many such people in the City. There you have a contract, and you have only to insert your conditions in the contract. So I am not a bit bothered about that question. What I am bothered about is to see that individual members of the public get a square deal when they expect to get milk and the other things with which they are usually supplied but cannot always be expected to ask for specifically. They do not always, as my noble friend said, ask for fresh milk.


My Lords, that is exactly what we are concerned with: that the ordinary member of the public and not any particular section of the trade should be protected.

I should like to come now to the point made over and over again by the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition —namely, why did we depart from the drafts? He has a suspicious mind. He asked, what great Tory pressure group came round to Whitehall Place and made the Minister change his mind; what pressure did he give way to? He kept on using the phrase, "at the request of somebody who is not revealed". Perhaps the name of that body is not resealed because it does not exist. What happened was, as the noble Lord, Lord Spens, so carefully stated in his speech, that in the original drafts we tried particularly to take these Regulations further, and we thought it would be a good idea to have placards displayed in any catering establishments and restaurants saying that filled milk (as it was then called, but as it will not be called after these Regulations take effect) might be on sale—might be in customers' cups of tea or coffee.

Why we withdrew the idea of having such placards, and why they are not in the Regulations as laid before your Lordships, is because they are quite impracticable. When we got down to seeing how we could enforce these Regulations, how we could police them, what sort of placards would be required and indeed what the placards would say, we saw that our first idea was not a very bright one. It was no pressure group that told us that; it was our consciences and, if I may say so, our brains when we came to examine what we had been, rather foolishly, trying to do. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, asked why the County Councils Association were not consulted. Indeed, they were consulted. They were consulted on both drafts. But surely at some point the Minister must make up his mind. When we had had consultations with these various bodies and had actually to draft this placard, to say where it should be displayed, what size it should be, what it should say and how we were to analyse the contents of a cup of tea or coffee; and when we considered whether we should not be drawn then into deciding how much tea leaf there should be in tea, and how much coffee there should be in the coffee drink; then it became quite ridiculous, and we felt that we could not go on with that proposal for a placard.

Only minor points have been raised in this debate, but there is a feeling behind some of the speeches made from the other side of the House, I think, that it would be rather a good thing if we could ban these products altogether. I took it that that was behind the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wise, when he suggested that by having these products we were trying to push something which was a substitute. We really cannot and must not ban from the public a perfectly wholesome substitute that is properly labelled and accurately described for what it is. We must protect the public from getting, when they ask for one thing, something else.

The noble Lord, Lord Spens, spoke of the description on containers, of advertisers and labelling and, the third point, of beverages. He was quite happy on the first two points that had been negotiated, and believed it was quite right to bring in Regulations to ensure that this new product which is being made should be properly described and labelled so that the housewife in a self-service store, who has not the benefit of having behind the counter a salesman of whom she can ask questions, when she goes to a shelf and takes a tin of milk can know that the packet is properly labelled and states accurately what it contains, whether it is whole milk, substitute milk or condensed milk. The Schedule to the Regulations describes what will in future have to be written on such tins. That will be found in the first part of the Schedule on page 5 and I believe the Scottish Regulations are exactly the same: Each label shall bear whichever of the following declarations is appropriate— Skimmed milk with non-milk fat, unfit for babies (or not to be used for babies); Condensed skimmed milk with non-milk fat, unfit for babies (or not to be used for babies); and dried skimmed milk with non-milk fat, unfit for babies (or not to be used for babies). Those will be the only legal labels. "Filled milk", which might conceivably be misleading, suggesting that something has been added to the milk making it better than it was before, is no longer a permitted description.


My Lords, what description is to be put on a product to advise invalids and others not to take the product if it is not fit for them? The labels specified in the Schedule apply only to babies.


My Lords, let us be quite clear on this. Some products would be very suitable for invalids. Some specially reconstituted products are even dearer than whole milk. Here, we are using the phrase, "Not to be used for babies" (and here we mean by "babies" small children who normally have milk as the greater part of their diet), not as any kind of medical prescription but merely to indicate that the product is not whole milk. There is nothing to say that the product would not be very good for grown-up people, just as margarine is possibly as good for one as butter. But we want to be clear in ensuring that a mother buying a tin off the shelf knows that the product is not whole milk and, in that sense, is not a proper baby food. Therefore the labelling will in future be clear. If we do not bring in the Regulation there will be no such label on the tin. Surely that is a great advance.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Spens, for having gone so clearly through the negotiations which led up to the tabling of these final Regulations. I was somewhat sorry that he was able to quote so many countries in which restrictive trade practices still exist, where a perfectly good and nourishing food can be kept from the public merely on the basis that it may be to the detriment of some sectional interest. That seems to me wrong, and although I am a farmer I am glad that we are not bringing in such a Regulation here.

I believe, though, that the noble Lord, Lord Spens, is right when he says that we must pass this Order now, so that there is this great protection for the consumer—and, incidentally, protection thereby for the legitimate dairy interests, in that people will know exactly what they are buying, instead of being, perhaps, under a misapprehension as to that. We should pass this Order now, and if the sales of this product develop in such a way as seems to call for other regulations at a later date (though there is no evidence now that that may be so), the Minister of whatever Government there may then be will not be precluded from examining the matter afresh in the future. I hope that I have been able to satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Wise, who moved to annul these Regulations, that it would be wrong to do so merely on the basis that, with the best will in the world, they do not go as far as he would like. I would appeal to the noble Lord, suggesting that, in this case, very much more than half a loaf is better than no bread.

6.17 p.m.


My Lords, may I start my reply by referring to the last words of the noble Earl, the Minister? He said that half a loaf is better than no bread. May I reply that full milk is better than skimmed milk? We have had an interesting discussion, and though I am sorry that more noble Lords did not join in it, I believe that what we have heard has proved the case I tried to put to your Lordships. I was particularly startled (if I may use the expression), by the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Spens, on the curtailment of sales of pure milk in various localities. I thought that they proved our point right up to the hilt, and wiped out the arguments of Her Majesty's Government—


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but is he asking for this product to be banned?


No; I am not. I am asking that we may encourage the consumption of pure milk in this country in lieu of these substitutes which are now before us. I must say that I was surprised to hear two noble Lords on the other side, both of whom, I believe, are farmers, advocating the consumption of these substitute products. As my noble Leader said, the milk-producing industry is at the moment in a pretty parlous condition, and it is not up to us in this House, or those in another place, to bring into operation Regulations which are likely to worsen depreciation in the industry.

The noble Earl who replied on behalf of Her Majesty's Government referred to the Regulations of 1958 and 1959. For three years the Government have been "sitting on" these Regulations without bringing anything before the House or the public; and in three years they have wiped out the one Regulation which would have protected the consumer, not only in relation to labels but also in relation to the indication of what the consumer was buying and was likely to consume in small quantities. The products in canisters or other wrapping are being labelled, but the consumer is given no knowledge whatever, when he goes into a café or restaurant, of what he is being given in his tea or coffee. That is obvious. The Minister proved my point for me in regard to that. He made what I thought was a rather funny sort of statement about a banquet. But even at a banquet, unless you ask for milk you are likely to get one of these byproducts.


My Lords, I said no such thing. I never said that you were likely to get any other thing. I suggested that the noble Lord, in developing this argument as to why we had missed something important out of these Regulations, should tell me specifically what we should put in. What are we to put in to make it quite clear that when he goes to a banquet he will get milk in his coffee? How does he do that by regulation?


My Lords, one cannot perhaps do it at a banquet. But unless you ask for milk you are likely to get something else.


Why? You think that you are likely to get something else unless you ask for it?


Yes; according to your own Minister you are likely to get something else in your tea or coffee. That is the whole point: the protection of the consumer. There is nothing more that I wish to say on the matter. I hope that the Regulations pan out as the Minister has endeavoured to persuade us they will. But I am disturbed, seriously disturbed, at the effect which these Regulations may have on the production of milk in this country.


My Lords, is the noble Lord withdrawing his Prayer, or does he wish me to put it to the House?


My Lords, I think it might be put.

On Question, Motion disagreed to.