§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the regulations be annulled.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the first Prayer standing in my name on the Order Paper, although I am given to understand that it will be in order during the debate to refer to all the Prayers on the issue before the matter is resolved.
§ I have the honour and the opportunity to speak first in what I consider to be a very important debate, and I am very conscious indeed that there are Members on all sides of the House who will be able to speak from their experience and their qualification and also from their professions, so that the debate in my view will be a very well informed one indeed. My credentials for speaking in this debate can be briefly stated. I am a consumer of milk and milk products. I have already told this House of my lifelong association with the Co-operative movement and I wish to declare that that association continues today and will for a very long time in the future.
§ I declare a further interest, too. The very first trade union I joined as a young man was the Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers. At that time, so long ago, it was called NUDAW, the National Union of Distributive and Allied Workers. Many of the arguments that I deploy will be those which have been given to me by those two bodies, with which I shall continue to have a long and proud association. I am also a director of the Enfield and St. Albans Cooperative Society, and the annual milk sales of that society are four million gallons—not, in the context of the total global sales of milk, of enormous significance, but, if those are the sales of one Society and that is a reflection of the penetration of co-operative milk sales throughout the country, those will represent between 25 and 30 per cent. of the milk that is sold on the doorsteps of Britain at this time.
§ There are many facets to this problem. I want to begin by saying that I do not underestimate the dilemma which has faced the Government, not merely tonight or last week or even during 1983 but for a number of years past, so far as this is concerned. I do appreciate the dilemma of the Government, but, in my view, although not all the problems are of their making, I fear they have made the situation worse by placing their adherence to the nostrums of the EEC before their responsibilities to the British people.
§ That is a serious charge and I am under some obligation and some duty to substantiate it. I start from the doorstep and the damage that these orders will do to the continuation of doorstep delivery of fresh milk and milk products. Others will deal with health and with hygiene and with the effect on British farming.
§ I am sorry that my noble friend Lord John-Mackie is not able to be in his place tonight, because, when I addressed a packed and angry meeting of consumers in Enfield last week and mentioned to them the possibility that Lord John-Mackie might be speaking 401 here, they recalled with great affection that he had been their MP at Enfield East and they certainly continue to hold him in very high regard. However, I am delighted and grateful indeed that my noble friend Lady David is here to support from the Labour Front Bench the case that I am making.
§ I have not only read the Hansard report of last week's debate in another place, I actually listened to it from beginning to end. After all that, I hear in my head the same question over and over again: why, why, why? Why give more than we have been asked for? The Minister must know that this whole debate is centred, in my view, on three questions: first, why exceed the remit from the European Court? Secondly, why show such alacrity to comply with the judgment? Thirdly, why have the Government ignored so completely the extra dimensions of their decisions, such as the social effect and employment consequences.
Let us look closely at the decision of the European Court in February this year. When the then Minister of Agriculture made his Statement on it, he said:
The judgment in the case related to the United Kingdom imports of ultra heat-treated milk.
That was all it related to. When the Importation of Milk Bill was before Parliament on 10th May this year, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary was even more specific. She said:
I should like to repeat that the judgment applies only to UHT milk, which accounts for such a small share—one per cent.—of the UK market.
The best that one can make out as to why these orders now include sterilised milk and frozen pasteurised cream came in the speech of the Secretary of State last week in another place when he said, at col. 911:
The judgment was confined to UHT milk because that was the subject of the complaint before the court, which, in its judgment, interpreted how the provisions of articles 30 and 36 of the treaty should be applied. Those articles are of general scope and apply to all kinds of milk. We"—
That is, the Government—
how the principles laid down by the court should apply to other types of milk." [Official Report (Commons), 16/11/83; Col. 911.]
In other words, what flows from those decisions in the court have been, if not wholly, substantially in the gift of the interpretation of the Government; it is the way the Government have interpreted their responsibilities and duties that we complain of tonight. We ask the Government, why the Government of this country should voluntarily go further than we know other countries would go simply to show good Common Market subservience, even when there are so many potential catastrophic consequences for British tradition and British jobs.
§ Yes, my Lords, I know what the Minister is going to say at some stage: that he has faith in the British milk production and distribution network and that they will be able to face all these challenges. I say to the Minister that I, too, have faith in the competitive spirit of the milk distributive trades. They have been fighting for their lives for many years. Why saddle this hardworking section of British industry with an unnecessary handicap, a flood of sterilised milk? And why create 17 points of entry to facilitate this unfair, unwanted, unnecessary burden, which can destroy the whole of an industry?402
§ Let us not underestimate the size of the industry we are talking about tonight; 33 million pints of milk a day are sold on the doorsteps, 4½ pints per person and 12 pints per household every week; 16 million homes have a delivery every day; there are £2,500 million annual sales of milk, and 75,000 people employed in processing and distribution alone. I have seen various figures about the totality of the employment at risk, but of course it depends on what one includes. Another more significant factor is that 98 per cent. of the people now receiving milk on the doorstep want doorstep delivery to continue in the future.
So what are we about tonight in this debate? What, practically, can we do? We are trying to do nothing less than make a last attempt to persuade the Government to put British tradition, British people, British jobs, British health above all else. The threat to an ability to maintain doorstep deliveries of fresh British milk will come from the licence these orders give French farmers to dump their surplus milk, already subsidised by the CAP at a loss-leader price, into our supermarkets. If pennies cheaper can influence consumer demand—and they can—one percentage point fewer sales on the doorstep will turn a marginal milk round into an uneconomic one. Rationalisation of rounds will take place, but 5 per cent. fewer sales will spell total disaster. The Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers informs me that at risk are the jobs of 55,000 distributive workers, 15,000 process workers, and a further 15,000 jobs in road haulage, glass manufacture and electric vehicle construction. In a statement made after the debate in another place Mr. Garfield Davies, the national officer of USDAW, said:
The unions in the milk industry owe it to their members to save the 180,000 jobs at stake, and we owe it to the customers, 98 per cent. of whom want to continue to be able to buy their fresh British milk on their doorstep".
I attended a meeting in Enfield on Tuesday night, just two days ago. At that meeting, there were milkmen from the Co-op, the Express and Unigate. They presented me with petitions which totaled 32,000 signatures that they had received on the doorstep in the small area around Enfield. If your Lordships will permit, I shall read that petition:
We, the undersigned, request that Her Majesty's Government withdraw the proposal to change the law to lift the ban on importing milk. We believe that any changes in the law to conform to the European Court ruling should be confined to UHT milk and allow for controls on quantity and quality as well as a phase-in period".
That is not an unreasonable request, particularly from men who have worked hard all their lives and who fear that their livelihood is at risk by virtue of what the Government intend to do.
§ It only requires between 5 and 10 per cent. of milk requirements to be lost on doorstep deliveries to begin the domino effect which I have spelled out. With 98 per cent. of customers wishing to retain doorstep deliveries, the vast majority may have their wishes thwarted by the small minority.
§ There are others better qualified than I to speak on both the need for and the effectiveness of the regulations designed to keep our milk clean and to keep out foot and mouth disease. I know that there are arguments and genuine fears, but the Minister bears a heavy responsibility for causing them. The Government can effectively police all stages of milk 403 production in this country. Apart from the regulations at the ports, how can the Government ensure that French farms conform to the high standards that apply on British farms? Can the Minister tell us what additional steps the Government will be taking inside the EEC not only to make sure that the milk conforms to our standards when it arrives at our ports but to try to encourage the raising of standards in the other parts of the EEC?
§ This compliance with EEC dogma has appalled responsible sections of British life: the Dairy Trade Federation, the Milk Marketing Board, the Glass Manufacturers' Federation, Help the Aged, the National Farmers' Union, and of course the Cooperative Movement and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. I fear for the future of doorstep deliveries. These orders are against the best interests of the milk consumer, the milk producer, the milk industry and Britain itself. Until the orders are fully operational we shall protest. When we have gathered the evidence that this action is destroying a vital element of the British economy, we shall not hesitate to return to the Government and face those who bear witness to this folly.
§ In another place the issue was resolved with a vote. Here we are somewhat circumscribed by events but we are entitled to many, many answers. In the name of millions of consumers and workers we want those answers tonight. Therefore, I beg to move the first prayer standing in my name on the Order Paper.
§ Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the regulations be annulled.—(Lord Graham of Edmonton.)
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Lord Monk Bretton
My Lords, I must confess that I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, has prayed against these orders. I am anxious, I must at once say, to stick to the conventions of this House about voting against orders. However, I am glad that this debate enables me to express my serious concern about the orders.
I am a dairy farmer although, like so many dairy farmers, not 100 per cent. dairying; but at least that gives me the chance to understand the difficulties which the Government have on other commodities. I am not anti-Community either. However, I believe we must carefully defend our national interest in certain areas and two areas which I believe are of very great importance are fisheries and milk. We have not been too successful with fisheries and I do not want to see a disaster with the milk industry. We live on an island and these two industries are of considerable strategic importance to us.
Milk is our cheapest protective food. The dairy industry has often been described as the sheet anchor of British agriculture. Milk sales total 21 per cent. of the gross sales of the industry, and that is only the tip of the iceberg, bearing in mind that the dairy herd is the basis of our beef supplies. Our dairy herd is not large. It is half the size of the dairy herd in France and there are very good reasons for thinking that, whatever we do, we should strive to make sure that it is not reduced. It is also worth mentioning, in passing, that 404 the livestock industry is a part of agriculture that does not burn straw.
We should stand our ground and not sell out too easily. Traditionally the market for our dairy herds has been liquid milk. I believe our consumption per head is three and a half times that of France, which is an astounding figure. About 85 per cent. is doorstep delivery. Our milk is a very good product; and it must be to achieve the use to which it is put. In comparison, I should like to say a word about what happens in France. I ought to be fair and say that the French eat more cheese and yoghurt than do we. However, they have little faith in French milk. Last spring the Farmer's Weekly reported a survey that had been conducted in France which said that one-third of French housewives boil their pasteurised milk before using it. Whether that reflects on the milk or the housewives, I do not know, but I do not suppose the housewives are foolish. It is a pity that the French do not manage to develop their liquid market better, instead of adding to the butter mountain, and that other EC countries do not realise that they have something to learn from us, albeit slowly, about the way to exploit a liquid market.
I must turn to what happened in Holland when UHT and other milk appeared in the shops. Doorstep deliveries fell from 90 per cent. to 25 per cent. and the total liquid consumption fell by 25 per cent. I believe this happened in a remarkably short space of time—about two years. That shows how devastating the effect could be. The official hope in this country is that it may never happen. I confess I am not so optimistic. Other noble Lords who are to speak will probably be able to explain why. I do not want to go too far on that line because my noble friend will know that his right honourable friend in another place said that this was, in a way, negative criticism because we have signed a treaty which we must honour, and that we must start from there. So from now on I shall try to discuss health issues.
The first point to mention is that none of the heat processes referred to in the orders will deal with contaminants in milk; namely, antibiotics, pesticide residues and aflatoxins. Aflatoxins come from those feeds that can induce cancer in the cow, and in those consuming her milk. We stopped using ground nut cake when we discovered that it was a source of aflatoxins. I think that pesticide residues and antibiotics are contaminants that this House will understand.
I believe that our record in controlling these contaminants is substantially better than the records of others, and I shall quote what was said by the Milk Marketing Board:Analyses of foreign milks have shown that pesticide and aflatoxin levels in continental milk supplies are much higher than in UK supplies. Pesticide and antibiotic levels in Southern Ireland milk are also very high".Obviously, it is very important to monitor this. I am very glad that Ministers have frequently mentioned the horrible taste of UHT milk, but I think when one thinks about contaminants there is rather more to complain about than that, and personally I should like to hear more of it.
Can we be satisfied about our own proposed inspection procedures on imported milk? It appears 405 from the regulations that we accept the exporter's certificate unless from external examination there is something wrong. My reading of the regulations is that there is no real provision for regular spot checks. I am concerned about this because it is most important that these inspections should be really effective enough.
I should like to mention Irish milk, and I have some quotes which I wish to give. The Connaught Tribune of 10th June 1983 has as its headline,Antibiotics in 74 per cent. of samples taken in Western Survey".That refers to the annual report for 1982 of the western region public analyst laboratory.
The Irish Times of 3rd October stated:Frighteningly high levels of antibiotic and hormonal residues have been found in Irish meat and milk products … unless tighter controls are introduced on the sale and use of antibiotics, growth promoters and anthelmintics (worm doses) for livestock, exports of Irish food may be affected soon".The Veterinary College, Dublin stated that around 18 per cent. of milk supplied to dairies for liquid consumption in 1981 and 1982 contained antibiotic residues.
Finally, one headline stated—and this is almost back to the 18th century:And milk for school kids was watered down".The report which followed referred to,levels of added water varing from 1 to 35 per cent. on at least nine occasions".I think it is pertinent to mention that the actual standards laid down for milk production in Southern Ireland are the same as in Northern Ireland, but enforcement seems to be a difficulty and a notably different matter.
From there I should like to go on to ask whether we are now monitoring imports as well as we should. The Dairy Trade Federation told me that evidence has been found of high antibiotic levels in Irish UHT milk portions. These are the little fellows that one is given to pop into one's cup of tea; very often on airlines. The remedy, I have no doubt, is to demand British milk portions and fly the flag, but sometimes one is a captive clientele and one cannot do that.
Another thing that happened was in Harrod's, where a container for sale was labelled "Creme fraiche". There were also the words: "Fresh pasteurised cream from Normandy". It turned out that it was not that. It had a two-month shelf life, and therefore could not possibly be a fresh pasteurised product. I do not think that it is really quite known what that was.
I can only express concern for the public. Our own labelling of dairy products here has always been most rigidly controlled; so it is important. Is the inspection at point of entry going to be good enough? It would be helpful, I am sure, if my noble friend the Minister were able to enlarge a little on how this is to be done. I believe that at the moment the ports concerned inspect imported meat supplies. I wonder what facilities they are going to be given to deal with milk and whether they will make use of the milk marketing boards' facilities, and so forth.
There is also the question of chlostridum botulinum, which arises occasionally in UHT milk, and is an extremely devastating and poisonous thing. I should like to refer to some of the opinions of the trade. First, if the Department of Health says that 140 406 sterilisation for two seconds for UHT processing is necessary for home produced cream and flavoured milks, the trade cannot see that it is unnecessary for UHT milk. In one case the comment I heard was that it was absurd to think there was any difference. Secondly, I could not find any evidence that the trade would not be ready to treat United Kingdom UHT milk at 140C for two seconds. The trade think that UHT imports should all be at 140C for two seconds, so far as I know.
I gather that my noble friend the Minister's right honourable friend in another place is sympathetic to all this, so I do not want to labour the point; but I should like to know whether it might be possible to amend these regulations at once, so that instead of 132C for one second, we can have 140C for two seconds. If it cannot be done at once, how soon can it be done? It may be that some people will say that this will make UHT milk nastier to drink and less easy to market, but my own view is that health considerations should undoubtedly come first.
Lastly, I should like to turn to the subject of pasteurised frozen cream and to say, first, that attempts at adequate common European hygiene rules have been going on since 1971. There has not been much progress. I do not think that there will be much progress for some time—perhaps never. One must always remember that perhaps different milk is produced for different purposes. That is going to take a long time and in the meantime the trade here do not consider it possible to guarantee satisfactory public health control for imports of any pasteurised products. The cream is a pasteurised product. The trouble is that once it is out of the frozen store, even when it is in the domestic refrigerator, the bugs can start multiplying up. I believe this import is by far the most questionable, in particular when it is remembered that, after all, pasteurised milk was ruled out. We let it in six years ago, and I wonder whether we therefore have to continue with this risk, or widen the problem beyond the Irish imports only. I do not know what difficulties there really need be with the European Court, because surely if it is subsequently found that a certain course is unsatisfactory on health grounds, it would be wrong to be held to continue that risk.
Times change, and knowledge improves. Obviously, it is the strongest argument for customers to buy British cream. I am sure that that is right. In matters of price, it is always true that you get what you pay for. But the ethics of advertising make it very difficult for the trade to tell the public why they should be buying British cream under these circumstances, because those ethics say that advertisers should not resort to instilling fear. From this, I conclude that this particular trade must be dealt with by the Government. It should if possible, be stopped—and soon.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Viscount Thurso
My Lords, one cannot but be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, for praying in your Lordships' House about these regulations. They bear considerable examination, and the Government deserve considerable criticism for the way they have handled the situation. It seems odd, I must say, to give more than has been asked for after having resisted giving anything at all. It also seems odd that we should be prepared to 407 lower our standards in order to allow something into the country that we have not previously thought was up to our standards, rather than try and take our higher standards to other places and attempt to get the rest of the European Community to accept those standards.
There are enormous differences in standards in relation to milk. I was a dairyman—at least, I was employed in the dairy industry one way or another—for about 20 years. I was a retail dairyman, producing and delivering milk to the doorstep for a great part of that time. At one stage I used to offer a bonus to the people who worked in my dairy for the cleanliness of the milk. Your Lordships may not know that milk is not only tested but is very regularly tested. I am not certain of the procedures today because I have ceased my retail dairying enterprise; but in those days, when I was working at it, milk was officially tested every month for bacterial count and for content of foreign bodies, or anything of that sort, and it was also analysed for butterfat and solids-not-fat count. I used to pay a bonus to the people who worked in the dairy which began at 10,000 colonies per millilitre and increased to the point where they were getting top bonus at 2,000 colonies per millilitre or under.
This may not mean a lot to your Lordships but, during this period, I went to America where, we are always led to believe, milk standards are very high. I visited some of the leading dairy farms in New England, looking particularly at some of the Ayrshire cattle there. I asked about standards of milk production in New England. I was told that 100,000 colonies per millilitre was considered quite good. My response was to say that I would sack my staff if that was the sort of milk that they produced, and that I liked people to do under 10,000 colonies and perhaps even down to 2,000. The reaction was astonishment, and prompted the remark. "That is cleaner than water". I replied, "Of course; milk should be cleaner than water, and it could be cleaner than water".
Unfortunately, standards of treating milk over the world are not as high as those I have described. We get over the difficulty of the high contamination rate that obtains in many parts of the world by treating milk in various ways. In this country, we now consider it necessary to pasteurise even the milk that is produced cleaner than water. There are other methods. There is UHT, there is sterilised milk, and so forth. The dirtier the milk, the hotter you have to sterilise it. You can therefore get away with milk that has been contaminated if you heat treat it hot enough. But to my way of thinking this is not milk: it is bacterial soup. It is the kind of thing one may be getting in these UHT packages.
What is it that we really want from the milk industry? It seems to me that we want three things. We want, first, quality. People who buy milk are, I think, most concerned about the quality of the milk that they buy. By quality, they mean content: they mean that it has to have the right quantity of solids, not fat. It has to have the right cream for what it pretends to be. Secondly, they want hygiene. They realise that this is a food, and that it is a valuable food; and that they realise that it is not only a food for human beings and animals but also a food for bacteria. It must therefore 408 be handled with all the care that applies to the handling of any form of food. The people of this or of any country, or the Common Market as a whole, demand that milk should be hygienic. This involves not only heat-treating it in order to kill any contamination that may have got into it, but also producing it in a clean fashion. This is very important. If the milk is clean to start with and there is any breakdown in the method of sterilising or pasteurising, the chances of serious damage taking place are obviously less. One wants therefore to be certain that the milk, whatever its source and whatever its provenance, is basically hygienic.
Thirdly, in relation to milk people want service. This is something that we in this country have developed to a very much higher degree than any other country. I feel proud to have been associated with such an industry. I know what effort it takes, but I know that it is a service undertaken by people at all levels with a real sense of responsibility. In another place, the Minister said that he could wax lyrical about doorstep deliveries, but he said absolutely nothing about how he was going to preserve them for us. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will explain how he hopes that we shall avoid Holland's experience, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, and how we shall avoid the falling off in the effectiveness of our doorstep deliveries and the service that this brings to the people of our country.
What also worries me is how we are going to police this whole operation. We have a set-up in this country where there are people who analyse milk and people who test milk bacteriologically. Their laboratories and the points at which they sample the milk, and the way in which they sample the milk, have been worked out over long years of experience. We know that what is being done to safeguard our milk supplies is being properly done and expertly done, and done regularly and sufficiently often for us to be sure that our supplies are safe and sound. But we do not know, and we have had no assurances that I have been able to discover, how these 17 ports through which this milk will come into the country will be policed or equipped for testing, or how the testing, if testing is to be done, is to be carried out.
In my view we are entitled to some information about this. We are entitled to a great deal more information about how the Government think they can ensure that the quality of milk coming in is as good as it is supposed to be, and how they are certain that it will be the same at each one of the 17 different ports of entry.
The noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, also raised the very important question of contaminants. It is most important that the contamination level at which we accept milk is kept as low as possible—as low as we can possibly achieve. The common ailment of the dairy cow is mastitis which is the inflamation of the udder. The common treatment for this inflamation is massive quantities of antibiotics of one sort or another. I do not know how many tubes of penicillin I have squeezed up the teats of dairy cows in my lifetime. But unless it were made quite clear that in no way could I use the milk from the cows that I had treated, and unless my business depended upon throwing that milk away after 409 it had been taken from the cows, I would not like to drink the milk which I was producing.
Therefore, we must be certain that the standards of hygiene in the herds from which the milk that is to be imported comes is as high as the standard of hygiene of our own dairy herds. I should like to hear some assurances from the Minister about what checks and tests are to be done in the EEC.
Having said all that, your Lordships may take the view that I am being very anti the importation of milk from the European Common Market. Not at all. All I am saying is that if we import milk from another country, whatever other country it may be, that milk should compete upon level terms as regards quality and hygiene with our own milk produced in this country. I am perfectly prepared—or at least I would be if I were still in the industry, but as a farmer I am perfectly prepared—to compete in level competition with farmers from France, Germany, Italy, Holland or anywhere else so long as it is level competition and it is not competition derived from a lower standard on one side and a higher standard on the other side. It is as regards that matter that I would seek the assurance of the Minister. I hope that when we receive these assurances we shall be able to accept with a little more equanimity the regulations which have been very hastily, suddenly and, I think, somewhat in advisedly, foisted upon us.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton, who so ably and thoroughly presented the issues raised by the regulations. I also, of course, join with other noble Lords in thanking him for tabling the Prayers for their annulment. I have listened with great interest, care and attention to the speeches made by three noble Lords, and I congratulate them on the way in which they displayed their expertise, knowledge and experience of the dairy industry. I am sure that the words they have used in this debate will be read very carefully by the Government in their examination of what will be the next step required to counter the damage already done by the regulations.
I believe I am correct in saying that the five regulations that have been tabled are strictly, in legal terms, applicable only to England and Wales. However, we are already aware of the wider implications of the legislation for the whole of the United Kingdom and I hope, therefore, that I do not unduly transgress the rules of the House, or appear to be discourteous to other noble Lords, if I refer briefly to some of the serious problems which arise for the Northern Ireland milk industry and the agricultural community from the regulations.
At the outset of my remarks I wish to state that the Northern Ireland milk industry is on record as accepting the obligations placed upon the United Kingdom Government by the ruling of the European Court of Justice. At the same time the spokesmen for the industry have stated that they are deeply disturbed by the precise form of the regulations. As I understand it, the Northern Ireland Milk Marketing Board wrote on Tuesday last, 22nd November, to the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, who is the Northern Ireland Minister of State for Agriculture. Along with other matters 410 contained in its letter, the Northern Ireland Milk Marketing Board strongly protested about the requirements of the United Kingdom Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for veterinary certificates in respect of the movements of UHT products from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. There is now being made, for the first time, a requirement for a part of the United Kingdom to meet certain standards and carry out certain certifications. This has been sprung on the industry, which has been completely put offside by the way in which it has been implemented.
Judging from the statements in the Northern Ireland press, correspondence I have received, and speeches made on 16th November in another place, there is no doubt that these milk regulations—this new legislation and the requirements—are causing deep concern and anger among the Northern Ireland farming community and all sections of the milk industry.
Northern Ireland has taken great pride in the high standards attained and upheld by the milk industry and the necessary relevant animal health provisions to ensure that those high standards are attained and maintained. In that connection I should like to quote from a booklet published by the Northern Ireland Industrial Development Board, which is a Northern Ireland Government-sponsored body interested in promoting industry and employment in Northern Ireland. Indeed, it has put aside a lot of money in order to attract industry to Northern Ireland and to overcome some of the problems of unemployment. The pamphlet has been widely circulated to Members of both Houses. I should like to quote it in particular because standards have been mentioned, and because Ireland has been mentioned in broad terms. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, qualified it, and referred to Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland.
I believe it is right that the standards required and laid down by the Government of the Republic are in parity with, or are equal to, those of Northern Ireland. It is the manner in which they are being scrutinised, administered and monitored that concerns a great many people. However, I shall quote from the pamphlet that has been circulated this week by the Northern Ireland Development Board. It cites a number of matters in connection with the food industries, and it says:Alone of any UK region, Ulster is a net food exporter. The output for its farmers last year topped I billion dollars, mainly from dairying and the intensive production of beef, sheep and pigs.The regional Chairman of the Confederation of British Industry Dr. George Chambers, has been chief executive of Ulster's Milk Marketing Board for 20 years and is closely involved with some of the numerous current projects to expand food processing industries and create jobs by adding value to the farmers' output".I quote what Dr. Chambers said:In all my time in the food industry here I have never known so much going on and so much further scope not only in my own field, milk, but in other food sectors too".The article then says:Chambers cites such developments as the production, started last month, of a revolutionary new health drink combining milk proteins and fruit juices. One of NI's largest farming co-operatives is making an $8 million investment with its Swedish partner to produce it for sale throughout the British Isles".The article goes on to talk about the,imminent launching of 2 milk-and-whiskey cream liqueurs",which I am sure noble Lords will be interested in 411 seeing, if not tasting, at some stage. The article goes on to say that Dr. Chambers',own Milk Marketing Board, owned by its 8,000 suppliers, provides a single point of contact with which an incoming processor can deal for an assured, long-term, year-round supply".It continues:We can back any customer with our own R & D and undertake pilot production for new milk-based products. We have unrestricted access to the EEC and are one of only three regions in Europe about which the US federal authorities raise no questions concerning milk quality, so tightly are hygiene and animal health controlled".Perhaps I ought to apologise for reading that article at such length, but I thought it was necessary because so much has been said about the area of Ireland in connection with standards. I join with the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, in saying that Northern Ireland has taken great pride in the high standard in milk production attained there. Indeed, it is seeking to capitalise on milk used in the food processing industry, and we hope that this is one of the areas which will lend itself to great potential in the development of employment.
I feel sure that these matters must raise serious doubts about the implications of the new milk regulations when persons of such high standing, reputation and experience as Dr. Chambers express deep concern and hold such strongly pronounced views about the threat and the danger which the legislation poses for the future of the milk and food industries and for employment in Northern Ireland.
It appears to me that there has been a serious lack of adequate discussion and communication by the Government with the industry about the ramifications and the extent of these regulations. No matter who was responsible for the breakdown, and wherever it may have occurred, it must now rest with the Government to make the necessary adjustments before the milk industry and its potential for employment are not further critically damaged. As regards Northern Ireland, there has been a serious omission—an omission which I believe is serious beyond the issues of the milk industry. It is the omission, or the failure, to consult with the Agriculture Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly. For a number of reasons I am convinced that this failure should be repaired as urgently as possible.
I join with the noble Lord, Lord Graham, and share with him the pride that at one time I was employed in the Co-operative Movement. I am a life member of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. Therefore, my views coincide with his. I share his views on issues such as the importance of the milk rounds man, and the need for doorstep delivery. One has to live in Northern Ireland to know and appreciate the real value of the roundsman's services and their sterling worth to the community.
I was unable to give notice to the Minister of matters that I should like to raise in this debate. However, I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, kindly to draw my remarks to the attention of his colleague, the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, who I know is in direct contact with the Northern Ireland milk industry and the farming community there.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Baroness Lane-Fox
My Lords, the protection of public health is never more plainly to be seen than among patients in orthopaedic and long-stay hospitals. In view of the current mind-boggling expenditure on the National Health Service and the necessarily huge and growing cost of medical science and research, it is obvious that everything possible needs to be done to reduce illness and disease, so that preventive action is of the very first importance.
As someone lucky enough to be a member of the Prince of Wales' Advisory Group on Disability, I know how much prevention concerns us there, and rightly. With the United Kingdom's abundant supply of excellent milk, with its high health standard, how can we now consider accepting supplies of a lower standard from other countries? Here in the United Kingdom we have this splendid source of an agreed basically healthy food, as was so well illustrated by my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton. To belittle this advantage by accepting milk supplies that have not attained the same standard seems to be at least frighteningly irresponsible. Perhaps the noble Lord the Minister when he replies will show us and persuade us that the inspection process on arrival is adequate and that standards will be raised to satisfy my noble friends who have spoken before me. To me long-term health means more in cost saving to the country and the wellbeing of its people than even an EEC difficulty, much as I uphold the Commission.
There is just one other aspect about which I am concerned—the milkman and the doorstep delivery. We all know the music hall joke which has the milkman cast in the role of Casanova—the lonely housewife is more than a friend. Here I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, will not take offence. May I assure your Lordships that I am not concerned with such antics, be they real or fantasy; but I know how invaluable is the regular visit of the milkman to the elderly and to the severely disabled. There are the crafty cases who hear him on the doorstep and then drop him messages in a bucket out of the window. There are the elderly who wait anxiously for him to put the kettle under the tap or just to pass the time of day. Still more, there are those he finds in difficulties, capsized on the floor, and those he can report about. Certainly the daily visit of the milkman can be invaluable, whether to rescue and revive or just to deliver.
I am a keen supporter of the competitive system, but as in this case the highest health qualifications will not be likely to be met, I cannot favour imports of milk. Support of the high quality of this country's milk industry, with its doorstep delivery service, is my reason for backing the Prayer of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, tonight.
§ 7.59 p.m.
My Lords, in rising to support the noble Lord, Lord Graham, I must declare an interest because I am a dairy farmer. I should also say that I rise in a mood of some surprise, and indeed bewilderment, because, as has been pointed out, for something like two years Her Majesty's Government succeeded in resisting imports of UHT milk—it has been called 413 "unbelievably horrible tasting milk"—on what was a fairly flimsy argument. I congratulate them on having done so, because I always salute people who can sustain causes on flimsy arguments. At least they were able to put off the evil day.
The funny thing is that, having been successful in so doing, they have now given in against the background of a much stronger argument. I have written in my notes the word "capitulate", but it would be wrong to quote that because they did not capitulate. Her Majesty's Government went further than they were requested to do by allowing frozen, pasteurised cream to be included in the regulations. Where as it would have been difficult for us now to have sustained an argument against UHT milk, there is every strong argument for resisting the importation of frozen, pasteurised cream.
Whereas we would much rather not have importation of UHT milk, what would be far more serious would be the precedent having been set that frozen, pasteurised cream can be admitted, the logical conclusion is that pasteurised whole milk could be admitted, and the pasteurisation process, as I think has been pointed out and as your Lordships will know, only destroys a proportion of the micro-organisms and the process of freezing does nothing but put them into cold storage. Once the product is unfrozen, those same micro-organisms are reactivated once again.
What concerns me particularlyis the danger that admission of frozen, pasteurised cream and possibly ultimately pasteurised whole milk from outside the United Kingdom will pose a threat not only to public health but also to the animal health status. I should perhaps mention that in Northern Ireland this poses a particular threat because of the land frontier that we have with the Republic of Ireland.
The Minister in another place said that there would not be frozen, pasteurised cream admitted from EEC countries where foot and mouth disease was endemic. To the best of my knowledge there are few EEC countries where foot and mouth is not endemic, with the exception of the Republic of Ireland. That would tend to indicate that the preponderance of imports of this product would be from the Republic of Ireland. Health status of animals in the Republic is not as high. Even though they have not got the same foot and mouth problem, in other respects it is not as high as it is in Northern Ireland. There are two standards of hygiene: one for liquid consumption and the other for manufacturing. What I should like to ask is, how can this be properly policed?
It has been stated that there will be three points of access from the Republic to Northern Ireland. One of them was stated to be Armagh. In another place last week, the question was asked how could a point of access be Armagh in view of the fact that Armagh is not on the border? I understood from another source that in fact Middletown was to be the point of access. But, as noble Lords may be aware, Middletown is bang in the middle of the "bandit country" in South Armagh. I should be interested to know how this particular operation could be policed.
It would be indeed a disaster if such a threat were posed to animal hygiene in Northern Ireland, because it has taken not years but decades of hard work, 414 meticulous work, and indeed sacrifices on behalf of the farmers and on behalf of the Department of Agriculture in full co-operation with the farmers' union to build up this status of animal health, which is unique not just in the United Kingdom but in the entire European Community.
I would add in passing that insult has been added to injury, in that now the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has insisted that UHT products from Northern Ireland going out of the Province have to be accompanied by a veterinary certificate, which was never required before. The Milk Marketing Board, which has been making inquiries about this, states that it is totally frustrated by the difficulty in obtaining clarification and interpretation of this requirement. Reference has already been made to the fact that the Agriculture Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly was not consulted about the regulations which have already come into force, even though the ruling of the European Court was delivered on 8th February and the legislation in Westminster received Royal Assent on 13th May.
I happened to see the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, in the corridor this morning. When he told me that he was not going to be present, I said that I hoped he would not take exception if I made reference to him this afternoon. He said he would not take exception, provided that I was accurate and kind. I assured him that I always exercise my every endeavour to be accurate, and I was invariably kind. Therefore, in my kindness I should not like to blame him personally for a lengthy letter which was signed by him and dated 1st November, explaining why the Agriculture Committee of the Assembly was not consulted. I can only say that he was given a "bum steer" by whoever it was who drafted that letter for his signature. The worst thing about it was that it stated that the Ulster Farmers' Union, the Milk Marketing Board and the dairy trade had been consulted, and they were content.
I quote from the chairman of the Milk Marketing Board of Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Blease, has already quoted Dr. Chambers. The chairman of the board stated:First of all can I say that we have never been hurt as much as in the way we have been treated in this affair. Yesterday I accompanied Mr. Jim Robinson, who is Chairman of the Dairy Trade Federation in Northern Ireland and my opposite number, and Dr. Stewart to meet the Minister to discuss these matters. When I was leaving I said that in my 30 years' experience of dealing with the political aspects of dairying in Northern Ireland I had never been as much hurt nor had we ever been as badly treated. I feel very strongly about it.They are hardly the words that would be used by someone who was "content".
Furthermore, there is additional resentment in that, after months of consultation with the Ulster Farmers' Union, the Milk Marketing Board and the dairy trade over the matter of imports of UHT and sterilised milk, suddenly, at the last moment and without consultation, the matter of frozen, pasteurised cream was slipped in, and they had not been asked at all about it before. How could anyone say that these bodies were "content"?
This matter is far more significant, and, with regard to the Agriculture Committee of the Assembly, we have been given a succession of matters to consider. Most of them seem to refer to the regulations regarding control of guard dogs. I do not know why guard dogs 415 should be quite so topical at this stage. That is of minor significance compared to the matter of frozen pasteurised cream possibly leading to whole pasteurised milk—a matter which was never put to us at all. My honourable friend and colleague, the Reverend Dr. Ian Paisley, who is chairman of the committee, has, as we would say in Northern Ireland, "given off" about it at some considerable length.
There is some doubt about the exact situation about pasteurisation and foot and mouth disease. As far as I can gather, there is no agreement on the bacteriological content—the count—which is critical in considering whether milk would pass the test. In Northern Ireland a count of 50,000 colonies per millilitre is currently that which is adequate for the quality premium, but, with heat-treated milk, 140C for two seconds is accepted as being adequate for ultra heat treatment. In another place, the honourable Member for Norfolk South, Mr. MacGregor, if I am in order in quoting him, said that 80C for 15 seconds was adequate for pasteurisation to ensure that the foot and mouth disease virus could not survive. Yet, a veterinary officer of the Department of Agriculture states that the foot and mouth virus can survive eight hours' boiling, which means eight hours at 100C. There seems to be some divergence of opinion.
In another place, the right honourable Minister stated that there would be no imports from European Community countries where foot and mouth was endemic, so presumably the Republic of Ireland would be the main source from which such imports would come. Antibiotics were mentioned by one noble Lord. I would quote from the Sunday Independent of 20th November 1983. The heading is "Health risk milk 'could kill babies' ". The most pertinent paragraph reads:Dr. Michael Smith, president of the Irish Medical Union, described the situation as getting out of hand. He said that the free availability of antibiotics to farmers is creating a major public health hazard".If I may display this rather charming exhibit; that is a syringe for supplying antibiotics and injecting them into the udder—
My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord, but no exhibits are allowed in the House. I am so sorry, my Lord.
My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for his kind guidance. I was merely drawing attention to the fact that these antibiotics are available to be purchased anywhere. There is a warning on the syringe that milk from any cow which has been so treated must be withdrawn for 72 hours, but there is no way of policing that. That was my point.
The other matter is one that has been mentioned already; that is the door-to-door delivery of milk. The standard United Kingdom retail price for milk is 37 pence per litre, whereas in the Republic of Ireland it is 26.5 pence per litre, meaning a differential of 10.5 pence. Knowing supermarkets and the way in which they can promote loss leaders, this could undermine our retail trade in Northern Ireland altogether. It is not just the fact that there are so many jobs at stake here in door-to-door deliveries, in processing and 416 packaging, in haulage, glass manufacture and vehicle manufacture which are promoted by the door-to-door deliveries, but there is also the social effect. Often, particularly with a senior citizen, it is the milkman who is the first to notice that the pint of milk delivered the day before has not been taken in. He wonders what has happened, raises the alert and perhaps, on investigation, it becomes apparent that the old person has suffered a stroke or some other illness.
I wholeheartedly support the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, and I trust that Her Majesty's Government will take note of the very pertinent points that he has made.
§ 8.17 p.m.
Earl De La Warr
My Lords, I must start by declaring an interest as a fairly large dairy farmer. I am extremely grateful, like other noble Lords, to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, for the Prayers that he has moved and the very explicit way in which he has dealt with the problem. He was good enough to say that he was sorry for the dilemma in which the Minister found himself. I feel somewhat less sorry for the Minister than apparently he does, for reasons that I will produce.
The noble Lord told us how disturbed he was about the anxieties of the 50,000 milk roundsmen, and I know that he will agree with me that those anxieties are shared by the many thousands of people who milk the cows. Indeed, the point is that this is a whole industry. The dairy industry, from the bottom to the top and from the top to the bottom, is as one in condeming the Government in the way they have handled this difficult situation.
I should make one point absolutely clear. This is not in any way to be construed as an attack by me on the Common Market. I am one of those who has always supported it, and I shall continue to do so, though many aspects of the common agricultural policy, as we all know, have to be looked at very carefully.
Furthermore—and I am sure that everyone who has spoken in this debate would agree—the Government had no option but to accept and take urgent action on the judgment of the European Court when it was given. But I must draw your Lordships' attention to what I believe to have been a fatal flaw in one of the main premises upon which that decision was based. I can best explain what I mean by reading Clause 27 of the judgment, which says:the very characteristics of UHT milk, which may be kept for long periods at normal temperatures, obviate the need for control over the whole production cycle of such milk if the necessary precautions are taken at the time of the heat treatment".We all know (do we not?) that if milk is to be really wholesome it has to be treated with great care from the moment it leaves the cow's udder. To that extent, I ask your Lordships to take on board the fact that, although we must accept this judgment, there was something very wrong with the premise upon which it was based; because the court said that UHT treatment can do it all—and we know very well that it cannot. I ask your Lordships to take this on board because at some future stage we may find ourselves before the court again; and it is important that we should know that the court did not cover the whole spectrum of the production, treatment and delivery of milk.
417 Before I go on to deal with the extension beyond UHT that the Government chose to allow, I should like to say a few words about the timing of the legislation and the subsequent orders. Your Lordships will remember that the enabling legislation was put through two days before Parliament was dissolved before the general election. In another place, all stages were gone through in 1 hour 40 minutes. Of that, 10 minutes was taken up by the Committee stage. There was no Report stage and no Third Reading. In your Lordships' House, all stages were gone through in exactly 22 minutes. Arising out of this legislation, we have some orders which we are unable to amend. Was this the way to treat an industry like the dairy industry, with 150,000 jobs, to include agriculture, at stake? I suggest it was not.
I want to put it very squarely that my right honourable friend Mr. Peter Walker, at best, made a misjudgment, and, at worst, did something which was very cynical. The Government have not even had the courtesy to let the order sit on the table for 40 days. We are debating this tonight, and the order is already in effect. The other place had to debate it virtually after it had gone into effect. I take the Government very much to task on the way they have dealt with this—and, for the life of me, I do not know why they did it.
I want now to try to get from the Government some reasons that seem more valid than those we have had so far as to why they chose to extend these orders beyond UHT. We had in another place from my honourable friend Mrs. Fenner—and the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, referred to this—some very specific statements that all this was only to do with UHT; and, as the noble Lord said, in order to make her point she said that, of course, it was only 1 per cent. of the whole. Now we have the order extended to sterilised milk, which is 6 per cent., in some parts of the country 25 per cent., and to pasteurised cream, which we all know is capable of being the thin end of a very thick wedge indeed.
I hope my noble friend will take this on board. The whole of the dairy industry has condemned the Minister. They believe that they have been let down by the Government with a thump. It is very unhealthy for the dairy industry and, indeed, for the food industry as a whole to have a Minister of whom it has to be said, "Know thine enemy!". I think there is another danger, too. It appears as though the Minister took this decision to extend for reasons which were wholly legalistic. It appears that he was advised that there was a danger that, unless he went further than the court required him to go, he might find himself up before them again. But the European Court is not a criminal court. It is a civil court which is there to adjudicate on the disagreements which are bound to happen between member countries who are signatories to a treaty.
For the life of me I cannot understand why, and with such unseemly haste, he took this strange decision, which is a very dangerous decision—and I should like to explain to your Lordships why I think it is dangerous and can go well beyond the affairs of the dairy industry. If other countries think that we are going to run scared because there is a danger that, if we do not do something, we might be "up before the beak" in Brussels, or wherever the court sits, they are 418 likely in this harsh world in which we live to take advantage of it. Therefore, I put it to your Lordships that the impression that has been created that the Minister is more frightened of the court than he is thoughtful about the welfare of a great industry in this country is a disaster, and one which must be put right.
I had intended to make some points about inspection, but they have been so well made that I will not press them. I will merely join other noble Lords in saying that we hope the Minister will change his mind, will alter the order and will alter the decision that there should be 17 points of entry—which he can perfectly easily do if he is prepared to. This is yet another thing which we demand from him.
Finally, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to a speech that the Minister made on 26th October to the Milk Marketing Board. He said:Although we must comply with the law we can also avail ourselves of certain helpful aspects of the judgment … We have, of course, invoked these references in the course of the intense discussions which have taken place with the Commission and member states".Could my noble friend tell me what the Minister was talking about when he referred to "certain helpful aspects of the judgment"? And, when he has told us that, could he tell us in what way we have invoked these helpful aspects? I think we should all be very pleased to know.
I have made what your Lordships may feel—and what I fear my noble friend may feel—is a very strong speech about the actions of the Minister. I hope for his sake, and for the sake of the great industry that we are discussing tonight, that he will do his level best to answer the questions that have been asked, and, indeed, the attacks that have been made, tonight.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Elliot of Harwood
My Lords, I have listened to every speech that has been made this evening and I have agreed with every one. I agree exactly with what the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, said and I agree with all that has been said by everybody else who has spoken. That means to say that I shall speak only very shortly because I was going to say a lot of things that have been said by others. In saying that I support them, I hope that the House will realise that I feel tremendously strongly. One thing that I mind very much is that these five orders have been brought out on the 50th anniversary of the start of the Milk Marketing Board. The start of the Milk Marketing Board in 1933 was the work of my husband, who was the Minister of Agriculture of the day, and who had a tremendously hard task in getting the dairy industry to co-operate, in getting the farmers to come together, and in co-ordinating the different farming methods that were used in those days. It took a long time but it has been successful. It has been far more successful than ever we dreamt it would be in 1933. It has been one of the great successful agricultural efforts which this country has made, and I think it is nothing short of tragic that suggestions of this kind should come out now when in fact the board is very powerful and very important and all the other dairy industries that have been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Graham, are co-operating.
419 I realise of course that the Government are in a very difficult position, because we are members of the common agricultural policy and I support that; but there are ways in which people deal with the common agricultural policy which seem to me sometimes rather strange. I will give one example which I happen to know about because, as your Lordships know, I am a sheep farmer and a cattle farmer. I have to sell in the summer and the autumn what is now called "sheep meat" but which I call lamb in the market. Now what happens? The French are the biggest importers of mutton and lamb and if their market is open then all the auction markets that are selling mutton and lamb get high prices, the mutton and the lamb are wanted and the export is of course, like any other export in the EEC, a free market. If the French decide that for the next month or six weeks, or whatever time you like, they have enough mutton, they shut down the door: down it goes. We are trying to sell—I am talking about Scotland in this case—our mutton, and bang goes down the price. So we hold everything back until, we hope, the French are going to allow the market to open again. How do they get away with that? They must get away with it because they do it.
Yet we are being held up, I understand, before the civil court because we do not want to import milk. We have the best dairy industry—I should like to say it is the best in Europe—and we have all the milk we want, so that therefore we do not want to import. However, we are now being told that we must import; so we have agreed to import the UHT milk which noble Lords have been talking about today. Why should we be asked to import more of the UHT? I agree with the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, in what he said just now. All right: we have to import UHT milk but we have not got to import this frozen cream and the sterilised milk. I take it that has been a gesture made to please the civil court or the EEC, whatever it may be. I am all for being on good terms with the CAP, but I do not see why we should do something to please them which may do a lot of harm to us. This is something which I am afraid the Minister will have to explain to us because, so far as I know, it is not going to help at all.
I agree with all that has been said about the standard of milk that we have in this country. It is absolutely marvellous. I look back over those 50 years that I have known the Milk Marketing Board and remember, for instance, the amount of tuberculosis which was formerly unfortunately in existence arising from non-pasteurised milk and non-tuberculin-tested milk. Tested milk was made compulsory only after the Milk Marketing Board started and it saved thousands of lives. There are many other things which your Lordships will know as well as I do, but I remember it so vividly because we raised the standard in a way it is almost impossible to realise now, because we are so used to these things being so well organised.
The Milk Marketing Board is a marvellous organisation in the way it carries out all the necessary work throughout the whole of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. Its standards are tremendous and have been built up over the years. It is something in which I would say we could lead the European Community in this particular industry, probably better than in anything else. Yet we are being 420 criticized for certain things and being asked to do things which we really do not want to do. As noble Lords have rightly said, we have not really had any very good reasons given to us.
I did not listen to the debate in the other place but I have read the Mansards—I have them here—and I was not at all impressed by what the Government had to say. I do not like saying that because I am a strong supporter of the Government and I am also a strong supporter of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, whom I admire enormously for all he does in this Government. But I do think that at the moment this particular subject is being treated—how shall I put it?—very cursorily by the Government. I personally do not see why we should sign on the dotted line before we have had some opportunity of discussing the details and discussing what alternatives might be open to us. Yet, as noble Lords opposite have said, this is a subject which has never really been discussed in the same way as we discuss other things connected with agriculture. In consequence, we all feel very unhappy about it. I certainly do. Anything that makes it more difficult to sell milk, or reduces the amount of milk that is being consumed, surely is the last thing the EEC want to do. They talk about wine lakes and milk lakes, among other things, but they are increasing them if they do not back up the doorstep selling arrangement.
I remember how the doorstep selling arrangement started. That represented a revolution and it has done more good, certainly in rural areas, than almost anything that could have happened. I agree with everything that has been said by all your Lordships about doorstep selling. I should like to pay tribute to the Co-operative who, in our area at any rate, are the people who deliver the milk. They deliver it regularly in my particular area, which is very rural. It comes twice a week; it is always there, and always the best quality: whether it is snowing or raining or whatever it may be, the chap turns up in his lorry with the milk. That, I think, is enormously valuable.
Other noble Lords have spoken about what this does for old people. But it also does a great deal for families who live in very isolated areas, where their milk has to be delivered on their doorsteps. If they had to motor 10 miles into town twice a week in order to get the milk, think what the expense would be. It would also be very detrimental to the consumption of milk, because they would not drink so much.
Today one is always encouraging families and children to drink milk. One of the things that I regretted very much was when the milk in schools was not exactly done away with, but was so much reduced that the scheme was hardly in existence. That scheme was a marvellous way of selling milk and it was extremely good for growing children. That has almost gone now, but I believe that in some areas there is still milk for small children. We do not want to reduce the capacity for selling milk, which is in enormous supply. To reduce sales is all against the principles of the CAP and the EEC. The Minister will need to explain why he thinks they want to do this, when everybody knows that it will cut the amount of milk which is being sold.
I shall not say anything more, because everything has been said, but I feel deeply about this matter. To do this now, after we have built up this marvellous organisation for milk, and a wonderful dairy industry 421 where complaints are practically non-existent, and for the EEC to produce something which ends up with these regulations, is something that I cannot understand. If they want milk to be consumed, and if they want to reduce the surpluses, this is not the way to do it. I bitterly regret that we have to agree, because, I understand, we cannot do anything else. But I beg the Minister, as everybody else has done, to see whether or not, even at this late hour, some changes could be made in order to make these regulations less harmful, because this change is a thousand pities and, in the 50th anniverary year of the Milk Marketing Board, it is absolutely tragic.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
My Lords, I intervene in the gap in the list and I shall not keep the House too long. First, I should like to say that, having listened to all the noble Lords and noble Ladies who have spoken tonight, it seems to me that the Minister ought to have had an opportunity to speak to them, because the expertise that has come from the mouths of those noble Lords and noble Ladies is quite outstanding. I feel sure that if they had been consulted we would not have been faced with the fait accompli that we have tonight.
Noble Lords have given us details of how safe supplies reach our doorsteps. We have heard from the industry and from the farmers about the high standards they set themselves. Because that aspect has been adequately covered, I want to take up what my noble friend Lord Graham has said. I think that we all admire the way in which he began the comprehensive discussion which we have had. He mentioned the economics of doorstep delivery, which are very finely balanced, and we have to see that that balance is not tipped up so that doorstep deliveries completely disappear. I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, who gave us details of what has happened in Holland.
The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, emphasised how medical opinion in this country encourages the expectant mother to make sure that she drinks her pinta, and how the mother with young children is exhorted to make sure that they get their fair ration of milk every day. Noble Lords have also spoken about the service to the elderly. The drinking of milk is important for them, because milk is something which they digest very easily. The doorstep service to these people is absolutely paramount.
Then there are thousands, and even millions, of young people in this country who do not have cars. If the doorstep delivery of milk is stopped, it will mean treks to supermarkets three, four, or five miles away, in order to fill up a pram with milk. That will be a daily chore for many of them, because young families are consuming four or five bottles daily in their homes.
These are services for which this country must take great credit. As the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, said, they took a long time to build up and they have proved very successful. As your Lordships will remember, last year we had a lot of snow and bad weather. Pictures on television showed the milkman constantly getting through the snow and getting onto the doorstep in all parts of the country. In some isolated areas the milkman found that the people were completely cut 422 off and he signalled for the helicopter to come in with food for those places. We must not let the doorstep delivery go by default.
As noble Lords have said, we are faced with a fait accompli and there is little that we can do at this stage. Criticisms have been levelled against the Government and, no doubt, they will take note of them, so that we may not have to say, "We told you so" when people write in and say that their deliveries have stopped. I would make a final plea—and I wish that this place was full of housewives—that the message should go out that the housewife has a choice. She must recognise that she can choose the service and the convenience of doorstep delivery of high standard, safe and fresh milk. We do not want that replaced with, as some noble Lords have described it, bacterial soup with an utterly horrible taste.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I must first apologise for the absence tonight of my noble friend Lord John-Mackie. He had accepted the estimate of time for the Somerset House debate and the Shipping Industry debate and expected that this debate would be over by eight o'clock. He had a commitment at that time which he could not avoid, so I am taking his place.
There can be no doubt, when every speaker from the Conservative Benches, the Cross-Benches, the Liberal Benches and the Labour Benches has spoken in support of the Prayer to annul the regulations by my noble friend Lord Graham, that the feeling is extremely strong in this House and the Minister must be feeling rather lonely at this moment. There cannot be any doubt about the strong feeling that there is over the effect of a surge of sales of UHT milk in supermarkets on doorstep deliveries in this country. But if the price is put as low as has been suggested, then the Government must look closely to see that the antidumping law is not being broken. Secondly, they must see that the production of milk in other countries is subject to the same stringent regulations as our farmers have to obey. We are subject to EEC regulations and as loyal members of the Community we must conform, but it is the Government's duty to ensure that excessive harm is not done to a major service in this country.
I should like to repeat a few of the questions which have already been asked. Why should we exceed the remit from the EEC court? Have the Government fully realised the impact of the regulations upon employment in the dairy industry—the milkmen who make doorstep deliveries—and employment among others involved in the trade? Moreover, if doorstep deliveries do not continue, one has to consider the effect, as many other speakers have said, on the old, the disabled and young mothers with small children—and, particularly where the old are concerned, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, made clear, the social effects. This says nothing about the taste of the stuff.
I ask, as have other noble Lords, whether there will be adequate inspection. Will the health aspects be safeguarded? How are they to be safeguarded if there are to be 17 designated ports of entry? Do there have to be so many? The very strong feeling in all parts of the House will, I hope, encourage the Minister to make changes and provide safeguards for the two trades 423 which will be so heavily involved if the worst fears of those who have spoken in our debate tonight are realised.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, in debating these regulations, I must first meet the concern which has been expressed, first by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, and then by all of your Lordships who have taken part in the debate about the scope of the regulations. In February, the European Court of Justice decided that to prevent imports of UHT milk into the United Kingdom—for that, in essence, was the situation—was inconsistent with Articles 30 and 36 of the Treaty of Rome. But the difficulty is that those two articles are of general application. Therefore, in order to comply with Community law—and it is very much in our trading interests to do so—we must also admit other milk products that have received as rigorous a heat treatment as UHT milk. I am sure that my noble friend Lord De La Warr has read the judgment with care, but I would ask him to read it again. I think he will see that he was mistaken in his criticism of my right honourable friend. It does no service to our country not to comply with the effect of a court judgment. By taking the action he is taking in putting these regulations before both Houses of Parliament, my right honourable friend is acting in the interests of this country.
I ought to say also that in bringing forward these regulations we are not contradicting what the Government said six months ago both in another place and in your Lordships' House on the occasion of the Importation of Milk Act. Statements made on that occasion by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary and my right honourable friend Lord Ferrers in this House certainly tended to concentrate on UHT milk. I do not disguise that. But both my honourable friend and my right honourable friend also referred more generally to compliance with the judgment. It is because of the need to comply with the judgment that we shall admit sterilised milk.
Next I must try to satisfy my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox that the standards of imports are not going to be less than for our own products. Indeed, I must try to prove to my noble friend that the standards demanded are, where necessary, going to be, if anything, higher. For instance, sterilised milk is subject to a wide band of heat treatment, as I am sure your Lordships know better than I do. Under the regulations, we are only going to admit sterilised milk which will have received more rigorous treatment than the treatment for our own UHT milk. Moreover, for both UHT cream and milk-based drinks we are going to impose a higher minimum heat treatment than for UHT milk, which can very reasonably be said to be necessary because cream is thicker in substance and milk drinks have other substances added to them.
The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, in a strong but very fair speech, said that the problems were not all of the Government's own making. The noble Lord will forgive me if I say, "You can say that again!" I must point out that we have been placed in a difficult position by the Labour Government's decision, taken without any requirement by a court decision in 1977, 424 to admit into this country a catalogue of UHT cream, sterilised cream other than in cans and pasteurised cream. We are now taking the opportunity to prevent under these regulations any more pasteurised cream from entering this country. From now on, it will have to be frozen for, despite the information given to my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton, freezing, I am advised, prevents the growth of any contaminating pathogenic bacteria, which thus renders the product acceptable from a public health point of view.
All your Lordships, and finally the noble Baroness, Lady David, asked about the public health safeguards. I believe that these are going to be very effective for imports. Schedule 2 of the regulations establishes a comprehensive procedure to ensure that imports are properly certified. The certificate was published in the London Gazette last week and it is a very thorough check, running to 20 paragraphs, on the quality of the milk before it is treated, on the heat treatment process and then on the finished product. In effect, there will be a dual system of rigorous sampling and testing by port health authorities and by the Ministry of Agriculture laboratories. My noble friend Lord Monk Bretton suggested that pesticides, aflotoxin and antibiotics are a cause for concern. We certainly agree. We shall be testing accordingly. The regulations provide for spot checks. I would ask my noble friend to look, maybe afterwards, at the importation regulations, Schedule 2, paragraphs 3 and 7, to check that what I have said about spot checks is the case.
Both the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, and the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, adjured the Government to ensure that standards on farms in other countries are lifted—the word which, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, used. We cannot control this directly but we can test the finished product. One such test enables us to assess the quality of the raw milk before heat treatment. If this test suggests that French practice is not up to scratch—I give the French practice as one obvious example—we shall certainly take steps to remedy the situation.
In addition to what I have said in answer to your Lordships about safeguards at the ports, may I say that our staff are going to make visits to farms and dairies in other Community member states to check their arrangements for ensuring the healthy production of milk. The other point which I ought to make in this connection is that the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, complained that the policing of imports would be difficult in certain parts of Northern Ireland because of the conditions to be found in Northern Ireland today: that is a matter to which I must draw the attention of my noble friend Lord Mansfield.
In the interests of public health, the regulations also specify the heat treatments to which imported milk must be subject; and I now go on to milk itself, having spoken earlier about cream and milk-based drinks. I realise that doubts have been expressed about the time/temperature requirement laid down for UHT milk. As my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture has said in another place, we believe that our requirement of 132.2C for one second is appropriate, not least because it has applied in Great Britain since 1965. In answer to my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton, we are ready to have further 425 discussions on this matter and to consider possible amendment to this particular aspect of the regulations.
I will turn for a moment to the subject of animal health. Considerable reference has been made on either side of your Lordships' House to foot and mouth disease being endemic in other member states. Indeed, it was a matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, referred in his speech. With respect, that is not the case. The bulk of the outbreaks which have occurred since 1981 are attributable to two foci of infection. The first caused most of the outbreaks in France, in the Brittany area and, incidentally, resulted, as your Lordships will remember, in our first outbreak for more than a decade. The second was the group of outbreaks which occurred over a short period in Denmark. Otherwise, it is true that there have been isolated outbreaks in Greece, Italy and Germany. But in all these instances we have been able to rely on the import procedures allowed under the rules governing inter-Community trade in order to safeguard the position of our country.
The cornerstone of those rules is the veterinary certification which has to be supplied by exporting countries. As 'we have made clear on a number of occasions, those arrangements have stood the test of time and have proved themselves to be effective.
So far as milk, cream, and milk-based drinks are concerned, the animal health certificate—which is an additional certificate that has to be presented—accompanying each consignment must provide assurance that imports have been subject to specified heat treatments for animal health. Those time/temperature combinations have been adopted in the light of the best professional advice obtainable from the Animal Virus Research Institute at Pirbright, and have been endorsed by the State Veterinary Service. In those circumstances, the Government are fully satisfied that all reasonable conditions to safeguard our animal health status are being applied, as in the past.
Before I finish, I should like to answer some of the questions which your Lordships have asked me. My noble friend Lord De La Warr referred to a speech which was made at the 50th anniversary dinner of the Milk Marketing Board by my right honourable friend. If I may say so—and I am not in any way trying to curry favour with your Lordships by mentioning this—it was an occasion at which my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood made one of the best short speeches that all who were present had probably ever heard.
My noble friend Lord De La Warr said that my right honourable friend referred in his speech at that dinner to certain hopeful aspects of the court judgment; and my noble friend asked what those were. The judgment said that we could not exclude milk from other member states. But on the other hand, the judgment acknowledged that we could operate a vigorous import regime including official certification, sampling and testing. Our import regime, to which I have already referred, takes advantage of those observations and is to be much more vigorous than that which applies in other sectors of imports.
The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, made a point about Northern Ireland; that arrangements are being 426 made for requiring certificates for trade coming across from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. There are two points I should like to make to both him and to the noble Lord, Lord Blease, on this matter. First, we have made special arrangements to deal with consignments which are in the pipeline. Secondly—and I was a little surprised that neither noble Lord mentioned this—we are for the first time making provision for the import of UHT and sterilised milk from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. It has not happened before; there has been no opportunity. It is something that ought to be recognised this evening.
Having said that, the noble Lords, Lord Dunleath and Lord Blease, made important points about consultation. Detailed consultation on the proposals for the regulations did take place with interested organisations in Northern Ireland. However, it was the case that Ministers had to make a last minute decision in relation to the provision of imports of frozen pasteurised cream in the Northern Ireland regulations. I regret that it was not possible to consult the industry on that matter in the time available. With regard to consultation with the Northern Ireland Assemby, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, will know, my noble friend the Minister responsible for Northern Ireland, Lord Mansfield, wrote to the Assembly's Agriculture Committee and advised them of the decision as soon as possible thereafter.
Finally, several noble Lords—including the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, at the beginning and the noble Baroness, Lady David, at the end and also my noble friend Lord DeLa Warr—asked about the number of ports and why there are 17 of them. They have, of course, been restricted to those ports which are already dealing with the meat trade. They have the necessary facilities and the trained personnel experienced in handling foodstuffs which are sensitive from a health viewpoint. Again, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, asked whether the ports are to have the right resources to enable them to do the job. The answer is, yes.
Those people are accustomed to working closely with the Ministry in operating the necessary health controls. A shorter list could have overloaded the facilities at some of the ports. A longer list—or no list at all—could have resulted in a considerable variation in the standards of enforcement. In either case, it would not provide the necessary degree of assurance that an acceptable standard of public health control could be operated.
I suggest to the House that our interests as a great trading nation require that we expect other member states to comply with international judgments—and so must we. Although the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, referred to the alacrity with which we came to this decision, it is nine months since the court's decision. But in doing that, I assure my noble friend Lady Elliot, the Government will always remember and will not let others forget the benefits of fresh pasteurised milk produced in this country and delivered on the doorstep. It is a wonderful service for a splendid product which neither UHT milk nor sterilised milk can begin to rival.
I acknowledge what my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox said, that in some cases it can be akin to a social service. If people today wish to buy a greater propor 427 tion of their milk in the shops, then this is a question of consumer choice which people must be free to exercise, but I firmly believe that we are right to remind people constantly of the unique advantages of doorstep deliveries for the family, and the great importance of it to producers, to the Milk Marketing Board, of course, and to those who work in the dairy industry.
These regulations ensure that public health interests are fully protected and are in accordance with the judgment of the court, and that imported milk meets health and hygiene requirements at least up to our own production. I believe this is right for British interests and I have no hesitation in asking your Lordships to support the regulations.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I am very grateful indeed, first of all, to the Minister for the care that he has taken and the courtesy which he has shown to the House. Perhaps, having listened to the case opened and closed in another place, and trying to hear most of it, the great difference is that at least the noble Lord has had the opportunity in this House of making the case as he wanted to, and it has been listened to, I certainly think, with great attention.
I have rarely been in a debate involving political parties from all sides of a Chamber where there has been such unanimity as to the arguments that they wish to deploy against another force; clearly not against the arguments advanced by the Minister because, to be perfectly fair, there have been one or two shafts of light—certainly the assurances in respect of the care the Government will take to ensure that the milk that comes into this country will be of the highest possible standard.
But a very comprehensive demolition job has been done on the Government's actions in these matters over the past few months by noble Lords all around the House. It would be invidious to single out any particular contribution, except to say that the contributions we have heard from all three noble Baronesses have impressed me very much, because they come from a background of real experience in these matters. Professional experience has come from other quarters. I was enormously impressed by the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, not least with the greatest deference possible to the contribution that her late husband made to the whole concept of giving to the people of this country milk which they could rely on and find completely safe.
The great dilemma that I had in listening to the Minister was this. He saved himself literally in the last few seconds of his speech. Until then there had not been one word of what we consider important—not so much the past actions, or the present intentions, but on the future consequences concerning the effect on the doorstep delivery. If I may paraphrase what the Minister has said, he believes it is a first-class service and one that ought to be preserved. But if the French farmers are successful and comply with the requirements, the Minister says that up to 6 per cent. more sterilised milk can come in. The Minister might say: it 428 has been a very great operation and we are sorry the patient has died. If the patient, the milk distributive industry, suffers as a consequence of this, how on earth are we going to face up to it?
I would simply say to the Minister that we believe hat he is relying upon the milk industry to get him out of a Catch-22 situation. If the milk industry, fearful of the consequences, does its job, as the Minister believes, it will be competitive, it will be able to survive, it will be able to keep out the foreign imports, and then the industry itself will have given the game away. The industry believes at the moment that this additional burden is going to cause all the consequences. The only way they can prove that the Minister is right is by proving themselves wrong.
I listened very carefully to what the Minister said. He believes that the industry will be able to compete in the new circumstances. The industry does not; the Milk Marketing Board does not; Age Concern does not; all of the other organisations do not believe that they will be able to compete in the new circumstances. If they are wrong, all they will have are red faces. If they are proved right and the industry is damaged—if not beyond repair savagely damaged—the consumers of this country will find that they will have to travel further, pay more, or get poorer milk.
I realise the reality of the parliamentary arithmetic in these matters and I appreciate the convention that in another place a decision has been reached. For our part on these Benches we remain wholly unconvinced that the actions which the Government have taken in the past few months were necessary. We believe that they may have been taken sincerely, but that they will nevertheless prove to be enormously damaging to British interests and we do not intend to let this matter pass lightly.
§ On Question, Motion disagreed to.
§ House adjourned at a quarter-past nine o'clock.