MR. WINGFIELD-DIGBY (Dorset. N.) moved, "That this Bill he now read a Second time." He said it would be in the recollection of the House that a Bill similar to the present, although in a somewhat different form, was brought forward last year, on which occasion the principle of the Measure was affirmed after debate by the large majority of three to one. On the occasion to which he referred the promoters of the Bill had had the advantage of having a speech made on behalf of the Government by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Hoard of Trade, whose absence that day on account of indisposition they must all regret. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman came down to the House last year, and with open arms accepted the principle of the Measure on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. In these circumstances he regarded the Government as pledged to the principle of the Bill now before the House. The present Measure was drawn upon the same lines as the Bill of last year, and, therefore, he need not go over the ground again which had been traversed last Session. On the previous occasion there was a manifest opinion in favour of the principle of the Bill then before the House, but in order to meet certain criticisms of the former Measure, a few alterations had been introduced into the present Bill, which, he thought, would get, rid of all possible objections that might otherwise have been raised against the details of the Measure. He would like, in the first place, to point out that the present Bill was backed by a far larger number of hon. Members representing the opinions of the constituencies of the three divisions of the United Kingdom than had been responsible for the introduction of the Measure of last year. This was an indication that the principle of the Bill was approved by public opinion throughout England, Scotland, and Ireland. In
the present Bill, the clause requiring labels to be attached to foreign produce was omitted, and it merely provided for marking carcases, hams and cheeses. He remembered that last year the minds of hon. Members seemed to be greatly exercised with regard to the difficulties of marking foreign produce. He, however, held in his hand a Consular Report from our representative in Denmark, which set forth exactly how carcases were stamped in Copenhagen. He understood that the same plan was about to be carried out in Holland and in various other countries, and in that case he could see no difficulty in carrying it out in this country. With regard to the marking of cheeses, he might refer the House to the system proposed by Lord Winchilsea to the British Farm Produce Association. The alterations which had been made in Clauses 4, 6 and 9 were merely for the purposes of drafting. In Clause 15 one or two changes had been effected for the purpose of meeting the criticisms which had been made upon the Bill of last year. The clause had also been extended so as to include the carcases of swine. By the same clause the definition of English, Scotch, and Irish meat as distinguished from foreign meat was given as meat killed within the United Kingdom, thus excluding frozen meat, the consumers of which were liable to cancer and other terrible diseases. [Cries of "Oh!"] Expert medical authorities had asserted that it was impossible to trace cattle disease of any kind in frozen meat, and, therefore, the consumers of it were liable to eat diseased meat which was absolutely unfit for human consumption. The effect of this alteration would be to prevent this frozen meat being sold as English meat. He should like to call attention to the action of those who were associated for the purpose of bringing about the alteration in the law which was proposed to be effected by this Bill. At the last General Election the National Agricultural Union had inquired of all candidates for agricultural constituencies whether they were in favour of the principle of this Bill, which was intended to help agriculture. Almost all the candidates replied in the affirmative, and, therefore, there were a large number of the representatives of agricultural constituencies on both sides of the House who had obtained the agricultural vote
on the strength of that declaration, and who were, therefore, distinctly and solemnly pledged to support this Measure. It had been objected by some hon. Members that the effect of the Bill would be to raise the price of foreign meat, and to lower that of English meat, because it would tend to show the superiority of the former; but as yet no evidence had come to his knowledge that would show that foreign meat was better than English meat. It was an, undoubted fact that the meat consumers in this country were defrauded by having foreign meat palmed off upon them for English meat, and that at English prices. The second reason advanced by the grocers for their opposition to the Bill was—
That the poor classes, who buy meat in small quantities at the close of the week, when wages are paid, care very little whether it be English or imported meat, provided the price is low.
If the Bill were passed, foreign meat would have to be sold as foreign meat, and the poorer classes, if they preferred that article, would be able to get it cheaper than at present; but the mere fact that at most butchers' stalls meat was labelled "English" proved that there was a preference for the home-fed article. The third objection of the grocers was—
That the Bill, it passed, would not prevent fraud where either meat or cheese is sold, as is generally the case, in small quantities and portions to the working classes.
That, he thought, conceded the point of the opponents of the Bill, that this fraud did, in large part, exist. The fourth objection, and the only objection which applied to the grocers themselves, was—
That the carrying of such an Act would prove harassing to retail provision dealers, who would be liable to vexatious and frivolous prosecutions.
Prosecutions were carried out last year in the three towns of Oxford, Leamington, and Warwick, and the fines imposed were so small that they might well be considered frivolous. But one of the defendants sent round a story book advertisement explaining that it was only by an accident that a purchaser was supplied with a foreign ham instead of an English
ham in his shop, and that he had taken precautions that no such accident should occur again, which showed that some good had resulted to consumers and producers from those prosecutions. Another objection of the grocers was "That this law would apply to 100,000 retailers in the United Kingdom." But he hoped the Bill would pass, and that the law would be applied to those retailers who desired to carry on a fraudulent trade. He hoped the Government, following up the support which they gave to the principle of the Bill last year, would give facilities this Session for the passing of the Measure into law. The Bill was based on the old English saying; "Honesty is the best policy," and what was morally right could not be politically wrong. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. F. B. MILDMAY (Devon, Totnes)
said the Bill might roughly be divided into two parts—one providing for the registration of dealers in foreign meat, and the other for the marking of foreign meat and cheese. When the Bill was before the House last year, little or no exception was taken to the registration clause; and he supposed that this year again the opposition to the Bill would be directed to the provisions for the identification of foreign meat. That part of the Bill was based on the excellent principle that the consumer was entitled to know what he was buying, and that it was fraud to sell to him foreign meat as British meat, and to charge him at the same time home-fed prices. ["Hear, hear!"] Two of the arguments advanced against the Bill last year were that it would entail an additional burden on the ratepayers, and would be very harassing to the butchers. But in the evidence given before the Lords' Committee, which had inquired into the whole subject, it was shown that no increase would be necessary in the staffs of local inspectors for the purpose of the Bill; and that the Butchers' Association gave unqualified approval to the proposition that carcases and hams should be marked to show their origin. It was also said that the Bill could bring no benefit to the farmers, as the public would always buy foreign meat in preference to British meat, because it was cheaper; but the fact that large quantities of foreign meat were admittedly sold as British meat showed that there was a decided preference for the home-fed article. Perhaps the most 681 ridiculous argument advanced against the Bill last year was that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Aberdeen, who said, "this Bill was pure protection, just the same as a duty on corn."
§ MR. MILDMAY
said that the words used by the right hon. Gentleman were: —"The Bill is substantially a Measure of a protectionist character." [Mr. BRYCE: "Hear. hear!"] Protect ion, in the political sense, meant protection to the producer at the expense of increased price to the consumer. This Bill would enable working men to get foreign meat at a lower price. ["Hear, hear!"] Supposing the butcher of his own free will did what the Bill would make obligatory, and said to his customers, "That is British meat, and this is foreign meat." Would that be giving an unfair advantage to the British farmer? The consumer surely had a right to get what he paid for; but the opponents of the Bill practically demanded that the middleman should be allowed to defraud the consumer to any extent. The right hon. Gentleman posed as the champion of Free Trade. He was rather the advocate of free fraud. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.]
§ MR. BRYCE
I said that fraud was already sufficiently dealt with by the existing law; that the advocates of the Bill, if they did not agree in that opinion, should strengthen the provisions of the existing law; and that if the Bill had been specially directed against fraud, there might have been a case for its consideration. But the Bill was not so directed.
§ MR. MILDMAY
said that the whole argument for this Bill was that it was to do away with fraud. The position of the right hon. Gentleman argued a want of faith in the principles of free trade, which did not depend for their existence on imposture. ["Hear, hear!"] Those hon. Members were the real protectionists who wished to enable the middleman to 682 continue the exaction of a first-class price for a second-class article. The British farmer did not ask for exceptional treatment, but merely for fair play, and he hoped that the Government would take a stronger attitude in relation to this Bill than they did in relation to tile Bill of last year.
§ MR. G. LAMBERT (Devon, South Molton)
said that all the agricultural Members in his part, of the world pledged themselves to the principle of this Bill at the last election. He regretted that, though the enormous majority of the Government was largely made up by the agricultural interest, the Motion for the rejection of the Bill came from the Government side of the House. Last year the Government tried to shelve the Measure by referring it to a Select Committee. He hoped they would give it a stronger support in the present year. He did not think that the patriotism of the British public was a considerable factor in this question, because the people would get the best meat they could at the cheapest price. But he supported the Bill because the farmers of North Devon believed that they produced the finest meat in the world. The Measure had not the least taint of protection, and if he thought that it would enhance the price of meat to the consumer, he would not support it. But as the British farmer had been exhorted to depend on his own efforts, he thought that he should be given fair play in meeting foreign competition. ["Hear, hear!"] The Report, of the Select Committee gave many instances of foreign meat being sold as British meat, and at the price of British meat. While hoping that the Bill would be passed into law, he was sorry that the proposals were not so comprehensive as those of last year's Bill, which provided for the marking of all foreign meat, whether imported dead or alive. The effect of the present Measure would be much greater in respect to mutton than in respect to beef.
§ MR. G. WHITELEY (Stockport)
said that he came down to the House with a fairly open mind on this Bill, expecting to hear arguments in support of it which would weigh with him. But he had heard none, and he should vote against the Bill. The Measure would create the maximum amount of trouble and expense to the 683 general community, to the retail tradesman, and to the local authorities, while giving the minimum amount of benefit to the consumer. This marking craze had gone far enough already, and in its present extent it had hardly proved beneficial. But if it were desirable and justifiable to develop this policy of marking meat and cheese, it must be extended to every product that came into the country to compete with, our own products. There must be marking for fruit, vegetables, corn, flour, barley, and butter.
§ MR. G. WHITELEY
said that in that case he should vote against the Government. Was every humble honest sausage that came into the country to be marked? They had only to carry this policy a little further to reach the reductio ad absurdum. They must mark a ham, but if they cut a ham in two then they need not mark it! If the consumer was to be properly protected, then, remembering the large number of people who took their food in hotels, every dish at the table d'hôte must be marked as to whether it came from abroad or not. He could not regard a Lords' Committee on a question of meat supply as quite an impartial authority. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Why not? Because noblemen in the House of Lords were mostly concerned with the production of meat, and certainly they would hardly be regarded as a body as the best judges of calico imported into this country. Generally he was jealous of agricultural policy in the House of Commons. He spoke as a town Member. He thought the policy was dictated by motives of self-interest, though he did not blame hon. Members who promoted it, because he admitted he was animated by the same motives himself. How had this policy been developed during the present Parliament? Last year they had the Rating Act, which taxed the great tax-producing centres for the relief of county rates, while those centres were taxed twice or three times as much as the counties, and in many respects while their trade was worse. Then they had the Cattle Diseases Act, and now they had the present Bill for marking meat, which was 684 against the interests of the general consumer. The sole idea of this policy might be summarised in this way, so far as the towns were concerned—increased taxes, restricted meat supply, annotated chops, and blue or green butter. [Laughter.] The consumers in this country wanted good meat and cheap, and they did not care where the meat came from. He would give the Bill his vehement opposition.
§ MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE (Hereford)
thought that if the hon. Member had taken the trouble to read the Bill before he set himself to criticise it, the time of the House might have been saved. For his part, if he thought this was in any way a Measure of Protection, he should not support it. He supported it because it was a Measure of protection to the consumers, who surely ought to know what they ate and drank. He wished to know, however, what was the opinion of the Government upon the Bill, because at the present moment the Treasury Bench was absolutely tenantless, as far as the Presidents of the Departments interested were concerned.
§ MR. H. T. ANSTRUTHER (St. Andrew's Burghs)
explained that the President of the Board of Trade was absent from indisposition, while the President of the Board of Agriculture was detained by an important engagement elsewhere, and hoped to be present every minute.
§ SIR JAMES JOICEY (Durham, Chester-le-Street)
said that, although he represented a county constituency which took a deal of interest in this question, he felt sure that if he were to canvass it, he would find that nine out of ten of his constituents strongly opposed legislation of this kind. He thought that anyone bringing in such a Measure, which would interfere with a particular trade, was bound to show a very strong case for it, in order to induce the House of Commons to support it. He confessed— although he had read most of the arguments advanced upon this subject (not having had the honour of hearing many of the speeches in regard to it)—that he could see nothing which this Bill would do, except harrass the trade and give very little advantage to the consumer. What he would ask the promoters of the Measure was, had the consumers of the country asked for protection of this kind? So far as he was 685 able to judge, he was bound to say that they had given no expression of opinion on the Question.
§ MR. MILDMAY
, interrupting, said a large number of working men in great industrial centres had passed Resolutions in favour of legislation of this kind.
§ SIR JAMES JOICEY
said the hon. Member might know of an odd case or two where that had been done, but he was certain that if the effect of this legislation were to be explained to any body of working men in this country, they would vote against the Measure. ["Hear, hear!" and cries of "No!"] He lived in a district where probably there were as many working men as in any other district, namely, on Tyneside, and was certain that they could not get a single meeting of any importance of the working classes which would be in favour of the Bill. Had the working classes ever made any complaints as to the quality of the meat they got because it was foreign? He was bound to say that in his judgment they had not. The working classes were as well able to spend money in purchasing good food as any oilier class. All they wanted was good meat. They did not care whether that meat was from abroad, or whether it was grown in this country. Therefore he was hound to say that in his judgment the Bill was altogether against the wishes of the working classes. The Bill, as had been admirably stated by the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. G WHITELEY) would confer a maximum of disadvantage with a minimum of advantage, and if its operation were to be confined simply to carcases, it would do no good, and would not be carrying out the objects its supporters had in view. Besides, it would tend to increase the cost to the consumer, because, unless it did that, he did not see how it could have any effect whatever upon the producer. In his opinion it was the producer who was anxious to promote this legislation, and not the consumer. ["Hear, hear!"] This sort of legislation did not affect only this country. He had a considerable experience of foreign trade, and was bound to say that this kind of legislation was producing a very bad effect abroad. It was leading in retaliation, and it, was irritating foreign countries. [Cries of "Oh!" and "hear, hear!"] Yes, it was creating a bad feeling abroad 686 against the British, and if this country persisted in legislation of the sort, it would undoubtedly bring about retaliation abroad. Many ways could be adopted abroad of injuring British trade without any serious effort. One was to cause a strong feeling of irritation to be produced among the traders abroad. This kind of legislation produced that irritation, and in his judgment it would do very much more mischief than the promoters of the Bill thought. He opposed the Bill because he did not believe it was in the interests of the consumers. He opposed it, too, because it was against the interests of the trade of this country, and also because he thought this sort of legislation tended towards Protection, and produced very great mischief, instead of good.
§ SIR A. ACLAND-HOOD (Somerset, W.)
said he had addressed meetings all over the country during the last live years, and had found, especially on the part of agricultural labourers, that a Measure of this sort was most strongly advocated. Not the smallest evidence had been adduced in support of the assertion that it would increase the cost of meat to the consumer, nor of the allegation that it would produce irritation abroad. He would like to call the attention of the House to the Report of the Food Products Adulteration Committee in respect of cheese. Here was what the Report said:—The adulteration of this article commonly takes one of two forms. Instead of being made of full milk, it is made either from skimmed milk without additions, or from skimmed milk to which lard, oleo oil, or some other foreign fat is added in compensation for the removal of the cream from the milk.☦Your Committee are informed that large quantities of this imitation cheese are imported from abroad, chiefly from America☦The profits made from the sale of these cheeses, when they are fraudulently substituted for full milk cheeses, are said to be enormous, amounting to as much as 10s. per ewt.The Committee further said that some means should be taken to prevent fraudulent sale of these imitation cheeses for lull milk cheeses. In his evidence Mr. Lloyd said that—imported cheese should be examined to make sure it is not, tilled cheese. At present they might label it Stilton, or they might label it Cheddar, or Cheshire.
§ MR. WHITELEY
Read that part of the Report which says that the view of the agricultural members is that margarine should be coloured either red or green. [Laughter.]
§ SIR A. ACLAND-HOOD
said that he did not see the point of that interruption. Cheese was very largely the food of the poorer classes. He did not think that hon. Members realised what was the immense amount of cheese imported into this country. Over 112,000 tons of cheese had been imported in 1896, at a value of £4,900,428, and much of it was undoubtedly adulterated. Bacon was also largely consumed by the working classes, the quantity imported in 1896 being 227,467 tons, of a value of £7,854,515. A large quantity of bacon was sent to this country from Denmark every year in a green state, and it was finally sold in England as "home-grown." That was a distinct fraud on the purchaser. This Bill was, therefore, purely a Measure of protection to the consumer. It was intended to prevent him from being robbed, and from having his pocket picked. The general evidence given before the Committee showed that the expense of working the Bill would be very small, and he thought that the framers of the Measure had done their best to meet the objections urged last year by the supporters of the butchers and others against marking small quantities of meat. The Bill had been widely discussed before the last General Election. It was asked for by every Chamber of Agriculture, by every farmers' club, and it was a Measure which inflicted no hardship on any honest tradesman. It would, on the other hand, give the British farmer all he asked for—fair play and no favour. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ * DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)
said that last year he supported the Bill, because he represented the largest cattle-feeding county in Scotland. His constituents were strongly in favour of some Measure of this kind, and at nearly every meeting he attended in the North of Scotland he was thoroughly "heckled" on this question, and he had been expected to give some kind of pledge in its favour. A certain amount of conflict between town and country in the matter was inevitable, but he contended that no attack was being made on the interests of the towns by this Measure, while, on 688 the other hand, it would do good to the agricultural constituencies at present suffering from depression. There would be some trouble and expense in working the Bill, but, in his judgment, it was better than the Measure of last year, because the marking of produce was to be on the principle of wholesale, and not of retail. If they looked at the evidence given before the Committee of the House of Lords, he thought that a case had been made out for the Bill. While he did not think that frozen, meat was as good as ordinary meat, he doubted whether its nutritious value was so much inferior as had been alleged. Frozen meat was not so good, so palatable, or so digestible, and, therefore, could not he put on the same plane as home-grown meat; but hon. Members went too far when they spoke of cancer and other diseases being produced by frozen meat. The only diseases among animals were pleuro-pneumonia—which was not communicated to the human, subject—foot-and-mouth disease, and tuberculosis, which was as common in this country as anywhere else. He recognised the justice of the principle that people who preferred home-grown meat had the right to procure it without fraudulent imitation, and that here the farmers had a grievance. He not as not enthusiastically in favour of the marking principle of the Bill, and judged that the framers of the Measure appeared to hold the same view, because the onus of a distinct or definite process of marking had been placed on the Board of Agriculture. He was glad that in this Bill there was no proposal for marking small pieces of meat. Carcases and large pieces were alone to be marked. The condition that everyone intending to sell foreign meat must obtain a special licence would possibly not prevent dishonest people from swindling, but it might have a deterrent effect, which was important. He failed, however, to see how a trader who was not licensed could be prevented from selling foreign meat. What test could be applied to determine whether his meat was foreign or British? He doubted greatly whether even an expert could tell the difference between a piece of first-class beef coming from abroad, which was not frozen, and a piece of British meat. If he were right in entertaining that doubt, of what avail would be inspection? 689 Chemistry would not help an inspector to detect the difference, nor would the microscope. Better means of satisfying purchasers that the article bought by them was British produce was supplied by the existence of agencies such as that which Lord Winchilsea had established. He was triad that he had been quite unable to sniff any protectionist taint in this legislation. [Laughter.] It was not proposed to give any sort of preference, to home-grown produce. The only preference was to be that which a good thing deserved as compared with an inferior one, and the farmer and consumer were only to be protected against fraudulent imitation, he did not see how the Bill could raise the price of meat, except, perhaps, that of the highest class, and housekeepers would not object to pay a little more for prime Aberdeenshire beef, which might he described as the "champagne" of meats. All the farmers wanted was a fair field and no favour. In Aberdeenshire the bulk of the farmers were free traders, and all they asked was that something should be done to enable the public to discriminate between the false and the true. It had been suggested that legislation of this kind might injure the farmers, because the public might eventually come to prefer foreign to home meat. The farmers were quite ready to accept that risk. The evidence before the Royal Commission went to show that the average quality of the foreign meat was better than the second and third class of British meat. If that were the case, farmers, if they were wise, would try to breed none but the very best beasts, for only in that way could they hope to hold their own against foreign competition. Before he sat down, he wished to ask whether, if Canadian store cattle were again to come into this country, they would under this Bill he treated as foreign cattle, after having been fed and finished in Aberdeenshire? [Cries of "Certainly not!"] He was glad to hear that, and believing that the Bill, though open to improvement, embodied provisions which were likely to be useful to agriculture, he should vote for the Second Reading.
§ SIR ELLIOTT LEES (Birkenhead)
said that, as he could not support the Bill, he must ask his hon. Friends to remember that election pledges given on one side were as binding as election pledges given 690 on the other. However disagreeable it was to act against those with whom he was ordinarily associated, he was of course bound to fulfil the pledges he had given. He deprecated the suggestion that had been thrown out that there was any dividing line between the interests of town and country in this matter. He recognised with pleasure that the Measure was in some respects less open to criticism than its predecessor. In the Bill of last year cattle imported alive from America and Argentina, and killed at the port of disembarkation, were to be accounted foreign meat. Under the present Bill they were not to be so considered. A man did not become a horse because he was born in a stable, and cattle bred from British stores exported to other countries could not be considered foreign meat in any genealogical sense. The plan of marking small pieces of meat had now been abandoned, and it was proposed to mark large pieces only; but he did not see how this would protect the poor consumer, unless he was actually present when the meat was cut up. The richer consumer was able to protect himself, for he ought to be able to detect, the difference in quality and flavour between frozen and British' meat. The matter had been brought home to himself, because a butcher had supplied his household with meat which turned out in have been frozen—[Laughter]—but the quality of the meat was soon detected. ["Hear, hear!"] He was afraid that a Measure of this sort would create a good deal of harassing inspection and interference, rather on Continental lines, with a very estimable class in this country, and he was therefore unable to support the Bill.
§ MR. DENIS KILBRIDE (Galway, N.)
denied that the question which was raised was one of protection rersus free trade, or of town rersus country: it was a question of fair and honest, dealing as against fraudulent dealing. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not want the consumer to be defrauded. He did not see any of the representatives of Wales on the Benches on that side of the House, and yet if there was any part of the United Kingdom which was interested in legislation of this sort it was Wales. Anybody going through the City of London to-day would 691 see mutton labelled as Welsh which really came from New Zealand or Argentina.
§ MR. KILBRIDE
said he did not know whether any English mutton had the right to be labelled Welsh mutton. [Laughter.] The consumers did not know the extent to which they were defrauded by dishonest traders who sold foreign produce as home-grown. ["Hear, hear!"] There was no substance in the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Stockport that this legislation was not needed because the consumers had not made a strong demand for it. He was told by hon. Members opposite that foreign meat was as good as homegrown meat; but the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, who he was sure was looked upon as an expert on this question, had declared on his professional reputation that foreign meat was not to be compared in quality with home-grown meat. He pointed out that the War Office had laid down in their regulations for the supply of meat to the troops that 60 per cent, of these supplies must be home-grown, and no contractor was allowed to provide the troops with more than 40 per cent, of foreign produce. If the opinion of the Government was that foreign meat was equal in nutritive quality to home-grown meat, why did they make this difference in regard to the meat supplied to the troops? The Financial Secretary to the War Office had said about a month ago that the Government were taking into consideration the exact percentage of the superiority of home-grown meat to foreign refrigerated meat, and were having the benefit of expert opinion upon the matter, so that they might differentiate between the two. He agreed that they could not mark chops, sausages, or small articles, but the Bill provided that anybody dealing in foreign meat should be registered, and should display over his shop a sign which communicated that fact to the public. It provided that foreign produce should be marked in the bulk, in order to safeguard the public against fraudulent dealers. When the carcases were marked, and some retail dealer went down to Tilbury Docks or the meat market, and bought a number of carcases of mutton branded as foreign produce, his customers 692 would find out the fact that he was dealing in foreign produce. He would be the last man to support a Bill brought forward in the interests of the landlords and their rents, but this was not a Bill in favour of landlords; its object was to enable the English, Irish, Scotch and Welsh producer to get value for what he produced. It was said that the Bill would increase the price of meat. He denied this. It would not increase the price of meat of average quality. It would unquestionably increase the price of the superior article, which was a limited quantity, and always would be, because the demand would always exceed the supply, and the meat, would always demand a good price. Under existing conditions the superior article was depreciated in value and price. The Bill would increase the price of 10 per cent, of the total supply, but decrease the price of the remaining 90 per cent. The Consumers of the 10 per cent. could afford to pay a little extra. He supported this Bill because he was satisfied his own constituents, and Ireland as an agricultural country, suffered to a large extent by the fraudulent trade carried on not alone in London, but elsewhere. While the Bill dealt with cheese and English beef and mutton, it said nothing about other agricultural produce. It did not mention butter. A large percentage of butter consumed in this country was produced abroad, and those who served on the Committee on Food Adulteration knew the enormous amount of fraud which was perpetrated on English and Irish butter producers by foreign dealers. The Bill might not stop all this, but it was unquestionably a step in that direction. Still he did not think much practical good would be effected by piecemeal legislation of this kind. If Parliament desired to suppress fraudulent dealing in foreign meat, butler, and other agricultural products, the subject must be dealt with, not piecemeal, but comprehensively. Until that was done, no real good would come to the British or Irish producer, whom he knew hon. Members opposite desired to protect. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ On the return of Mr. SPEAKER, after the usual interval,
§ * CAPTAIN CHALONER (Westbury, Wilts)
, as the representative of an agricultural constituency, supported the principle of the Bill, believing it would be 693 most beneficial to a very large number of people. So apparent did this seem to him that he thought it hardly necessary to defend the Bill against the flimsy and trivial arguments brought against it. In some cases the arguments were not against the present Bill, but against the Discuses of Animals Act, in reference to which the hon. Member for Stockport, digressing somewhat from the subject before the House, asserted that its effect had been to limit the importation of cattle. This statement was at variance with the actual fact—as shown in official Returns—that the importation of cattle from foreign countries had increased. Then the hon. Member proceeded to urge what were, from his point of view, powerful arguments, but they were powerful against an imaginary Bill, and did nut apply against the provisions of the present Measure. In his constituency there were many thousands of the working classes other than those employed in agriculture, and who were consumers only in so far as the Bill would affect them. From their point of view, the Bill was equally worthy of support. As the law stood at present, the consumer had no absolute means of knowing that he was buying the best article when he paid the full market price for it, and this Bill offered that security against fraud. Consumers naturally desired to have that for which they paid, and if they had a well-justified preference for home productions, there should be a guarantee that they obtained what they required. Such a preference was well grounded. For example, take the article cheese. He was informed by witnesses whom he had every reason to trust that horrible ingredients entered into the composition of some foreign cheeses imported, and the knowledge of these would deter any consumer from eating such compounds. With the means of distinguishing between the foreign and home produce, the sale of the latter would enormously increase. A further consideration, from the consumers' point of view, was the area from which the produce came. Cheese might come from an area infected with some awful scourge in the shape of cattle disease, and the milk or other production in that area might he altogether unfit for human use. In Great Britain and Ireland articles of this nature were not allow el to be sold from 694 an infected area, and the consumers had the protection of this prohibition. They had no reason whatever to know that a foreign article put into the market was not from an infected area, and one which would thereby prove a source of the greatest danger to the human body. He had up to the present only referred to the consumer. As regarded the producers, he thought their demand was a fair and right one. The producers said, we are prepared, and are able to produce, as good an article, if not a better article, than the foreigner, and when we put that good article into the market we expect the proper value to be paid for it, and not to be put into false and unfair competition with the foreign article, which is not equally good, and so lower the price of our article, which is a superior one, and increase the price of the foreign article, which is an inferior one. They had heard the bald statement made that this Bill would raise the price of the articles referred to in it in favour of the producer, but not one tittle of evidence had been given in proof of that assertion. ["Hear, hear!"] He firmly believed, and it was the impression of those who were supporters of the Bill, that so far from raising the price of meat or of cheese, it would rather tend to decrease the price on the average. He would appeal to the Government most strongly in redeem the pledges which they had made previous to the General Election. He admitted with gratitude the great amount of assistance the agricultural interest bad already received from the Government, but he would remind them that the Bill presented to them an opportunity of fulfilling to a still greater extent those pledges which they made before they came into office. He appealed to Ministers not only to accept the principle, but to take this Bill under their wing. If they could not accept the Bill as it stood, he hoped they would, at any rate, give the House a pledge that they would bring forward as soon as possible a Bill dealing with the question, and thus do an act of justice both to the producer and to the consumer.
§ MR. JOHN BRIGG (York. W.R., Keighley)
said that, while not entirely in favour of the Bill, there were points in which it had been modified since last year to which he could give his cordial 695 assent. Those modifications were very important. In the first place, the quality or character of the label was not now to be defined as was the case in last year's Bill. In the next place, the marking of small pieces of meat had been entirely done away with, and now only the carcase was to be marked. Another very important modification was that cattle, however foreign they might be outside the port of Liverpool, say, became British cattle directly they entered Birkenhead and were slaughtered there. He only trusted that if this Bill occupied the same position at the end of this Session as it did at the end of last Session, and it was introduced again another Session, other modifications might be made, and so gradually the whole proposal would disappear. He would like to say that, having come in contact with a very large amount of diseased meat which had been attempted to be passed upon the public by, he supposed he must say, the honest farmers and the honest butchers, quite as much, if not more, care and watching was required in their own trade as in the case of foreign trade. What were the objects of the Bill now before the House? He took it that the first object was to help the farmer. He should think the most material way of doing that would be to assist him in raising the price of the cattle he had got to sell. He would not say whether that was Protection or not; but that seemed to him one way in which they might benefit the farmers. He would say to those hon. Members who were interested in farming that he did not believe the importation of foreign meat would raise the price as some of them expected or believed. The cheaper imported meat was bought only by people who would not otherwise buy meat at all, and he did not believe that a large accession of cheap meat would affect the price of better class meat. A large number of people did not care whether the meat was foreign or not. It was with them a matter of whether the meat was cheap or not. If it was necessary to defend the public against buying foreign meat instead of home-grown meat, why not provide that, instead of foreign meat being marked, a butcher should put up the notice, "At this shop there is nothing but English meat sold"? the himself had been in butchers' shops, on one side 696 of which there was foreign meat, and on the other side English meat, both classes being plainly and distinctly marked. Then there was the practical difficulty which he did not see how hon. Gentlemen opposite were going to get over, and that was why there should be this special solicitude on behalf of meat? Why should they not evince the same interest in regard to other things—foreign vegetables, for instance? ["Hear, hear!"] They might say they objected to one thing being sold as another thing. That might be so; but what was the position of a man who went into the market and asked for new potatoes? It was not necessary they should be marked. Again, a person might go into a draper's shop and purchase a piece of foreign ribbon under the belief it was Spitalfields made. He did not see why there should not, be the same care in the case of one production as of another. ["Hear, hear!"] But there was no need to defend the people who were supposed to be taken in in this way. Those who were wealthy could defend themselves, and his knowledge of the working classes led him to the belief that they knew perfectly well the quality of the article they bought. There was another difficulty in respect to marking of goods. Take the case of cheese. Cheese was to be marked on the rind; but what was to become of a cheese of which that part of the find on which the mark was was cut off? Again, there were now many dairies in the country largely engaged in the production of foreign kinds of cheese. Those cheeses would, no doubt, be sold as foreign. Why should they not be marked "Made in England"? ["Hear, bear!"] The whole tenor of the recent Debate on the Merchandise Marks Act was that we had gone too far in the direction of marking foreign goods, and that in doing so we were simply advertising the goods of those opposed to us. As to margarine, he believed there was a solicitor in London who had a distinct commission to prevent English farmers and others taking Danish margarine, mixing it with theirs, and then calling it Danish, because Danish was considered so much better. He asked the House to pause before they proceeded any further in the direction of marking goods. They 697 were now asked to commit what be sincerely believed would be another mistake.
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire. Newport)
said he and his hon. Friends did not, profess that the whole weight of argument was on their side, and that there were no Haws whatever in that which they advocated. They did, however, believe that the balance of argument was with them. He regretted that once more the hon. Member for Stockport had endeavoured to set town against country, and he hoped that when the time came that the hon. -Member had to advocate urban interests, the attitude representatives of agricultural constituencies took towards him would be prompted by greater generosity than he had shown towards them. The hon. Baronet the Member for the Chester-le-Street Division had plainly stated that he had no sympathy with the English producer, while he had intense sympathy for the foreign producer. Tyneside was no doubt thickly populated by working classes, but he firmly believed that if the hon. Baronet expressed in that district such views as he bad expressed here he would not find them as popular as he seemed to imagine they were. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire had spoken of the lesser value of frozen meat. Some years ago a Committee inquired into the question of the provision of meat for Her Majesty's forces, and decided that the loss arising from frozen meat as compared with home-produced meat was 10 per cent. He had heard with some concern that his hon. Friend who had recently spoken was unable to find salvation owing to the peculiarities of his own constituents, and that he would not be able to afford that support which they expected. His hon. Friend was seeking refuge in a negative. It was within their power to introduce Amendments to meet his wishes. They had an interesting speech from the only Irish Member who had intervened. Reference had been made to frozen meat, to South American and Argentine beef. However keen they might be in regard to the large amount of beef consumed, they did not want to see an absolute fraud practised on the buyers in this country. He had some relatives who were engaged in the Argentine trade and the River Plate, and it was within his knowledge a year or two ago that a large concern was making a large income on choice Welsh 698 and English mutton, of which every single head was imported direct from Argentina. That was not an uncommon case in which a direct fraud was being perpetrated on the consumer to the benefit of the producer. With that they could have no sympathy whatever, it would do mischief to the population of the country. He, had listened with the utmost sympathy and attention to the speech made by the representative of a Wiltshire Division, and he was glad to know that in pressing home his arguments he was careful to recall to the recollection of the House and acknowledge the thoroughness with which the right hon. Gentleman had fulfilled the pledges given to them at the commencement of this Parliament. They all felt that there were seasons when they ought not to press their claims too closely; but at the same time he associated himself with the Bill of the hon. Member, and he hoped the Bill would be listened to with a sympathetic ear. Besides that point he could not help thinking there was a sort, of echo of the Debate which they had yesterday. The Government had accepted the responsibility of giving the utmost attention to the food supply at home, and they acknowledged that this Bill might he of some benefit to those who were concerned with the production of meat. This was not in any sense a landlords' interest or a farmers' interest: it was quite as much the interest of the working man. It would benefit the consumers and producers, and he hoped that, perhaps moulded into a better form, the Bill would become law. ["Hear, hear!]
§ MR. PARKER SMITH (Lanark, Partick)
said when this Bill was brought forward on a previous occasion, he took exception to certain of its provisions. He did not believe that it would raise prices. In his opinion the real danger of a Bill of this kind was that it might lead to a serious compel it ion by enabling the consumer to discover how exceedingly good were both the animals and the cheeses that came into this country from abroad, and that the producers might find that the Measure introduced in their interest, would in the long run do them no good at all. He admitted that some of the most objectionable features of the Bill had been removed, and if its scope were limited to the sellers of frozen meat he should be prepared to support it. He 699 thought it was desirable that consumers should know that the meat had been frozen, but he did not know why they should include cheese when they did not touch butter or vegetables, or even such things as rabbits.
§ MR. THOMAS HEDDERWICK (Wick Burghs)
said he took it that the object of the Bill was that the consumer should obtain that which he demanded, and for which he was prepared to pay a price. There seemed to be in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite a hope that if that principle were carried into effect some advantage would redound to agriculturists. He did not think there were many Members of the House who did not agree that that object was a very desirable one, or who would fail to sympathise with this hope. But the real question the House had to consider was, how far the Bill was likely to secure that object or to realise that hope. A great deal had been said about the inferiority of foreign produce. He could say, from personal experience, that there was produced in New Zealand mutton which, of course, came across frozen, but which, after it was thawed and properly hung, would be hard to beat by any mutton produced in the Highlands or in Wales. The Bill might have to some extent a beneficial operation on the prices of home produce. There were a great many people who were prepared to pay a slightly greater price for an article which was home-produced; but he questioned very much whether, in the long run, after an experience of the excellence of some of the foreign meat—the mutton from New Zealand, for instance—they would go on paying that higher price for the home articles. Therefore, in his opinion, the result of the Bill would be to greatly increase the importation of foreign products and at the same time lower the prices of home-produced commodities. It was perfectly true that if the Bill were passed purchasers of whole hams and carcases would be sure of netting home products if they desired them: but the working classes, who formed the great bulk of the community, bought their meat in small quantities, and for them the Bill would afford no protection whatever. The promoters of the Bill could effect their purpose by the law as it stood, or by some simpler procedure than that proposed in the Bill. He took it that if a purchaser demanded 700 home-grown meat and got foreign meat the person who served him could be indicted for obtaining money under false pretences. Again, under the Food and Drugs Act those who sold as home-grown articles which were produced abroad could be prosecuted. Therefore there was no necessity for the expensive procedure which the promoters of the Bill were endeavouring to force upon the country. He had a sincere sympathy with agriculture, and if he could reasonably do anything to improve its condition, without doing a gross injustice to the rest of the community, he would be only too happy to do it. But they should take care that under an attempt—which sprang from the very best of motives—to do good to one class of the community great injury was not done to others. He could not support the Bill, first, because he did not believe it would have that good effect on agriculture which its promoters hoped secondly, because it would be a very expensive Bill, and thirdly, because it would greatly harass trade throughout the country.
§ * THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. WALTER LONG, Liverpool, West Derby)
said he had to express his very great regret that the duty of stating the views of the Government in regard to the Bill fell to him, in consequence of the fact that the President of the Board of Trade, whose function it was to represent the Government on a Bill of this kind, was unfortunately ill and could not attend. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down was one more added to the long list of those who had been good enough to express their profoundest sympathy, in touching accents, with the distressed agricultural interest, but who invariably found themselves in opposition to the particular remedy proposed. ["Hear, hear!"] He imagined that everybody in the House who had studied this question, or any other question connected with trade or agriculture, were agreed that they should prevent, by all means in their power, any fraud. He was quite sure also that those hon. Gentlemen who opposed the Bill did so because they believed either that it would not have the desired effect, or else that, while there might be a great deal of fraud, it was possible that the remedy proposed might be a worse evil than the evil which already existed. ["Hear, hear!"] Those 701 were perfectly reasonable grounds of objection which must be dealt with. One thing must be admitted at the outset, and that was that there had been in this Debate, as in the Debate of last year, a marvellous unanimity of opinion in favour of the principle which underlay the Measure. ["Hear, hear!"] The claim made by the promoters of the Bill was that the traders who were engaged in the production of the food of the people in various forms—for the farmer was as much a trader as a man engaged in business in a town or city—were entitled to protection from fraud, and from injury to their trade in consequence of fraud, as much as any other traders in the community. ["Hear, hear!"] The farmers were exposed to competition from all parts of the world. That was part of our commercial system, long ago adopted, and which he doubted they should ever see changed. [Opposition cheers.] There was no doubt that the great majority of the people of this country believed that, whatever might be its effect upon sections of the community, an open, free market was the proper market for this country. [Opposition cheers.] But there was no one who would say it was right that the producers of articles grown in this country should have those articles brought into competition with articles grown abroad and sold as if they had been grown at home. ["Hear, hear!"] That was the object which this Bill had in view; and the question was whether the Bill was calculated to achieve that object, and, if not, whether Parliament could adopt some course which would cheek the undesirable practices aimed at. There was some justification for the view that this Bill might go too far in the imposition of penalties; but there was a general feeling that, if possible, fraud should be checked. He was bound to admit that he was not in entire agreement with his hon. Friends who had moved and seconded the Second Reading, or with the great body of the agricultural interest. In the investigations which he had to make in this matter he had not been able to satisfy himself that the fraudulent sale of foreign for British meat existed to such an extent as his hon. Friends believed. [Opposition cheers.] But his information placed him in rather a negative position. He did not believe that evidence amounting to positive proof 702 could be produced on either side. But was the House to reject the Bill because it was insufficient, because it went too far, or because it was thought that the fraud aimed at, if it existed, could not be dealt with? The House was bound to bear in mind what took place last year, and the opinion which had been given expression to on this Bill.[Cheers.] Scotch, Irish and English Members of all shades of political opinion had, without pledging themselves to every detail, professed themselves supporters of the general principles of the Bill—that there should be some check on what they regarded as unfair and illegitimate competition. ["Hear, hear!"] All the criticisms on the Bill had been criticisms of detail and not of principle. It was urged that the effect of the Bill would be different from that which was intended. [Opposition cheers.] But hon. Gentlemen opposite arrived at that conclusion only after defining what the promoters of the Bill hoped to achieve. [Cheers.] That was a very easy way of attacking a Bill, and one which was not likely to defeat it. In Committee the question would be raised whether some of the clauses would not press with undue severity on one section of the community, and whether obligations were not imposed which might severely interfere with trade. It had been urged that the effect would be to raise the price of meat.
§ * MR. LONG
said that, on the other hand, objection had been made by hon. Gentlemen opposite on the ground that the Bill would not raise the price of meat. He thought there was some ground for believing that those who were engaged in selling meat did not object to it being made clear that what they sold was either English or foreign, as the case might be. In the Report of the House of Lords Committee it was stated that those butchers who at present dealt exclusively in home-grown meat would welcome the proposals as a guarantee to the public, because some butchers now found a difficulty in persuading their customers that they did not follow the common practice of selling foreign meat as English. The hon. Member for Stock-port thought that any proposals of this kind would result in raising the price of home-grown meat. Last year, too, the right hon. Member for the Brightside 703 Division of Sheffield and the right hon. Member for Aberdeen contended that additional restrictions on the importation of meat would increase the price and decrease the supply. But it was a remarkable fact that, although for something like 30 years the restrictions on the importation of meat had been steadily increased, the supply had increased and the price had decreased just as steadily. [Cheers.]
§ * MR. LONG
asked whether the hon. Member contended that there had been such increased facilities between 1895 and 1896 as to affect the price of meat? [Cheers.] This constant alarm about increased price was without a shadow of foundation. The policy of the Bill was either right or wrong. If it were wrong, it should be opposed on reasonable grounds, and not by these everlasting cries about increased price and inroads on the sacred policy of free trade, for which there was no justification. [Cheers.] The same objections were made by hon. Gentlemen to every Amendment of the law which was proposed in the interest of agriculture. Hon. Gentlemen opposite when criticising proposals connected with agricultural difficulties could never get away from the question of price. Their idea seemed to be that agriculturists were always wanting to drive up the price of the article they produced. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] He was neither asserting nor denying it; he was only referring to the very limited vision of hon. Members in regard to agricultural questions. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is the whole point!"] Agricultural traders were no more limited in the view of their trade than were ordinary traders. Had it never occurred to hon. Members opposite that there was an object to be kept in view other than that of getting an increased price for the trader? Had it never occurred to them that there might be such a thing as an increased demand for the same article? What was alleged was that foreign meat was sold as English meat at the English price; it had never been alleged that the price of English meat had been driven down in the market. Agriculturists said they could grow as much meat as was practically wanted in this country, and the best class of meat; and all they asked 704 was that it should be made perfectly clear that if a purchaser asked for home-grown meat he should have it. ["Hear, hear!"] Was that not a fair demand for the agriculturist to make? [An HON. MEMBER: "What about cheese?" and laughter.] The same applied to cheese. The maker of cheese was entitled to ask that if cheese was sold as English it should have been made in England, and not in a foreign country. That was the whole demand made by those who supported the Bill, and it was not fair or just criticism to say that they were acting from selfish, motives and desiring to raise the price of food. He did not suppose it would be possible to introduce any Bill, dealing in however remote a way with our commercial or agricultural industries, in which hon. Members opposite would not see some fatal form of Protection. The object of the Bill, no doubt, was to protect agricultural produce from fraud and unfair competition, but it was not protective in the ordinary economic sense. The Bill had been very much improved in its drafting as compared with the Bill of last year. He believed, however, some of the clauses would require most careful examination. Even those who were responsible for the Bill would not desire that either injustice should be done to or hardship inflicted upon traders who might unwittingly or unconsciously be guilty of offences which were created under it. But, because some of the details might be unsatisfactory, was the House to refuse altogether to consider the Bill further, and give it no chance of going further? That was not a view which commended itself to the Government. Their view was that, the principle of the Bill having been accepted in all quarters of the House, and been supported in the country by resolutions passed in large agricultural and other centres of industry, the House was bound to have regard to that general expression of opinion. The Government assented to the Second Reading last year on the condition that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. That proposal, on behalf of the Government, he was prepared to make again. Such a course would meet one of the most powerful arguments that had been urged against the Bill on this occasion, because evidence could be taken before the Committee from those who might be adversely 705 affected as to the precise result of the clauses which imposed further obligations upon dealers, and in this way an impartial judgment might be arrived at.
§ MR. JAMES BRYCE (Aberdeen. S.)
said that if this Bill was likely to help the agricultural interest, which no doubt had suffered from severe depression, he should be disposed to give it a careful consideration, but he could not find that it would really do any service to agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman had avoided the specific criticism which had been bestowed on the Bill, and had not addressed himself to the question whether the provisions were or were not capable of being made effective by a Select Committee. The right hon. Gentleman said that the criticisms which had been made were criticisms of detail. That was true, but the Bill was all detail; and, if each of those details taken singly was either useless or impracticable, what then became of the details as a whole? The Bill consisted of three operative clauses. The first was the marking clause, the second the clause as to exposing for sale foreign meat or cheese as British, and the third clause was that requiring registration. The first of these clauses was entirely ineffective; the second was needless, because it was covered by the existing law; and the third was ineffective and would be vexatious. If he was right in these views, it was not worth while sending the Bill to a Select Committee. If the Government brought in a Bill to strengthen the law as to fraud in connection with this subject, he should be glad to support them. The first clause rested on the fallacy that British articles were necessarily better than foreign, and that the British consumer would necessarily prefer the home article even if it was much more expensive. A discussion on this point took place on the Merchandise Marks Act, and there it appeared that many hon. Members, who were even strong advocates of Protection, were in the habit of using without making inquiry foreign-made goods. He submitted that the same thing existed with regard to meat. He had been told that there were some kinds of foreign meat which were quite as good as English meat, that New Zealand lamb, for instance, was quite as good as English lamb. The difference in price, however, to the consumer was considerable. Suppose a purchaser went into 706 a shop to buy some meat, and he found that the price of the one was 4½d. per 1b. and the other 10½d. per 1b. The difference in taste between the two was comparatively slight, perhaps inappreciable. Was it likely, therefore, that the purchaser would give 6d. per lb. more for the home-bred article? He thought not; and there was no reason to think that the marking of meat would induce the purchaser to prefer the dearer article where the difference in quality was almost imperceptible to the palate. It was on this ground that he thought the marking would be inoperative. So far as he could form an opinion, it appeared to him that the most probable result of the Bill would be to advertise foreign meat and to bring more and more to the knowledge of the consumer the fact that he could buy foreign meat much cheaper than he could buy British meat. It would therefore redound to the disadvantage of British meat. But the agriculturists might say that they were willing to take their chance of this. This was said by those who were in favour of the Merchandise Marks Act; and now, after four or five years' experience of that Act, these same persons came forward to ask for the repeal of the clause which they were so anxious to pass. Very probably there would be a similar repentance in connection with this Bill on the part of the agriculturists of this country. It was vexatious that they should always have to mark meat. The Bill lost in efficacy as compared with the Bill of last year, in asking that the whole carcase only should be marked, and the purchaser would not be better off under it. The carcase could be cut up in the back shop of the butcher, and the chances were that the portion of the meat sold would not be marked; so that the protection against fraud claimed for the marking provision would really be futile. The Bill, moreover, would require the appointment of inspectors and their payment. It would also throw the duty of prosecution upon them, and it would inevitably increase the expenses of the local authority and expose it to a great deal of troublesome pressure as to prosecutions. Another aspect of the matter was the effect the Bill would have on the colonies. He thought it was a pity that so many Bills should be brought forward in this Parliament which placed our 707 colonies on the level of foreign countries and gave a contradiction to those professions which we were so fond of making at public dinners, that the colonies were just as dear to us as our own country. [Cheers.] The Bill passed by the Government excluding colonial cattle had been much resented in some of our colonies. Canada, for example, felt that we were doing rather an unkind thing in stopping her cattle from entering the United Kingdom for ever without giving her a chance of proving that the cattle were free from disease. But Parliament was here striking a blow at the dead meat trade of the colonies, and he thought the Bill ought rather to be called a Bill against colonial meat than one against foreign meat. As to whether the Bill could be worked from the point of view of inspection, he said it was admitted, in dealing with frozen and refrigerated meat, that even experts could not tell by any methods of technical skill or analysis the difference between, refrigerated meat and the meat produced in this country. How then were the inspectors to proceed? They would be obliged to follow up the history of each piece of meat; and in what quarter was the inspector likely to obtain his evidence? He looked upon the Bill as a protectionist Measure, so far as it drew a sharp distinction between the articles produced at home and the articles produced abroad. It subjected the foreign articles to a variety of conditions and restrictions which tended to hamper trade, and which were not imposed on homegrown produce. It had been argued that the Bill was designed almost entirely to prevent fraud. He and his hon. Friends were willing to go as far as hon. Gentlemen opposite in their efforts to protect from fraud. But the law already provided means of dealing with cases of fraud. Sections 6 and 27 of the Sale of Food and Drugs Act provided that if a seller supplied an article which was different in nature, substance and quality from the article which the purchaser demanded, he should 708 be guilty of misrepresentation and criminally liable; and that if an article was supplied with a label which misrepresented the nature of the article, the seller should also be liable. Speaking last year, the President of the Board of Trade said that if any man went into a butcher's shop and asked for meat and got a bill saying that the meat was English meat, and if it proved to be foreign meat the seller would be liable to penalties. There were, therefore, in the Act to which he had referred provisions against fraud which were certainly likely to be as efficacious as the rather vague provision against fraud contained in the 4th section of the present Measure. That section, therefore, did not carry the law any further. But if the Government should be advised that the provisions of the Sale of Food and Drugs Act were not sufficient, let them bring in a Bill to strengthen those provisions by defining, explaining and declaring them. A Bill of that kind would receive sympathy and support on his side of the House. He did not see anything in the Bill before the House which would be likely to improve the position of agriculturists, and he thought they ought to set their faces against the practice of passing Bills which they knew to be unworkable. ["Hear, hear!"] Of course he understood the position in which the Government found themselves. Governments, they knew, were obliged to do something to gratify every section of their supporters. [Ironical Ministerial cheers.] Being in a position of "greater freedom and less responsibility," the Opposition were able to say exactly what they thought of this Measure. They did not believe that the Measure could be transformed into a good Bill by a Select Committee unless that Committee were empowered to change its character entirely by eliminating its most important provisions, and making it a Bill for the prevention of fraud. In the circumstances he did not see the use of reading the Bill a Second time, and suggested that the subject should be postponed 709 until next year, by which time a more satisfactory Measure could be prepared.
§ MR. G. W. WOLFF (Belfast, E.)
said he was inclined to view the Bill as a simple piece of protection, but that explanation of it had been repudiated by its supporters. He was of opinion, at any rate, that its object was to raise the price of British meat. In this country we could not do without foreign meat, and in urban constituencies it was idle to suppose that the working population could have the benefit of a meat diet except on the condition of a large importation from foreign sources. The greater part of the meat so imported was perfectly wholesome. The mutton from New Zealand, for example, was generally very wholesome food, and the cheap rate at which it could be sold was a great boon to the working classes. Hon. Members said they wanted to protect the public against fraud, and the Bill was presented to them as a noble attempt at legislation in the interests of honesty. But, if British meat was as superior to foreign meat as hon. Members alleged, why should it be necessary to label it? If a purchaser asked for pure butter and got a mixture of margarine and batter he called it fraud, but if a man asked for a leg of English mutton, and a leg of foreign mutton, equally good—which he could not tell from British meat—was sold to him, where did the fraud lie? [Ministerial cries of "Oh!"] The Bill really did very little to protect the consumer. Whole carcases were to be marked "foreign," but people not in the trade never bought whole carcases, and upon joints and mutton chops there would be no mark to distinguish them from English meat. The chief results of the Bill would be the creation of a lot of new inspectors with a lot of new salaries, and the hampering and harassing of the trade. It would do no good, and he should vote against it.
SIR JHOMAS CARMICHAEL (Edinburgh, Midlothian)
supported the Bill, because he believed that its effect would 710 be to increase the supply of cheap meat. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire had told them that Aberdeenshire beef was the best. For his part he believed in Aberdeenshire cattle as a breed, but they could be reared satisfactorily elsewhere than in Aberdeenshire. He agreed that beef which was not Aberdeenshire beef ought not to be labelled and sold as such. The provision in the Bill for the registration of tradesmen who sold foreign meat was of considerable importance. He believed that foreign meat was frequently quite as good as British-fed meat. On behalf of his constituents, and of others in the country who wanted to buy good meat cheaply, he should certainly support this Bill, as he thought its first effect would be to lower the price of foreign meat. He did not believe it would raise the price of British meat, at any rate in the long run. The right hon. Member for South Aberdeen had told them that one effect of the Bill would be to advertise excellent foreign meat, and then went on to say that it would be a blow to the foreign meat trade. He could not see how those two statements were compatible.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
This Bill was passed by a very large majority last Session, and a Motion to refer it to a Select Committee was defeated by the operation of the half-past Five o'clock rule. It has been very fully discussed this afternoon, and, therefore, I think I am justified in now accepting the Motion.
§ Question put accordingly, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 160; Noes, 91.—(Division List, No. 163.)
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ *MR. LONG moved, "That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee."711
§ MR. LAMBERT
declared that no further inquiry was necessary, and strongly protested against the Bill being shelved and the subject burked in the way proposed.
§ COLONEL LOCKWOOD (Essex, Epping)
said the Committee to which the Bill would be sent was not a Committee of Inquiry.
§ MR. LAMBERT
said if he could get a seconder he would move that the Bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Trade or Agriculture, that the farmers of this country might have this legislation instead of its being shelved.
§ Bill committed to a Select Committee.