HC Deb 23 June 1890 vol 345 cc1729-32

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider whether, on grounds of public health, it is desirable that certain classes of spirits, British and foreign, should be kept in bond for a definite period before they are allowed to pass into consumption, and to inquire into the system of blending British and foreign spirits, in or out of bond, and into the propriety of applying the Sale of Foods and Drugs Act to the sale of home spirits, and the Sale of Foods and Drugs Act and the Merchandise Marks Act to the case of foreign spirits and mixtures of British and foreign spirits."—[Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)

MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

While I am exceedingly obliged to the Government for moving the appointment of this Committee, I think the right hon. Gentleman, if he were in the House, would see the force of the objection I am about to make. I suggest that the principle of the Merchandise Marks Act should apply not merely to foreign spirits and mixtures of British and foreign spirits, but also to British spirits. I shall move to amend the Motion so that the last line will read—"Tothe case of foreign spirits, to mixtures of British and foreign spirits, and to British spirits." The subject is one of great importance to the Irish whisky manufacturers. The industry which is concerned in this proposal is one of great magnitude, because not only is Ireland affected but Scotland also. I welcome the appointment of the hon. Member for Leeds on the Committee, because, not only is he a Scotchman, but he is also one whose scientific attainments will be of great service. Perhaps a more useful Bill for the trade of the country than the Merchandise Marks Act has not been passed by the Government during their tenure of office, but, unfortunately, that Bill was not applicable to all classes of goods. On reading the Report of the Committee I see that in the article of rum alone there is an enormous consumption, and it is found that of pretty nearly every 100 gallons of rum imported from abroad 99 gallons are composed of potato spirit. With regard to whisky, the position of the Scotch and Irish manufacturers is this: for centuries whisky has been made by them of malt or a mixture of malt and barley. It was made by a process of slow distillation, but of late, science—which in this case is another name for fraud—has invented a patent still, which, by a short process of distillation, will produce what is termed "whisky" from ingredients of the most deleterious character. The result is, that instead of drinking malt, or malt and grain spirit, the public frequently swallow stuff which is made from wood fibre, treated with sulphuric acid, or a spirit made of rice or horrible brown sugar of molasses, or the dregs of molasses' casks, as well as from Indian corn. That is not whisky. I do not recommend anybody to drink whisky, but if they ask for whisky let them follow the advice of the celebrated advertisement, which says, "When you ask for Glenfield's starch see that you get it." When a man asks for whisky he ought not to get a deleterious substitute. I know it is contended that whisky of all kinds is deleterious. I am not concerned to deny that, but I say there are degrees of un wholesomeness, and those who want whisky ought not to get sulphuric acid and wood spirit, nor an article made from molasses, nor a kind of bastard rum, which is really a spirit of the coarsest and most abominable kind. I acknowledge the concessions that the Government have already made on this matter, but the Motion now made by the Government only covers foreign spirits and mixtures of foreign and British spirits, leaving the native pirate untouched in his native wilds. Why should the Merchandise Marks Act apply only in the two cases stated? I believe I shall have the support of the majority of the House in my proposal, and I should be sorry to divide the House upon it. Therefore, I hope the Government will accept my Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "foreign spirits and mixtures of."—(Mr. T. M. Healy.)

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


My impression is that the hon. Member is not correct in his interpretation of what the reference to the Committee really covers. I understand he wants the Merchandise Marks Act to apply not only to foreign spirits but to British spirits mixed with foreign spirits.


And to British spirits alone.


The Act referred to only applies to articles which are marked either fraudulently or in a manner calculated to mislead.


Surely if a draper advertises Balbriggan hosiery and sells the goods of Birmingham or Sheffield he is liable to punishment.


No doubt you may punish the draper under the Trades Marks Act, but that is not the same thing as the Merchandise Marks Act. I am sorry to say that, in the absence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I am unable to accept the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman.

(12.30.) MR. KNOX (Cavan, W.)

I do not like to be absolutely certain, but I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is quite correct as to the Merchandise Marks Act. I think it includes the sale as well as the import of goods fraudulently marked; and, if that is so, the only objection the Secretary to the Treasury takes to this proposal would be removed. I do not know that we should all be ready to agree with my hon. and learned Friend, who would forestall the conclusion the Committee are likely to arrive at. But the questions he has raised are of great importance to the whisky distillers of Ireland, and it is well that they should be considered by an impartial tribunal.

(12.31.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

I remember the question raised by the hon. and learned Member being brought up in reference to Balbriggan hosiery, when the Merchandise Marks Act was before the House.

(12.32.) MR. TOMLINSON

The Balbriggan hose question properly comes under the Merchandise Marks Act. Imitations of these productions were manufactured first at Nottingham and then at Chemnitz in Saxony. The question now raised is rather that of adulteration than of false marking.

(12.32.) MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)

The reference to the Committee is not sufficient, and requires to be amended. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer consented to appoint a Committee it was left on our mind that the Committee would inquire into the question of the adultera- tion of Irish and Scotch spirits; and I venture to submit that the reference will be defective unless this proviso is agreed to. I cannot consent to the construction the Secretary to the Treasury puts on the words of the Motion. It must be clear that they do not apply to a mixture of different kinds of home spirits, or deleterious home spirits, or to such an admixture of spirits as goes on very largely in Scotland and Ireland, where a fairly good spirit is mixed with a vile compound produced at home. It might be possible to apply the Trades Marks Act to such a case, or the combined wisdom of the Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench might be able to frame an Amendment to meet the point.

(12.36.) MR. JACKSON

I cannot make any proposal in regard to this matter in the absence of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I have no objection to postpone the Motion until to-morrow.

(12.37.) SIR L. PLAYFAIR (Leeds, S.)

Great care will be required in framing the reference. I have no objection to the remarks of the hon. Member for Longford, but he must remember that out of the 36,500,000 gallons of spirits consumed in this country per annum, only 16,000,000 are whisky. The interests of the producers of spirits other than whisky must not be lost sight of.

(12.38.) MR. T. M. HEALY

I accept the statement of the Secretary to the Treasury, and I would just point out that the Merchandise Marks-Act is not a Customs Act. It is a home Act. I would also say that, though it is true that the amount of whisky consumed is only 16,000,000 gallons, there is no reason why stuff should be sold as whisky which is, in reality, nothing but fusil oil.

(12.39.) MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)

What view does the Solicitor General take of the operation of the Act?


As the matter is to stand over for consideration it is hardly necessary that I should say anything upon it.

Debate adjourned till to-morrow.

House adjourned at twenty minutes before One o'clock.