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Milk (Pasteurisation)

Volume 387: debated on Thursday 18 March 1943

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now Adjourn."—[ Major Sir James Edmondson.]

I desire to raise for the consideration of the Government and the Government Departments concerned the question of the pasteurisation of all milk for human consumption.

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is raising the question of the pasteurisation of milk on the Motion for Adjournment of the House. I would point out that there is a Motion on the Order Paper in the name of a large number of hon. Members in regard to this matter and that the Motion might be called at any time, and also the pasteurisation of milk is a subject of considerable interest in this House and in the country, and I do not think—and I say this with respect—it can be discussed in this rather flippant and cursory manner. I ask you, Sir, to give your Ruling in regard to this point.

Is it in Order for an hon. Member to say that a Member who raises an issue on the Adjournment is doing it in a flippant fashion?

Because the hon. Member said "with respect," that makes it all the more dangerous. Is not a Member raising a matter on the Adjournment just as serious in pursuing his Parliamentary task as a Member raising a matter at any other particular time? Some of the Adjournment Debates that take place in this House are most important.

I should like to emphasise the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Dr. Thomas) that this important subject should not be discussed in this cursory fashion.

It might be as well if I gave my Ruling. The question, of course, is one within my discretion. I have to consider whether there is any reasonable prospect of the Motion being called, and whether I should disallow a Debate on the Motion for the Adjournment. I see no reasonable chance of the hon. Member's Motion being called in the near future, and therefore the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Adams) is in Order.

Further to the point of Order. I would like to make it clear that when I said "flippant" I did not mean that the hon. Member was flippant, but that the cursory nature of the discussion would of necessity be flippant. Hon. Members and myself who hold views contrary to the hon. Gentleman will not take part in the Debate, and I myself will leave the Chamber, but I shall take notice of the OFFICIAL REPORT of what the Parliamentary Secretary may say in reply.

I regret that some of the precious moments left to me have been used in this manner. I consulted the late Mr. Speaker as to whether there was any possibility of the Notice of Motion on the Order Paper being reached, and he advised me that there was none and that I was entirely in Order in bringing the matter forward on the Adjournment Motion. I want to emphasise that milk has become the prime food of the whole nation. It is an ideal food for adults, for children and for infants, and especially in the case of the last-named in the absence of natural food. It has been described by the Ministry as priority food No. 1, and consumption under the Government auspices has risen rapidly. In 1939 it was 760,000,000 gallons and in 1941 it had risen to 946,000,000. The figures for 1942 I am advised are not yet available. Surely, when milk is under Government control and ownership, having been purchased by the Milk Marketing Board and sold by them to the Ministry of Food, under that Ministry's auspices, it ought to be made safe for human consumption. But being, as it is, an ideal ground for the culture of pathogenic organisms which create diseases in man, the situation appears merely to be recognised, but not officially, by the Ministries concerned. It is interesting to record that the liability to the consumer through milk-borne diseases includes germs which will produce in the human organism scarlet fever, meningitis, diphtheria, typhoid, para-typhoid, dysentery and septic throat, undulant fever, etc.

As we all know, non-pulmonary tuberculosis attacks children more than adults and results in bone, joint and gland tuberculosis. The extent of tuberculosis alone will give us some key to the magnitude of the problem. New cases annually number between 3,000 and 4,000, and 13,000 children suffer annually from tuberculosis. Of non-pulmonary tuberculosis, which I particularise, it is agreed that some 40 per cent. of cases arise from milk. In 1942 there were 28,699 deaths from tuberculosis, while 2,000 children under the age of five died from this cause. In addition, there are the invalidism and the crippling which we witness of children throughout the country. If one adds other milk-borne diseases, surely if all these are preventable—and it is agreed that they are—we have a situation which might well be described as shocking. It indicates a great loss of life, great suffering and great waste of national and private resources and the need for a costly system of curative organisations for dealing with these diseases. In the face of that situation, which is known to the medical profession, there is placed upon the Order Paper a Notice of Motion, mentioned just now by the hon. Member for Southampton (Dr. Russell Thomas), headed "Milk and National Health," and reads:
"That this House, recognising the unique value of fresh milk in the National diet, asks that His Majesty's Government should not, without the fullest inquiry, embark upon a policy involving the consumption of half-boiled milk, frequently known as pasteurised milk, which is still the subject of conflicting expert opinion; and further urges His Majesty's Government to pursue with vigour a policy of eliminating cattle disease, exterminate vermin, improve water supplies and establish higher standards of cleanliness and hygiene on the farm and in the transport and handling of milk on its way to the consumer."
That Motion is in two parts. One part is a request that there should be set up the necessary machinery for obtaining greater cleanliness and hygiene in farms and in the transit and handling of milk with which all agree. The second asks that there should be further delay and further inquiry into the value of pasteurisation, "as it is still the subject of conflicting expert opinion." Some hon. Members who are sponsoring the Motion are in the farming profession and two others in the medical profession. It is understandable to me that farmers should declare their ignorance of the progress of modern science in this matter, for they possess neither the time, nor the opportunity, nor the inclination to study the problem. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) has put his name to the Motion.

The hon. Member may not go into the Motion any further, or he will be debating it.

I do not want to trespass against the Rules in any way. I must express my astonishment that two members of the medical profession should be asking at this time for a further delay in the study of this problem. It seems to me they might well be likened to the foreman of a rescue squad who, after a raid, with burning buildings around and the cries of the injured and dying, called off the squad until such time as their textbooks had been consulted as to the proper procedure. The "British Medical Journal," commenting upon this Motion——

The hon. Member must keep his remarks clear of the Motion. It is an entirely separate matter.

I will not refer to it further. As to whether there is sufficient expert opinion in the country in support of pasteurisation as a means of providing a safe milk supply. As far back as 18th May there was a deputation to the Minister of Food, who was accompanied by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. This deputation was probably one of the most important that could have been collected together, and it urged the need for complete and efficient pasteurisation of milk. The deputation included representatives of the Royal Colleges, the National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis, the Joint Tuberculosis Council, the British Paediatric Association, the People's League of Health, and other bodies. Professor Picken, who is the acting Chairman of the British Medical Association, introduced the deputation by pointing out that there was no serious difference of opinion in the medical profession on the question of pasteurisation, and that few questions in preventive medicine commanded so nearly complete unanimity. Others confirmed that point of view. Prof. Garrod, of St. Bartholomew's, declared that pasteurisation must be recognised as the only complete safeguard, but that it must be pasteurisation carried out efficiently in accordance with standard regulations. Different experts gave their views on the same lines. Sir Alfred Webb-Johnson said that he had thought it his duty, as President of the Royal College of Surgeons, to join the deputation because of the enormous importance of the prevention of surgical tuberculosis. Lord Woolton, in his reply, expressed his gratitude to the deputation. He said he could not imagine a more influential one. He found it difficult to resist the weight of scientific and professional evidence which had been assembled.

He was engaged in collecting all the necessary information regarding available machinery and labour to undertake the work which would give to the public security on this question. I propose to occupy myself the short time available, as the Minister has informed me that he is giving no other than a cursory reply——

I really must interrupt the hon. Member. I informed him that I had no definite statement to make.

in another form, and not very courteous to a Member of the House. To confirm the view I have stated as to scientific opinion in favour of pastuerisation, we have Professor G. S. Wilson, of the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Professor of Bacteriology in the University of London, declaring that milk is responsible for spreading the diseases mentioned, not only from the cow but from cough-spray and fingers of the farm workers.

Did my hon. Friend say that the fingers of farm hands were cough-sprayed?

I think it out of place for persons to endeavour to be humorous who possess not a vestige of humour. Pasteurisation does not impair the nutritional value of milk but occasions some loss of vitamin C corrected by fruit juice and other foods. As to the possibility of dealing with the farms, cleansing and purifying them and freeing the herds, the fact that 45 per cent. of our cows react to tuberculosis tests shows the impossibility of it. Control is found to be impossible over the personnel employed on all farms, as is a pure water supply in rural areas, the destruction of disease carrying rodents and the veterinary inspection of all dairy cows, not yet carried out, in the face of the frightful conditions of byres, yards and dairies. There are hundreds of milk farms of the most offensive character. I have seen cattle-standing knee deep in filth and some byres in Scotland so full of excrement that they are only cleansed when it becomes impossible for the milkers to get access to the byres.

It being the hour appointed for the Adjournment of the House, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.