HC Deb 05 March 1869 vol 194 cc718-36

in rising to call attention to the state of the Law as regards the use of False Weights and Measures and the Adulteration of Food, Drink and Drugs, said, this was a most important question, and one which affected the interests of gentlemen who lived in comfortable houses at the West End, quite as much as it did those who lived in garrets in St. Giles's. The subject was an old and trite one. If he recollected rightly, Mr. Scholefield the late Member for Birmingham had brought one portion of the question before the House, and had succeeded in passing a Bill upon it, and on the latter portion of the Motion his successor had also introduced a Bill last year, which had obtained a second reading, but was not passed into law. The hon. Member for Frome (Mr. Hughes) had also brought forward a Motion on the subject of weights and measures, but from whatever reason it might be, whether it was from the inherent difficulties of the question or from the fact that the Government of the day had been always unwilling to undertake so difficult a task, all the well-intentioned efforts of hon. Members to legislate upon the matter satisfactorily, or to rouse public attention to the present state of the law had hitherto proved fruitless. When he asked himself why it was that this great nation, which boasted itself to be so practical and which was always ready to take up the grievances of other people, had submitted so tamely to this monstrous and increasing evil, the only answer he could give was that what was everybody's business became nobody's. But if any hon. Member doubted the magnitude of the evil, he would refer him to a Return which he had moved for last Session, of the number of convictions for the use of fraudulent weights and measures in the metropolitan districts between the 1st of July, 1867, and the 1st of January, 1868. According to that Return there were no less than 659 convictions in the metropolitan area, and that was exclusive of the five districts of Southwark, Newington, St. George's (Hanover Square), Paddington, and the Strand, which, for some reason best known to the local authorities, had made no return whatever. In other words, it appeared that, according to the Return, there were at the rate of 1,300 convictions for the use of fraudulent weights and measures in the year, and he need hardly tell the House that, with the im- perfect system of inspection which now existed, for one person convicted probably three escaped. But if anyone was curious enough to analyze this Return still farther, he would find the most astonishing statistics as to the way in which the poorer classes in this metropolis were habitually cheated. Now, taking the City of Westminster—and he did not do so for the purpose of casting any slur upon it, because he believed that if, as happened to be the case, it stood at the head of the list, that circumstances was owing not to the fact that it was worse than its neighbours, but rather that the duty of the inspectors had been better discharged—well, in the City of Westminster there were 100 persons convicted in the six months, and, on examination, he found that of these twenty-four, or nearly one-fourth of the whole, were licensed victuallers and forty-seven were dairymen, greengrocers, cheesemongers, and others who supplied the poor with food, making in all 70 per cent of provision dealers. That would give the House some idea of the great extent to which this kind of fraud was carried out in the case of the poorer classes. The only wonder was that any result of the kind had been made public at all; because, when he looked at the number of inspectors who were employed in large districts, he could not but think that it was beyond the physical capacity of any man to discharge the duties properly which fell to their lot. He found that in Middlesex, one of the most important counties for its wealth and the number of its houses, though the smallest in area, there were only four inspectors of weights and measures, and that not only were these gentlemen compelled to do their duty in the county, but that many districts which would otherwise have fallen under local Acts were visited by them also. He was quite aware that the system of payment, too, was anything but what it ought to be. The inspectors of weights and measures were paid in a manner unfair to the public and to themselves—namely, by the very objectionable system of fees, and the consequence was—as happened the other day in Middlesex—when the moiety of fees did not come up to the travelling expenses of the inspector, there was a direct premium to his sitting still and doing nothing. He was also aware that in many other districts of the metropolis there were what were called "Local Acts," under which the local bodies appointed their own inspectors. But of the way in which those inspectors did their duty, he could not give a better idea to the House than by stating, what he had on the best authority, that in the district of St. Pancras there were twenty-four gentlemen appointed by the vestry without any stated remuneration whatever, and in the parish of Islington there were twelve gentlemen appointed by the vestry at the magnificent salary of £30 a year, to be divided amongst them. He left it to the House to imagine how an unpleasant duty of this kind was discharged when it was paid for in that way. He should probably be told by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade when he got up to reply, that the whole of this question was under consideration, that there was a Commission at this moment sitting, and that their Report might shortly be looked for. But that was exactly what he complained of. For the last two or three years that Commission had been sitting, and when any Members who took an interest in the subject asked Questions or moved for Returns, they were invariably told that the matter was under consideration. And all this time there were hundreds and thousands of the poorer classes who were suffering because there was no legislation on the subject. He would now pass to that portion of Ms Motion which related to the Adulteration of Food and Drink, a subject which concerned the welfare, comfort, and happiness of the poorer classes quite as much as that on which he had already spoken. There were many Gentlemen in that House who, no doubt, thought that the questions which interested the poorer classes were those which had to do with the ballot, the re-distribution of seats, or the Irish Church. But these were mainly political questions; the question of which he spoke was a question of daily food, a question very often of health or sickness, and he might even say of life or death. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, in one of those addresses by which he had electrified his constituents and the public, stated that the great panacea for the ills of the working classes was a free breakfast table. Now he (Lord Eustace Cecil) was the last person in the world to object to any revision of taxation, if it were based upon really sound grounds. But, with all due deference to the right hon. Gentleman, there was one thing of even more importance—namely, a breakfast table free from all impurities. It was not necessary for him to appeal to medical gentlemen, in or out of that House, to prove that purity of food was of vital importance, whether to the child in its cradle, to the boy at school, or the workman who had to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow. Those were simple truisms with which anybody who had thought upon the matter at all would not hesitate to agree. Purity of drink was also of the greatest importance to the poor, because many of the vices and crimes common to that class were connected with it. Take, for instance, the criminal brought before a court of justice, or the case of the soldier and the sailor when brought to the bar of a court-martial, and ask them what it was that first got them into trouble. Their answer would be that it was some nasty stuff they drank at a public-house. Or go into any of the streets of our large towns, and ask some of those wretched women—the disgrace of our civilization—who were to be found there, and they would tell you that much of their wretchedness was due, in the first instance, to drugged liquors. Well, what, under these circumstances, had the Legislature done in that matter? As far as he could make out, it had simply punished the crime of adulterating food, by a trumpery fine, quite disproportionate either to the offence or the wrongful gains of the delinquent. And here he would briefly examine the state of the law. Passing by the 9 Anne, the 17 & 56 Geo. III., the 3 Geo. IV., the 1, 6 & 7 Will. IV.—Acts all relating more or less to the adulteration of beer, tea, and bread—the first comprehensive Act which dealt with the subject was the 23 & 24 Vict., which was passed mainly through the efforts of Mr. Scholefield; and he ventured to say, in no disrespectful spirit to that Gentleman's memory, that that Act was a mockery and a delusion, and had entirely failed in its object. Many of them would recollect that a Committee sat in 1855–6 to inquire into that question. A number of witnesses of the highest scientific acquirements were examined, the public attention was generally drawn to the matter, and the result was—he was sorry to be obliged to call it so—one of the most ridiculous measures that ever became law. After reciting that the sale of adulterated articles of food and drink, being hurtful to health, ought to be repressed by more effectual legislation, it enacted that the person selling such articles, knowing them to be injurious to health, should be subject to a penalty not exceeding £5 and costs; so that any tradesman might, as far as that clause was concerned, knowingly ruin his neighbour's health on paying £5 and costs. Then, for a second offence, if he had as was probable, poisoned scores of people, and ruined the health of scores of others, the justices had power—to do what? To imprison him, or send him to the Assizes? Not a bit of it; but to publish his name, residence, and offence in any way they thought desirable at his own expense. Thirdly, the Act gave a power—which he believed never had been put in force—to appoint analyists, but not a word was said about the payment of them. Fourthly, it provided a protection, forsooth, against articles of food being tampered with by purchasers. Fifthly, there was a power for the purchaser and the justices to have food analyzed; from which it would appear that the purchaser had to test the food at his own expense. And, lastly, it was provided that this precious Act was not to apply to medical drugs or articles usually taken or sold as medicine. So that it came to this, that the baker who adulterated a loaf of bread with a certain quantity of alum was, if convicted, to be punished with a fine of £5 and costs; but the chemist, who had to supply the necessary medicine to get rid of the alum, escaped with perfect impunity. There was not a word in the Act about the appointment of a really good body of inspectors or supervisors, which he thought a most important point; and he should be very glad to see in any measure brought in on that subject, that an efficient body of such officers was to be appointed, so that any penalties which might be enacted by law should be really enforced. Perhaps some might think he took rather an exaggerated view of the present state of adulteration as far as food and drink were concerned; but let such hon. Members, if there were any, read some of the evidence given before the Select Committee to which he had referred; and if they thought that commercial morality was superior now to what it was in 1856 and 1857 he would request them to look at the too frequent cases which constantly appeared in the papers of fraud, both in high and in low quarters. But if they wanted some more modern testimony as to that point, he would refer them to the very able Report drawn up by the chemical officer of the Board of Revenue, Mr. George Phillips; and if they were still dissatisfied he would suggest to them that they should go to the first public-house in town, or out of it, and ask for a glass of beer. He would not trouble the House with a long list of all the disagreeable things which they had to swallow, nor with details of the exact quantities of alum, or red lead, or vitriol, or any other of the pleasant compounds which had been known to enter into their daily food. It was sufficient for him that it had been shown, on indisputable evidence, that those things did exist. It was said that a man must swallow at least a peck of dirt in his lifetime, but he suspected that many of them had to swallow a great deal more. He might mention what occurred not very long ago in the Committee on the Malt Tax, of which he was a Member. Every agricultural witness examined before that Committee testified to the fact that the beer sold in public-houses was adulterated. Now, in speaking of the adulteration of beer, he did not for one moment bring a charge against the great brewers. He believed that the evidence cleared them entirely from all suspicion of adulteration, but this could not be said of the public-houses. Not only did the gentlemen to whom he had alluded speak unanimously of the way in which beer was adulterated, but there was one practical witness who asserted from his own daily knowledge that such was the fact. The only labourer who was examined gave his evidence in these terms. He was asked—"Can a man do hard work on publican's beer?" and his reply was "No." "What effect has it?" he was next asked, and he answered—" The beer is so bad that he cannot work." "It gets into his head?" Answer—"Yes." It makes him feel so bad? "Answer—" Yes; it makes a man feel too bad to do hard work. He always wants to be drinking." Now, there was one fact which established beyond doubt that this man's evidence was truthful— namely, the fact that the importation of cocculus Indicus had largely increased within the last few years. Cocculus Indicus was a narcotic of an intoxicating and stupefying character, and, as far as he was aware, was only used in this country for two purposes, the poisoning of fish and the poisoning of men. He found that in 1857 the quantity of the drug consumed in this country was only 68 cwt., but in 1858 it had increased to 394 cwt.: while in the years 1867 and 1868 the quantities consumed were respectively 689 cwt. and 1,064 cwt. The drug was thus extensively used notwithstanding the fact that the very heavy duty of 5s. per cwt. was levied upon it. No wonder, then, that the statement made by the poor man before the Committee was perfectly true with regard to many labourers in the country. No wonder that he complained that they could not do their work, and that they always wanted to be drinking. We often heard of labourers being knocked down with sunstroke during the hot season, but we ought not to be greatly surprised at this if we remembered that an enormous quantity of cocculus Indicus was imported into this country and that this subtle poison entered into their daily drink. Then there was another article which he believed was very considerably adulterated, and it was one which our seafaring population were especially interested in obtaining in a pure state. It was only the other day that he read a newspaper paragraph which stated that in Liverpool it was quite impossible to procure limejuice of sufficient purity to meet the requirements of the Board of Trade. Of course, he could not vouch for the truth of the statement, but if it were true, such a fact certainly did not tell well for our commercial morality. He thought he had sufficiently proved that the law required amendment of some sort. In his opinion a penalty of £5 and costs was much too insignificant to prevent the recurrence of this class of offences, and the law was likewise defective because it did not provide for a proper supervision and inspection with regard to weights and measures as well as the adulteration of food. Should a Bill on this subject be introduced, it would be well to consider what was the practice in foreign countries with respect to these matters. He found that in almost every civilized country the provisions of the law were far more stringent than with us. In France, for example, all frauds of this kind were under the supervision of the police. A commissary of police had a right to enter premises and seize any suspected goods he might find, bearing all the responsibility, of course, if the seizure were a wrongful one. Then the inspectors, both of weights and measures, and of food, were not, as with us, retired tradesmen, but were appointed by a central authority—the Minister and Prefect. With regard to drugs, there was a special body, called Inspecteurs de Pharmacie, and the tribunals had the power to punish offenders with fine and imprisonment, to advertise the names of delinquents, and to order the adulterated goods either to be destroyed before the owners' doors or to be confiscated for charitable purposes. The law of Prussia was still more stringent. Whoever knowingly used false weights and measures in that country was liable to imprisonment for three months, to be fined from fifty to 1,000 thalers, and to suffer the temporary loss of his rights of citizenship. Secondly, where false weights and measures were not regularly employed, a fine of thirty thalers might be imposed, or the delinquent sent to prison for four weeks. Thirdly, the adulteration of food or drink was punishable with a fine of 150 thalers, or six weeks' imprisonment. Fourthly, if poisonous matter or stuff were employed, the offender was liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ton years. Fifthly, where adulteration was proved to have caused severe physical injury, a sentence of from ten to twenty years' imprisonment might be passed. And yet in this country offences of this nature could only be punished by the imposition of a penalty of £5 with costs. It might, however, be asked why he, who had gone so deeply into the subject, and had pointed out the defects of the existing law, did not try his hand at amending it in the best way he could? His reply was, that questions of this kind could be much better dealt with by Government. For his own part, he was very much opposed, as a rule, to private Members bringing in measures of a national character. Now, this subject was one which, in his judgment, ought to have been looked into and legislated upon long ago. He had hoped, that the late Government would have taken it up, but they had too much of other work on their hands. Besides, they had not the power, if they had the will, to do justice to it, on account of the powerful Opposition arrayed against them. He might, indeed, say that the late Government only existed on sufferance. This, however, was far from being the case with the Government now in Office, who, being backed up by a majority of over 100, had the power, and, if report spoke truly, the will also, to deal with this question in a satisfactory manner. He sincerely trusted, however, that the Government would not appoint either a Committee or a Royal Commission to investigate the subject, for in nine cases out of ten the labours of Commissions and Committees led to the shelving of the questions which they were appointed to consider. Of information regarding this matter, and, he might add, of delay also the country had had quite enough. What was required was action, immediate action; and the Minister who should deal with the subject quickly, thoroughly, and comprehensively would entitle himself to the gratitude of the whole community, and would go down to posterity as one of the greatest benefactors to the labouring classes.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it is expedient that Her Majesty's Government should give their earliest attention to the widespread and most reprehensible practices of using False Weights and Measures and of adulterating Food, Drink, and Drugs, with the view of amending the Law as regards the penalties now inflicted for those offences, and of providing more efficient means for the discovery and prevention of fraud,"—(Lord Eustace Cecil,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, it was clearly shown by the evidence which had been taken before the Committee to which the noble Lord (Lord Eustace Cecil) had particularly referred, that the chief cause of adulteration was the legislation which had rendered the food and drink consumed by the working classes artificially dear. Let that cause be removed, and the evil itself would, to a great extent, cease to exist. Among the witnesses who spoke to this effect before the Committee were Professor Taylor, Mr. Gray, and Professor Calvert, of Manchester. He very well recollected the eloquent terms in which the First Lord of the Treasury in 1861 dwelt upon the expediency of reducing the duty on wine, so that the temptation to adulterate it might be taken away, and the same argument applied, in his opinion, with equal force to such articles as tea, sugar, and coffee. It was extraordinary, he might add, to what an extent the adulteration of whisky in Ireland had increased since an additional duty had been imposed upon it by the right hon. Gentleman. The quantity sold had diminished, but then the consumption of it was now in many instances accompanied by delirium tremens, verging sometimes on insanity to an extent which never previously existed. The way to put an end to the evil which led to such results was not by the agency of the police, but by doing away with the temptation which was the real cause of its prevalence. The Government which should accomplish that object would, he quite agreed with the noble Lord, be great benefactors of their country.


said, he thought the noble Lord had done good service by directing the attention of the House to the subject, though he (Mr. Pochin) was of opinion, that the reason why there had not been more prosecutions under the Act of the 23 & 24 Vict, for the prevention of adulteration was, that adulteration was not so general as the House and the country had imagined. Adulteration might be divided into two classes; first, that which simply reduced the commercial value of the article sold to the public; secondly, that which was calculated to interfere prejudicially with the general health of the community. Under the first head he was of opinion that a very serious amount of adulteration existed, and the attention of the Government had very properly been called to it; but he doubted very much whether the statement of the noble Lord was correct so far as adulteration affecting the general health of the people was concerned. His own impression was—and it was the result of much careful investigation of the subject—that the articles of food which were adulterated in such a manner as to affect to any material degree the public health, were exceedingly restricted in number, and a thorough examination of the evidence which had been taken on the point would, he ventured to say, establish the soundness of that view. The greatest service which had been done the country in connection with the subject, was that which had been rendered by the Analytical Commission which prosecuted its; labours some fourteen or fifteen years ago, under the able direction of Dr. Hassall, the result of whose investigations had been published in The Lancet. The result of the inquiry went to prove that while the articles which were adulterated were very numerous—there being scarcely any article of commerce which was not adulterated—yet adulteration tending to injure the health of the community was extremely limited. He believed indeed he was right in saying, that the list of articles which had been found to be adulterated to an extent deeply injurious to health, was pretty nearly confined to pickles, sweetmeats, and Cayenne pepper. It had indeed been discovered that there was scarcely a single sample of arrowroot which was not extensively adulterated; but then it was adulterated with inferior and less expensive varities of farina, injurious rather to the pocket than to the health of the consumer. He had another reason for believing that the conclusions at which he had arrived in the matter were correct. Soon after the passing of the Act 23 & 24 Vict., the Act was taken into consideration by a very energetic Committee, who conducted, its labours in Manchester, connected with the Sanitary Association, and whose members were of opinion that adulteration injurious to health very largely prevailed. They accordingly persuaded six of the most eminent chemists in Manchester to examine articles collected from all parts of the town, and to report upon them. He held in his hand the Report which was drawn up as the result of that investigation by Dr. Angus Smith, who he understood held some official position under the Government, and than whom a more able man as the head of such an inquiry could not be found. The conclusion arrived at by the Committee was, that out of eighty substances which had been procured from shops in which the labouring classes dealt extensively, none were adulterated in a way deeply to affect the public health; and he was happy to be able to add that the evil of adulteration, instead of being constantly on the increase, was rather shown to be diminishing, by the evidence furnished by recent investigations. He did not, however, mean to contend that the question was not one in which the Government might very well take action. Nothing was more objectionable than that there should be any mistake with respect to it out-of-doors, and he could very well imagine, that if the statement of the noble Lord were to go forth to the public unquestioned, that articles of food and drink were so adulterated as to be deeply injurious to health, the shock to the nervous system of a large portion of the community would be far more prejudicial than any actual amount of adulteration which now exists. What the House wanted were the real facts of the case, and the Government had it in their power to supply these at a comparatively small outlay. He agreed with the noble Lord, that it would be useless to appoint a Committee or a Commission, before which anybody who had a bee in his bonnet on this subject might exhibit the bee, as had been done in the case of the last Committee. He thought the proper action of the Government would be to follow the course prescribed by the late Mr. Wakley, by placing the matter in the hands of one or two official analysts, such as Mr. Phillips, of Somerset House, and Dr. Angus Smith, and he felt satisfied that if those gentlemen associated with themselves a microscopist, they would give to the country the exact state of the case. Parliament would then legislate with much greater certainty and confidence than it could at present. Two kinds of adulteration had been specially named—the mixing of alum in bread and cocculus Indicus in beer. Now he was not going to dispute the poisonous nature of cocculus Indicus, but no one had yet shown that the effects produced on the system by intoxication from cocculus Indicus were more injurious than intoxication from spirit. As to the presence of alum in bread, the general opinion on this point was quite at variance with that of the most able chemists. Professor Liebig had acknowledged that the ordinary mixture of alum in bread as practised in this country was not injurious, but positively beneficial. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laughed, and he should like to convince them by going into the question somewhat technically. In general terms, however, he might say that flour contained a quantity of gluten, which very readily passed into a state of decomposition and decay. The presence of a small quantity of alum arrested that decay, and enabled, the baker to produce by the use of seconds flour a very much superior bread than would otherwise be possible. The substitute which Liebig recommended the baker to use in such cases was caustic lime. Hon. Members might take their choice between the addition of alum and caustic lime; for his part he preferred the alum, and he thought that would be the general judgment of the community. He had said that the general health was not extensively interfered with by adulteration; but adulteration was practised so as to amount to a fraud upon the community. It was, therefore, rather on the ground of injury to the pocket, than of injury to health, that he joined the noble Lord in urging the Government, to give their immediate attention to this very important subject.


The noble Lord (Lord Eustace Cecil) has taken great pains upon this question, and has brought before the House a great amount of detail in connection with it. As I listened to his observations I hoped and believed that there was, though it was entirely unintentional, no little exaggeration in them. Although there may be particular cases in which great harm to health and great fraud may possibly be shown, yet I think that general statements of this kind, implicating to a large extent the traders of this country, are dangerous and are almost certain to be unjust. Now, my hon. Friend, the Member for Stafford (Mr. Pochin), who has just addressed the House in a speech showing his entire mastery of the question, has confirmed my opinion, for he has shown—and I dare say he knows as much of the matter as any Gentleman present—that there is a great deal of exaggeration in the opinions which have prevailed in many parts of the country, and which have even been found to prevail upon the matter in this House. The proposition of the noble Lord is— That it is expedient that Her Majesty's Government should give their earliest attention to the widespread and most reprehensible practices of using False Weights and Measures and of Adulterating Food, Drink, and Drugs, and so on. Now, I am prepared to show that the exaggeration of the noble Lord—I do not say intentionally, of course; I am sure he is incapable of that—is just as great in the matter of weights and measures as in that of adulteration. Probably he is not aware that in the list of persons employing weights that are inaccurate—I do not say fraudulent—no distinction is drawn between those who are intentionally fraudulent and those who are accidentally inaccurate, and that the penalty is precisely the same, and the offence is just as eagerly detected, whether there be a fraud or merely an accident. Now the noble Lord will probably be surprised when I tell him that many persons are fined annually, not because their weights are too small, but because they are too large. In fact, when the weights are inaccurate but are in favour of the customer, still the owner and user of the weight is liable to the penalty and is fined. I have here a statement made by the Secretary of the Standards Commission, to which this matter has been referred, and he says— During recent years many Returns have been laid before Parliament of convictions for false and unjust weights and measures, more especially in the metropolitan district, and a close examination of these Returns will show very few convictions for fraudulent weights and measures. The great majority are for defective or unjust weights and measures, deviating more or less from the standard, many of these deviations being of comparatively trifling amount, and frequently in favour of the purchaser—that is to say, the weights are too heavy and the measures too large. The convictions for unjust balances are also, for the most part, for defective, not for fraudulent balances. That is a statement, coming from undoubted authority, which may, I think, relieve our countrymen connected with trade from the stigma attaching to them that there exists a general or widespread system of using inaccurate and fraudulent balances. An Act on this subject was passed in 1835, and penalties were inflicted as I have said. The noble Lord is against any more Commissions or Committees, and I do not ask for them for a moment, but a Commission is now engaged in inquiring into this very subject. It was appointed with a view to a revision of the standards, because, while fining shopkeepers for the use of inaccurate weights, it was found in a great many cases that the standards themselves were inaccurate, and for a tradesman to be fined because he did not keep his weight by an inaccurate standard seems to be rather a stretch of power, This Commission is now sitting; they have extended their inquiry to this very Act to which the noble Lord alluded. In four or five months their Report will be made, and there is an expression of opinion on the part of the Secretary that the whole of the laws connected with weights and measures appear to require revision, and that a comprehensive measure is required for amending and consolidating those laws. The Report of the Commission will not be issued for some time, and as Parliament has on its hands, probably, quite as much as it can do in the present Session, I do not think that any legislation will be possible this year. Now I come to the question of adulteration. My late lamented Friend and Colleague, Mr. Scholefield, brought in a Bill in 1860 or 1861. He was much urged to do this by very enthusiastic constituents of his who took a prodigious interest in the matter. I have not the Act before me, and I do not know exactly how far its provisions extend; but it gave corporations and magistrates power to appoint analysts who should take care to examine into adulterations, and penalties were to be inflicted under the Act. If the corporations and the magistrates have not sufficient interest in the matter; if the people who elect the corporations care so little about it, I think that is fair evidence that the grievance is not near so extensive and injurious and burdensome as it has been described by the noble Lord. My own impression with regard to this adulteration is that it arises from the very great, and, perhaps, inevitable competition in business; and that to a large extent it is promoted by the ignorance of customers. As the ignorance of customers generally is diminishing, we may hope that before long the adulteration of food may also diminish. The noble Lord appears to ask that something much more extensive and stringent should be done by Parliament. The fact is, it is vain to attempt by the power of Parliament to penetrate into and to track out evils such as these on which the noble Lord has dwelt at such length. It is quite impossible that you should have the oversight of the shops of the country by inspectors, and that you can organize a body of persons to go into shops to buy sugar, pickles, and Cayenne pep- per, to get them analyzed, and then to raise complaints against shopkeepers and bring them before the magistrates. If men in their private businesses were to be tracked by Government officers and inspectors every hour of the day, life would not be worth having, and I should recommend them to remove to another country, where they would not be subject to such annoyance. The question, too, as the noble Lord has put it, is one of great difficulty, because, if the Government proposed to legislate on the whole of this matter, I suspect it would be found that, in the clauses of a Bill, however carefully it might be drawn, there would be points that would create so much difference that it would be impossible to settle them. It was the case, I know, when my late Colleague brought forward his Bill, and it was found almost impossible to pass it through the House. If any hon. Member chooses to go into this question before the Government can touch it, and to suggest a measure which he may think will be likely to give satisfaction, the Government will be perfectly ready to examine it, and give it fair consideration. I regard these subjects as about the most difficult, and, at the same time, I think, about the least advantageous to which Parliament can devote itself. Most of the Bills of this kind which have been passed during the twenty-five years I have been in Parliament have failed in their operation, and I suspect that most of the attempts which will be made hereafter will be equally unsuccessful. The question of weights and measures is a different one; it is simple; you can reduce it to an accurate standard; and Parliament can accomplish something. The Report of the Commission will soon be made; and it is, I believe, the intention of the Government, as it would be my own disposition, when it is made, to take such steps as may appear best, with a view to asking Parliament for fresh legislation on this subject. I shall be glad if, after this answer and explanation, the noble Lord may not deem it necessary to press the Motion which he has placed on the Notice Paper.


said, the House and the country ought to feel obliged to the noble Lord (Lord Eustace Cecil) for the way in which he had brought the question forward; but he did not regard the reply of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade as satisfactory. Every householder must have felt extreme difficulty in obtaining articles of food that were not more or less adulterated; and, however much the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Pochin) might be master of the subject, all the speeches he might deliver would not convince the House that bread without alum was not more wholesome than bread that contained it. But when the right hon. Gentleman spoke of tradesmen going abroad to avoid inspectors, he should remember that in Prance, and other countries, every baker and every vendor was under the strict and watchful eye of the police; and that a baker in France dare no more sell adulterated bread than commit an offence against the criminal law. The result was, that on leaving behind the alum loaf at an English port you got excellent bread at the first port or station you stopped at in France. Again, from the north to the south of Italy, as the Prime Minister would know, you would find no bread adulterated or food tampered with. If the Government would inquire into the practice of foreign countries as regards the inspection of food, they would learn a useful lesson which might be applied in this country at a future time with great benefit. In attributing adulteration to Customs duties, the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Pollard-Urquhart) no doubt alluded to tea, coffee, and sugar, but he forgot that that argument did not apply to bread nor to flour, which was as extensively adulterated as anything in this country. The other day, visiting a family in London, who were having bread made, he inquired and found that the flour was obtained at a distance because it was impossible to get it pure in the neighbourhood. The taking of the duty off wine had not lessened the adulteration of that article, and no man had more sins on his back than the Prime Minister had for taking off the duty. Its removal offered a premium to foreigners to send to this country every kind of poisonous mixture. As to weights and measures, why not bring in a measure to discriminate between fraud and unintentional error? Nothing was so unsatisfactory as the arbitrary power vested in the magistrates. In the county of Cumberland an eminent tradesman, who had one large establishment and many shops in different districts, was discovered to be using weights and measures that were, not colourably, but actually, false, and when this eminent tradesman—who dealt among other things in so-called Liberal politics—was before the magistrates, and the case was proved, they said that really this tradesman was such a very respectable man it was quite impossible he could have known what he was doing, and they did not fine him. The protection of the public required that every individual who had false weights should be severely punished; and it would be well if the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade would consider the expediency of adopting a mild measure of punishment resorted to in France—that of compelling the convicted tradesman to provide a placard setting forth his guilt, and to exhibit it prominently in his place of business. In the hope that the Government would pay early attention to the subject, and bring forward a measure upon it, he should advise his noble Friend to withdraw the Motion.


, as one whose business for thirty years past had been in the colonial markets, which covered the principal articles of the breakfast table, had no hesitation in saying that, the country through, fully a hundred tons of tea as imported were retailed, to every pound adulterated here. In some minor articles a good deal of adulteration, no doubt, went on; but the motive was extra profit, and very few of the adulterating materials were injurious to health. With regard to the punishment of persons using false weights and measures, he believed it would be unwise to increase the penalties, and both unjust and cruel to make, as had been suggested, the punishment imprisonment—the clerks to the magistrates, both of Middlesex and Surrey, agreeing that in fully 80 per cent of the cases brought before them, the inaccuracy arose from carelessness rather than design. That morning above 200 licenses had been brought before his petty sessional bench; of the very few complaints made throughout the expired year, only one was of at all a serious a character.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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