HC Deb 07 July 1859 vol 154 cc846-51

Order for Second Reading read.


said, he rose to move the second reading of this Bill, the main object of which was to afford protection to the poor against being imposed on in the purchase of adulterated articles, by empowering local bodies to employ paid analysts. He did not know that it was to be opposed, but if it were now road a second time, anything objectionable contained in it might be remedied.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, he rose to move as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day three months. He had carefully looked into the Bill, and in his opinion it was wholly unfit for its purpose and not one which that House was likely to pass. If it became law, it would establish a very objectionable system of in- forming and spying in respect of articles of food sold in this country, of bringing persons unnecessarily before magistrates, and of causing very great annoyance, for which there was no ground whatever. It was not an advantageous proceeding to treat the people of this country like children, which they would be doing if they assumed a task for which Parliament was incompetent—namely, that of interfering with the ingredients of general food, and thus lead the people to depend upon Parliament instead of on themselves. Such articles of bad food as putrid fish or things of that kind, any one could discover for himself, and if any dealer sold an improper mixture, the party to whom it was sold had his remedy by an indictment or action. The Bill proposed by his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Scholefield) would place a very arbitrary power in the hands of persons who in some cases might be interested in giving annoyance to others. He therefore asked the House to pause before they sanctioned such provisions as were contained in the second clause of this Bill, which empowered the town councils of every municipal borough to appoint one or more persons possessing competent medical, chemical, and microscopical knowledge as analysts of all articles of food and drink, and which would lead to continual controversies between the analysts so appointed and all the other chemists in every town. He thought, however, that the fifth clause was almost calculated to cause as much amusement as the House derived from the Bill introduced some time ago for the prevention of cruelty to animals, for that clause provided that— It shall be lawful for the Privy Council from time to time to cause such analyses to be made, and to make such rules and instructions as the said Privy Council may think fit for regulating the use of any material or ingredient distinct from the natural composition of any article of food or drink with which it may be mixed. That clause seemed to him to interfere with every kitchen. He did not know whether the Privy Council would not, under it, have power to lay down what proportion of water a man might put in his grog. He could not let such a Bill pass sub silentio. When an hon. Member proposed to the House to read a Bill a second time, he ought to be prepared to show that its principle was a good one—that it was at least such an outline as could be filled up in Committee and thus made a good Bill. As that was not the case with the Bill of his hon. Friend, he should move that it be read a second time that day three months.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."


said, he hoped the House would not refuse a second reading to the Bill. Its object was to bring the enlightenment of science to bear on matters deeply affecting the interests of the people. Considering the frightful degree to which food was adulterated, and the amount of evil thereby created, it was high time some remedy was adopted; and, thinking the Bill adequate to that object, he should certainly vote for the second reading.


said, that the objection of his hon. Friend (Mr. Hardy) to the Bill rested mainly upon the fifth section, which, in fact, had nothing to do with the principle of the Bill, and for that matter might be left out altogether. Then his hon. Friend, with a vigour in favour of Free Trade not to be expected from him, said that the House would be stepping out of its province if it attempted to protect the poor man from having his food adulterated. But had they not had poison Bills before the House, and had not those Bills been read with universal assent? Yet they depended equally upon the principle of protecting the poor man. Had his hon. Friend forgotten the Bradford poisoning case? But, if his hon. Friend were correct in his position, there was no reason why the poor man should not have poison mixed with his lozenges. The fact was, that articles of prime necessity, such as tea and sugar, were adulterated to such an extent as materially to affect the health of an enormous portion of the population, and, the poor man being unable to protect himself, he contended that it was the duty of this House to step in and protect him.


was so convinced of the necessity for the Bill, that he should be extremely sorry if it were not permitted to go to a second reading. The practice of adulterating food in this country had become a universal evil, and was a national disgrace. There was, indeed, no country in Europe in which the system was carried to such an extent with impunity. In France, chiefly owing to the stringency of the law on this subject, bread and all the common articles of food could be bought in a state of much greater purity than in this country. The only article of food to be bought unadulterated in a grocer's shop was, he believed, an egg, and that was simply because there was no means of introducing into it deleterious ingredients. In his opinion some means must be found of applying to the quality of food some such regulations as were already enforced with regard to its quantity. If inspectors of weights and measures were employed to protect the poor from being cheated in respect of quantity, why should not some means be taken to afford them protection in respect of quality? He hoped, therefore, that the House would assent to the second reading of the Bill.


said, he was of opinion that if the House rejected the Bill they would perpetuate a great evil. Why, he would ask, had the question come before them at all? Simply because a great injustice was being done to the poor, and the people were actually being poisoned in many instances; a state of things which had induced the House to grant a Committee to inquire into the subject; and if they now refused to take the Bill into consideration the appointment of that Committee would be regarded as a mere mockery. It was absolutely necessary that some measure should pass. Adulteration was carried on to a frightful extent. There was scarcely an article of food on the table of rich or poor that was not adulterated; and he must say that he felt surprised that a gentleman like the hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Crawford), the representative of a vast trading community, should be a party to the opposition to this Bill. He hoped, then, that the House would take it into consideration for the sake of the poor, who were daily and hourly not only robbed, but poisoned, by the retail tradesmen of the country. The details of the measure might not be perfect, but they could he considered and altered when requisite in Committee.


said, he was extremely glad that the hon. Gentleman who had just Bat down had postponed his leave of absence, since he had raised his voice in favour of this measure. It certainly was; one to which no honest tradesman could object. Its principle was perfectly correct, and it would confer great benefit on the poorer classes. He could scarcely think the hon. Member for Leominster was serious in contending that if the poor man, instead of getting a pennyworth of coffee got half of it in chicory, he had his remedy by indicting the retail dealer.


said, he opposed the Bill for the reasons which had been so well stated by the hon. Member for Leominster. His objection was not to its principle, but simply to the means by which it was proposed to carry out that principle, which would lead to infinitely greater evils than the Bill was designed or intended to cure.


aid, he thought that every hon. Member would concur in approving the principle of the Bill. Any such measure emanating from the hon. Member for Birmingham came recommended from a good source; but after carefully examining its clauses, with the sincere desire, if possible, to accede to them, he could not but think that his hon. Friend had on this occasion allowed himself to be misled by evil counsel. His (Sir George Lewis's) objection to the Bill was the extreme vagueness and generality of the provisions it contained, and the absolute impossibility of any magistrate bringing a clear criterion or rule of interpretation to bear upon them. The Bill proposed to create two descriptions of offence. The first was, that every person who should sell, or expose to sale, any article of food or drink in which, in the knowledge of such person, any ingredient or material calculated to injure health had been mixed, should be subjected to a penalty not exceeding so many pounds, and not less than so many shillings. Now, it so happened that various opinions prevailed with regard to what was injurious to health. For example, a certain school of physicians and members of temperance societies held that alcohol, used to whatever extent, was injurious to health; so that if it were mixed with any article of drink, say water, he apprehended that, according to this doctrine, it would be an offence falling within the provisions of this Bill. The second offence was, that every person who should sell or expose to sale as pure and unadulterated any article of food or drink which in the knowledge of such person was adulterated and not pure, should be subjected to such and such a penalty. It did not say that the article was to be deleterious to health. It merely said some article that was foreign to that with which it was mixed. He apprehended, therefore, that if a person sold coffee with which he had mixed chicory, that, too, would be a case of adulteration which would fall within the provisions of the Bill. Then the machinery of the Bill, might be described as equally cumbrous, expensive, and ineffective. Unwholesome meat had been referred to. But the sale of unwholesome meat would not be an offence under the Bill, therefore, though such meat would be prejudicial to health the sale would not be an offence under this Bill. Taking all these things into consideration, he thought no practical benefit would result from the measure, and he should therefore advise the House to negative the Motion.


said, that any one attempting to legislate upon this subject would find himself surrounded by such difficulties as those just pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Lewis), but that was no reason why it should be said that no legislation was required. It only showed the advisability of not entering too much into detail in preparing a measure the object of which was to prevent the evil complained of. It was matter of common knowledge that the evil existed, and that the strong arm of the law was necessary to its eradication. He was inclined to think that the hon. Promoter had been led too far into the intricacies of the question, but the House was considering the principle of the Bill, not its detail; that would be dealt with in Committee. He was prepared to affirm the principle and thus to satisfy the country that they were prepared to try and devise some means by which effect could be given to it. And even if, in Committee, every clause but the first were struck out that clause enunciating the principle that if anybody sold anything that was injurious to health he should be subject to certain penalties, he was of opinion that an important piece of legislation would be effected. He therefore hoped that the House would not throw out the Bill.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided;—Ayes 227; Noes 103: Majority 124.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Wednesday 20th July.