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Milk And Meat Production

Volume 390: debated on Thursday 8 July 1943

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

The Government have reviewed the livestock situation—

On a point of Order. May I ask whether this is in reply to a Question, because my right hon. Friend has not said so? If it is a statement, will he ask the leave of the House to make it?

There is no need for a Minister to ask the leave of the House. It is the right of a Minister to make a statement of policy not even in answer to a Question.

May I ask where that is laid down in the Standing Orders? I have always understood that there can be no statement, except in answer to a Question, except by the leave of the House, unless a Debate is to take place.

It is the common practice that such statements can be made without asking leave. It would not be right in answer to a Private Notice Question as a matter of urgency and it cannot be done in any other way. Therefore the only course is to make a statement, as the Minister in this case has done.

While I fully appreciate that a personal statement which conveys a decision of the Government on certain aspects of policy may be a very convenient method, yet we are precluded from entering into a Debate, and when, as frequently occurs, a request is made to the Leader of the House to have a Debate on a Government statement, the House is denied the opportunity, or is referred to the Adjournment. Can you give us some guidance on that point, Sir?

It is perfectly true that when a statement is made in this way, any Debate on the question involved would be irregular. Questions can be asked but no Debate can follow. No doubt a request could be made for a Debate later on.

Unless the practice is limited, it really amounts to the disfranchisement of the House. It really means that the critics of the Government, or Private Members, are put in an extremely lopsided position. The House is not a forum in which the Government can make a pronunciamento. The House of Commons is a 'debating Chamber, and all of us have equal rights in it. If the Government are going to abuse this practice by making a series of statements, and the rest of us are unable to reply to them, it really becomes a forum. While the practice is in Order, I submit that it should be very strictly limited.

I should regret it extremely if the House was to put the interpretation on this practice which the hon. Member has just done. I plead entirely guilty to encouraging this arrangement, because I encourage Ministers to come to the House to make statements on matters which may be of common interest to Members. I think that is a practice that should be continued, especially in war-time, when we want information given to the House and not to the Press. As regards the point of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), which is a perfectly fair point, it is true that a Debate cannot take place there and then, but, if it is of sufficient importance to warrant a Debate, we can always try, and we do try, to arrange our Business as far as lies in our power.

May I point out that yesterday two Ministers, the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Colonial Secretary, both wished to make statements of this nature and both asked Members to put down Questions, which they did, but when the Questions were called the Minister said that with the leave of the Members concerned he would make a statement at the end of Questions? I submit that that is a more desirable practice.

I was going to ask a question arising out of the Home Secretary's personal statement, but the Minister of Agriculture got up and started making his statement. I want to know if I can still ask a question arising out of the first statement.

The Home Secretary's personal statement is not a matter that can be discussed at all.

If a Minister makes a personal statement that he wishes to expunge something from Hansard, could not I ask if the Minister of Information would follow his good example and expunge from Hansard some of the malicious statements that he has made about the "Daily Worker"?

May I explain that I was asked to put down a Question and I put it down in the perfectly normal way?

I am sorry to pursue the subject, but I suggest with great respect—and if I were speaking in a Debate I would challenge anyone to deny this—that this goes to the root of the liberties of the House. With some experience of the House, I suggest that this habit of Ministers making statements, even though it may be in Order, should be very strictly limited and should only take place in special circumstances. Otherwise, I would submit to you, Sir, and point out to hon. Members opposite, who seem to demur to what some of us say, that we should be deprived of the inalienable right of the House when a statement is made, that a Debate must follow. I submit that with great respect to you, Sir.

That does not coincide with what is said on pages 310 and 311 of Erskine May:

[ The only exceptions admitted to the rule that a member may speak only when There is a question before the House…are…statements made by ministers of the Crown regarding public affairs, and personal explanations.

Explanations are made to the House on behalf of the Government regarding their domestic and foreign policy,…announcing legislative proposals…or the course they intend to adopt in the transaction and arrangement of public business…As no question is before the House, debate on, such statements is irregular.]

The Government have reviewed the livestock situation in the light of prevailing trends in milk and meat production with the object of improving the quality and quantity of our milk supply, and of increasing still further the output of meat without detriment to the growing of essential crops for human consumption. A White Paper explaining the proposals as regards milk in more detail will be issued this evening.

The basis of a sound milk policy must be a well-bred healthy dairy herd. At present a large number of herds in the country are not inspected at all. It is proposed in future to arrange for a minimum of one inspection a year for every dairy herd and to inspect more frequently within the limits of the available veterinary personnel those herds with a bad disease history or where the milk is not heat treated before sale. To ensure the production of cleaner milk the national milk testing and advisory scheme was introduced last year. All those concerned are co-operating to make the scheme a success, and already over 70 per cent. of the milk producers are having their milk regularly tested while nearly 9o per cent. of the larger creameries are operating the scheme.

With a view to greater efficiency and uniformity in methods of milk production the Government will submit to Parliament, after consultation with local authorities in England and Wales as to the arrangements to be made, legislation providing for the transfer to my Department of the functions now exercised by local authorities in regard to the production of milk, including designated milk, on the farm. In this way my Department will become responsible for all matters relating to the production of milk. Owing to transport difficulties, much of the T.T. milk now produced is not sold to the public as such, but is bulked with and sold as ordinary milk. In order to encourage the production of this valuable milk, the Government propose to pay a uniform production premium of 4d. per gallon. Distributors will cease to pay premiums to producers for T.T. milk. My Noble Friend the Minister of Food will take all practicable steps to ensure that as much T.T. milk as is possible in present circumstances will be sold as such to consumers. The price will be only slightly higher than for ordinary milk.

The schemes introduced by the Ministry of Food for the rationalisation of retail distribution of milk have deprived the public in areas to which such schemes apply of their freedom to choose their milk suppliers. In some cases, therefore, persons who previously made a point of buying pasteurised or T.T. milk may now be receiving ordinary raw untreated milk. This places upon the Government the obligation to ensure, as soon as possible, that all milk supplied to consumers in areas affected by rationalisation schemes should conform to the higher standards of purity previously demanded. The methods by which this will be achieved are set out in detail in the White Paper. Briefly the Government's intention is to prohibit, in areas to be scheduled by my Noble Friend, the retail sale of milk unless it is either (a) T.T. milk; (b) accredited milk sold by a retailer who sells the milk of a single accredited herd or (c) milk which has been rendered safe by means of heat treatment. This policy will be applied, in all areas affected by schemes for the rationalisation of retail distribution, as rapidly as the necessary plant can be made available.

Improved milk production depends also on a sound breeding policy. Indiscriminate cross-breeding must be avoided, diseased and unthrifty cows must be weeded out, and more good dairy bulls from recorded herds must be reared as a means of grading up the ordinary commercial herds. Progress in these directions can best be achieved by greater concentration of milk production on the larger dairy farms where there is often scope for an increase in the number of cows kept, in the yield per cow, and in winter milk production. The ever-increasing demand for milk requires a corresponding increase in the supply of good replacement stock. There are a number of small farms, mainly in hill districts, where the herds and output of milk are small and the collection of the small quantities of milk involves a use of petrol and transport which cannot be justified in present circumstances. These farms should be devoted to the rearing of high quality calves both for milk and beef production. More store cattle and sheep will be needed for the restoration of fertility after corn cropping and to feed off the new leys that will be increasingly available, thereby maintaining the output of meat. Shortage of feeding stuffs inevitably led to a substantial reduction in the pig population. The decline in numbers has proceeded far enough. We wish to arrest this downward trend, both to safeguard bacon supplies and to ensure the full use of swill, chat potatoes and other waste products of the farm.

Certain adjustments in the application of this policy to Northern Ireland will be required. As regards the position in Scotland, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State asks me to add: Improvement in the quality of milk is a common objective in both countries, and accordingly the Government's proposals for heat treatment and for increasing the incentives for the production of quality milk are applicable to Scotland as well as to England and Wales. It is not however proposed to transfer from the Scottish local authorities the functions they now exercise. In Scotland, moreover, the different methods of farming in operation render inadvisable and unnecessary the adoption of the lines of action which I propose to follow for the breeding and rearing of cattle for milk and meat production in England and Wales. The Scottish position with regard to the milk proposals will, of course, be explained in the White Paper.

Arising out of what must appear to the House as a whole to be an exceedingly important statement—

On a point of Order. Is the Minister of Agriculture entitled to make a statement on agriculture in Scotland, and should not this statement, as far as Scotland is concerned, have been made by the Secretary of State for Scotland?

I was about to point out that we have just listened to a very long and very important statement by the Minister of Agriculture. It is extremely difficult to realise the full significance of everything the right hon. Gentleman has said, but in so far as I have been able to grasp his statement, it does seem to out-line a very progressive policy. Is it not the case that the right hon. Gentleman is having a White Paper made available to the House setting forth exactly what he has just stated; and is it necessary, then, for us to have a statement made in this way, when the Minister could point to the fact that a White Paper had been issued by his Department which we can all read?

It seems to me that what my right hon. Friend has done in this case is only right, namely, to give the information to the House. I also agree with the hon. Gentleman that the statement requires a little study, and I think that is a good reason why we should not have a Debate immediately after the statement.

May I be allowed to add that the main reason which actuated me in asking your permission, Mr. Speaker, to make this statement after Questions today, was that a Question was being asked in another place and a similar statement was in any case to be made in another place? I may have been wrong, but I felt it was due to this House that I should give hon. Member an opportunity of hearing that very important announcement, as well as those in another place; and that is really the main reason why I adopted this course.

May I thank the Minister for the action he has taken in allowing us to know of his proposals in this way; and may I ask the Leader of the House when it is proposed to have a Debate upon this agricultural situation, and will the Minister give us full details of his proposals before such a Debate takes place?

I think my right hon. Friend would agree that we should all wish for a little time to study these proposals. When there has been an opportunity of doing that, we can, through the usual channels, examine the question of a Debate.

It could not be during the next serves of Sittings, but I think possibly it might be before the Recess.

May I put this point? The Minister has made a very important statement, containing some interesting proposals, many of which are agreeable to hon. Members on all sides of the House. Can we be assured that the question of when a Debate is to take place will not in any way delay the application of many of these important proposals? Is it the case that if there is to be a Debate, these proposals would not be put into operation until afterwards?

As I have said, one of the most important of these proposals will require legislation, and the reason why I was anxious to make a statement as soon as I could was to inform Members of what I had in mind. I have to negotiate with the local authorities, and I thought that hon. Members of this House would be rather annoyed if they felt that I was negotiating with the local authorities without having told them what I was proposing to do.

I am sure that the whole House, or at any rate all hon. Members, who represent rural constituencies, greatly welcome the statement which has been made. Those interested in both health and agriculture have been asking and waiting for such a statement, and I think it would have been a great mistake if a statement of that kind had not been made to hon. Members of this House. There is one point upon which I wish to ask a question. As this matter involves legislation affecting both England and Scotland, may we assume that this questionable practice of discussing matters on a Supply Day may be considered, so that the matter can be properly discussed and voted upon if necessary?

must confess to some disappointment at the statement. May I ask whether the Minister's scientific advisers have assured him that milk from accredited herds is as safe as pasteurised milk?

I am not going to be drawn into that subject. It is a matter for the Ministry of Food and not for me.

In view of the fact that the Minister has made a statement which might deceive those Members of the House who have no special knowledge of the subject, surely we arc allowed to ask whether the Minister has been advised scientifically on this matter?

If I may venture to offer a word of advice, it would be that Members should read the White Paper. I have given a summary of it, and they will find the proposals set out in much greater detail. Perhaps Questions can be more properly asked after the White Paper has been issued.

I would remind hon. Members that there is to be a Debate on this subject.