HL Deb 20 January 1970 vol 307 cc66-72

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill is necessary to bring our legislation up to dale with the march of technology. At the moment, under Section 32 of the Food and Drugs Act 1955, which applies to England and Wales, and under Section 17 of the Food and Drugs (Scotland) Act 1956, it is illegal to add water to milk in any circumstances whatever. On the face of it this seems a very reasonable prohibition. But since that time a new method, known as the ultra-heat treatment, has been devised by which milk can be made sterile by the most efficient way yet known.

A designation order authorising the treatment of milk by ultra-heat was made in 1965, but the method then authorised was an indirect method, whereby dry surfaces were heated to a great heat and the milk was exposed to them; and it did not include the most modern way of doing this, which is to inject high-temperature steam into the milk very rapidly. The ultra-heat treatment of milk produces milk which will last, not days but weeks or months, without going sour. The purpose of his Bill is to make the injection of steam into milk, which must of course temporarily add water to it, exempt from the prohibitions in the 1955 and 1956 Acts.

There are a number of safeguards, of which the most important is incorporated in the Bill, and I shall be happy to discuss them in detail with any noble Lord wishing to ask questions. But the principle of the Bill is, I think, quite clear: it is to bring within the scope of our present legislation the most modern and efficient way of sterilising milk, which at the moment is outside it. I have all the details in my hands, and I am prepared to discuss any part of this Bill which noble Lords wish to question. It was guided through the other place by my honourable friend Mr. Alfred Morris, and passed through all its stages without criticism—in fact, without comment of any kind whatever. The Milk Distributive Council is pressing for it; the Milk Marketing Board approves it; the N.F.U. has no objection to it; and the industry which makes milk sterilising machinery is anxious for it.

If I may refer briefly to the Bill itself, it is very short and very simple. Clause 1(1) lays down, in relation to England and Wales, that treating milk by the application of steam shall not be construed as adding water, in the terms of the Food and Drugs Acts, provided that certain conditions are fulfilled. The main one of these is that the percentage of fat and solids other than fat should be the same at the end as at the beginning of the process. This means that any water that is put in must be taken out again. Clause 1(2) makes similar provisions for Scotland; and Clause 2 gives the Short Title. No legislation is necessary for Northern Ireland because Northern Ireland is not handicapped, or helped, as the case may be, by a corresponding Food and Drugs Act.

It seems to me possible that your Lordships will accept the main principle and will not require me to go into further details, though I am prepared to do so in summing-up, if noble Lords wish to ask questions. In the hope that I am correct in taking this view of what the House may think, I ask your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.)


My Lords, may I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, on his persuasive introduction of this small Bill, and on the lucid manner in which he has explained to us the various features of it? He has not quite equalled the record in another place, where, as he says, the Bill went through without comment at any stage; but he has run it very close. I had noted down 13 questions to ask him about what would be the effect of this process, and I am bound to say that he has already answered almost every one. However, I will see if I can find the odd one to ask him.

In winding-up, would the noble Lord give us the assurance that we should all like to have: that neither the flavour nor the consistency of the milk will be changed by this process? The noble Lord has dealt with all the vital questions of nutrition, the extraction of the water, temperature and so on. Perhaps he could also tell us whether the commercial dairies generally intend to apply this process when this Bill is on the Statute Book. Obviously, this is something which will be of great benefit to all concerned, and I join with other noble Lords in welcoming it.


My Lords, my noble friend has brought before us a small Bill but an important one, and a useful one. I should also like to congratulate him and to applaud his readiness to pilot the Bill through this House. I wish him every success, for the Government welcome the measure and we hope that it will get on to the Statute Book. My noble friend has told us so clearly the purpose of the Bill that there is nothing more for me to say on that, but I might add that among the advantages which should follow from this Bill is the fact that there should be an export potential of the machinery used in the process which he has described. In addition to that, I understand that it will now be more of a possibility to export liquid milk—indeed, I believe that one dairy in Wales already has a contract for the supply to Saudi Arabia of liquid milk treated by ultra-heat. I should also say that the regulations that Will be required if the Bill gets on to the Statute Book are already in draft form, and I hope it will be agreed in this House that we should do all we can to ensure that the Bill's progress on to the Statute Book is as speedy as possible.


My Lords, this is a very small Bill, and it is full of provisos to ensure that the condition of the milk after this process is exactly the same as is was before. It would be very interesting to the non-technical if the noble Lord could tell us, roughly speaking, how one applies steam to milk without in any way contaminating the milk with the condensed steam, which would be the water.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he can tell us what happens to the fat globule under the process which is envisaged in this Bill? Will the fat globule be broken up, and will the fat be emulsified in the milk?

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome which has been given this Bill. I think I can answer all questions except perhaps one, on which I am a little uncertain. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, asked about flavour and consistency. There has been some research done on flavour. I cannot completely understand the very technical terms in which the results have been expressed, but I have asked one or two people and I think that there is a slight difference in taste. As regards consistency, the treated milk is just like homogenised milk. It is homogenised before it is processed. As regards colour, it is paler.

If noble Lords are interested in the nutritive effect, I can say that a good deal of experimentation has been done on this, and I can give a list of experiments, with scientific quotations, all of which show that the nutritive effect of this milk on rats is similar to that of normal milk. I find this very hard to believe. I should have thought that the nutritive qualities of "live" milk would be somewhat different from those of pasteurised or U.H.T. milk. Most of the milk drunk in this country to-day is pasteurised. I think this is an academic question. Dairies generally—the commercial manufacturers—are already selling U.H.T. milk within the terms of a regulation made under the 1955 Act. They are selling, I think, up to something like 3 per cent. of their turnover, and this is expected to grow. It is almost certain that if this Bill is passed, if the more efficient method of heating the milk violently at 270 degrees for half a second or one second with steam is allowed, the commercial manufacturers will go over to this method. At the moment they are using the clumsier indirect method.

My noble friend Lord Beswick spoke of the export potential. The machinery manufacturers are particularly anxious to be able to work on this, with both the export market and the home market in view. Lord Balerno asked me about the actual effect of the process on the globules. My information as to how the steam passes through, though detailed, does not extend to the globules. From this I assume that the globules remain globules and are sterilised, as it were, on the outside. If the noble Lord wants further information I shall be happy to make inquiries and to write to him. I will also show him the detailed explanation of the process. There is no mention of the breakdown of globules; it seems to me that the globules are probably not broken down. I hope I have answered all the questions that have been put and that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading.


My Lords, there seems to be an extraordinary reticence about this matter, both in another place and in your Lordships' House. I wonder whether the Government would consider publishing a White Paper on the subject, so that those who want to know rather more than has been disclosed either here or in another place will have a chance to learn something of what has not been openly discussed.


My Lords, it would be easy to give more information. If the House wishes, I will do so. I can give the detailed process. But I thought that noble Lords might wish to get on with the possibly more contentious matter which is before the House.


My Lords, having regard to the reasons the noble Lord has given, I do not think that this debate is a suitable occasion for a detailed description of the process; but I think it would be a good thing for people who are interested in the details (which have not been given either in another place or in this Chamber) that there should be some publication, such as a White Paper to which they could refer.


My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend can see that that is done.


My Lords, I do not think the noble Lord has answered my question. He might prefer to wait until the Committee stage. Clause 1(2) of the Bill proposes to add a new subsection to Section 17 of the Food and Drugs (Scotland) Act 1956, which says: … The treatment of milk by the application of steam shall not be treated for the purposes of this section as the making of an addition of water to that milk … I cannot see the necessity for these words unless the steam actually comes into contact with the milk, in which case one wonders why it does not dilute the milk. The noble Lord may like to explain the process.


My Lords, the steam does come into contact with the milk. It is evaporated. The steam is put through at a temperature of 270 degrees and takes a second to go through. It remains in the milk for about one second. It passes through a holding tube and the diluted milk then passes through a throttle into an expansion chamber where the pressure is maintained below atmospheric pressure by means of a vacuum pump. This sudden change of pressure causes immediate re-evaporation of water from the diluted milk, cooling it in the process. I think that is the answer. There will be regulations to ensure that the water with which it is treated is of a certain standard of purity. I hope that I have answered all the questions that have been raised.


My Lords, as I am the only person who has tasted this milk, perhaps I may be allowed to say something. It has a slightly caramelised taste which is not objectionable. It is very much better than the sterilised milks of different kinds that we have had in the past. I hope that it will have a great market overseas in tropical countries.


My Lords, I think there is some misunderstanding here. Milk has been subjected to these temperatures for some time now; this is merely a different method of doing it. I think that the principal advantage in the long run is not in exports but in the rationalisation of milk distribution. As a nation we probably spend more on milk distribution than any other nation in the world. Once we get milk with the keeping qualities of sterilised but with a taste which is more like that of pasteurised, then we shall be able to deliver it in an entirely different way from that used in the past. Much more milk will be sold in the shops; there will be less and less need for daily deliveries; milk will be bought in greater quantities. Consequently, in the long run the main effect is going to be a considerable rationalisation of milk distribution which now represents far too high a proportion of the price of milk paid by the consumer.


My Lords, I thank the last two speakers for their support. I am not entirely in agreement with my noble friend Lord Jacques. I am not sure that the public are going to buy this for their daily milk, but I think many manufacturing firms will do so, as will a lot of people who have a special use for it, such as picnics. But nobody will be obliged to buy it. We want the most efficient method to be available to our industry so that the maximum amount can be sold and the most efficient machinery can be made. On that note, I would ask your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.