§ MR. FRANCIS MILDMAY (Devon, Totnes)
in moving the Second Reading of this Bill said, that those hon. Members, who at the last General Election stood for agricultural constituencies, and who might therefore be said to be in touch with those engaged in agricultural pursuits, would be aware that legislation in the direction indicated in this Bill, was looked upon as a primary necessity by those who had suffered most from the prevalent depression. What was the state of affairs which called for such legislation? He would take the question of meat first. There could be no doubt whatever that there was much misrepresentation as to the country of origin of meat by salesmen and dealers, to the great and obvious detriment of the home producer. That this was a fact that could not be gainsaid became certain on perusal of the evidence which was laid before the Lords' Committee on the marking of foreign meat. Meat which found its way into the English market was of four kinds—fresh meat produced or fattened in this country, fresh meat imported alive and slaughtered at the port of entry, meat imported in a chilled condition, and meat frozen hard for purposes of distant transit. There might be considerable difference of opinion as to the ease with which those who had 1281 given attention to the matter could distinguish between these various classes, but there was very little doubt that in many cases it was almost impossible for the non-expert, the ordinary buyer, to tell the difference. The Report of the Lords' Committee gave several cases. According to that Report, the Birkenhead-killed beef from America had so much similarity to our own that the public could not tell the difference once in a hundred cases. As a typical instance, the case of Southport was cited before the Committee. In Southport, where there was a well-to-do population, able to pay a good price for meat, although there were 54 butchers in the town, there were only, to use the words of the Lords' Report, three English animals killed during the week; "and," said a witness,if you go there to-day you will find two shops out of every three with nothing but Birkenhead meat (that is foreign meat) in them, and it is sold for English."?So conscious were the working classes in this district of the extent to which they were prejudiced by misrepresentation of this nature, that for some time past working men's associations had been in the habit of passing resolutions praying for legislation to put an end to it. Then these paragraphs were found in the Report of the Lords Committee:—Some of the meat imported from the Continent is most difficult to distinguish, even by the experienced. This is especially the case with German mutton, Dutch veal, and Dutch legs of mutton, which are frequently sold as Welsh mutton." "In a largo West End establishment, professing to sell nothing but English and Scotch meat, only six sides of Scotch were said to have been sold during a whole year, the rest being American. In other shops in the City and West End, three-quarters of the beef sold as English is said to be American. Meat imported and killed at Deptford, is often labelled 'Prime English.'" "In all these cases, it appears that the prices charged were those which would be justified only had the meat been purchased wholesale at the price commanded by the best home-killed meat.The evidence laid before the Committee, unshaken by any of a rebutting nature, showed the enormous extent to which misrepresentation existed, or at any rate, the prevalence of a state of affairs, under which the buyer was constantly induced to purchase foreign meat as home-fed. It might be said that in suggesting such 1282 legislation as was contemplated in this Bill, they were making wholesale charges of deliberate dishonesty against the butchers as a class throughout the country. But he would protest against such a suggestion. He would not prefer a sweeping and general charge of deliberate deceit. No doubt, in view of the evidence, there were many cases of intentional and deliberate misrepresentation, there were many instances of the sin of commission. But it was the sin of omission which was far more prevalent, omission, on the part of butchers to inform their customers of the source of origin of their meat, leaving it to be inferred that such meat was home-fed. In 99 cases out of 100, the buyer probably asked no questions, but it was assumed that home-fed meat was going to be supplied. This state of affairs was palpably a great injury to the consumer. Whatever might be the quality of the imported meat, he surely was entitled to know whether he was supplied with English meat when he paid the price of English meat, and if he chose to buy imported meat, it should be at a price commensurate with its source of origin. But it was the agricultural community, he considered, who had an especial right to appeal to Parliament for legislation in this connection. Agriculturists believed and, he thought, rightly believed, that their interests were seriously injured by the present state of affairs, and that if the purchaser could, in all cases, be made aware of the origin of the meat he was buying, meat produced in England would be in greater demand, and command a better price. It was not altogether a question of whether imported meat could compare with English meat; apart from that question a large number of consumers would prefer to buy homefed meat. Sitting as he did for an almost purely agricultural division, that of South Devon, he knew the extent to which English farmers were prejudiced by the present state of affairs. Members for agricultural constituencies, who had been in the habit of attending the markets in country towns, would know that butchers no longer came down to the country from great towns to the extent they used, but when foreign consignments were arriving were to be found instead at the foreign lairages in our seaports. That British farmers, who had of 1283 late years had such a hard time of it, had most legitimate cause for complaint in this connection, could not for one moment be denied. There must be a large proportion of hon. Members who had never been brought into any true contact with those engaged in agricultural pursuits; to them it might seem that the British farmer was only too ready to cry out and appeal for help in this direction or that. Those intimate with the real state of the case, would know how unfair was such a deduction. The farmers for many years past had been struggling with their growing difficulties in a spirit of self-dependence, and with a determination not to yield to adverse circumstances. In this, as in other matters, the farmer asked for no favour, no exceptional treatment, no unfair preference; he was not afraid to meet the foreign producer on equal terms. In this, as in other matters, he only asked for fair play. The Bill itself was comparatively a simple one, consisting of two main provisions so far as meat was concerned. It proposed to enact:—Firstly, that every piece of foreign meat exposed for sale shall be labelled "Foreign meat" or " Colonial meat," as the case may be. Secondly, that every person having in his possession for sale any foreign or colonial meat shall at all times place in a conspicuous position in the front of his place of sale the words "Dealer in Foreign and Colonial meat," and shall register himself in a register to be kept by the local authority as such. Failure to comply with these provisions of the Bill entailing a fine, for the first offence, not exceeding £5, and for the second or subsequent offence, not exceeding £20. The local authority shall keep a register of persons selling or exposing for sale foreign or colonial meat; this registration being executed free of charge to the person registering; such register to be kept at the office of the local authority, and to be open to inspection by any person free of charge. The local authority is to appoint and remunerate Inspectors for the purpose of seeing that the Act is properly carried out, such Inspectors being given power of entering any place where meat is exposed for sale for the purpose of ascertaining its nature. The local authority is also given power to prosecute in cases of failure to comply 1284 with the provisions of this Bill; power of prosecuting being also reserved to any private person. The Bill finally provided that the expenses of carrying this Act into execution shall be provided by the sanitary authority, as the case may be. The Bill also dealt with the case of foreign cheese, in favour of the marking of which, he was informed, there was no less strong a case, and upon this other hon. Members would be competent to speak with greater authority than he could. At present, American cheese came over here to compete with English cheese in the market, not depending on its own merits, but assuming the guise and wrongfully appropriating the designation of English cheddar. He did not think it would be disputed that misrepresentation prevailed in the cheese trade to an extent that called for legislation. It was provided, therefore, in the Bill that Sections 4 and 6 (i.e., so much of the provisions of the Bill as stipulate for the marking of foreign meat exposed for sale and lay down a penalty for non-compliance with such stipulation) shall apply also to foreign and colonial cheese. Those were the main provisions of the Bill before the House, and he could not but hope that they were such that Her Majesty's Government might feel themselves at liberty to accord it their support. When the late Government were invited to express their opinion as to the desirableness of such legislation, they expressed a wish for further information, and, with the object of gaining it, appointed a Select Committee to inquire. Now that that Committee had reported so strongly in favour of action, and recommended that very system of registration and inspection by qualified Inspectors which the Bill proposed to set up, he trusted that the Leaders of the Opposition might see fit to support the principle of the Bill. The fear that the Bill would entail considerable expenditure for Inspectors and other purposes was groundless. Mr. Walter Tyler, a member of the Incorporated Society of Inspectors of Weights and Measures, expressed it as his opinion that they could carry out the provisions of an Act compelling all butchers to label foreign meat with little, if any, increase in their staff. This Bill being brought forward primarily in the interests of the consumer and the 1285 agricultural community, it became necessary to ascertain what might be the attitude towards such legislation of other classes concerned. What was the opinion of the foreign and colonial importer, what the view of the butcher? There was a difference of opinion, he believed, as to the desirableness of legislation among foreign and colonial importers, but this did not arise from any objection to the identification of the foreign meat, but rather from fear that trade would be harassed by any regulations as to marking. On the other hand, colonial opinion seems to be agreed that any system of marking which should be cheap, effectual, and not vexatious, would be welcomed rather than otherwise. As to the butchers, there was no really strong feeling against the principle of marking foreign meat, if they were to take the officers of the Butchers' Federation as expressing the opinion of the trade. As to this he would quote from the Report of the Lords' Committee which declared:—The Committee concur in the opinion expressed by Mr. Elliott, Secretary to the Board of Agriculture, that the feeling on the part of the butchers' trade is not so distinctly opposed to the principle of marking as might have been supposed.Mr. Elliott's opinion is borne out by a letter read before the Committee from the President of the Butchers' Federation, advising that society not to assume an attitude of direct hostility to the Bills for identification of foreign meat, and stating it as his opinion that they should accept the principle. The Committee also took the trouble to take a poll of the smaller retail butchers in a typical district of London, where, out of 100 butchers, 52 favoured some system of marking, 26 directly opposed it, 18 were neutral, and 4 partially favourable. If then, there was such a preponderating consensus of opinion among the butchers themselves in favour of some means of identification, he did not see from what quarter opposition to the principle of this Bill could come. It could be shown, then, that none of the classes interested could be injuriously affected by the Bill, while the general consumer would be materially benefited; and they were being always told in these days that the consumer was the person to be con- 1286 sidered. It had been objected by some that prices would be raised by such legislation, but he believed that the tendency would be in a contrary direction, because at the present time so much imported meat was sold as homegrown, at home grown prices. But whatever the effect upon the price, he did not see how the average price was to be disturbed; the only result would be that the consumer would be called upon to pay a price more strictly adapted to, and more truly commensurate with, the quality of the meat. He would no longer be buying in the dark; he would no longer run the risk of buying unawares meat which was deficient in quality and flavour, and especially largely deficient as regarded nutrition. And this was a point of great importance to the working classes. To give the technical explanation of the loss of nutrition in refrigerated meat, it appeared that the freezing process broke the small globules which held the real substance of the vitality of the meat. They burst, and the meat lost its flavour, with the consequence to the consumer that he got less vitality out of his food. All the more important was it, therefore, that the consumer should know what he is buying. Knowing from constant communications the strong feeling that existed among the graziers in Ireland on the subject, he was confident that hon. Gentlemen from Ireland would give the Bill a hearty support. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, in a speech elsewhere, last Wednesday, said:—The agricultural interest has been suffering from most severe disasters, and we have great sympathy with all classes interested in the cultivation of the soil.He was sure, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman, and those who acted with him, would be glad to seize the opportunity of testifying to that sympathy by supporting the principle of this Bill which aimed at removing one of their most legitimate grievances. As he had said, the British and Irish farmers were not afraid of facing their difficulties and tackling foreign competitors in the open, but they had a right to insist that the competition which they had to meet should be above-board. All they asked for was a fair field and no 1287 favour. He had little fear but that the House would agree with him that this was the least they were entitled to, and would consent to the Second Reading of a Bill so deeply affecting the interests of agriculturists, so unassailable by valid objection on the part of other classes concerned, and so manifestly necessary in the interests of the consumer.
§ MR. GEORGE LAMBERT (Devon, South Molton)
seconded. Speaking as a Member of the Royal Commission on Agriculture, he said that there was almost an unanimous feeling among British farmers that they should have the legitimate protection which would be afforded to them by a Bill of this kind. The farmers had a right to ask Parliament to give them a fair field and no favour, to give them fair play in the sale of their produce. They must produce the very best produce to meet the foreign competitor, and when they did that they were deprived of their legitimate profit through having to meet the unfair competition which undoubtedly now existed. A Lords' Committee was appointed to inquire into this subject, and he was sure evidence enough was brought forward to show that a considerable amount of fraud went on as regarded the selling of foreign meat. Therefore, they asked that, if it were possible, the English producers should have the right of placing their produce on the market and having it sold for exactly what it was. For his own part, he did not think the consumer would be in any way injured by this Bill. In fact, if anything he would be benefited, because he would then know what he was buying. At the present moment it was almost impossible for the consumer to know what it was he was buying, when he was brought face to face with all the misrepresentation that undoubtedly did exist. And while it would benefit the consumer, no honest butcher would take any exception to the Bill. The Lords' Committee, in paragraph 93 of their Report, said the self-same thing. He wished to impress on the House the necessity of giving the agriculturists, who were undoubtedly suffering from a very long and severe depression, this fair and legitimate protection of their interest. There were some of the provisions of the Bill which he was afraid would not be quite strong enough to carry out the objects which 1288 they were intended to do. He would not go into those, but would content himself with expressing the hope that the Government would accept the Bill and have it referred to the Standing Committee on Trade and Agriculture, and that they would have no dilatory process such as would be involved by referring it to a Select Committee. He could assure the President of the Board of Trade that nearly the whole of the hon. Members opposite were pledged to the principle of this Measure, and, that being so, he hoped they would carry out their pledges and vote for the Second Reading.
MR. PARKER SMITH (Lanark, Mid)
said, that, in rising to move the rejection of this Bill, he desired to say that he did not do so from any want of sympathy with agriculturists, but because he believed the effect of the Bill would be something very different to what was supposed by the friends of agriculture; that it would not be to the advantage of the consumer at large, and that it would be a very serious interference with those employed in the meat trade. Both of his hon. friends who had supported this Bill had founded themselves pretty completely on the Report of the Lords' Committee that sat three years ago, but in its provisions this Bill went far beyond the recommendations of the Committee. Those recommendations were (1)That every person dealing in imported meat should register as such and should affix a notice plainly exhibited over his shop that he is registered as a dealer in imported meat;And (2)—That the inspection of retail butchers' shops be made in the same way as under the Food and Drugs Act by duly qualified inspectors.This Bill provided not merely for this registering, but laid down thatEvery person who sells or exposes for sale, or who hawks or offers for sale any foreign or colonial meat shall cause to be attached to each carcase or piece of such foreign meat a label or mark containing in printed capital letters the words ' Foreign Meat' or 'Colonial Meat,'And he was liable to a heavy penalty if he did not do so. That was a provision which had been included in many such Bills, and it was discussed by the Lords' Committee, but after full consideration and argument they rejected it, and only made the smaller recommendations of 1289 the registration of the sellers and the notice on the outside of the shop. It seemed to him that this Bill as dealing with foreign meat—and he was referring especially to the meat that was killed when it arrived at their ports—proceeded on a wrong basis altogether. It proceeded on the assumption, in the first place, that meat of that kind is an inferior article to meat grown, fattened and produced at home; and, in the second place, that meat of that kind could be distinguished, after it had been killed and got into the butchers' shops, by anybody from British meat. Both of these assumptions, he submitted, were incorrect. Under the definition of the Bill, foreign meat was made to include—all meat and flesh of cattle or sheep of any kind or age which shall be imported into any part of Great Britain and Ireland.At present, the Bill would cover, as he understood, all meat of every beast, whether imported in the shape of store cattle, or whether imported to be slain on arrival, or whether imported in the shape of frozen meat. Of course, nobody need be told that stores were indistinguishable from other beasts; while the cattle from Canada or the United States which came here, after a reasonably good passage, and were then killed at the port of debarkation, was indistinguishable from a piece of an English or Scotch beast. That being so, how were they going to carry out the provisions of their Bill? How were they going to discover whether the piece of beef they bought in a butcher's shop was English beef or foreign or colonial beef? The only machinery provided by the Bill was a process of taking samples. They would have Inspectors whose business, he supposed, it would be to watch, in a general way, what was happening; but the only specific power they would have was to go in and take samples. To some extent, that would apply to frozen meat; and he thought there would be very much less objection to the Bill if it applied to frozen meat only, and not to all the meat that came into the country. Even in regard to frozen meat there was a very serious difficulty, because some of the very best meat that was to be had in London was Scotch mutton which came up here, was killed, and then was 1290 hung for a week or fortnight, or longer, in refrigerator chambers. Then it became perfectly indistinguishable from New Zealand meat. In regard to the beef that came into this country alive, it was probable that, for the very best quality, they would take Scotch; but when they got beyond the very fancy qualities the two were indistinguishable. Neither the wholesale nor the retail price was different. It was just an accident of the market whether, at any particular date, United States or Canadian meat was higher in the wholesale market, or whether it was English meat. The Report of the Lords' Committee bore out what he said in this respect. If it came to a question of putting consumers on their guard against inferior qualities, he should say it would not be the foreign beef, but the Irish beef, that would need to be labelled. He had the honour of sitting on a Departmental Committee in which they had that matter fully discussed, and evidence was put forward by a number of butchers that Irish beef came to the market in so unsatisfactory a condition that they were buying Canadian or United States beef instead. The evidence was that Irish beef was falling in price, and that Canadian and American beef was coming more and more into general use. That seemed to him to show the fundamental fault of the Bill. It was all very well to have this kind of marking and registration where they had an article and a good imitation of the article itself. For example, he had not the slightest fault to find with the requirement that margarine should be marked as such, and sold as such. There was nothing inquisitorial about that. The stuff was there on the shelf, and all they had got to do to ascertain whether it was margarine or butter was to take it away and examine it at their leisure. But they could not do that with regard to meat, and in order to have any certainty on the matter it would mean an inquisitorial inquiry, which he was quite sure the people in this country would not stand. It was perfectly right to impose restrictions of this kind when it could be done with effect. Under the Merchandise Marks Act, for instance, goods of a foreign origin were required to be marked as such. In the cases where they could 1291 distinguish what the goods were by taking a sample and then making an investigation, the principle might be right, but here they could not so distinguish. Where the cattle came to this country alive, and were afterwards killed and cut up, to require that every piece of meat shoud be stamped under pain of penalties, when the man who sold it could not know whether it was home or foreign, would require an inquisitorial system that would go far beyond what would be supported by public opinion. There were many points about the Bill which tended to show that it had not been very well thought out. In Glasgow the strongest hostility had been shown to the Bill on the part of the fleshers; and in regard to Scotland he would point out that, while provision had been made as to the working of the Measure in the rural districts, no such provision had been made so far as Glasgow and the other large cities and boroughs were concerned. His contention was that frozen differed from fresh meat. Ordinary people could tell which was which by the appearance, and if they insisted on frozen meat being labelled it did not greatly matter. But when meat came to this country fresh, it was accepted by the customer at large as being equally good whether it had been produced or this side of the water or on the other. Indeed, it was quite possible that if the Bill were passed the farmer would fine a result that he did not at all expect, which was that foreign meat might get to be fancied more than home meat, and that instead of there being a kind of stigma placed upon it, they might be insisting on their butchers giving them the best United States or Canadian meat. He regarded the system of inspection proposed as an entirely unnecessary interference with the whole course of trade, which would bring no advantage to the consumer, whilst most of the other provisions were unworkable. It was because he regarded the Bill as an impossible Bill, and one which was 1292 dangling merely delusive hopes in front of the unfortunate farmer, whilst it would do him no good, that he begged to move that it be read that day six months.
§ MR. ELLIOTT LEES (Birkenhead)
seconded the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill. The main argument in support of the Measure, he observed, was the desire to prevent foreign meat being sold as British, and so obtaining an advantage over the home production. He was afraid, however, that this smacked somewhat of an endeavour to obtain Protection by a side wind, and to raise the price of the article that was produced in England. If the promoters of the Bill hoped by their proposals to induce customers to buy less of the foreign article, he was afraid they were doomed to disappointment. It was quite clear that the best of this live meat was as good, and in many cases better, than that produced in England. This was a matter in which his constituents were deeply interested, and although the Butchers' Association might have stated before the Committee that they would not oppose the principle of the Bill, he knew that the butchers around Birkenhead were very strongly opposed to its provisions. They pointed out, for instance, that it would be exceedingly harassing to have this constant inquisitorial inspection, and that it would be impracticable to distinguish between foreign and English meat. There was a great inducement to buy foreign in preference to English meat, because it was hardly ever infected with tuberculosis, whilst English meat frequently was. If a butcher purchased an English beast, and the meat was afterwards condemned, he lost the whole of the price he had paid for it, but he did not run that risk with regard to foreign meat, or, if he did, it was to a much smaller extent. Whilst he agreed with the hon. Member who had last spoken that it would be quite practicable to distinguish between foreign frozen meat 1293 and the home article, he failed to see how any system could be devised which would enable them to distinguish between foreign and home meat in cases where foreign beasts had been brought to this country alive and afterwards slaughtered and cut up. It was ridiculous to suppose that foreign meat which had been imported alive was in any way deficient in the principle of vitality. On the contrary, such cattle were landed in this country in splendid condition, as he knew from experience, and whilst the importation of American cattle might have been a hardship to the British farmer, it had been a great boon indeed to the working classes of this country. He hoped that, in any legislation they might pass upon this subject, they would confine themselves to preventing fraud, but be careful to do nothing that would in any way check the importation of cheap food for the working classes. So far as the prevention of fraud was concerned, he was at one with the introducer of the Bill, but if the hon. Member imagined that by making the butchers who sold foreign meat declare they were selling foreign as well as English, and by marking foreign as distinct from English meat he was going to help the producers of English meat, he would find himself mistaken. The Merchandise Marks Act was intended to provide against fraud, but it had simply been an advertisement for foreign goods. There was little doubt Germany could produce certain goods superior to English. He only hoped, for the sake of English agriculture, that the effect of the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Devonshire might not be to lead English people to discover that foreign meat was better than meat produced in this country.
§ MR. ALBERT SPICER (Monmouth Boroughs)
said, hon. Members who represented boroughs had not only to think of the interests of their constituents but the interests of the districts surrounding; their constituencies, for the 1294 prosperity of boroughs must depend, to a large extent, on the prosperity of these. He was in favour of the first part of the Bill, but not of the second part. He was heartily in favour of everything that would promote fair dealing, and it would be just that every butcher and dealer in meat should have a notice in his shop that he dealt in foreign as well as English meat. It would also be fair that there should be a register of such dealers, that all who went to the shop might know that the dealer sold both kinds. But he was against marking, simply because, from the inquiries he had made, he believed it to be utterly impossible to carry it out fairly, and he did not think it would be wise to employ inspectors to do what a large body of testimony asserted was impossible. He had made inquiries, not only amongst butchers and others in his own constituency, but amongst large salesmen in the Smithfield Cattle Market, and amongst many consumers who were likely to know belonging to the working classes. He believed much foreign meat, and especially frozen meat, was not consumed so much by the working classes as in the large establishments of the well-to-do. Therefore, to the part of the Bill relating to this he was in opposition, simply because, from the evidence he had obtained, it was impossible to carry it out fairly. He believed the advantage of this Bill would be to the consumer rather than to agriculturists, in fact, those hon. Members who had quoted from the Report of the Commission had given rather a one-sided account of the evidence. He had read the Report carefully, and the evidence seemed to show that the best English meat, might obtain a slightly higher price. There was then a large quantity of English meat which obtained the price of best English meat, which would in the opinion of the Lords Committee be relegated to a second, third, or fourth position in the market, while to the second class would be assigned much 1295 of the meat brought to England in a live state and killed at the port of debarkation, and in the end, British agriculturists, unless they improved the quality of their meat, would not receive much benefit. But if in the different places where they sold foreign meat customers knew foreign meat was sold there, he believed it would be a great advantage to the consumer. He had had much experience in connection with the working of the Merchandise Marks Act as an importer of goods from abroad. It was no use deceiving themselves as to the patriotic motives of the consumer. He liked to know where articles came from, and as a matter of fact, the Merchandise Marks Act had had the effect, where a good article had been imported for the consumer, if he liked it, to ask for it again, whether it was "made in Germany '' or not. After all, our Free Trade Policy was built up on this principle. We could not produce all we required for ourselves, and the public knew that for a number of articles we were dependent on the foreigner. Therefore, let them not run away with the idea that the proposals of the Bill would mean enhanced prices. If the Bill could be restricted to notification as to the sale of foreign as well as English meat, and the registering of the dealer in both kinds, he hoped it would become law, because he believed it would be greatly to the benefit of consumers and fair trading throughout the country.
§ SIR A. ACLAND-HOOD (Somerset, Wellington)
said, the principle of this Bill was prominently before the country during the last General Election. It was supported by candidates of both Parties in agricultural constituencies, and no Conservative or Liberal Unionist candidate, when asked if he was in favour of the marking of foreign meat, said ''No.'' That being the case, he hoped they would be able to get this Measure read a second time, for it would go some distance towards the settlement of a vexed question. When farmers 1296 were told they must produce the best article, it was a mockery when they had done their best to allow them to be cheated in the open market. One half of the county he had the honour to represent was devoted to growing meat, and he said, with all respect to his Scotch friends, that it was about the best meat in Great Britain. [''Hear, hear!"] The other half of the county was devoted to the production, of Cheddar cheese. For some time Somersetshire did not feel agricultural depression as it was felt elsewhere, but owing to the home market being flooded with inferior foreign stuff, the farmers were more and more handicapped every year. It was said that if a distinction was made in every shop between British and foreign meat, purchasers would, in preference, buy foreign meat because it was cheaper. If this was so, how was it that butchers—who were no fools—did not sell British meat as foreign or colonial meat? He had resided in Australia two years, and, speaking from experience, he could say that Australian beef and mutton was vastly inferior to English meat. As to marking foreign and colonial meat, his Bill on the subject got as far as a Second Reading, but it subsequently came to grief owing to the assiduous attention of hon. Members. But they had since then ceased to belong to the House. [''Hear, hear!"] The question of marking foreign and colonial cheese affected producers in a large number of counties. Producers had had a hard struggle to make the manufacture of cheese pay, and they found it harder every year. The marking of cheese from abroad affected the consumer as well. The chief consumers of cheese were the working classes. It was very important that they should have cheap and unadulterated food, and there was not the slightest doubt, from the evidence of the inspectors, that a very large proportion of the foreign and colonial cheese was adulterated with fat, and even more deleterious compounds. In 1894, 1297 the weight of cheese imported from abroad was greater than that of the beef, and nearly equal to the mutton, and its value was greater than either the beef or the mutton imported. That proved that cheese formed a large amount of the food of this country, especially among the working classes. Four-fifths of it came from America and Canada. In grocers' shops there was a certain amount of American cheese described as Cheddar. Whether this was a fact or not, it was right that the working classes should know what they were buying. There could be no doubt that cheese was more easily adulterated than any other article of food. The farmer in England could not adulterate; it was not easy for him to do it; if it were, he was too honest; and if he were not, he had not got the brains. If this Bill became law, adulterated cheese would be driven out of the market, or it would be known as adulterated, and the customers could either refuse to buy it or to give the same price for it as unadulterated cheese. The Bill would be welcomed all over England by consumers, and therefore he would give the Second Reading his hearty support.
§ DR. FARQUHARSON
said, that he should be very sorry to support a Bill which would have the effect of raising the price of meat, but he could not see how any proposal in the Bill could have that effect. It was, at all events, a most reasonable requirement that customers should be allowed to know what it was they were buying. He was aware that the subject had excited great interest in the agricultural districts throughout the country, and that interest was manifested during the late General Election. Some of the best meat of this country was produced in Aberdeenshire, and all the efforts of the producers to produce good meat for home consumption might be thwarted by the ingenious frauds going on in London and elsewhere. While giving a general support to the Bill, he admitted it was open to Amendment, and he would warn its promoters against expecting too much from its practical operation. Clause 4, requiring foreign meat to be marked as such, appeared to be on the whole unworkable. As it was not practicable to mark meat in the way suggested, he would recommend that the clause should be dropped. 1298 To come down from a carcase to a "piece" raised the question what was meant by a "piece"—whether it was the side of a bullock, a mutton chop, or a miserable fragment taken by the poorest purchaser. He was strongly in favour of Clauses 5 and 6, requiring a vendor to say that he sold foreign and colonial meat, and not to sell imported as British or Irish, because, although there were differences of opinion as to whether experts could distinguish home grown from imported meat, the requirement of the clause would have a good moral effect upon dealers, and the enforcement of a distinction would allow purchasers to exercise a choice, and would operate as an incentive to home producers to produce the best meat when they found its quality really appreciated by British consumers.
§ COLONEL MILWARD (Warwick, Stratford-on-Avon)
in supporting the Second Reading said, that the subject excited the greatest interest in every village in South Warwickshire, where the people were anxious for legislation. Unfortunately in Parliament, agriculturists were fed only with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. If they stood up for great measures like Protection or Currency Reform, they were told they were sinning against economic law; therefore, there was the greater reason why a small Measure like this should be granted willingly. He did not consider that the marking of imported meat and produce presented insuperable difficulty, but he believed it to be just as practicable as that which was done in France with Birmingham buttons which were everywhere sold as "Made in England." The supposed difficulty was greatly diminished because butchers' meat passed through very few hands before it reached the shop of the retailer. If the best home grown meat and cheese were appreciated, a stimulus would be given to the agriculture of this country, which the people generally desired to support and encourage if they were afforded the opportunity, not by paying a higher price for the same quality, but by paying the same price for a better quality. At any rate, this was a matter that would soon settle itself under fair competition. There was no hardship in a butcher or grocer 1299 having to mark meat or cheese as imported, and he had great pleasure in supporting a Bill, the passing of which would great satisfaction to his constituents.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare E.)
said, that as the Bill applied to Ireland it was only right that some Irish Member should speak upon it. He might claim for his constituents that in their opinion Ireland as a meat producing country did not stand behind Scotland or England; on the contrary, the midland counties of Ireland fed some of the best cattle, and, therefore, the Bill would affect Ireland considerably. It was said that the Bill would introduce Protection, and would raise the prices of the food of the people. He was bound to say that, so far as Ireland was concerned, Protection would be, in many respects, a very desirable thing. But the Bill did not touch the question of Protection at all, and he was convinced that it would not injuriously affect the price of food. It simply gave the farmers fair play and justice. It also insured justice and fair play for the consumer, for it was to the interest of the consumer that goods in the market should be clearly marked, and that there should be no doubt whatever about the nature and quality of the food they were buying. It was said that the New Zealand frozen meat was not largely consumed by the working classes; that the working classes preferred the homegrown article. That was a great argument in the interest of the working classes in favour of the Bill, because the Bill would secure that they were not supplied with foreign meat instead of home-grown meat, for which they paid a higher price. He asked the opposers of the Bill what objection could a dealer, who desired to act honestly towards the consumer, have to the marking of foreign meat in his shop as foreign meat? If a dealer in foreign meat meant to act honestly towards his customers he could not raise any reasonable objection to having himself registered as a dealer in foreign meat. If it were true that in many cases it was difficult to distinguish foreign meat from home-grown meat, that was a good argument in favour of the Bill. The objection was raised that it would be difficult to mark the meat, because it was difficult to distinguish 1300 foreign meat from home-grown meat. But that was another reason for passing the Bill. If it were true—as it was true in many cases—that foreign meat could not be distinguished from homegrown meat, that was a good reason for securing that foreign meat should not be supplied to the consumer instead of the home-grown meat he desired. He thought the clause dealing with cheese should also be extended to butter. Cheese was not made in Ireland, but butter was very largely made there, and there were tons upon tons of foreign butter sold as Irish butter, to the great loss of Irish farmers. He thought the Bill was a very fair Bill, and he could not see how anyone could object to it. It would not compel anyone to buy home-grown meat instead of foreign meat. It would only secure that everyone got what he wanted—cheap and foreign meat, or the clear and homegrown meat.
§ MR. J. SAMUEL (Stockton)
said, there was one aspect of the Bill that had not been treated of in the Debate He referred to Clause 11, which dealt with the making of cheese. Whatever might be said in reference to the marking of foreign meat, he thought that no case had been made out in favour of marking foreign cheese. He spoke as a practical man on the subject, because he was a grocer; and he had been deputed by the Grocers' Association to lay their views before the House. He was surprised at the ignorance displayed by many hon. Members, and he regarded the statement that foreign cheese was sold as home cheese as a serious libel upon a most honest body of shopkeepers. There was not a boy or a girl who was accustomed to buy groceries that could not distinguish the difference between English cheese and American cheese. [Cries of "No, no!"] He made that statement deiberately—for the colour and taste were different. The tendency of many Bills introduced by Members was to increase, he price of the food of the people; and he warned the House that if this Measure were passed it would seriously increase the cost of cheese. ["Hear, hear!"] The 4th section of the Bill provided that every piece of cheese that was imported from abroad—whether from foreign countries or from the colonies—must have a label placed upon 1301 it. Now, in many grocers' shops they would find whole cheeses cut up into 11b. or 21b. pieces, and thus exposed in the windows, and if every one of these pieces should have a label, it would mean thousands of pounds of expense on the part of grocers in order to procure the labels. The hon. Member for the Central Division of Sheffield believed that we ought to have a commercial union with our colonies. Now, the largest importation of cheese was from Canada. While the importation of American cheese was decreasing, the importation of Canadian cheese was increasing year by year; and, therefore, while the hon. Member supported a commercial bond between the mother country and the colonies, he was anxious at the same time to injure the production of cheese in the colonies. He hoped the House would reject the Bill, because, if passed, while it would not effect the purpose in view, it would harass a large section of respectable tradesmen.
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
, said that this Bill, so far from increasing the price of the people's food, would be of great advantage to the consumer, and especially to the working-class consumer. It would not deprive him of foreign or colonial meat, if he wanted it, but it would ensure that he got what he wanted. The Canadian manufacturers of cheese had no desire to obtain a market in this country by false pretences. Their cheese was of good and improving quality. No previous speaker had mentioned the very remarkable Report made to the Foreign Office by the former Secretary of Legation, at Copenhagen, as to the system of marking meat adopted there. Sir Francis Denys' Report was dated 18th March 1893. It described how in Copenhagen, meat was divided into two classes—the first including meat of the perfectly healthy animal, and the second that of the in-inferior animal. The stamp used was an ordinary metal stamp with a wooden handle; the colour used for the marking was specially prepared, dried quickly, adhered well, and was only effaced with difficulty. An ox was marked in 12 different spots, the stamps being put in such places as had proved most suitable with respect to the sale and division of meat. Sir Francis Denys spoke of this 1302 system as being highly advantageous on sanitary as well as on economic grounds. He said—The system works admirably, and humanly speaking, is almost perfect. The incalculable benefit to the population of all classes from this control cannot be over-estimated.It was because he thought that the same results might be obtained in this country, that he should heartily support the Second Reading.
§ CAPTAIN CHALONER (Wilts, Westbury)
, in a maiden speech, said that he had heard with astonishment an hon. Member accusing the promoters of this Bill of desiring protection. He wished to contradict that assertion, and he would do so out of the hon. Member's own mouth. After saying that the object of the Bill was to raise prices, the hon. Member proceeded to say that the effect of the Bill would not be to raise prices. Both things could not be. All they asked for was fair play for the English producers, and a security that the consumer who wished to buy foreign meat should be able to do so at foreign prices, and not at the price of English meat. Agriculture at present was in a very grievous condition, and this Bill would do something to assist English agriculturists.
§ SIR JOHN KINLOCH (Perthshire, E.),
said, that as a representative of a cattle feeding district he should support the Bill. The price of prime home-fed meat would slightly rise as a consequence of the Bill; but the well-to-do people who preferred it would not mind paying another penny or twopence a pound for it. The price of foreign meat would at the same time go down, if it separated in its sale from the home grown. The reduction in price would be a direct benefit to the poor people, and the foreign producer would not suffer, because the cost of the reduction would come out of the pockets of the butchers who were now making an uncommonly fine thing by selling foreign meat as home grown. If this system of licensing and registration contained in the Bill were carried out, he saw no difficulty in distinguishing between home and foreign meat. No expert would have any difficulty in deciding between them.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. C. T. RITCHIE,) Croydon
said, that having regard to the importance of the Bill, he hoped the House would come to some conclusion upon it. [Cheers.] It was evident that the general consensus of opinion in the House was in favour of some legislation of this kind. Hon. Members on both sides of the House had borne witness to that. The hon. Member for East Wilts had disavowed any idea of protection, and he did not think that such an idea had entered into the heads of the promoters of the Bill. They simply believed that it was desirable to insure by legislation that a consumer asking for a certain thing should get it. If a fair and just Measure could be framed which would prevent misrepresentation in the sale of food, he thought that the producer was entitled to that amount of protection. Whether or not it would be advantageous to him in the long run was another matter. As to its influence on the consumer, the House had heard from more than one quarter that the result would be to make the seller of foreign meat content himself with a much smaller profit than he now took. [Cheers.] It was clear that if the seller was able to pass off foreign meat as English meat he would obtain a higher price for it; and therefore if the foreign and the English meat were compulsorily separated, the foreign meat must be sold at a considerable reduction in price. The producer was the best judge of whether that would be for his interest. He himself had very considerable doubts on the subject; but his hon. Friends were content to take the risk, and rested themselves on the principle that by some means or other a man ought to be able to know what it was that he bought. ["Hear, hear!"] As to the means adopted in the Bill, he was bound to say that he did not think its provisions were workable. [Opposition cheers.] The practical difficulties in connection with the marking of the meat, however small the quantity, were extremely great. He doubted very much whether it was possible to overcome them, and he would point out that the proposal now recommended to mark all meat was negatived by the House of Lords Committee, so that his hon. Friend could not look to the Report of the Lords Committee for 1304 support to the mode he proposed of dealing with the matter. At the same time he agreed with his hon. Friend in the desire to secure, if possible, by some means or other, the punishment of fraud or misrepresentation in regard to the sale of meat. The law at present was this. If any man went into a butcher's shop and asked for meat and got a bill to say that the meat was English meat and it turned out to be foreign meat, then the seller was under penalty. But no one did ask whether the meat was English, and very few bills were taken, and therefore the law was to a large extent inoperative. It might be desirable to amend the law so that when a person buys meat the butcher should declare to the buyer, if he was not giving English meat, that the meat was foreign, and that, if he was guilty of misrepresentation under these circumstances, there should be an action or punishment by fine. He did not, however, wish to commit himself to any particular mode of dealing with the subject. If the hon. Member would be content to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, where the whole question could be thoroughly examined, he should be willing to support the Second Reading; and he hoped the House of Commons would also be prepared unanimously to read the Bill a second time on that understanding.
§ MR. H. E. KEARLEY (Devonport)
said, the Select Committee had already collected evidence on this question, and he failed therefore to see why the time of Members of Parliament should be wasted in further inquiry. No doubt the Bill was a well-intentioned Measure, much in favour with agriculturists, but in his opinion its provisions would be inoperative and vexatious. In order to show its impracticability, he would point out that it applied not only to butchers, but to grocers, bakers, hotel-keepers and railway refreshment rooms, because in all these places meat and cheese were exposed for sale, and if all these people were compelled to exhibit in capital letters, as the Bill enacted, that they were dealers in foreign or colonial meat or cheese, the Bill would become a sign-writer's Bill. They were told that the Bill should be welcome because the administration would be cheap, but all the experience they had of the ways of local authorities tended to show that they were not working the 1305 Acts already entrusted to them in the direction of getting purity of food, and did not exert themselves to give effect to the Acts of Parliament. He thought, therefore, that if agriculturists relied upon the local authorities for the effective working of the Act they would find themselves disappointed. An inspector was to be invested with plenary powers to go into a shop and take samples without paying for them, and he was not called upon to leave a corresponding sample with the shopkeeper, so that there would be no identification possible after the moat or cheese had left the shop. Again, it was to be competent to bring a prosecution within three months. How could meat be identified three months afterwards? He was in the fullest possible sympathy with the agriculturist Members in looking forward to getting all the protection they could against unfair competition; but he objected to the Bill, not in a sense of extreme hostility, but because he thought its provisions were impracticable; he did not think it would work, and, if worked, it would be extremely vexatious to those who would have to bear the consequences of it.
§ MR. J. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
agreed very much with the observations of the President of the Board of Trade, but not with his conclusions. In spite of the disclaimers of the promoters, the Bill was substantially a Measure of a Protectionist character. ["No."] Nearly all the arguments which had been advanced in support of it might just as well have been used in defence of a Measure for protecting, not domestic meat, but domestic corn. [Cheers and counter cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that Parliament should, if possible, enact a Bill which would protect the purchaser against any fraud being practised upon him by way of representing that to be English meat which was, in fact, colonial meat, was one with which nobody would quarrel. They should all be glad to see a Mea- 1306 sure passed which would give additional protection against fraud. There was protection against fraud already whenever any false representation was made. The President of the Board of Trade suggested that that principle might be extended so as to lay down in future that whenever a man sold meat without giving an express stipulation as to its origin people should assume it to be home grown. He did not think silence ought to convey as much as that; but that, however, was not a provision of the Bill. That was a suggestion which, if made, ought to be made in a Bill to be introduced by the Government for the purpose. They must deal with the Bill in reference to its contents, and they found in it a number of provisions which were admitted to be unworkable. He believed that the more the Bill was examined the more it would be found that not only were the provisions unworkable, but that the result of its operation would be the very opposite of that which the agricultural Members desired. Why did he believe the Measure would not carry out the wishes of those hon. Gentlemen? It rested on the assumption that whenever the purchaser knew that meat was foreign grown he would prefer to purchase home grown meat. It was said by the promoters of the Bill that in some instances the difference between the price of foreign meat and that of home grown meat was as much as from 4½d. to l0½d. a pound. Did hon. Members believe that where a purchaser could get meat which was practically indistinguishable to his own taste from home grown meat at 4½d. a pound, whereas he would have to pay l0½d. a pound for home grown meat, he would prefer to pay the additional 6d. for the sake of having home grown meat? One had only to state the proposition to show its absurdity. Even the patriotism which animated the hon. Member for Sheffield would hardly be found equal to paying 6d. a pound extra.—[Sir HOWARD VINCENT: "It is," and 1307 laughter.]—It was perfectly clear that the only effect of the Bill would be to disparage the sale of home grown meat, and to increase the sale of foreign and colonial meat—in other words, the British agriculturist would be worse off than he was now. If the Bill would not benefit the agriculturists, was there any reason why the House should pass it? Was there any reason why the House should even refer it to a Select Committee? He considered that where they had a Bill which contained unworkable provisions, where its action would result in the damage rather than the benefit of the interests which asked for it, and where the Bill embodied principles which would lead them on to further protection, the House ought to pause before they gave the Measure its sanction.
§ MR. ARTHUR JEFFREYS (Hants,) Basingstoke
said, that as to the right hon. Gentleman's statement that farmers were being taken in by the Measure, and that the British public would prefer foreign meat, he could only say the British farmer would be only too glad to try the experiment. At the present time thousands of pounds of foreign and colonial meat were sold as British, and that was what the promoters of the Bill vanted to prevent. They wished to prevent fraud; there was no idea of protection. Lord Playfair stated at the time he was a colleague of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that wilful misrepresentation of a gross and fraudulent character had been indulged in with regard to the sale of foreign meat, and the Government were anxious to see the provisions of the Merchandise Marks Act carried out. It was a striking fact that in several countries, beginning with Belgium, every lot of meat was marked, and that with very little trouble and expense. The marking of meat was carried out in certain of the United States, in Italy, in the Netherlands, in Germany, and in Denmark, and therefore it was perfectly ridiculous to say it 1308 could not be done. The hon. Member for Devonport had said cheese could not be marked. Clause II. referred to cheese, and if it were found unmarkable, the only thing to do was to strike it out. The chief object of the Bill was that meat should be sold for what it was. If the British public liked foreign meat at 4d, or 6d. per lb let them have it. His hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading was prepared to have the Bill sent to a Select Committee, on which he would be quite ready to agree to any reasonable Amendments.
§ SIR JAMES JOICEY (Durham, Chester-le-Street),
who rose amidst cries of "Divide," was surprised the House should be so anxious to come to a decision when so vital a question as that involved in this Bill was at stake. The Bill had not been fully discussed, and he, as the representative of a large consuming constituency, maintained he was entitled to put forward his views in regard to it. This was one of a series of Bills of the same description. He did not think any one or any large section of Members would have the courage to attempt to put a duty upon the foreign food supply of this country, but he was sorry to say there were many Members who were anxious to bring about that end by a different method. What was the Prison-made Goods Bill, of the hon. Member for Sheffield (Sir Howard Vincent), but a Bill of this description? What was the Resolution with regard to Bimetallism which they discussed last night, but one containing the principle of protection for Lancashire? What was this Bill but one to protect the meat grown in this country as against foreign imported meat? He maintained that if they accepted this Bill, they would be obliged to protect all food. They would have Bills brought in insisting on the marking of eggs, butter and cheese, and every baker in the country would be obliged to certify that his loaves were made of English wheat. 1309 There would be great difficulty in carrying out the Bill even if it were passed.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said that if he saw any symptoms that there was any considerable number of hon. Gentlemen prevented from expressing their opinions he would not accept the Motion; but the Debate appeared to be exhausted, and, although he regretted to interrupt the observations of the hon. Gentleman, he accepted the Motion for Closure.
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 224; Noes, 98.—(Division List, No. 58).
§ Question put accordingly:—
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 239; Noes, 82.—(Division List, No. 59.)
§ Main Question proposed:—
§ And, it being after half-past Five of the clock, and objection being taken to further proceeding, Mr. Speaker proceeded to interrupt the Basiness:—
§ Whereupon Mr. MILDMAY claimed, "That the main Question be now put."
§ Main Question put accordingly, and agreed to; Bill read 2a.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee."—(Mr. Ritchie.)—Debate arising;
§ And, objection being taken to further proceeding, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.