HC Deb 16 June 1869 vol 196 cc1916-38

Order for Second Reading road.


Sir, in moving the second reading of this Bill I fear I must trespass on the patience of the House for some short time, as the subject is one necessarily not familiar to many Members; but I will endeavour to confine myself strictly to showing the existence and extent of the evils against which the Bill is directed, the necessity for legislation, and the reasons why I think the Bill I propose will be effectual. In the remarks I am about to offer it will be, I fear, necessary for me to make statements reflecting seriously on the probity of seedsmen as a class; but I wish to guard myself at the outset from being supposed to imply that there are no honourable exceptions, no men who do and will supply their customers with a pure and genuine article. On the contrary, the Bill owes its origin in a great measure to the desire felt among the principal members of the trade to see this practice formally put an end to, which they have found their own individual efforts unable to cope with. Al- though, as I have said, this subject may not be a very familiar one, I am sure I need not point out at any length the importance to the farmer of having pure and vigorous seed to put into his land. On all arable farms a large proportion, and on many half of the whole produce of the farm depends on the seed and root crops, especially turnips, clover, &c. These are the eases in which the farmer is most extensively defrauded, and they are precisely those in which he is most deficient in the knowledge necessary to protect himself. In wheat, barley, oats. &c., his constant habit of handling at all stages of growth, and comparing samples, render him as good a judge as any professional expert. But in the smaller seeds, which he is seldom able to grow for himself, and where there is infinite variety with very close resemblance, he is almost entirely at the mercy of his seedsman; and this is true of the small farmers even more than of the large farmers. The latter has the means and opportunity generally of going to some seedsman of established reputation, but the little man is obliged to go probably to some small retailer in his immediate neighbourhood—perhaps the only man who will give him credit; and he looks to him very often, not, perhaps, exactly as his "guide, philosopher, and friend." but as a guarantee that the seed sold him is pure, and as an adviser as to what sorts of seed are best suited to the climate and soil of his farm. Now, Sir, the House may take it as an established fact that all well-grown, well-preserved new seeds ought to be capable of germinating to the extent of at least 90 per cent. It is also, I am sorry to say, a fact that of the seeds sold to the farmer— especially turnip seed—as a rule not more than 60 or 70 per cent is capable of germinating, and frequently not nearly so much; in other words, at least one-third of them are rubbish. This part of the subject was carefully tested about ton years ago by Professor Buckman, in a series of experiments, the result of which was that of ten picked samples of turnip seed, 92 per cent came up, 8 per cent failed; of ten market samples, said to be sold just as they were received from the wholesale dealer, 68 per cent came up, 32 per cent failed; of eight market samples of swede turnips, 24.S per cent failed; of twenty samples of common and swede turnips, obtained direct from wholesale dealers, 70.2 per cent came up, 29.8 per cent failed. Within the last few months a sub-committee of the Royal Horticultural Society instituted a further series of experiments, the results of which curiously corroborate those of Professor Buckman. They procured samples from nearly all the wholesale dealers in London, and they found that of white turnip seed, on an average, 74 per cent came up and 26 failed; of yellow turnip seed 66⅔ came up, while 33⅓, or exactly one-third of the whole failed; while of other sorts of less. Though still of great importance, of cauliflower or brocoli, only 51 per cent, or little more than half, came up; and of carrots—which, however, are rather an exceptional crop—actually less than 40 per cent germinated, showing that 60 per cent, or three-fifths, was valueless. So I think I am warranted in my statement—that of the seed sold to the farmer at least one-third is rubbish, which never comes up at all; and. if any further proof of this were needed I might adduce the fact that where a farmer does grow his own seed he uses fully one-third less on his land than he would of bought seed. This, then, is one branch of my subject; one great, complaint against the seedsmen, that of the see sold by them a large proportion has in it no vitality at all. The other is that of that which has vitality a great deal is not what it is represented to be, but is the seed of inferior species, frequently spurious sorts and mere weeds, which either naturally bears—or by artificial means has been made to bear—so close a resemblance to the genuine as to be undistinguishable by the ordinary purchaser. Now, Sir, I may say at once that with the admixture of seeds inferior, indeed, but bearing a natural resemblance to that with which they are mixed, this Bill does not in any way profess to deal. I am quite aware of the extent of this evil; I know, for instance, that sainfoin is adulterated with the seed of a strong rank-growing weed called burnet to such an extent that by the third year this has completely choked out the sainfoin, and not more than 5 per cent of sainfoin is left. I. know that in a bushel of clover seeds the weed seeds are frequently to be counted by the 1,000,000, and the weed plants which they produce in an acre by the 100,000. I know that plantain seed is unblushingly largely mixed with clover and sold at full price, though worth at most only half. But these are cases which I hold it is impossible to touch by legislation. You cannot draw the line between fraud and carelessness, or even between intentional adulteration and unavoidable impurities, and the purchaser must look out for himself. So, too, I may say that I do not propose to deal with seeds which have lost their vitality simply by being kept too long, although I have been very strongly urged to do so, and some parties, whose authority I cannot but respect, think that unless they are included the Bill will be virtually inoperative. I know the injury done in this way is enormous: the temptation to the fraud lies in the uncertainty of and precarious nature of the crop of most seeds, and the profit which is consequently to be obtained by buying cheap in a good year when there is a glut, and holding over to sell dear in a year when there is a scarcity, either alone or mixed with new seed. I should be very glad indeed if I could meet this evil, but I do not think it is possible, for the germinating power continues in different sorts of seeds for very different periods of time, and varies in the same sorts tinder different circumstances. Sometimes old seed is even better than new. All seeds from which oil may be extracted preserve their vitality for a number of years, if well harvested and stored in a dry warehouse, and well-known instances of mummy wheat which has germinated after being laid by for thousands of years will readily occur to the minds of hon. Members. So, great as I know these evils to be, I fear I must leave them alone; indirectly I do, to some extent, hope to reach them; for, if I can prevent the use of killed seed less seed will be stored, and the actual supply of old dead seed will not be enough to do much harm, besides which it generally betrays its presence by its appearance. This Bill is directed solely towards the suppression of practices which, beyond all contradiction and all possibility of mistake, constitute wilful, intentional, and deliberate fraud; and there are— first, the killing of spurious worthless seeds, on the principle that "dead men tell no tales," in order to mix them with and increase the bulk of parcels of valuable seeds, to which they bear a natural resemblance; secondly, the doctoring, without much regard to the power of germination, of inferior seeds, by colouring, sulphur smoking, &c, so as to give them the appearance of, and mixing them with, and selling them at the price of, seeds of a superior quality. Now, Sir, through the investigations to which. I have before alluded, it has become notorious that these manipulations have been for many years past a regular and distinct branch of the seed trade. Some six or eight, manufactories, I believe, exist solely for the purpose of doctoring and killing these seeds and supplying them to the seedsmen, among whom the dead seed is perfectly well-known and recognized under the name of "trio" or 000. This, I believe, is scarcely denied by the trade; but that I may not be suspected of making accusations which I cannot substantiate, I will quote a letter published in Professor Buckman's Science and Practice of Farm Cultivation, which he says was addressed to a most respectable firm—

"Southampton, April 27, 1860.

"Gentlemen,— Being in possession of a new and improved method of killing seed without the use of any chemicals, so that the seed when in a 000 stale, has not that unpleasant smell it has when killed by the old method, and does not look perished if it be crushed, A man, by the new process, may kill ten or twelve quarters per day, and the apparatus is so constructed that it is impossible for a single seed to leave it alive; and one great advantage is that if you want a. sack of 000 seed in a hurry, you may kill a sack of rape or turnip, or any seed, and have it fit for use in an hour. Seed, in the process of killing, increases in measure and weight, and when you send it out to be killed of course the seed-killer keeps the extra weight and measure. If you think it worth your attention I will send you a small working model, so that you may kill a few pounds of kale or canllflower, or any small seeds, in a few minutes, and instructions for making a large one, on receipt of a post office order for £2—Yours truly,


To this Messrs. Sutton added that they had called from curiosity at the address given, and ascertained that "it was no hoax, but were assured by the inventor that he had supplied several tradesmen with the apparatus, and was formerly in the seed trade himself." Professor Buck man afterwards tried to procure some 000 seed. I was told by a most respectable London firm that "although perfectly well-known, I understood, in the trade they do not care to have it known beyond. Our asking for a small quantity will be sure to lead to the question, What do we want it for? We could obtain a large quantity without hesitation." If any further proof is wanted, I might refer to letters which appeared in the Gardener's Chronicle last November, and in The Times on the 13th of March last, written by one of the original promoters of this Bill—himself a seedsman—who there publicly charges the trade with being guilty of these practices, and challenges them to deny it, which they have scarcely attempted to do. The utmost they have ventured to say is that everybody can have genuine seeds who is willing to pay for them: thus apparently presuming that the public know that adulterated seeds are the rule, and that genuine seeds must be specially asked for. These frauds prevail extensively in all sorts of root-crops, cauliflowers, cabbages, &c., &c. but chiefly in the most important ones of turnip and clover seed. Large quantities of German or Indian rubsen or rape-seed, and inferior samples of English rape, are lulled by steaming and kiln-drying for mixing with English turnip seed, the rape being worth about 50s. a quarter, the turnip seed £10. Trefoil, worth 16s. per cwt, is killed for mixing with red clover—worth 80s. to 90s. per cwt—and cow grass, and died pale yellow or purple to suit: the sample for which it is intended. Cheap brown white clover seed is prepared with sulphur, which gives it a bright straw-colour resembling that of the finest quality with which it is mixed; the same with alsyke, brocoli, cauliflower, &c., which are adulterated with killed turnip or rape seed often not one-twentieth of the value. It has been estimated that 40,000 to 50,000 bushels of prepared seed are annually used for mixing with turnip seed, and many hundred tons of spurious clover seed. What the loss to the country involved by this may be I cannot pretend to calculate. I think I have now established the existence and enormity of these frauds, and I have to deal with the question—Why is legislation necessary? Why cannot the seedsmen themselves act honestly by their customers, and at once put an end to these malpractices? I fear that, as one of the public, in whose interest alone I have taken up this Bill. I can only reply—they do not; and, judging from experience, until they are compelled by law the majority of them will not. That there are some honourable exceptions I have already stated; that among all the more respectable members of the trade there exists a strong desire to put an end to these frauds I firmly believe, but with too many of them circumstances are stronger than their inclinations; they toll you that these frauds are the "traditional custom of the trade," that the present generation of seedsmen have not originated them, but have "succeeded to them as a fatal heritage"—a burden which they cannot cast off. They think, and perhaps with some reason, that customers are not yet sufficiently enlightened to know that it is cheapest in the end to give a good price for a good article, and they fear that if they restrict themselves to soiling pure seed at a necessarily high price, they will at once be under-sold by more unscrupulous men, and that the only result will be to ruin their own businesses without advantage to the public. They contend that "any effort for good must not be limited to the voluntary abstinence of individuals, but must be compulsory and of universal application;" and to prove the sincerity of their desire that such an effort should be made, they warmly promote this Bill. This, then, Sir, is my case for the Bill; I have established the existence of a great evil, beyond the power of individuals to cope with, and for which the remedy now provided by law—a civil action—is so tedious and expensive that practically it is seldom resorted to. It only remains for me to show why I think the remedy I propose —summary conviction—will be effectual, and perhaps the strongest argument I can use will be to read a circular lately addressed to the various seed-houses by one of the individuals whose business consists in manipulating seed for them. His speciality, I am informed, is killing rubsen seed — Gentlemen,—In consequence of the Bill now before Parliament for the suppression of my trade, and the agitation that has been going on for the last eighteen months, I am compelled to solicit your sympathy and support in my behalf, as the passing of the above Act will be my total ruin, and Also a. heavy sacrifice in my machinery, &c., &c., part of which has recently been laid out to enable me to conduct my business more perfectly, the nature of which you are fully aware. Knowing this, and the number of years that my father and myself hare faithfully served and con-ducted any work you have put into our hands, I trust that you will lake this memorial into your kind consideration, and give it all the support which lays in your power. I am, gentlemen, your obedient servant, "T. S. This is the opinion of one to whom the Bill comes home more nearly and vitally perhaps than anyone else, and I venture to think that this by itself is almost sufficient proof that it will he effectual. I do not believe there will be any great difficulty in carrying it out. The Royal Horticultural Society, it is time, say there are no means of knowing whether a seed has been killed or died a natural death; but I am told, on the contrary, that it is as easy for an experiment, by cutting the seed in two, as to see whether a potato has been cooked or not. At any rate, the wholesale dealers have ample means by their experience and technical knowledge, and by proof-rooms and proof-beds, of testing the quality of the seed which conies into their possesssion; so that if what they sell is adulterated it must be with their knowledge. If you can make them send out pure seed, the retailer as a rule will sell it exactly as he receives it; or, if he is inclined to cheat, he will not find it easy to obtain doctored seed. The British manipulator will have been put an end to; it will be unsafe to keep in stock large quantities of foreign 000; and the expense of procuring it in small parcels, or of sending seed to be mixed abroad, will destroy the profit; moreover, there is a difficulty in mixing small quantities —if not done artistically the fraud is sure to be detected. That my remedy is perfect I do not pretend; but I believe it will be effectual as far as it goes; and that it will not do more than it professes to do. The proviso in the 6th clause is. I think, wide enough to protect all legitimate operations of trade, but if not I shall be glad to amend it with that view, and the same with regard to the other clauses. I now ask the House with some confidence to assist me in the suppression of a system of rascality which has this aggravation above ordinary frauds, that it is impossible to discover the full effect of the cheat till the mischief is irretrievably wrought: and to assent to the second reading of a Bill which seeks to encourage the honest and deter the dishonest trader, to protect the ignorant or unwary customer, and ultimately to increase the provision of food for the community at large.


, in seconding the Motion, said, he thought the House must feel indebted to the hon. Member for South Lincolnshire (Mr. Welby) for having introduced the Bill, and he hoped the Government would allow it to be read a second time. But, inasmuch as the subject was surrounded with very great difficulties, and was entirely new to Parliament, he trusted his hon. Friend (Mr. Welby) would consent to the Bill being sent to a Select Committee, that the House might be informed as to the facts of the case. He understood that kiln-dried seed was used for food. No doubt the mixing of such seed with seed that was to be sown should be prohibited; but it might be desirable, or, at all events, not improper, that seed should be dried for the purpose of being used as food; and there might be other cases in which processes, illegitimate if used for fraud, would be perfectly legitimate if designed and executed for an innocent purpose. A Select Committee would be able to furnish the House with evidence upon such points, and prevent Parliamentary condemnation of perfectly legitimate processes.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Welly.)


said, it was impossible to deny that the evils the hon. Member (Mr. Welby) hoped to put an end to by this Bill were of a very serious character. It was difficult to say how the custom of mixing seed arose; probably it commenced by the not altogether reprehensible practice of mixing old with new seed to equalize the prices, which the fraudulent had followed up by adulterating genuine seed with killed seed. If, as was said, there were manufactories used only for the purpose of preparing such seed, he thought that the matter was one that the House might be called upon to legislate on. But he must take some exception to the form of the Bill. The 3rd clause made it illegal to mix seeds, and the 4th clause said that it should be illegal to have possession of such seeds for sale. These were very general provisions. No doubt the 6th clause contained a number of exemptions from the operation of the previous clauses, but the effect of all the clauses was to throw the onus of proof of exemption upon the accused. He thought the Bill was not in a shape in which it would be safe for the House to pass it, and, therefore, he hoped that it would be referred to a Select Committee, with power to take evidence upon the subject, in order that the facts might be substantiated before legislation. He would observe that the Horticultural Society had expressed the opinion that the public was often deceived by the practice, arising from ignorance as often as from dishonesty—of keeping seeds until their germinating power was destroyed by age—and the same society passed a minute, only yesterday, approving the principle of the Bill; but remarking that it did not go far enough, because it did not take sufficient precautions against the sale of seeds which had died a natural death. The true cause of all this fraud was the gradual lowering of the standard of seeds, and the remedy was to be found in some process of raising the standard, as had been done by the Royal Highland Agricultural Society with respect to manures. This society had adopted the practice of purchasing samples of manures from different vendors, testing the quality and publishing the results. He recommended some similar process to cheek the adulteration of seed in preference to the adoption of criminal proceedings, the expediency of which he doubted, especially as they had not proved satisfactory in dealing with the adulteration of food. Very few prosecutions were carried on under the Acts for the suppression of adulterating food, and there was a Bill now before the House for instituting a system of State inspection. The discussions which had arisen on this subject would be useful in considering this Bill; but, as it was most desirable the House should have full evidence before it as to the facts complained of, he hoped the hon. Member would consent to the Bill going before a Select Committee.


said, he hoped the Bill would be read a second time and proceeded with by the House, instead of being sent to a Select Committee. The facts wore notorious among those interested in the seed trade, and amounted to a system of unmitigated rascality. To send the Bill to a Select Committee would be to shelve it for the Session. People could not be made honest by Act of Parliament; but, he would observe, that the evil they sought to put a stop to was that hundreds of quarters of seeds were annually killed in large manufactories put up for the purpose, and this they could easily stop. He would rather see coiners of false money at large than permit this great wrong to continue; because, in the case of a counterfeit coin, the loss was apparent and definite, but in the case of seed the loss was not discovered until the farmer found he had no crop; besides this immediate loss the injury was continued for several years with more or less effect. The smaller farmers were especially open to this fraud, because a spirit of false economy had led them to give low prices and deal with small traders, who knew no more about seed than he did about law. Much had been said about old seeds, but it was a fact that seeds, properly kept, retained their germinating powers for years; he, at present, had a crop of turnips coming up well from seeds seven years old; and if the House wished to apply the test of age to seeds it would have to go back to the time of the Pharoahs. There was a marked difference between the case of adulterating seeds and other things, feeding stuffs, for instance. The farmer knew his oilcake was not all linseed, but adulterated with bran; that his nitrate of soda was mixed with salt, and his ground bones with oyster shells; but little harm resulted beyond that of short measure. The ease of adulterated seed was different; it might even go far to ruin a small man. With reference to the proceedings of the Royal Highland Agricultural Society in their detection of adulterated manures, he observed that they stopped short at an important point, and omitted to publish the names of those firms selling the spurious article. He believed no thorough remedy would be obtained until we had a public prosecutor, but in the meantime he hoped the Government would assist the passage of this Bill, and in the name of the farmers he demanded it as a right.


said, he wished to give his hearty support to the Bill. He concurred with the hon. Member for Southeast Norfolk (Mr. Read) that it ought to be passed at once without any reference to a Select Committee. The facts of adulteration were patent; and could not be called in question. The "innocent purposes" alluded to by the hon. Member for Boston (Mr. Collins) had been provided for in the 6th section, and he could not conceive what facts the hon. Member wanted the Committee to substantiate, because this work would be done by the courts of justice in every case that came before them. The Committee of the Whole House were able to do anything that was requisite to make the Bill more efficient, and there ought to be no delay in putting an end to these frauds on the poor farmer.


said, the proper time for deciding whether the Bill should be sent to a Select Committee was after it had been read a second time; but he would observe upon this point that, although it would be tantamount to throwing the Bill out to send it before a Select Committee with instructions to take evidence as to facts, yet to send it to a Select Committee only for the purpose of amendment would be to facilitate its passage. He recommended the hon. Member in charge of the measure (Mr. Welby) to do his best to meet the objections raised by the Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) before the next stage; if this were done the Bill might proceed; if not, it would then be open to the Secretary to the Board of Trade to raise the question of sending the Bill to a Select Committee-— a necessity, however, which he hoped the House would be spared.


said, it was scarcely possible to exaggerate the evil of the system which the Bill sought to put an end to, either in its nature or the extent to which it prevailed. But he had great doubts whether the Bill provided an effectual remedy. There were difficulties under the present law, in proving the offence, and it would not be easier to secure a conviction under a penal statute than in a civil action. Would it be easy to prove whether seed that had lost its vitality had been heated purposely by a kiln, or naturally, in the rick, or. in the case of foreign seed, in the ship which brought it here. He should not however, oppose the second reading, but he hoped the hon. Member who had charge of the Bill (Mr. Welby) would do his best to meet the difficulties which he (Mr. Henley; had pointed out; and he would be most happy to afford, every assistance in his power to make the Bill efficacious. He feared, however, it would never have much practical effect, and that it might prove a delusion, and even give greater impunity than at present to the rogues who sold bad seed.


said, he must offer his thanks to the hon. Member (Mr. Welby) for introducing the Bill, in which the small occupiers of Ireland were especially interested, though many of them were ignorant of the existence of the evil it sought to remedy On this account he would prefer a Select Committee to take evidence on the subject with a view to circulate the information throughout the country, The objection that criminal prosecutions would not be undertaken under this Bill would not hold good as regards Ireland; be-cause there the Crown prosecutor would undertake them, and for this reason the Irish farmers would be better protected by a penal than a civil remedy. He would counsel delay rather than immature legislation.


said, that the North of Ireland was more interested in the measure even than other parts of the country, because of the great care necessary in the preparation of the flax seed. In Ireland the large landlords who had the interest of their tenants at heart usually purchased largo quantities of good seed, which they distributed among their tenants, and in almost every instance the money was repaid with the greatest alacrity, and the practice was regarded as the greatest benefit. The small farmers, however, had to depend upon the tradesmen of the neighbouring towns, and anything more uncertain than the quality of the seed which they sold it would be impossible to mention. Although the Bill might not prevent the adulteration of seeds or misrepresentations as to the places where seeds were grown, he thought that if it were amended in Committee it might be made a good measure, and the hon. Members who had introduced it were entitled to the thanks of the community.


said, they had some experience which might throw light on this question in connection with the Adulteration of Food Act, which they all knew had proved a dead letter. If the farmers of England chose to combine in order to purchase seeds they had the remedy in their own hands. There was no excuse for adulteration on the ground of small profits, because the profit made by the retailer on the wholesale price was over 30 per cent, and it was known from experiment that the average adul- teration was about 50. The question was a serious one in this respect, that the tendency of adulteration was to drag down the holiest to the level of the dishonest dealer. He believed that there was in the seed trade a real and earnest desire among respectable houses to put down this practice, and he had no doubt they would do their utmost to make the Bill work successfully: but he had the greatest possible doubt whether, like the Adulteration of Food Act., it would not prow a failure. Then it was a question whether the publication of the analysis with the name of the vender might not render the parties who published it open to a charge of libel. Even the publication of an analysis of the adulterated article would be of no use unless side by side with it, there was also published another analysis showing what the genuine article should be composed of. The publication of an analysis ought to be made a privileged publication. When strong language was used between a dealer and a farmer who found himself taken in, the seedsman might threaten an action for libel, and the farmer was generally so much afraid of law that he would not go further. Much good, however, might be done by means of societies like the Royal Horticultural. Though he should vote for the second reading he was of opinion that unless the greatest care was taken the measure would prove a dead letter.


said, the members of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce were unanimously in favour of legislation on this subject. The seedsmen of Belfast also anxiously desired that a Bill should be passed upon it. He hoped the Government would not oppose the second reading, and that the Bill would not be shelved.


Sir, I did not hear the observations of my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Shaw Lefevre); but if any Member of the House gathered from them, which I think he could not, that the Department with which he and I are connected is opposed to the second reading of this Bill, he made a great mistake, because there can be no doubt, I think—I can have no doubt, from the statement;; made to me by two very important deputations—that there is a grievance of considerable magnitude in connection with this question, and it would very ill become me to ask the House of Commons not to deal with this grievance in a manner in which it is accustomed to deal with other evils and other grievances which exist in the country. The real question, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Plymouth. (Mr. Morrison), is whether this Bill would be of great use. If it can be shown that it would be of great use, by all means pass it; but, as this is a new question, I think it is at least desirable that the House should make some inquiry to ascertain the extent of the grievance, the mode in which it arises, and whether the Bill as it now stands, or as it may be altered, or whether any Bill, can be a sufficient remedy for the evil which is complained of. The House must bear in mind that the Bill does not refer at all to what the Royal Horticultural Society describes as a great portion of the evil. It refers only to those seeds that are intentionally killed for the purpose of adulteration and deception. It does not deal with the keeping of seed until it becomes old and has lost its germinating power. Now, the Royal Horticultural Society, in their Report, say that that is the main portion of the grievance, and yet that is what the Bill entirely ignores. Let the House bear in mind what are the difficulties of this question. The hon. Member who moved the second reading of the Bill (Mr. Welby) and the hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Read) must know a great deal more about it than I know, for what I know has been gathered chiefly from the deputations I have seen on this subject; but they tell me, and it is quite clear, that the seed of a certain harvest is very much better than that of another harvest—very much better in one farm than in another farm; in fact, that it varies from causes which we not only cannot control, but which we cannot in the smallest degree comprehend; that if seed is too long kept it becomes of no value, and for purposes of adulteration it is as injurious as seed that is actually killed. It is impossible, in many cases, to say whether the seed has died naturally or has been killed by some artificial process. Seeds in different seasons will be of different colours, and it is not always possible to tell whether the seed has been coloured by the dealer for the purpose of deception, or whether it has been coloured by the circumstances of the harvest. When there is no crop, or a bad crop, from seed which a farmer has put into the ground, it is no longer in his possession, and it is impossible for him to tell whether the failure is owing to some peculiarity in the soil or of the season. I will undertake to say that the most honest seedsman in England, and, I think, the most honest fanner, if we had him here, would admit that he might put seed from the same sack into two different fields, not more than a quarter of a mile apart, and yet the result in in one held might, from causes which cannot be explained, be, in many cases, double, and often more than double that in the other field. I mention these things to show that this is not a simple question, but one of the most complicated kind, which the learned men of the Horticultural Society themselves are just as much puzzled about as I who am most unlearned on the matter may be expected to be. The sub-committee of the Horticultural Society, at the close of their Report, explain a plan by which fanners can easily, if they like, ascertain before seed is put into the ground whether the seed be good seed or not. They say they have considered the various modes of testing seeds which are known to them, and that which they feel inclined to recommend as, on the whole, the easiest, cleanliest, least troublesome, and most likely to be acceptable to the general public, is the placing of the seeds between folds of moist flannel, and keeping them in the temperature of a sitting room or kitchen for a few days. It may not answer for all seeds, but it answers perfectly for most kinds, and any seed that gives a good return tinder it may be depended on as certain not to give a worse result when actually sown. They say an idea of its efficiency may be gathered from a trial of it made by one of the committee, upon 100 seeds of one of (he sorts whoso average of good seed had in previous trials been found to be seventy-live. The method recommended gave twenty-five seeds germinating on the third day, twenty-three on the fourth, sixteen on the fifth, nine on the sixth, and three on the seventh—total, seventy-six. That is to say, 100 seeds, producing seventy-five fruitful seeds in the earth under the most careful circumstances, had produced seventy-six fruitful seeds when tried between these layers of moist flannel. The Council recommend that this plan should be made as widely known, and its practice be as strongly inculcated, as possible. Now, although that is quite true, and although it may be important that all farmers should know it, and I have read it here that it might be more extensively known, still it does not does not follow that if Parliament can legislate so as to put an end to this evil. Parliament should not do so. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), Mho, besides being a statesman of great authority in this House, is somehow or other, I do not know whether from education or from a natural qualification, very much of a lawyer. [Laughter.] I hope the right hon. Gentleman does not think that I am saying what is unfair to him in saying that, for I often wish myself that I were a lawyer; it would add to one's power of discussing many questions in this House — the right hon. Gentleman has laid before the House some difficulties of this Bill. He is of opinion—and I think all persons connected with trade who have considered the matter calmly are of opinion—that the Bill as it stands—and I am not sure it would not be true of any Bill—will be a very great embarrassment in trade. I have seen, this morning, one of the most extensive seedsmen in the kingdom, and I believe he is one of the most honourable. He says the evils which are complained of are greatly diminishing, and that, with regard to some particular branches of the trade, they may be said altogether to have become extinct; and he feels that the greater intelligence of farmers, and the greater necessity they feel of being careful on this matter, will of itself tend greatly to diminish or remove the evil altogether, and that legislation is not necessary. He says that whatever good legislation on this subject might do. it would be accompanied with this great evil—it would put some thousands of persons in peril of litigation, from which they are now to a considerable degree exempt—litigation which would be not only wholly unsatisfactory to the dishonest, but most unsatisfactory and embarrassing to the honest tradesman. One gentleman who has written to me, but asks me not to mention his name, says that he sued a farmer for 19s., a debt of three years' standing. The farmer retaliated by bringing an action against him, charging him with having sold to him fourteeen pennyworth of Swedish turnip seed, being 2 lbs. in weight, which he was to sow in an acre and a-half of ground. The farmer accused him of selling seed that was not honest. [An hon. MEMBER: Perhaps he did not sow enough.] The gentleman tells me that in defending that action he had occasion to spend £166; that the farmer claimed for damages £100. which would be more than enough to buy the fee simple of the acre and a-half in which he sowed the 2 lbs. of seed; and a Dorsetshire jury gave a verdict for £12. The 3rd clause of the Bill makes it penal to destroy or kill seed, or to cause seed to be destroyed or killed by any process, with a view to dishonest practices. But even with regard to that clause, how could it be carried out? One of the deputations that waited on me told me they believed there was one place in London in which not less than 1,000 tons of seed had been killed in a year. [An hon. MEMBER: Quarters.] I will take quarters, if you like. They told me there are many places in which seeds are killed, Others tell me that is a gross exaggeration, and that probably there is only one known place in London where this is done, and that generally the practice is very much dying out. But how are you to manage to carry out this clause unless you appoint inspectors? The Bill does not propose to appoint inspectors. And if you appointed inspectors you would have one-half of the population inspecting the other half. If the Bill appointed inspectors there would be no end of patronage for my right hon. Friend at the Home Office. But when you come to Clause 4, there appears the technical objection mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley). It proposes to enact that anyone "knowingly" doing the things prohibited by the Bill shall be subject to a penalty; but how are you to prove that the seed dealers throughout the country have "knowingly" done this and that? This word "knowingly" is very like "corruptly" in the Corrupt Practices Act, which vitiated the entire Bill. The Bill does not apply to seed that comes from the Continent; and yet one-half of the seed sown in this country may come from abroad It is impossible in many cases to distinguish what is good seed and what is bad—what is bad through the act of man, or what is bad owing to the climate or the harvest. The question is. what ought the House to do? I am bound to admit there is considerable mischief existing. The deputation of the Horticultural Society, and a large deputation that attended at the Board of Trade, slated facts which it would be absurd in me to deny with so little knowledge as I have of the matter. At the same time there are most honourable seedsmen who are opposed to this legislation. This very day I have received a letter from the oldest firm of seedsmen in London, that is the firm of Minier, Nash, and Nash, in the Strand. Nobody will say that they are not a most respectable house. They have been in the same premises for 200 years. They say— It is well known that seeds often fail in growth from causes beyond the merchant's control. One man will get a good crop, and another almost a failure, from the same bulk of seed. It would, therefore, be a most intolerable nuisance that a party could go before a magistrate and make a charge that we had sold him adulterated seed, leaving us to make out our case to the contrary, which would be an utter impossibility, seeing that the seed might have gone through a dozen hands from the time it left the grower in Germany or elsewhere. I mention this to show that this is not a question to be dealt with suddenly by two or three clauses in a Bill which have not been fully considered. Therefore, as it is undesirable that we should pass a law that would have no effect, and would be a delusion to those for whom it was supposed to be a benefit, I think it is well that after the Bill has passed a second reading it should be referred to a Committee. This, fortunately, is not a question of party. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Brand), if he were a Member of that Committee, would see that everything fair was done with regard to this matter. Hon. Gentlemen opposite connected with agriculture would be disposed to consider the subject fairly in that Committee, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire could give them valuable assistance. The hon. Baronet the Member for King's County (Sir Patrick O'Brien) said he did not consider there would be much harm in having the Bill considered, though it might put off legislation to next year. Well, the delay to next year is no great delay. The discussion of the subject will of itself do some good, but we do not want to delay legislation for a month, or a week. We are anxious—I am very anxious—that we should not do anything in legislation which is not carefully considered, and full of effect, as far as good effect is concerned. I hope, therefore, the hon. Member (Mr. Welby) Mill have his Bill read a second time, and agree to have it sent to a Select Committee. I do not wish that in that Committee every person should be examined who wants to be heard, or that we should make a large blue book out of the evidence: but there are many important questions upon which we can have evidence, and there are some witnesses in the trade who would have a right to be heard in that Committee in answer to some points raised in the discussion here to-day. If the hon. Member agrees to that. I will give my consent to the second reading: and I congratulate the House most heartily that there is a fair prospect of something being done to put an end to a grievance which is a great loss to the farmers, and very discreditable to a large branch of trade.


, as the representative of an agricultural constituency, tendered his thanks to his hon. Friend (Mr. Welby) for having introduced this measure, and he was sure the ability he had shown in stating the case would justify the confidence which they felt in having it in his hands. He was glad, notwithstanding the strong speech which the President of the Board of Trade had made against the Bill, that he was prepared to support the second reading; and if the ability which the right hon. Gentleman had shown in discussing the measure were applied to improving it. he had no doubt that they might pass the Bill this Session without any complaint on the part of those affected by it. On a former occasion the right hon. Gentleman had said that the principal function of the post which he enjoyed was to give advice, which nobody followed. But in this case the right hon. Gentleman might give advice with a bettor result, and turn his Department to some practical use. The right hon. Gentleman had said that he was unlearned in the subject; but all must admit that he had shown considerable aptitude in acquiring knowledge upon it. The right hon. Gentleman had mentioned the different circumstances which might affect the reproductive character of seeds, and pointed out the difficulties which might arise if all persons who sold seeds which did not germinate were liable to a criminal process. But this Bill did not profess to deal with seeds the failure of which in productiveness arose from circumstances over which the vendors had no control. The Bill only dealt with seeds "knowingly" destroyed or coloured, and therefore the objections of the right hon. Gentleman, though exceedingly plausible, did not really apply to the particular provisions of the Bill. His hon. Friend himself in introducing the Bill admitted that the evil was one the greater part of which no legislation could touch; but this Bill professed to deal with those cases which legislation could touch—namely, the fraudulent adulteration of seeds. He did not know where the establishments were situated which killed and coloured seeds, but he thought there must be one at Boston; because his hon. Friend who represented that borough (Mr. Collins) was so exceedingly anxious that the measure should not go forward this Session, He had no doubt that under the 3rd clause there would be very little difficulty in locking up the establishments set up for carrying on this fraudulent trade. As to the cost of prosecutions, it was not proposed that cases should go before a jury, but that they should be decided by two ordinary magistrates, or one stipendiary magistrate. He hoped that the President; of the Board of Trade would assist his hon. Friend in putting the Bill in such a shape as that the Mouse could accept it even though it might be afterwards referred to a Select Committee. Where it was a question of agricultural seeds which affected the whole community, because it affected the price of the food of the whole population, the President of the Board of Trade might surely take it upon himself to give every assistance to his hon. Friend.


said, he was aware of the great difficulties with which this question was surrounded, and he had often wondered, in walking through one of those magnificent displays of seeds seen in agricultural exhibitions that the practice of adulteration did not prevail to a much greater extent than was actually the case. Any one who walked down through the long rows of bags of various kinds of seed displayed in these exhibitions must have an extremely practised eye to be able to distinguish one from another. But there was no doubt that a grievance existed of a most cruel and abominable character, which that House ought to do all it could to put an end to. He was glad that no opposition was offered by the Government to the second reading of the Bill; but the question was really how to give effect to it; and. if his right hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt; had not already made the suggestion, he should have ventured to recommend that the Board of Trade should take counsel with the hon. Member who had charge of the Bill (Mr. Welby), and see whether or no any other machinery could be devised for giving practical effect to the measure, without at the same time exciting unnecessary litigation and throwing the whole trade into confusion. He was sure that any one who took the trouble to read the 4th and 5th clauses would see that they were absolutely unwork-able as they stood. In the first place there was the word "knowingly." which would give rise to the greatest difficulty; and then there was no limitation laid clown as to time, whether it was within a week or three months after the seed was bought, or whether the buyer had to wait until the harvest was over before he could bring his action. It was easy to see that under these clauses as they stood the greatest injustice might be perpetrated on a most honourable seedsman, who might have in his possession seeds imported from abroad which he could not know to be adulterated without a most careful analysis, for which he might have to provide a very costly machinery. While, there- fore, the House was bound to afford every reasonable protection to those who could not protect themselves, on the other hand it was also bound to take care that that Bill or any Bill was not made the means of vexatious litigation and unjust pressure upon a class of persons, many of whom he knew to be highly respectable tradesmen, and to be strongly in favour of the Bill. It was therefore a simple practical question which the Government had to determine —whether they should be able between the second reading and the tune for going into Committee to frame such clauses as might render the Bill operative before sending it to a Select Committee.


said, he could not conceive a more wicked fraud than that of adulterating the seed on which the staff of life depended; but though he had every sympathy with the object the promoters had in view, he doubted if it could be accomplished by legislative enactment. For instance, the 3rd clause would have the effect of closing dishonest establishments for colouring seeds in England, but would have no effect on such manufactories abroad. He objected to the 4th and 5th clauses which, unless greatly modified, would improperly interfere with legitimate trade; and he believed the real remedy was to be found in greater care and caution on, the part of the farmers in making their purchases. He thought the promoters of the Bill Mould do wisely in accepting the offer of the Government to refer the Bill to a Select Committee.


said, the Bill had been received favourably in Scotland, but it was considered to require Amendments.


said, he rejoiced to perceive that there existed so general a concurrence of opinion that some early legislation on the subject was desirable. He was not unwilling to admit that considerable modifications might be required in the measure in order to bring it into a working shape. That subject had been thoroughly ventilated for several months past, and as far as the facts relating to it were concerned, they were not denied; and it was scarcely necessary to take evidence in reference to them. If it should be deemed requisite he should not object to the Bill going before a Select Committee, provided the Committee were instructed to confine its attention to the re-casting of the clauses of the measure.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Wednesday next.