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Eec (Milk)

Volume 886: debated on Thursday 20 February 1975

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10.0 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of Commission documents COM(71) 64 and COM(71) 1012 and of the Government's purpose to secure necessary adjustments to meet United Kingdom requirements.
These proposals were presented to the EEC Council a considerable time ago. It will be noted that the explanatory memoranda of two of the Council legislations were signed in July 1974 by my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), who is unable to be with us tonight. A more recent submission to the Scrutiny Committee was signed by me earlier this year.

These proposals cover a wide area and raise a number of technical points. The Council therefore referred them to two technical working parties on which all member States are represented. Discussions at the technical level are still continuing. They provide an excellent opportunity to ensure that the details of existing arrangements in the United Kingdom and in other member States will be taken fully into account in the final proposals which the Commission would hope to present to the Council for further consideration in due course.

Can my hon. Friend tell us when the Council is likely to be considering these questions?

I shall be coming to that presently. Perhaps my hon. Friend will wait until I reach that part of my speech.

There is no need for us to duplicate these detailed discussions here. But the Government welcome this debate, which should enable us to concentrate attention on some of the broader issues involved. With this in mind, I think it might be helpful in opening the debate if I deal particularly with three main aspects of the proposals. These are their basic objectives, their major provisions and issues of particular interest to the United Kingdom.

Dealing first with basic objectives, the proposals have been designed with the aim of achieving consistent standards throughout the Community at a level which all member States would be expected to observe in due course. There would, however, be transitional provisions so that member States would have sufficient time to harmonise their existing domestic arrangements with the Community standards where this was necessary. The proposals are also designed to facilitate trade within the Community. These are the normal objectives of measures relating to quality standards and have been accepted as such by the United Kingdom and other member States. Discussion has therefore concentrated on the actual measures designed to achieve the general objectives, to which I should now like briefly to refer.

With regard to the major provisions, COM(71) 1012 envisages a Council regulation laying down provisions covering the quality and marketing of liquid milk. The main proposals cover the standards of hygiene and the keeping quality of milk at processing dairies both before and after heat treatment. There are also proposals covering the packaging and labelling of milk for retail sale with provisions for statutory testing of milk samples to ensure that the proper standards are being achieved.

The other document, COM(71) 64, consists of two draft Council regulations or directives. These contain proposals relating to the health and hygiene of milk on the farm and at subsequent stages in the processing and distributive chain. The first set of proposals deals with production on the farm, including the animal health status of the herds, the design of farm buildings and production methods generally, as well as the health of the people working on the farm and handling the milk. The second set of proposals deals with conditions and standards for the preparation and marketing of heat-treated milk. It is not yet clear whether these health and hygiene proposals will come forward for further consideration by the Council in the form of regulations or directives, but it seems almost certain that they will take the form of draft directives.

It will be clear from this that the proposals in both the main documents are closely related. Conditions on the farm clearly need to take account of the quality standards envisaged for milk at the dairy. We have had this very much in mind during the discussions so far. Certainly in my view there would appear to be some advantage in trying to ensure that the two proposals can eventually be considered together by the Council of Ministers, so that the measures as finally agreed could be introduced simultaneously.

The Minister said that there would be further discussions, that the matter will go to the Council of Ministers and that he hoped that agreement would be reached there. At that point of time when the matter has been agreed there but before it becomes legislatable, will it come back to the House for final approval?

I shall have to take advice on that. I gather not. The occasion of this debate gives an opportunity, before decisions are arrived at, to put points of view. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be able to deal more fully with the matter in his speech, and I can give him a further and more definite reply a little later.

Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), I understand from the accompanying explanatory memorandum that the Food and Drugs Act 1955 and regulations made under it are expected to be required to be amended. Is my hon. Friend prepared to say which regulations will be required to be superseded and what parts of the parent Act will be amended? We are surely entitled to know this.

I think that it will be more helpful if I proceed with my speech and give hon. Members on both sides of the House the chance to intervene in a more detailed way.

The proposals cover much the same ground as the existing United Kingdom legislation on milk hygiene and marketing. Under our food and drugs legislation, for example, detailed requirements are laid down relating to animal and public health, which must be complied with on farms and at the dairies. There are similar requirements in the Commission's proposals. In developing the details of a common approach for a Community of nine member States, however, it is necessary to ensure that differences of emphasis and differences in the market between one country and another are taken fully into account.

Discussions which have taken place at expert level have been concerned among other things with identifying those differences and ways in which they can best be reconciled in the context of a Community-wide approach generally.

There is one aspect of the United Kingdom market which we must keep in mind throughout our discussions. I refer to the high proportion of our total milk production which goes for liquid consumption. The figure for the United Kingdom as a whole is about 56 per cent. on average over the year. In certain areas, however, and particularly in the trough period during the winter months, the proportion of production required for the liquid market is very much higher. Our own legislation does not, therefore, differentiate between milk for the liquid market and that for manufacture. Similarly, we should need to ensure that milk from all our farms was capable of meeting any Community standards that might be agreed. In this respect our market is very different from that in other member States, where it is a comparatively simple matter to differentiate between milk for liquid consumption and milk for manufacture.

My hon. Friend is dealing with a most important point. Regulation 1411 of 1971, on which these regulations are based, also would put forward four grades of milk of the skimmed and semi-skimmed variety—which are not able to be sold in the United Kingdom at present. In a Written Answer given by the Ministry of Agriculture this week, I was told that the derogation on this matter runs out in December 1975. Will my hon. Friend say whether we shall apply for a continuation of the derogation, since I understand that it has not yet been applied for?

I think it would be rather difficult at this stage to tie up these dates. Many of the matters which we have to consider will be concerned with harmonisation of the existing standards and how they can be phased in if necessary.

May I now pass to the subject of animal health. We think that this is another area where conditions vary from one member State to another. For instance, in the United Kingdom, and particularly in Northern Ireland, we are in a very favourable position on foot-and-mouth disease. We shall, of course, need to ensure that the high standards we have achieved are maintained. A possible approach here would be arrangements designed to exclude imports of raw milk into Great Britain and to enable Northern Ireland also to continue with its existing arrangements.

On brucellosis eradication we are not so far forward as some other member States. This will need to be taken into account in considering Community standards and the transitional period that might be appropriate.

Standards of farm buildings also vary a good deal. In the United Kingdom we have traditionally paid a lot of attention to the improvement of farm buildings and hygiene conditions on the farm. Our standards are, therefore, relatively high. In some other member States less emphasis has been given to building requirements. This was reflected in the Commission's original proposals, and the technical discussions that have been taking place have drawn attention to the scope for standards more in line with those in our own industry.

I do not want to take up too much time on technical points but there is one in particular that I should like to mention—namely, our arrangements for testing milk hygiene and quality. In general, as my hon. Friend the Minister mentioned at the Scrutiny Committee, we have tended to regard quality control arrangements, both ex-farm and in the dairy, as the responsibility of the trade. Statutory testing in England and Wales has been confined to bottled milk sampled by local authority inspectors.

The Commission's proposals, on the other hand, were based on arrangements which are common in the original member States of the Community. The original proposals envisaged the statutory testing of ex-farm milk and of milk at the dairy both before and after heat treatment. We have yet to be convinced that testing on a statutory basis at each of these stages is necessary in our circumstances. One way of simplifying the Commission's proposals might be to exclude milk transported from the farm to the dairy in bulk tankers at low temperatures from such statutory tests. This is a matter which is still being considered in discussions with the Commission and other member States.

In conclusion, I should like to emphasise again that we are keeping in close touch with all sectors of the industry and the trade on these proposals. It is most important that we should have their points of view.

Will my hon. Friend answer this question? In so far as these proposals postulate improved standards in any way, is there anything, under our legislative competence in this House for which we could not provide under our own legislation? Is it at all necessary to be discussing what the member States have to say? Cannot we stand by our own Acts of Parliament?

I think the main point which I mentioned earlier was brucellosis eradication on which we might not be as far forward as other member States. The importance of this debate is that hon. Members are enabled to put their points of view which will be considered in the discussions which still have to be concluded. I can assure the House that their views and the views which will, no doubt, be expressed during the course of this debate will be taken fully into account in all our discussions with the Commission and other member States.

The motion on the Order Paper includes the words:

"the Government's purpose to secure necessary adjustments to meet United Kingdom requirements."
Has the Minister really spelt out what are the necessary adjustments? Has he considered how far he will go before he concedes the proposals in the documents or at what point he is going to stick? That is what the House would like to know.

As we are in the Community—and my hon. Friends did not have much responsibility for putting us there—we must take into account the views of the eight other member States, and they must take our views into account. Therefore, it is desirable that we hear the views of hon. Members, so that we may consider them and put them forward if necessary.

It is difficult to forecast at this stage when the proposals will be ready for consideration by the Council.

Is my hon. Friend saying that at this stage it is impossible to give an exact timetable for the Council's further consideration of these measures?

It is difficult to give an exact date. The matter has been under consideration for some time—for the past three years, I think. It may be possible to reach a conclusion within six months, but I should not like to give that as a definite target. It should be possible to arrive at appropriate Community standards acceptable to the United Kingdom and other member States.

10.17 p.m.

I want to register a strong complaint with the Government that the minutes of evidence taken before the Select Committee on European Secondary Legislation on Tuesday 17th December were not available in the Vote Office until today. The document is vital to consideration of the matters we are debating. The House has been treated with some contempt in that this valuable document has not been available to us until today.


The Opposition are most grateful to the Government for tabling the rider to the motion. We thank them most sincerely for that. We are also pleased that the Government have decided to take the two documents together, because they are complementary and overlapping. Although they were produced by two separate committees, it is important that they should be debated together. The Minister will agree that the production and marketing of milk go hand in hand.

I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that in continuing to discuss these documents with our European colleagues, to obtain
"necessary adjustments to meet United Kingdom requirements",
he will insist that, as I believe he implied in his speech, the amended proposals in both documents will be implemented together.

As the Minister told us, the documents are historical, having been produced many months before the United Kingdom entered the European Economic Community. I emphasise for the benefit of those who hold some doubts about our entry that the documents are a first proposal, and not final documents. They were submitted to the Council of Ministers as long ago as September 1971, about 15 months before our entry. They are clearly not designed to meet the requirements of the enlarged Community. Therefore, will the Minister be a little more forthcoming about what progress has been made since they were produced?

For the convenience of the House, I intend to deal with each document separately, although there is considerable common ground and both would, if implemented, require some changes in the Food and Drugs Act 1955.

I deal first with document (71) 1021, which provides for common quality and marketing standards for liquid milk throughout the Community. As it stands, the document is highly damaging to the United Kingdom milk distributing industry.

In drawing up its recommendations, the working committee of the original Six naturally took no account of the needs of the United Kingdom market system, which is very different from that obtaining on the Continent. Our milk market is predominantly in liquid milk whereas on the Continent it is predominantly produced for manufacturing purposes. On average, 60 per cent. of our milk production enters the liquid market. Only 40 per cent. goes into manufacturing. On occasions during winter months, all our milk production goes into the liquid market. It is obvious that any legislation affecting liquid milk only will have a considerable effect upon the United Kingdom, whereas on the Continent, where on average less than 20 per cent. of milk enters the liquid market, the effect will be very much less.

As the document stands, it is clear that the vast majority of continental farms will not have to comply with the regulations as they do not cover milk produced for manufacture. But all United Kingdom farms will be affected. To emphasise the extent of the problem and to demonstrate the difference in consumption, it is worth noting that the United Kingdom produces 40 per cent. of the total EEC liquid milk market, which is a measure of the importance of the United Kingdom industry.

The major problem lies in Article 2 where, in the opinion of my right hon. and hon. Friends, many of the criteria will be very difficult to meet. I refer specifically to Article 2.1(d). The United Kingdom at present uses the dye reduction method to test for germ levels. This method has the advantage that it is swift, accurate and immediate, whereas the germ counting technique takes two days and is retrospective. It is almost like closing the floodgates after the flood has passed. We should also have great difficulty in complying with Article 2.1(f). Mastitis levels in the United Kingdom tend to be much higher than on the Continent, mainly because mastitis is directly linked with the management problem and in the United Kingdom farms tend to have larger herds than those on the Continent.

Could it be inferred from what the hon. Gentleman is saying that it would be more sensible to have one form of legislation for this country and a different form for the Continent?

I am not suggesting that. I am suggesting that in renegotiating the terms we attend to this matter as well and ensure that, before any final document is produced, we get the terms necessary to suit the United Kingdom industry.

If we do not get them, what will my hon. Friend representing the Opposition Front Bench, do about it if he has the chance?

On my first appearance at the Dispatch Box, I do not think that I ought to answer hypothetical questions of that kind.

Is the Minister aware that the United Kingdom milk industry has operated its own testing technique since 1920 without mishap? The germ counting system proposed in the document was tried in the 1920s, without success. Will he, therefore, agree that it would be very wrong to change an effective and proven system?

Article 10 implies that member States shall not fix a price for pasteurised liquid milk. This would appear to be in direct conflict with the United Kingdom (Maximum Prices Extension) Order recently laid before Parliament which gives the Government power to control milk prices for a further five years. Although most of us on the Opposition benches would welcome a relaxation of price control, will not this put the Government in some difficulty? The Opposition support the Government in their determination to obtain amendments to this document.

I hope that the Minister will agree that the criteria at present used to establish minimum quality in the United Kingdom are perfectly adequate and well above the EEC standards. Change would be hard, costly and, in my opinion, unnecessary. We must be aware that this legislation will open the door to liquid milk imports into the United Kingdom for the first time. Will the Government take steps to ensure that no cheap dumping occurs? That might stimulate supermarket packet milk purchasing at the expense of the traditional doorstep delivery. I am sure that the housewives of Britain would not quietly suffer the disappearance of their milkmen and the doorstep "pinta" which is so expensively advertised but with considerable success. The doorstep delivery is not practised on the Continent. It is a tradition that should be preserved in the United Kingdom.

Next, will the Minister give an assurance that the Government will press the Commission to establish identical standards for manufacturing milk as well as for liquid milk to ensure parity of treatment for both Continental and United Kingdom milk industries?

I now turn to Document (71)64 which deals with health and veterinary inspection requirements and health problems relating to the production and marketing of heat-treated milk. Does the Minister agree that the reforms for the standards of buildings used in milk production set out in the document are far less stringent than the standards already in operation in the United Kingdom? Will he confirm that we are seeking to write into the document more stringent building requirements? Will he confirm that we have achieved some progress in that direction? We have achieved progress notably in respect of new dairies and dairies that have undergone extensive alteration.

No time limit to comply with the improved regulations has been agreed. Does the Minister agree that if no time limit is set no one will comply with the regulations and that that will be to the financial disadvantage of the United Kingdom producers? As with Document (71)1012, will the Minister ensure that identical standards are set for both manufacturing and liquid milk so as to avoid unfair disadvantage for the United Kingdom milk producers?

I now turn to animal health. Foot-and-mouth disease is widespread on the Continent. The general practice on the Continent to control the disease is vaccination rather than slaughter. The criteria laid down in Document (71)64 for pasteurising milk—I must point out to the House that the document facilitates free trade only in pasteurised milk—are not sufficient to destroy the foot-and-mouth virus. The liberalisation of trade could pose a serious threat to animals in the United Kingdom. I welcome the assurance that the Minister has given to the House on this vitally important matter. I hope that, with the permission of the House, he will once again be able to emphasise its importance.

The proposals relating to brucellosis pose problems for the production of milk in the United Kingdom. At the present rate of progress the United Kingdom will not be totally brucellosis-free until 1985 at the earliest. To a large extent that depends upon veterinary availability. What is the Minister's most up-to-date estimate of the number of veterinary personnel required to achieve total brucellosis eradication by 1985? Have we enough vets to achieve this important objective? In my opinion the United Kingdom will not meet the requirements until 1985 at the earliest. Even then there is the possibility of herd breakdown.

I must emphasise to the Minister that under the regulations milk would not be able to be sold to the liquid market in the event of herd breakdown. On the Continent this situation would not cause much of a problem as the producer could so easily turn to manufacturing. I remind the House that in the United Kingdom the situation is very different and that the alternative of turning to the manufacturing industry would seldom if ever be available.

Document COM(71)64 lays down firm specific requirements on the quality of the milk, as the Minister has told us. These are a problem to the United Kingdom, for again, the industry uses the dye reduction test to determine germ levels. The EEC proposes germ counting. The former, as I have said previously, is fast, immediate and cheap, as well as being adequate in every way. The latter is expensive and slow, and essentially it is historical. To meet the EEC requirement would mean that every dairy would have to change its methods of quality control. The cost would be astronomical. Who would pay? Perhaps the Minister will answer that question. The industry is in no position to do so without dramatic increases in its return from the consumer or vast increases in the consumer subsidy.

This document is very harsh and inflexible on the control of animal health and milk quality. On the first matter, the pressure on veterinary personnel in the United Kingdom would make it prohibitive. Perhaps the Minister will give us his view as to whether the veterinary profession could deal with the changed situation. On the second matter, as the regulation stands, if a producer failed two successive tests, he would be prevented from selling milk to the liquid market. Where then would our liquid milk come from? It would not come from the Continent because so much continental milk is channelled into manufacture. The situation would be catastrophic for the consumer and disastrous financially for the United Kingdom producers.

Does the Minister not agree that as it stands the regulation on this matter is a total blanket exclusion, in that if a producer fails any one of the many quality criteria his milk is excluded?

The hon. Gentleman is right to give this vital matter great emphasis. If we fail to secure a satisfactory outcome of renegotiation on this point, would he then agree that we should abrogate these regulations, and, if so, by what methods?

Again, that is a hypothetical question. I do not believe that when the evidence which the Government are putting forward is considered, they will fail in changing the proposals in these documents.

I have at least an open mind.

I have restricted my comments to the major proposals in the documents. Such matters in the documents as the health of personnel should not be opposed as they are desirable improvements, but at this time they may be more idealistic than practical.

These two documents look harmless enough superficially. Any Government would seek to improve the quality of milk and to improve animal health. But there is more to the documents than meets the eye. As they stand, I say from this Dispatch Box that they are unacceptable to the United Kingdom milk industry. But at the same time, we wish the Government success in obtaining the necessary adjustments, and we are confident that they will get them.

10.33 p.m.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) has provided the right spirit of buffoonery and lightheartedness in this absurd debate. I intend to waste only a little time—although all the time of the debate is a matter of waste. I give fair warning that if I am fortunate enough to catch the eye of the Chair in the future when we have any more of these ninety-minute bursts on these slovenly, ill-considered and indeterminate documents, I propose to waste as much time as possible by reading each one through from cover to cover. I hope that my hon. Friends who feel the same way about Common Market legislation will do the same thing. We can thus reduce these occasions to the level of farce that they really are.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield has instanced one reason after another for distinguishing our own legislation from that of the Common Market—whether over the amount of liquid milk, about the structure of buildings, the incidence of disease, or milk usage; whatever it may be. He has given one reason after another why we should have our own legislation and our own regulations. He said that he does not like the proposals but that he will support the Government because he is sure that in the end they will get their own way. Of course, it is a hypothetical question to decide what will happen if the Government do not get their own way. This is an absurd way to treat the House.

One of the documents is a draft instrument dated 14th September 1971. In that year it came into force as a Common Market regulation. It was prepared in the Ministry of Agriculture last July. Even in the explanatory memorandum it is conceded that it supersedes the subordinate legislation in the Food and Drugs Act 1955 and the corresponding legislation of Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Minister has not begun to explain which parts of that legislation would have to go.

The second document has the most extraordinary provision. It says not only that it will bear on the United Kingdom law relating to milk and dairies in Part II of the 1955 Act and the subordinate legislation, but that the proposal will necessitate changes in the domestic legislation. We are not told what they are or what parts of the Act are to be changed. In 1959 and again in 1963 extensive regulations were produced covering all these matters. They may be better or worse than the proposals set out here. For the purposes of the argument I am prepared to accept that some parts of the proposals in some ways represent an improvement over what we have already. But there is no reason why we should not prepare our own legislation to give effect to them. The Minister was not prepared to give any indication about when the regulations are supposed to come into force.

Article 12 of Document 71/64 says
"Where the procedure laid down in this Article is to be used, the Commission representative shall submit to the Standing Veterinary Committee set up by the Council Decision of 15 October 1968, hereinafter called the "Committee", a draft of the provisions to be adopted.
The Committee shall deliver its Opinion on this draft within a time-limit of two days. Opinions shall be adopted by a majority of twelve votes, the votes of Member States being weighted as provided in Article 148(2) of the Treaty."
I understand that at the time that the proposal was prepared the special provisions in the complicated constitution of the Common Market were employed to expedite the matter because it was supposed to be a matter of urgency at the time. We are now told by the Minister that he does not know when it is supposed to come into effect. We are told by both sides who are in league on this matter that we can expect these issues to be the subject of renegotiation, but we have no guarantee that they will be brought back before the House even if we fail to get our own way on the matters which are to be the subject for renegotiation.

The Minister has not told us what is to be renegotiated. The House is being treated with contempt. This whole affair is an utter farce and I hope that hon. Members will follow the example that I promise to make the next time we have any of this nonsense and read out the whole thing from start to finish.

10.40 p.m.

I shall not follow the line taken by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee). I do not think that what he suggests is the way to treat the House. Perhaps a little more common sense and understanding of the problem would help the House and the negotiators in Brussels.

This is an important debate. The House should know of the fears concerning the future of the milk industry felt by hon. Members who represent agricultural areas. To many people the matter is of little importance. However, if we think carefully about the future of this industry and that of the Milk Marketing Board we shall come to the conclusion that these instruments are of real significance.

The battle to preserve and to improve the position of the milk industry has already begun. We enjoy a very high standard of milk production. We are fortunate to have a well organised industry which, under the guidance of the Milk Marketing Board, has attained a high standard of production, health safeguards and organised marketing, which I wish to preserve. I believe that much is at stake and that it will be disastrous if we lose the Milk Marketing Board, because it has a real influence on producers and it encourages discipline back to the farm.

I do not say that the Milk Marketing Board will disappear because of the introduction of the regulations. However, I see real dangers ahead if the Minister does not take a firm line.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, without the power to be the first buyer of milk, the Milk Marketing Board will disappear?

That is true. However, if we compare the universally high standard of this country with that of the EEC, we find that there is a tremendous need for our European partners to bring their standard up to our level. Our high standards have come about because of the work of the Milk Marketing Board. In time the Community will accept the idea and structure of the board. That will be of considerable help, because I believe that the problem of milk surpluses can be dealt with much more satisfactorily through the board.

It is EEC policy that there should be two standards, which is not desirable. If the anti-Marketeers would only reinforce what the Minister is trying to do instead of belittling his efforts we might improve the situation.

I wish to make some criticisms of the explanatory memorandum. The first memorandum speaks of the necessity for modifications and points out the need for different procedures. I raised this matter with the former Minister of State the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan). I believe that the Minister of Agriculture has failed us by not pointing out the full significance of Community policies remaining unchanged. It is no use the Ministry coming to this House or to the Select Committee without clearly telling us about the significant and drastic effects of the EEC's policies on the British milk industry. I hope that the Ministry will take note of that point and that in future we may have a good brief explaining the effect of the regulations on agriculture.

My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) did extremely well on his first attempt at the Dispatch Box. Some of us may remember the first time that we spoke from the Dispatch Box some years ago. Not only did my hon. Friend do very well, but he covered some of the points that I was proposing to make. There may appear little need for me to go on in detail. However, I should like to reinforce the point that 20 per cent. of milk is used for liquid consumption in the Community compared with 60 per cent. in this country. Therefore, there would be much wider repercussions on the dairy industry in the United Kingdom than on the Continent if these proposals went through.

My hon. Friend was absolutely correct in what he said about animal health. There is a threat there. There is also a threat to human health through brucellosis and bovine TB. Again, time must be given for our people to get their standards up in this area, particularly regarding brucellosis. We have lagged behind in this matter and the Minister must turn his attention to it. There are problems connected with buildings and testing. For example, should we test at the source of production—the farm—or at the dairy? All these matters must be sorted out.

I turn now to the coverage of this legislation. The instruments refer to raw milk when it is used for processing into heat-treated milk. However, raw milk standards would be left for each Government to decide. This is the problem. We would have one set of standards for raw milk that would be heat-treated and another set of standards for manufacturing milk. I believe that is wrong. We have never used that system in marketing milk in this country. I suggest that this is the crux of the matter. We must have a real assurance that there will not be these dual standards.

The difficulties in the United Kingdom would be great. One of the blessings of the Milk Marketing Board is that we can switch milk because it is of universal standard. If the South-East of England is in short supply, milk that is normally used for manufacturing in the West Country can be shipped up to supply London. That would not be possible if there were two standards. It is important that we should be allowed to continue to switch milk from manufacturing to liquid milk consumption, and that can be done only when there is one standard. We must have this flexibility.

We in the West Country, who supply enormous quantities of milk for manufacturing, are only too pleased when there is a shortage in the South-East and Eastern Counties and other parts of the country to see that the "pinta" gets to the doorstep. That would not be possible if we had two standards.

We had mentioned some real problems of which I am sure the Government will take note. I believe that they will—indeed, they must—discuss them with the industry and make the necessary arrangements. There must be no double standards for milk in this country.

10.50 p.m.

Perhaps the most remarkable portion of the speech of the Minister was the words of the motion itself which invites the House to

"take note"—
of documents—
"and of the Government's purpose to secure necessary adjustments to meet United Kingdom requirements."
This is yet another in the lengthening series of attempts recorded on the Order Paper of the House to bring into some relationship the desire of the House to control legislation and the methods and principles of the European Economic Community.

First, we started by taking note. Then we established that it was possible to take note with a reservation. Next we had reservations entered on the Order Paper by the Government themselves. The next stage was that the Government, on the Order Paper, drew attention to certain aspects of the documents without, however, disclosing precisely how those aspects were to be dealt with and whether they were merely observations or subjects for amendment. Now we have an entirely uninformative motion before the House in which in other words the Government say, "We are putting these documents before you. But never mind, we do not like them any more than you do. However, it will be all right on the night".

The result of this process as it goes on is to make it clearer than ever that there is no way at all of reconciling the system of legislation of the Community with the effective control by this House of the law of this country. As one reflects upon the difficulties in which the Government find themselves—and none of this is a criticism either of the hon. Gentleman or of the Government, they are simply bringing out an analysis of the situation in which we find ourselves in the EEC—the more we proceed, the more we are brought to understand how effective is our own British system of parliamentary legislation.

After all, we are attempting tonight, in the scope of 90 minutes, to carry out three essential processes of legislation. The first is the Second Reading process, where the principles are laid before the House and the discussion takes place upon those principles and upon major aspects. The second is the examination in detail of the changes which ought to or might be made. Instead of that, tonight we have a speech from the hon. Gentleman which makes a number of points on which the Government would like to secure changes, some of which we have been able to gather from the explanatory memorandum, but by no means all. But we cannot do anything about those except note them in general terms and express the hope, as did the hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills), that there will, in due course, be changes. But then there comes the third stage of the legislation, when whatever changes are thought wise and necessary have to be made, and the House has the opportunity finally to decide, given the form which the legislation has then taken, whether it will accept it.

The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) brought out very pertinently the fact that there is not to be a Third Reading either. It is no use saying that should part of these documents be implemented by means of a directive there will have to be domestic subordinate legislation, for when that legislation is placed before the House the House will be told that apart from a dot here and a comma there it is bound to accept it since it is binding upon the United Kingdom.

For the process of legislation, the due methods of consideration in principle, amendment—not merely on the lines proposed by the Government but on the lines proposed by hon. Members—and final consideration of the outcome, we are faced—and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) is not unfair in describing it so—with a farce in which a document which is admittedly sketchy is placed before the House, and we are told that a lot of work will be done on it even before it goes back to the Council of Ministers.

We are given some indications of the kind of changes which will be aimed at. Then we are told that at the last stage, before the United Kingdom has to say "yes" or "no", we shall not, so far as the Minister knows, have an opportunity of expressing our satisfaction or dissatisfaction. This House has made valiant efforts, and the Scrutiny Committee is making a continuing effort on behalf of the House, to ascertain whether somehow it is possible to combine the minimum of parliamentary control over legislation with the system of the Community. Tonight we have yet one more demonstration that we cannot combine the two, that we have to choose one or the other.

Turning from these reflections to the subject matter, I ask, for the sake of what is it that we are giving up our right to legislate in proper form? My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West did not seem to grasp that there was no need at all for the Minister to have to cope with these difficulties. There is no need for the House to be faced with a document of which one aspect after another is devastating in its effect upon milk production in this country. Under our existing powers, we could, if we thought fit, do anything which will happen under these regulations.

We are being given nothing whatsoever in exchange. These regulations represent harmonisation for the mere sake of harmonisation in an area where harmonisation is unnecessary and inappropriate. Individual countries have developed their milk production on different lines. They are at different stages and using different methods to improve their production, hygienically and in other respects. If there is to be trade in milk between the various countries of the Community, that trade will have to take account of the requirements of the importing country. There is nothing particularly problematical about that and there is no reason why the separate countries of the Community should not for a long time follow their own ways and policies in this respect without in any way derogating from the trading intentions of the Community.

This has been a typical experience tonight. We have had imposed on us legislation which is superfluous, which is a Procrustean bed from the point of view of this country, which does not serve the purpose of freer trade relations between the United Kingdom and Western Europe. We are reminded once again that the price for that legislation is that this House must lose control over the laws under which our people are to live. Like it or not, it is a choice as sheer as that. It is a choice which, as these debates increasingly show, cannot be compromised. It has to be taken one way or another.

11.0 p.m.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) suggested that trade would not be affected if we were to take those elements of directives which pleased us. I believe that that view is contrary to the facts of the case. These regulations aim at something which I should have thought all hon. Members would like to see—namely, a minimum level of hygiene and quality of products as between the members of the Nine. Assuming that this country were not in the Community, is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that we would still be able to sell milk products which did not conform to the harmonising regulations for the rest of the Community? I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would not suggest such a thing. If we want to trade with other members, surely our products must have some kind of relationship to the standards laid down in the Community. The right hon. Gentleman appears to express agreement on that point.

I was glad to notice that in an earlier explanatory memorandum issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, over the signature of my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan), in his previous incarnation as the then Minister, we were told that the policy implication of the legislation concerned was that
"the proposal has a similar objective to existing United Kingdom law regarding the health and hygiene aspects of milk production …"
He said the same thing in terms of quality control in another piece of legislation. In other words, it is quite clear that the aims of this legislation are consistent with what we in this country would like to see and which in the past we have observed.

A number of specific issues have been raised in this debate, and indeed a great deal of research undoubtedly was undertaken by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) in his maiden speech from the Opposition Dispatch Box. I congratulate him.

I shall not go over the background, but I believe that it is right for our dairy producers to insist that health and hygiene proposals should apply not just to liquid milk but to all milk products, otherwise we shall be discriminated against. It would appear that the Minister will have to think in terms of the hygiene in new farm buildings and also will have to adhere to those standards in respect of old buildings.

I should like now to deal with the subject to foot-and-mouth disease and brucellosis. In all these debates on EEC regulations there is an essential underpinning of the fact that, if we are to take such legislation seriously, we must observe the principle of the quid pro quo. It has already been said that the situation in regard to foot-and-mouth disease on the Continent is worse than it is in this country. Equally, it has been admitted by hon. Members on both sides of the House that the brucellosis situation in this country is worse than it is on the Continent. I suggest that what is brucellosis for the goose is foot-and-mouth for the gander. It is not good enough to say, "Because French cows have foot-and-mouth, we must keep out everything connected with them", and yet at the same time take the view that "We must watch out for our own farmers. They have not enough vets. Therefore, we must give them to 1985 to get the brucellosis level to the right standard." By all means let us allow our farmers time to get their cows to the right standard, but at the same time let us also understand that French farmers will wish to have time in which to bring their cows up to standard, too.

Will my hon. Friend say how the risk of importing foot-and-mouth disease would help us to get rid of brucellosis and make things easier for our already overstretched veterinary services?

I am sure that my hon. Friend is wise enough to understand that that was not what I was suggesting. I was saying that if we are asking for standards in respect of the fight against foot-and-mouth disease comparable to those elsewhere, the people on the continent are right to insist on our observing brucellosis standards comparable to theirs.

I congratulate the Minister. I was critical when the previous Government submitted a rider which seemed so vague as to be nonsensical. It seems to me that, contrary to what the right hon. Member for Down, South said, the rider in this case makes the point that the present Government are going in to fight for the interests of the British farmer and the British consumer, and I applaud that.

11.5 p.m.

Unlike many who regularly take part in these debates, this is the first occasion on which I have intervened in a late sitting. It seems a little strange to stand here in front of my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies), as on many occasions in the past the position has been reversed.

What we are discussing tonight—and perhaps this is the only matter on which we are all agreed—is that the proposals in these documents date from 1971, before the United Kingdom's accession to the treaty. As a consequence, those proposals were considered in the light of the needs of the then members and not in the light of our needs, and certainly without the benefit of discussion and debate with the United Kingdom delegation.

The objectives of the two documents must, I believe, be supported by us all. What we have to discuss tonight is whether they are appropriate to the United Kingdom needs. Because of the time lag to which I have referred, the first question that I ask is, why has this long time elapsed since the documents were first published? Is it because of the accession of the new members, or are there other factors? If it was due to our entry into the Common Market, have the discussions, which it is now admitted are taking place, been going on ever since we got into the Market? If so, why is it taking so long for them to reach finality?

The Minister said that implementation might take place within six months. Listening to him, it seemed to me that probably no timetable has been laid down, and that therefore implementation is very doubtful. Perhaps I could have more firm information on that point.

I think, too, that the Minister was rather coy about the alterations which will have to take place to British laws if we are to reach agreement on these proposals. Indeed, if he envisages changes in United Kingdom law, how far does he believe we can go in such changes consistent with the policy that we have adopted in the past?

I have listened with great interest to the questions which the hon. Gentleman has been putting. Bearing in mind that he was close to the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies), did he not have an excellent source to answer all these questions and should he not know the answers without putting the questions to my hon. Friend the Minister of State?

The hon. Gentleman missed the point. We could not enter into discussions on these matters until we were members of the Community. Negotiations have been continuing for a year. I am therefore asking what has been happening during the last year.

We want to know how far these regulations, when agreed, will advance any of the standards which already exist in the United Kingdom or how far the Minister expects that there may be a reduction in those standards. These are questions on which we have to judge the value of any regulations to the United Kingdom. The Minister has already said that it is not known whether these will be regulations or directives.

I turn briefly to the evidence given by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Agriculture on 17th December, 1974. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Select Committee for bringing to light these potential directives and for insisting that the Minister give a good deal more information about them, as a result bringing about this debate so that this matter can be fully discussed before agreement is finally reached with the Common Market.

I am sorry. I have not time.

Too much of this and other debates has dealt with whether we want to be in the Common Market.

Surprise, surprise, but too often one has heard speeches on those lines, and if we are to conduct these debates solely on the question whether we are to remain in the EEC, the inference being that anything which comes out of neogtiations is a waste of time because we do not believe in the Common Market, the value of the debates is largely destroyed.

I am sorry. I will not give way. I have not time.

We are faced with the fact that we have come into an existing organisation. We came in late, and because we came in late we have to take it from there and to work on legislation already going through. Obviously there are difficulties and we shall have to negotiate, as I confidently believe we can, to get a satisfactory set of regulations. Does the Minister think that we shall be able to amend the regulations or that in the end they will be withdrawn and a new set brought forward? It seems to me that, with so many alterations, the latter might be the best course.

If we are to draw closer to our colleagues in the Common Market, there is a great virtue and value in harmonisation in many areas. That will come about only with full agreement among all our partners. That is a result of all our experience and the experience of the other members. It is far better that we plan a full part in framing the harmonisation as full and active members of the Common Market, rather than seeking to join the Common Market by way of a free trade area, when we should have to accept the terms drawn up by its members.

I believe that we are pursuing an effective means of harmonisation. There are many instances of our having played our part, in the European Parliament and through the Government, in bringing about harmonisation in such a way that it does not harm our own situation, and that it gives the opportunity for further advance together with our partners.

I hope that the Minister will heed the advice and warning given by the Select Committee. Many questions were put to him which he did not answer. But in general I say "Good luck" to the Government in their negotiations, which I hope will prove successful.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I ask you to acquaint Mr. Speaker, who is the guardian of back bench interests, of the fact that if the Government speaker uses the whole of the rest of the time, the Front Benches will have used 59 minutes of the hour-and-a-half debate?

That is not a matter for the Chair. It is a matter for arrangement between the two sides.

11.17 p.m.

If a Minister is asked for answers to questions put by hon. Members on both sides, the interests of the House are not served if there is no opportunity for reply. I have a great deal of answering to do in the short time available, and I trust that the House will give me an opportunity to do it.

This has been a useful debate. Hon. Members may laugh, but we sought the opinion of the House. We need to know what hon. Members feel, so that we may make continued representations, as we have in the past. I am grateful to hon. Members for the interest they have shown.

Legislation on the quality and hygiene aspects of milk production, so important to our country, to the consumer and to the industry, inevitably raises complex technical issues. Even within the United Kingdom there are small but significant differences in procedure between England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is not surprising, therefore, that satisfactory arrangements for harmonising standards in a Community of nine member states should take time to work out.

I valued the contributions made by many right hon. and hon. Members, and I pay tribute to the hon. Members for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and Scarborough (Mr. Shaw) for their contributions at the Dispatch Box. They dealt with a number of technical aspects in a commendable way. I hope that they will not think me churlish if I say that I hope that they keep their positions on the Opposition Front Bench for a long time, in that it means that my right hon. Friend and my other colleagues remain here.

The hon. Member for Scarborough asked why it is such a long time since the proposals were published. The answer is that discussions between the original Six were necessary. With the enlargement of the Community, it was naturally necessary to reconsider many points, and due to the complex and technical aspects of the proposals, progress has been slower than might have been wished. But that should give some assurance to the House that changes will not be rushed without due consideration.

I was asked how the proposals would be changed by the Government. The proposals are still under discussion and, as I have said, we are seeking to ensure that the changes to our present system are kept to the minimum and that our present high standards of milk production and hygiene are maintained. If we can get any benefits from the rules of other countries, we ought to be able to harmonise them in with our own.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) asked about the derogation of Regulation 1411/71 and whether it would be extended. That regulation deals with the butterfat levels of milk, which are outside the scope of these proposals.

The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and the hon. Member for Scarborough asked whether the proposals, as agreed by the Council, would come back to this House for approval. Where implementing legislation is required under domestic law, it will be considered by the House in the usual way. It is difficult to give details before the matter is finalised.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield wanted to know whether the proposals would be implemented together. As I said earlier, we can see advantage in ensuring that they are considered and introduced together, and we shall continue to press for this.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the merits of the dye reduction test as opposed to germ counting. The arguments are strong on both sides, and these proposals are still under discussion. We shall seek to obtain solutions which are satisfactory to our requirements and we shall avoid unnecessary changes.

A topic raised by several hon. Members related to the costs of implementing the proposals. Some hon. Members referred to additional costs. Here, much will depend on the final form of the arrangements and our general approach, which is, as I say, to avoid unnecessary changes in the existing arrangements. That is not to say that no costs at all will be involved. There will be some in certain respects. But I emphasise that they are likely to be very small in relation to the value of our milk industry. Sales of liquid milk and of domestically produced milk products must be worth more than £1,400 million annually. We shall want to consider whether funds might be available from the guidance section of FEOGA once it is possible to see more precisely the form that the Community arrangements take.

A number of hon. Members asked where the United Kingdom stood as regards brucellosis and tuberculosis. Progress in the eradication of brucellosis and tuberculosis is variable within the enlarged Community. In the United Kingdom, eradication of bovine tuberculosis has long been substantially attained. But in some parts of the United Kingdom the brucellosis eradication campaign still has a long way to go. Heat treatment of milk supplies renders them safe from a public health point of view but, for all that, I can readily understand why those countries which have completed eradication campaigns should feel reluctant to accept supplies from herds in others countries which are not up to standards comparable with their own.

The hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) and others asked about the veterinary service. Regardless of these proposals, our internal policy estimates that brucellosis will be eradicated in Great Britain by the mid-1980s and that most herds will have achieved official brucellosis-free status within a few years of that. I recognise the hon. Gentleman's concern about the veterinary service, because there are problems, but we are using some private veterinary services, and we have this situation in mind when we give those target dates.

As for when the proposals are likely to be ready for consideration by the Council of Ministers, some other member States would like to see them adopted quickly, but there are still a number of points which can probably best be dealt with in discussions at the technical level. How soon the proposals will be ready for submission to the Council for consideration is therefore difficult to say at this stage.

I believe that it was the hon. Member for Scarborough who raised the point that there are two sets of regulations on these closely related subjects. The health and hygiene proposals were prepared by the veterinary side of the Commission. Those on quality and marketing are the responsibility of the marketing side. The two sets of proposals are complementary and properly co-ordinated, I do not think that any problems need arise from having the provisions in two sets of proposals.

The point was made by the hon. Member for Devon, West that the health and hygiene proposals apply only to liquid milk and not to all milk. He also queried whether there would not be a substantial risk to our own arrangements in the United Kingdom. This matter has been discussed with other member States and it has been agreed that the working party dealing with the health and hygiene proposals should explore the possibility of arrangements confined initially to the liquid milk sector, on the understanding that standards for other milk will be dealt with as soon as possible. We have made it clear that in principle we prefer the single standard approach, but we have agreed that the working party should explore the possibilities of arrangements on the lines that I have mentioned. Clearly we should need to be satisfied that our particular requirements could be fully taken into account in any such system.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) asked about the precise changes in United Kingdom law that would be required to comply with the proposals. This depends partly on whether the drafts are adopted in the form of regulations or as directives which require implementing regulations in the United Kingdom. I have made a brief reference to that matter already. Our regulations that would be mainly affected by the Community proposals would be the Milk and Dairies (General) Regulations and the Milk (Special Designation) Regulations. The Milk and Dairies (General) Regulations cover hygiene standards on the farms and in the dairies. On the question whether it would be necessary for administrative procedures in the United Kingdom to be amended, the main area to be considered is the new procedure that could be required in the laboratory testing of milk. As I indicated in opening, the proposals lay down certain statutory tests which are not currently required in all parts of the United Kingdom, although similar tests are carried out in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It was asked whether it is reasonable to suggest that the United Kingdom should change its present arrangements to bring them into line with the Community requirements when our direct interest is relatively limited. The harmonisation of national arrangements is part of the process of creating a Common Market system. The principles underlying the Commission's proposals are not at issue. We are, of course, looking carefully at the specific proposals to see that they take full account of the conditions and the requirements of our own market.

Will the Minister comment quickly on Article 10 of the Milk Price Extension Order which was recently laid before the House?

I gather that that would not be affected by the proposals. If there were any change proposed we would say clearly that the principle contained in the order which has been so evident in the United Kingdom for 20 or 30 years—I am not sure, but it may be 40 years—would be continued. The hon. Gentleman will know that we recently extended the order for another period of five years.

The right hon. Member for Down, South commented on the proposals which are put before the House from time to time. At least we are debating the proposals now before us. Of course, I pay tribute to the Scrutiny Committee and its chairman, the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies), for the work that it does in scrutinising much of the legislation which comes through in large doses. We value the work that it performs and the opportunity that we get from time to time to put the proposals before the House.

I hope that the House will pass the motion put before it and enable us to continue the negotiations in the interests of our industry, the consumer and the trade.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of Commission documents COM(71) 64 and COM(71) 1012 and of the Government's purpose to secure necessary adjustments to meet United Kingdom requirements.