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Clause 3—(Power To Stop Supply Of Milk Likely To Cause Tuberculosis)

Volume 65: debated on Tuesday 28 July 1914

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(1) If the medical officer of health of a county or county borough is of opinion that tuberculosis, is caused, or is likely to be caused, by the consumption of milk supplied from any dairy in which cows are kept within such county or county borough, the provisions of the Second Schedule to this Act shall have effect with respect to the reports to be made and the steps to be taken with a view to stopping the supply of milk from the dairy, and with a view to stopping such supply orders may be made in accordance with that Schedule, subject to such right of appeal and the payment of compensation in such cases as are provided therein.

(2) Where an order stopping the supply of milk is made under the said schedule a dairyman shall not be liable for an action for breach of contract if the breach is due to such order.

(3) If any dairyman whilst any order made in accordance with the said schedule prohibiting the supply or use of milk is in force supplies or uses any milk in contravention of this order he shall be guilty of an offence against this Act.

(4) The Local Government Board may by order direct that the council of any non-county borough within the county, which is a local authority for the purposes of the Diseases of Animals Acts, 1894 to 1911, shall exercise and perform within the borough the powers and duties of the county council under this and the next succeeding section, and where such an order has ben made with respect to any non-county borough this and the next succeeding section shall apply as if the borough were a county borough.

I beg to move in Sub-section (1) to leave out the words "is of opinion" ["county borough is of opinion that tuberculosis"] and to insert instead thereof the words "shall certify."

I consider it is one of the worst features of the Bill that most extraordinary and wide discretionary powers are given to the medical officer of health, and in regard to a point on which most of the doctors—most of the authorities—disagree themselves. The reason why I wish the words changed is simply that any medical officer of health might give his opinion simply to show that he knows better than the scientific experts who are generally employed by the large farmers, but more particularly my reason for wanting the words changed is that it is almost impossible to come to a proper conclusion without bacteriological examination, and one has to consider in this matter the producers and the distributors, and it seems to me that the Committee in their consideration omitted the interest of the large distributors altogether. If this Clause remains as it is now, the distributor who is dependant on the opinion of the medical officer is liable to very injurious consequences which certainly ought to be avoided. It is well known that his testimony, if pitted against the authority of the medical officer of health, is worthless, and the Authority will always accept the testimony of the medical officer of health in preference to the aggrieved person.

Of course there is power of appeal, but if a producer comes into Court he knows very well that the case will appear in the papers and will do him a deal of damage, and he would rather have his milk condemned than have it advertised all over the place that he has been selling unsound milk. It must not be forgotten what fearful punishment this inflicts, especially on the very large distributors in towns, simply on the opinion of the medical officer. The whole of his supply is stopped. He will not be able to supply his customers with milk for two or three days—perhaps longer. He loses his customers, who will go elsewhere, and it does his business considerable harm. All I ask is that the medical officer should not have such absolute discretionary powers as to be able simply to say he is "of opinion." He should say something more definite, and take more responsibility in the matter. I think the words I propose here will give him this responsibility, and I trust that, in order to safeguard the interest of the producers, the President of the Local Government Board will not object to change the words in the Clause.

It is not merely a question of the medical officers' opinion that the milk is tubercular which enables proceedings to be taken for that stoppage of a particular milk supply. In the first place, when he is of opinion that the milk is likely to cause disease he may set on foot the whole machinery of the second Schedule in order that the matter may be put right, that is to say, he must first report to the local authority, then he must secure bacteriological reports, then the person responsible for the milk may be called before the local authority to give an explanation. The local authority, after taking all these steps, then, and not till then, is in a position to take proceedings with regard to that particular milk supply. It is impossible to leave the Bill in a workable shape without putting these words in, because no medical officer can possibly certify that particular milk will cause tuberculosis. He can only say it is likely to do so. He can merely express his professional opinion. He cannot give a certificate that it will cause disease as a matter of fact. He may form his opinion, and then the local authority has to get these reports and ask for explanations, and obtain bacteriological examinations of the milk. In these circumstances I hope the hon. Member will not press his Amendment.

Question "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

I beg to move, in Sub-section (3), after the word "borough" ["The Local Government Board may by order direct that the council of any non-county borough "] to insert the words "or urban district."

I moved this in the Committee and desire to again ask the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Samuel) to consider the claims of these large bodies, the urban councils. Many of them have certain powers over milk under the existing law. They are large and populous places. I know the impression is abroad that the urban district councils are very small bodies representing small areas. The fact is that a large number of them have larger populations than many of the non-county boroughs, especially some of the non-county boroughs which come under the 50,000 limit of population. I know we have urban districts with a population of 100,000 and even 150,000. There are others above 50,000. I have in my own constituency two rapidly rising to 30,000 each. I think the Local Government Board might give the powers to them under the Bill and I am sure they are fit for it and would be quite equal to the task. I will not labour the matter but would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether he could not allow the Clause to extend to urban districts of 10,000 or 15,000 and over, that would let a great number in.

If it were only a case of admitting these larger urban district authorities, and giving them the same powers as the other local authorities, the case of my hon. Friend would be almost unanswerable. But it is not so. My own feeling in the matter, and I am sure the feeling of the House generally, is that you must not have a dual system of inspection in respect to the same matter or closely analogous matters. This raises what we all know to be the very complicated question relating to local authorities. Certain local authorities have powers under the Diseases of Animals Act. They are large powers analogous to those given in the Bill by this Clause. They have powers to receive notification of any cow which is suffering from tuberculosis, or disease of the udders, or any other disease. They have powers to direct veterinary examinations and to receive reports, and in the case of animals affected by disease to order them to be slaughtered, and to pay compensation, and they can take steps for the protection of the milk when animals are suffering from disease.

All these matters come under the Diseases of Animals Act, 1878, and if hon. Members will refer to the powers proposed to be conferred by the Clause they will clearly see that they are powers and duties which ought to be performed by the same officers. I am not touching the Diseases of Animals Act in this Bill; I cannot amend it. Therefore I have to take the position as it stands now, and that is to give these powers to the authorities which already possess the analogous powers. I am taking the same authorities now. No urban district council has powers under the Diseases of Animals Act and that is why I am not including urban district councils. This matter was fully discussed in Committee and it went to a Division, and my hon. Friend's Amendment was defeated by 28 to 6. That vote was in favour of the Bill as it now stands and I hope my hon. Friend will not press it now.

Question, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill," put, and negatived.

Motion made, and Question, "That the further consideration of the Bill, as amended, be now adjourned"—[ Mr. Herbert Samuel]—put, and agreed to.

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered tomorrow (Wednesday).