§ MR. HUDSON KEARLEY (Devonport)
proposed, at the end of the Question, to add the words,—And we humbly represent to Your Majesty our regret that Your Majesty's Advisers have expressed no intention of promoting legislation in furtherance of the report of the Select Committee on Food Products, which disclosed the existence of unfair and nefarious competition with Native food producers by Foreigners and others, to the great detriment both of the commercial and agricultural interest of the people of the United Kingdom.He thought his Amendment deserved the support of all classes of the House. There could be no difference of opinion as to the importance of the subject, especially when it was considered that our policy of Free Trade had opened our ports to the whole world. No doubt consumers had benefited more by that policy than any other class of the community, for it had had the effect of reducing the prices and extending the varieties of commodities. The general trade of the country had also been served materially by Free Trade. In fact there was probably only one class who failed to appreciate that policy, and those were the agriculturists, who have had to bear the brunt of the burden of Free Trade. But, notwithstanding that, 432 the farmer had never expressed his inability to hold his own provided the competition of the foreigner was only fair. His Amendment dealt with the competition that was unfair and nefarious. He did not think it would be contended by the Government that this question had been suddenly sprung upon them, because the urgency of legislation in the matter had been frequently urged upon them and their predecessors in office during the last four years. Bodies representing the agricultural, commercial, and consuming interests of the country had again and again made representations to the Government that further legislation was necessary to prevent the evils of adulteration from continuing. The Chambers of Commerce had been very active in the matter. The Central Chamber of Agriculture, and innumerable agricultural associations in England, Scotland, and Ireland had taken part in the movement. The public analysts of the country, whose experience of the administration of the existing laws to prevent adulteration was, of course, most extensive, had also been persistent in their efforts to obtain some amendment of the present unsatisfactory Food and Drugs Act. The outcome of the agitation was the appointment of a Select Committee in 1894, which was reappointed in 1895, and continued to take evidence until July, 1896, when they submitted a unanimous Report to the House. The Report set out that a considerable portion of the imports of the country were adulterated, that adulteration of food was largely practised throughout the country, and that the laws dealing with food adulteration needed amendment. There was, therefore, no reason why legislation on this most important question should be delayed. It was not a Party question; and the Government had nothing to apprehend in the way of Party opposition should they undertake to legislate on the subject. Consequently it was with considerable surprise that the supporters of this movement against food adulteration found no reference to the question in the Queen's Speech, although there was a promise to introduce a Bill to improve the Water Supply of the Metropolis. He was sure that if the Government had studied the Report of the Food Products Committee they 433 would have thought that the purity of the food supply of the Metropolis was far more urgent than even the question of water. It could not be satisfactory to learn that adulteration was increasing. Samples taken of all kinds of articles showed that the percentage of adulteration in 1888 was 10.8, while in 1893 it had increased to 12.9, and in London it was 17.1 per cent. The articles most adulterated were, of course, milk and butter. The returns supplied to the Committee showed that over 25 per cent. of the milk sold in the metropolis was adulterated, and it was estimated that Londoners paid annually for water sold under the guise of milk no less a sum than a million and a-half sterling. Butter was found to be adulterated in the Metropolis to the extent of 20 per cent. In the country, according to the Local Government Board Return, the amount of the adulteration of these two articles was somewhat smaller, but Mr. Lloyd, the consulting chemist and analyst to the British Dairy Farmers' Association, informed the Committee that during the past twelve years in his official capacity he had made analyses of thousands of samples of milk taken throughout the whole country, and this record showed that the average proportion of adulterated milk was 24.8 per cent. These figures were very serious indeed, especially as the largest quantity of milk was always consumed by the youngest portion of the population. But they in, no sense disclosed the full gravity of the case, because there was abundant evidence to show that many of the local authorities failed to make use of the Acts, so that they had become practically a dead letter. He urged that the administration of the Acts by the local authorities should be made compulsory instead of permissive. The effect of the permissive character of the Acts was that in 45 country districts, with an aggregate population of three millions, only one sample for every 5,730 persons was taken during the year 1893. It was proved by the Local Government Board Return that in 50 towns, with populations ranging from 60,000 to 135,000, not a single sample of butter was submitted to analysis by the local authorities. In 16 municipal boroughs, including Northampton, Colchester and Dover, not a single sample of any kind whatever 434 was taken at the instance of the local authority in 1893. In Sunderland too, where the Acts were disregarded, the local authority considered they were adequately remunerating the borough analyst by giving him a salary of £5 a year. The amount of adulteration was proved to be in direct ratio to the manner in which the Acts were administered. In Birmingham milk was adulterated to the extent of 19 per cent., in Liverpool 18 per cent., in Manchester 5 per cent., and in Salford 3 per cent. The results in Manchester and Salford were due to good administration of the Acts, and nothing else. The same thing was seen in the Metropolis, where in Marylebone the adulteration found in samples taken was only 6 per cent., while in the adjoining parish of St. Pancras it was 43 per cent. So flagrant was this neglect that it had become necessary for private associations to band themselves together into Vigilant Committees in order to carry out the Acts. He hoped the Government would pass in due course a Consolidated Adulteration Act. Where it was ascertained that falsified food products were coming into this country steps should be taken to prevent them being circulated, they should be seized, and, if necessary, confiscated. The Government had done something in the way of taking samples at the port of entry, for example, 100 samples of shipments coming from Germany were tested, and no less than 30 were found to be falsified. Of 147 samples taken of consignments from Holland no less than 62 were found to be adulterated. But the Government did not seize these goods, and he understood, from an answer given him by the President of the Board of Agriculture last year, that the reason was that the Law Officers of the Crown advised him that a seizure could not be made until the adulterated article was sold, as until then no offence was committed. With a view of testing the validity of this opinion the Committee heard the evidence of Mr. Follett, who admitted that goods to which a false trade description was applied could be seized and confiscated, and that to apply to any goods a description as to their composition not in accordance with the facts was an offence against the Merchandise Marks Act. When asked, however, why adulterated 435 Butter to which a false description had been applied had not been seized, he revealed, to their surprise, that under the existing law the shipper had the right within 21 days after the arrival of a shipment to amend the description on the Bill of Entry, thus putting a premium on deceit and fraud. The Government should take steps to remedy such an anomaly, which a three-line Bill would sweep away. Much inconvenience was caused to traders by the great uncertainty that existed in the laws as to adulteration. Conflicting judgments were frequently given as to the use of "preservatives." Some magistrates held that putting preservatives in food products was an offence; others that it was not. In Birmingham there had been a a great many prosecutions of traders for using preservatives, but the City Council there had discontinued their action in the expectation of legislation by the House. Traders in the country were naturally much harassed by the uncertainty of the law, and trade in consequence was much unsettled. With regard to the standard of purity of food, the Committee recommended the establishment of a Court of Reference, which should decide what constituted a standard of purity in various articles. He hoped legislation would be introduced establishing such a Court. The question was urgent, and ought not to be indefinitely delayed. The present law was insufficient to deal with the matter, and further legislation was necessary. There was practical unanimity on the subject if the Government would introduce a Bill, and points on which there was any difference could be settled in a few days.
§ MR. ARTHUR JEFFREYS) (Hants, Basingstoke
seconded the Amendment, because he thought some amendment of the Sale of Food and Drugs Act was necessary, not only in the interests of purchasers of agricultural but of other kinds of produce. It was not a Party question. The committee were appointed two and a-half years ago by the late Government. The hon. Member for Ilkeston (Sir W. Foster) was the first Chairman, and when the work became too arduous, and the long sittings almost were him out, they appointed as Chairman the Under Secretary of the Local Government Board, to whom, at the end of the two and a-half years, they 436 passed a unanimous vote of thanks. It was a most important subject, because so many agricultural products were adulterated, and thereby the farmers were undersold. Almost every county had an analyst, who was supposed to analyse samples of food, but the system was so lax that a great many cases of adulteration escaped notice altogether. In one county only 24 samples of milk were taken in a whole year. In other countries even fewer had been taken. It was similar with butter. Frequently when articles were analysed, and a conviction was obtained, appeal was made to Somerset House whether the article was adulterated or not, and the Somerset House analyst was at variance with the opinion of the county analyst. The Board of Reference proposed would give its decision in such differences. The Committee found the adulteration of milk a difficult matter to decide upon. It was difficult to decide whether milk should have 3 per cent. of fat in it or not. Some analyst said good milk ought to have more per cent. of solids; others said it was pure milk if it had 2 or 2½ per cent. If it were proved that milk had come straight from the cow he should be satisfied. The Board of Reference would deal with this matter, too. An immense amount of butter mixed with margarine was sold as pure butter. It came chiefly from abroad, and was difficult to detect. The Committee on Food Products recommended that, for the protection of the public, there should be a law that margarine should not be coloured and passed off as butter. If sold in its natural colour—white—the public would know it when they saw it. Legislation on the subject would be hailed with the greatest pleasure, not only by the commercial but by the agricultural community. The Central Chamber of Agriculture, at its last meeting, unanimously passed a resolution asking the Government to introduce legislation and take away from agriculturists the severe burden they had at present to bear of having to compete with foreigners who sent so many adulterated products into this country. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY (Cork)
said that, important as this subject might be to England, it was of even greater importance to Ireland, which was an agricultural country, depending exclusively 437 on agriculture. The almost profligate neglect of the interests of Ireland as regarded the adulteration of food was a flagrant instance of the inability of the House to legislate properly for Ireland. The aspect of the subject which particularly interested them in the South of Ireland was the adulteration of butter. The Cork Butter Market was probably the greatest institution of the kind in the world. It was much more important formerly, but even now there was no other butter market in the world of equal magnitude, and probably there was no city in the world in which the butter trade was of so much commercial importance. The butter trade in Cork had practically been paralysed by the adulteration that went on, and the existing state of the law. What he would explain to the House was that the Trustees of the Cork Butter Market had for the past two years been in a state of the utmost perplexity and embarrassment owing to the failure of that House to deal with the question raised in the Food Products Committee Report. Here again Ireland, as in so many other matters, was unfortunately differentiated against. The districts in England where the Food Adulteration Acts were put into force were the very districts where Irish butter was sold. The hon. Member for Devonport had referred to the special degree of activity with which the Manchester and Salford Corporations had put those Acts into force. So far from blaming those local authorities, he thought their activity in this matter was greatly to their credit. But he did call attention to the fact that it was in these very districts of Manchester and Salford, and in other parts of Lancashire, that the Cork butter trade found its principal market, and therefore it was the Irish butter trade that was differentiated against. In the districts where Irish butter was most largely consumed they had the local authorities prosecuting time after time, while in other districts of England, where Irish butter was not so largely consumed, there was utter neglect on the part of the local authorities to put the Adulteration Acts into force. The principle thing in connection with the Irish butter trade had arisen not on the point of adulteration as it was ordinarily understood, but on the question of water in butter. There had 438 been the greatest difference of opinion even amongst experts on this question, and there had unfortunately been the greatest difference of practice on the part of the Courts who had had to consider the question. In Ireland there had been numerous prosecutions, and owing to the difference of the practice in the Courts of England and Ireland, the unfortunate exporters of Irish butter had been reduced to their wits' end to know what they should do. The matter had grown so acute that within the past month or two the Trustees of the Cork Butter Market had contemplated approaching the Chief Secretary for Ireland with a view of solving the difficulty in which they were involved. The difficulty arose in this way. The English magistrates took their views of butter adulteration from Somerset House, and at Somerset House they had arrived at a standard which he did not quarrel with, but under which an excess in the proportion of water in butter was sternly and stringently punished. In consequence of the action of the Salford authorities the parties interested in the Irish butter trade thought it would be a good thing to get the law put into force in the same way in Ireland as in England, and that they should go to the seat of the mischief and prosecute the farmer who sold the butter to the merchant. But when they did that in Ireland they found that a wholly different class of evidence was given before the magistrates, and that whereas in England the man who sold the butter was certain to be convicted, in Ireland there was no similar practice at all, and that it depended on the whim, as he might call it, of the particular magistrate or County Court. Judge whether or not he would put into force in Ireland the law which was stringently enforced in England. That was the difficulty. If there was a law prescribing a standard, and enacting that a certain percentage of water should be illegal, then it would be a simple matter. He did not know whether that was possible or not, for he dared say there was something to be said on both sides of the question. If they had the control of their own affairs in Ireland this was a question on which they would have been able to legislate, and on which they would have legislated. It was a subject of great complaint that in a matter so 439 vital to Irish agriculturists as the butter trade, that House did not set itself in motion to end the deadlock which had arisen in the Irish butter trade. It had now come to this, that no Manchester merchant would buy butter from the Cork market without getting a guarantee from the exporter. Un the other hand the exporter had no means whatever of getting a corresponding guarantee from the merchant who sold to him, while the merchant had no means of getting a guarantee from the farmer. The matter was one urgently calling for legislation in some direction so as to settle the question. He asked that some legislative conclusion should be given to the Report of the Food Products Committee, and that something should be done by that House to save the Irish butter trade from practical extinction. In Ireland they suffered the keenest competition from Denmark, Sweden, Normandy, and France. Did any one of the Legislatures of those countries neglect the interest of the butter manufacturers as this Parliament neglected the interest of the butter producers in Ireland? No. The butter trade from Norway, at any rate, had been largely created by the fostering hand of the Legislature. Similarly there was the minutest legislation on the question in France to protect and promote the trade in butter. It was owing to this that Normandy and Danish butter was able to-day to compete not merely in England but in Ireland itself with Irish butter. Ireland was differentiated against, too, by the neglect of the Customs Authorities in England. Another grievance in this matter was the question of margarine. If the Irish butter producer adulterated his butter with margarine or any produce of that kind he was speedily prosecuted and punished, but the manufacturer of margarine in Holland had free access to the markets of this country, the Customs Authorities all over England having over and over again refused to enforce the law against him. This Government had professed itself to be the protector of agriculture. If they really had the interests of agriculture at heart, then, both in England and Ireland they would be well advised in devoting themselves to the Report of this Committee on Food Products, and in endeavouring to do for English and Irish agriculturists what 440 foreign Governments had done for the agriculturists of their countries. The Irish agriculturists were placed in serious competition with foreign producers in the English markets, and, therefore, the Government were bound to induce Parliament to devote a portion of its time to the consideration of this important subject. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE (Hereford)
said that all sides of the House must look forward with interest to the statement which would be made on this question by the hon. Member for S. Tyrone, the Under Secretary of the Local Government Board, who had discharged with so much ability the duties of Chairman of this important Committee. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Gentleman could scarcely fail to express his appreciation of the recommendations of the Committee, which in all probability he himself drew up and assented to. His only fear was lest the hon. Gentleman, in making his announcement, should minimise the importance and the difficulties of the question. One of the greatest difficulties they had to encounter was to fix a standard of purity in regard to food products. The traders maintained that a certain amount of adulteration was necessary to render their products saleable, but the correctness of the assertion was questioned by many witnesses of experience who gave evidence before the Committee. The Committee, when they came to consider their Report and to draw up their recommendations, designedly omitted to refer to this contentious matter. The Committee appeared to be of opinion that it was not so much the provisions of the Adulteration Acts that were in fault, so much as the machinery for enforcing them and putting them into operation. It could not be doubted that the failure of the Adulteration Acts was due to their defective machinery. That the Acts had failed in carrying out their object was proved by the fact that they were rarely enforced. The recommendations of the Committee were 23 in number, and with one exception they all referred to the improvement of the machinery of the Acts. The first recommendation of the Committee was that the provisions of the Acts should be enforced by the local authorities, and the others also referred to the improvement in the machinery of 441 the Acts. He expected that his hon. Friend the Secretary of the Local Government Board would lay some stress upon the nineteenth recommendation of the Committee, which related to the establishment of a standard of purity. The recommendation of the Committee upon the point was carefully and designedly drawn up in a somewhat vague manner. In his view it frequently happened that small Measures, such as that which the Government were asked to introduce upon this subject, were of more benefit to the community than large Measures that involved the fate of Ministries. Although the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment might not have authority to pledge his Party on the subject, yet he could not doubt that the fact of his having raised this question would have some influence, and he believed a Bill on the subject, if introduced by the Government and framed on the recommendations of the Committee, would receive the most careful consideration from all sides of the House. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. T. W. RUSSELL,) Tyrone, S.
said that he was not in the least degree disposed to minimise the importance of this question, because no one could have sat upon the Committee which had been referred to without being impressed by the deep interest which was taken in the subject by large sections of the community, and he could assure hon. Members that he had deemed it his duty to draw the serious attention of the Government to this matter. ["Hear, hear!"] The real question before the House, however, was not whether legislation on this subject ought to take place, but whether or not it should take place at once. The Select Committee in question was appointed some three years ago by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, and it reported in August last. The Report covered 50 pages of closely-printed matter, and dealt with such a mass of detail as was seldom found in the Report of any Select Committee. He might also say that the Report dealt with matters of a most contentious character. The question, therefore, was whether in these circumstances Parliament was bound in January to legislate 442 upon this subject in priority to any other. The hon. Member who had brought the matter before the House had stated that a Measure dealing with it would pass without difficulty, but he had his doubts upon that point. ["Hear, hear!"] It was quite true that the question did not involve any Party interest, and that it did not divide the two sides of the House, but some of the recommendations of the Committee certainly did raise questions of importance between the towns and the country. ["No!"] Any one who had sat upon the Committee or had looked at its division lists would know that in the divisions the representatives of the large cities voted one way and the representatives of the agricultural districts voted the other upon many of the issues that were raised before them. Let him take the question of food standards. It was impossible to get magistrates or other authorities to agree upon such a standard, and unless a standard was established all legislation on the subject must fail. The Committee agreed that such a standard could not be set up by Act of Parliament, but that it should be established by a Board of Reference, which should consist of scientists and men selected from the mercantile community, and that their standard should be made to have the effect of law by an Order in Council. He had merely to state that fact in order to show the enormous difficulty which the matter involved. Take the question of milk. Let them assume that the Board of Reference set up a standard of 3 per cent. of fat in the case of milk, and that that was legalised. Much of the milk sold now contained more than 3 per cent. of fat, and although they would thus bring the adulterated milk up to 3 per cent. they would offer an inducement to those who sold better milk to work down to what was the legal standard. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Kearley) maintained that many local authorities would not put the Act as it stood into operation, but he did not indicate how the difficulty could be met. What was the whole trend of our legislation? It was to trust the local authorities of the country, and to cast upon local authorities the responsibilities that were now taken by the central authority. In the Committee it was proposed that the 443 Local Government Board should have the power to take samples in all the places where the local authority failed to do their duty and to prosecute; but he could tell the hon. Gentleman that that the Local Government Board, over-weighted as they now were, were not prepared to do.
§ MR. KEARLEY
remarked that what he had suggested was that the duty should be made compulsory so far as the local authorities were concerned.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
admitted that in some cases the local authorities failed to act. That fact only emphasised the demand he made for time to consider a question so full of difficulties. There was only one other matter to which he wished to refer. The Committee, against his draft Report, carried an Amendment which prohibited the colouring of margarine, and the mixture of margarine with butter. That proposal was strongly resisted by all the representatives of the great towns on the Committee, and he had been informed at the Local Government Board by a deputation that to carry out that proposal meant the total destruction of the margarine trade. He did not wish it to be understood that he was arguing against the recommendations of the Committee; he was simply trying to show that, so fur from this being a non-contentious matter, it was full of contention, and contention of the most difficult kind—that between town and country. Having dealt with the merits of the question, he came to what the hon. Gentleman would probably think of greater importance. During the recess a draft Bill was prepared. It had been carefully considered, and was now being so considered, and all he could say was that the whole question was receiving almost daily consideration at the Local Government Board. They were trying to get over the difficulties, and he hoped that at no distant date the Government would be able to submit a Bill to the House dealing with the entire question. ["This Session?"] That was not a question for him, but one which must be put to the Leader of the House. He hoped, however, that in view of the statement he had just made the hon. Member would not think it right to take a Division.
§ SIRWALTER FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
was glad to hear from his hon. Friend that a Bill on this subject had been drafted, and that it rested with the Leader of the Government in this House to tell them later on whether they were likely to see the Bill this Session. He hoped that in this instance time would permit a Bill to be submitted to the House this year. In the interest of public work it was desirable that the fruits of a Committee's labour should not be delayed too long. He did not believe that the difficulties in this case were as great as his hon. Friend supposed. ["Hear, hear!"] The fact was that the legislation required on this subject was legislation, not for altering the principle of the law, but for improving the administration of the law for improving the machinery by which the law was carried out. The Local Government Board thought there ought to be one sample of food taken for every thousand people in a district. That was not a high standard to be aimed at. In some places a sample was taken for every 300 people, but in some counties only one sample was taken for every 15,000 inhabitants, showing an almost total neglect of the law as it stood. The consequence was that in those localities adulteration went on with injury to the home producer and general injury to the health and well-being of the people. The Secretary to the Local Government Board spoke about centralisation. Centralisation was not wanted in the direction of making the Local Government Board an active intervener in the detection of adulteration, but it would be a great help even to the largest and most advanced centres of local government if there were some body in London, such as a Central Board of Reference, to which there could be resort for assistance. Therefore, when the Committee suggested the creation of a scientific body, which would be a source of strength to any local body trying to administer the Acts, he thought the recommendation was such as to warrant some more definite promise than they had yet received from the Government. The Birmingham City Council, for example, were anxious to make up their minds as to whether the unlimited use of antiseptics in the treatment of 445 health or not, and they resolved, after obtaining all the information they could, to refer to a body in London—that was the Local Government Board in London—for information as to how they were to be guided with reference to the quantity of antiseptics permissible in foodstuffs. At present there was no authority to whom they could appeal. That was certainly a flaw in our existing arrangements, and until such a body was constituted they could not expect the law to be efficiently carried out. In the absence of such a body, too, they could never expect uniformity of judgment on the Bench in cases of adulteration, and he was confident that if there were such a central authority to refer to, the law would be enforced in many districts where it was now neglected. The hon. Member for South Tyrone, while approving of the principle, spoke of the difficulties of setting up standards in regard to certain articles of food, but he thought it might be done in many cases. In regard to milk, for instance, he did not think the difficulty was insuperable, or that it would involve any injustice or injury to the trade. At all events, he was sure that if some Board of Reference were created on the lines indicated by the Committee—a body in whom the public would feel confidence—an important step would be achieved towards improving the general quality of the food of the people. ["Hear, hear!"] The evidence given before the Committee showed that an enormous amount of adulteration was going on in articles of food mostly of foreign production. The result of this was to so lower prices that in many cases our own producers were forced out of the market, while at the same time it operated strongly against the general production of food in the country. ["Hear, hear!"] It was obvious that the production and supply of good food was a matter of great importance to the health, and vigour, and character of a nation, and this was an object to which every Government should attach importance. ["Hear, hear!"] The Government had professed a desire to undertake social legislation. Here was an opportunity then for them to achieve a great work in this direction, and, in view of the facts and recommendations presented by the Committee, he would urge them to give their attention to the 446 matter as soon as they possibly could. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. GEORGE LAMBERT (Devon, South Molton)
said he regretted the line that had been taken by the hon. Member who had spoken on behalf of the Government on this matter. The hon. Member fully admitted the importance of the subject, and the necessity of legislation; but said that further time was required to give the matter full consideration before legislation was undertaken. Yet this Committee had been sitting for two and a half years, and reported in August last. In the case of the Agricultural Rating Bill, which formed one of the principal measures of last Session, and which, by the way, transferred a good sum of money from the pockets of the taxpayers to the agricultural interest, the Government required very much less time to make up their minds about legislation; and yet he did not think that matter was of greater importance to the country than the one under consideration. ["Hear, hear!"] The question was one of considerable magnitude, because it closely affected the health and condition of the people. He believed legislation on the subject—upon the lines of the recommendations of the Committee—was practicable, although the hon. Member for South Tyrone had read into the Report many more difficulties than it contained or involved. ["Hear, hear!"] This subject of food adulteration, moreover, was of great importance to agriculturists, because fail' trade was necessary to the sale of their own products. ["Hear, hear!"] The Committee had stated that a large amount of fraud was perpetrated in large quantities of the food imported from abroad, and, to some extent, at home. Especially was this the case in regard to butter, which was largely adulterated with margarine, and as the representative of an agricultural constituency he was able to assure the House that enormous interest was taken in the matter by the farmers of the country. In colour, shape, and consistency margarine was made up to exactly imitate butter, and largely sold as such all over the country. It was not butter at all. Much of this so-called butter or margarine—made of inside fat, oil, and milk—came from Germany; it was sold as Hamburg factory butter in Manchester, and in other places as really pure 447 butter, but evidence before the Committee was given that every sample taken of it vas adulterated. It was only fair to our own agriculturists to prevent the importation from abroad of an article so adulterated, and allow it to be palmed off on the people of this country as pure butter. ["Hear, hear!"] Moreover, it was noteworthy that the profit on margarine was 4d. per lb., whereas on genuine butter it was only ld. per lb., and therefore an inducement was given to the seller to press the adulterated article upon the people to the detriment of their health. Then, again, foreign cheese was also largely adulterated, and it was so closely made up to resemble British cheese that the public were often deceived. Why, it was actually a fact that some of the articles imported from abroad, and sold in this country, were not allowed to be sold in the countries from which they came. The British farmer was an honest man, and could not compete with fraud of this kind; and consequently he suffered a grievous injustice under the circumstances. ["Hear, hear!"] The existing Acts against adulteration ought to be strengthened, and fresh legislation also applied to meet the difficulty. The Local Government Board thought one sample per 1,000 persons per annum was not an extravagant number or samples to take, but it had been shown that the number of samples taken in some places was largely below this figure. He might mention that in Somersetshire one sample per annum had been taken to every 379 persons, and the extent of adulteration had been found to be 3.6 per cent.; whereas in Oxford, where one sample was taken to over 14,000 persons, the adulteration was 41.7. There were local reasons which often operated to prevent the present Acts being put in force. One Inspector stated before the Committee that—He knew of a local authority in the Metropolis, eight members of which had been convicted of offences under the Acts upon evidence obtained by their own inspector. The result had been that the duties of the inspector under the Acts were now controlled by a committee of the authority, and they decide the cases in which prosecutions are to be undertaken.Therefore, it was not likely that those eight gentlemen who might be convicted by their own inspectors would be very 448 ready to put the law into operation. Then he contended that the punishment for offences of this kind was altogether inadequate. It had consisted of a fine ranging from 30s. to 40s. It was not at all commensurate with the enormous profits made in the trade, and the Committee recommended that imprisonment should be inflicted where a man kept on breaking the law. This trade was a very largo one indeed. The Committee had reported that there was reason to believe that a considerable proportion of the imports of food into the United Kingdom were adulterated. The imports of butter were two and three-quarter million cwt., of margarine nearly one million cwt., of cheese two million cwt., and of condensed milk half a million cwt., and a considerable proportion of this enormous amount of food was adulterated, and yet the Government could not find time to legislate on the subject. His point was that this was not more an agricultural question than a poor man's question. Milk and butter were the necessaries of life, and it was an extraordinary fact that in the poorer districts of the Metropolis the Adulteration Acts were not so strictly enforced as in the richer districts. In Lewisham, Hampstead, and St. James's, Westminster, hardly one sample in 100 were adulterated, while in St. Pancras 43 per cent., in Southwark 46 per cent., and in Lambeth 47 per cent. of the samples were adulterated. The Government said they had not time to deal with this matter. They had the time to mention foreign prison-made goods. He did not want to know where goods were made, but he did want to know that they were what they purported to be. What encouragement was there for farmers to start butter factories, as they had done and still further hoped to do in parts of the country, and to endeavour to win back from the foreigner a portion of the market they had encroached upon, when the Government, which was so professedly the friend of the farmers, would not help them to see that the produce they had to compete with was pure or not? It could not be said that agriculture had had too much of the present Session devoted to it, for this was the first Agricultural Amendment brought forward. The very first day of last Session the Minister for 449 Agriculture gave notice of a Bill to amend the Agricultural Holdings Act, but this Session Agricultural Holdings only found a place in the Omnibus Clause of the Queen's Speech, to be passed if time permitted. He did think that this Government, which came into power 80 largely through the support of the agricultural interest, might do something to enable the farmers to help themselves.
§ GENERAL LAURIE (Pembroke and Haverfordwest)
, referring to the suggestion that local authorities were lax in the administration of the Adulteration Acts, said he belonged to a local authority who had endeavoured to put the law into force. Each prosecution cost upwards of £5, and they thought themselves very lucky indeed if they got a, penalty of 10s. inflicted on a person they prosecuted, if indeed the summons were not dismissed, and a fine of 10s. was, of course, a perfect farce, and was no deterrent. Unless they could obtain better means of enforcing the law, it would become a question with the body of which he was a member whether they should continue to enforce it or not. He thought the local bodies were unfairly blamed in this matter. Either the magistrates should be called upon to inflict severe penalties, or else a radical change should be made in the law, providing for imprisonment instead of tine after the first or second conviction. Otherwise men would continue to defy the law, and local bodies would cease to make an effort to prevent it.
§ MR. F. A. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
, said he wished to speak as a member of the Committee assenting to the Report, but also because, when Chairman of the Central Chamber of Agriculture, he had moved and obtained the appointment of the Committee. He was bound to say that he thought his hon. Friend opposite in the very vague indication he had given of the possible action of the Government in the future, had not in any way invalidated the ground on which this matter had been brought forward. Without going into any details of the frauds that were committed, or of the minor recommendations, he wished to say, as a member of the Committee, that the Report consisted of two essential heads or divisions. Under one head it discussed 450 amendments in the law and its administration, as to which there was no practical doubt or difficulty whatsoever, and as to which there could be no divergence of opinion; but the other division of the Report was the essential portion, and its nature was an unanswerable argument for dealing promptly with this question. The main recommendation of the Report was that steps should be taken to remove all that sort of difficulty which had beset so many of the Courts, and which had acted as an obstacle to commerce—the uncertainty as to what was meant by certain articles, the uncertainty as to the condition of the law, the uncertainty as to what was adulteration and what was not, and the uncertainty as to what was an honest article and what was not. The main recommendation of the Committee was to take all these questions out of the realm of uncertainty, an uncertainty which now led the Courts into difficulty, and acted as a serious obstacle to the producers of this country, and to obtain accurate and reliable decisions from the highest experts appointed for the purpose of laying down standards which would govern the trade in these articles. Was it not unanswerable to say that the sooner a Court of Reference was set up the better? He had had a great deal to do with the demands of agriculturists for many years, and this demand for protection against adulteration had been one of the demands most earnestly and unanimously formulated by them throughout the country for years past. When the late Liberal Ministry came into power a similar demand for protection against fraud in fertilisers and feeding stuffs had been left over by their predecessors, and the present President of the Local Government Board had failed to deal with it. The Liberal Ministry then dealt with that evil by the Fertilisers and Feeding Stuff's Act of 1893. It was the Liberal Ministry also which appointed this Committee, and after a change of Ministry the Committee had the aid and help of the hon. Gentleman opposite, as the particularly capable representative of the office which would be intrusted with carrying out any legislation that might be passed. It was really absurd that there should be so much doubt and hesitation about the production of a Bill to deal with the 451 question, the main portion of which was contained in so small a compass. The details of administration had been thrashed out again and again by practical men all over the country. The real difficulty of the question, a difficulty he admitted quite as strongly as the Secretary to the Local Government Board, was to determine what was an adulterated article and what was not, and this difficulty would be in a fair way of solution when once a Court of Reference was started. With such a Competent court established there would be a fair prospect of dealing with a vast volume of fraudulent trade which had inflicted much injury upon agriculture and loss upon consumers. To have palmed upon them the hazy outlines of a Bill now in some remote pigeon-hole and not yet even in a final form of preparation, so that it could be laid before the House at any given time, and to which there was not the most distant allusion in the Queen's Speech, was just cause of complaint to Members who took an interest in agricultural questions; and more especially they complained of this conduct from, a Government who by rash and reckless pledges gained so many seats in agricultural constituencies. For years legislation of this kind had been asked for by agricultural associations all over the country, and this indefinite postponement by the Government was ungenerous and unfair to agricultural interests, and he hoped his hon. Friend, unless he received an assurance that legislation creating this Court of Reference would be within a reasonable time brought before the House, would by a Division give hon. Members the opportunity of recording opinions on the conduct of Her Majesty's Ministers in meeting this urgent question with a vague promise. ["Hear!"]
§ SIR JOHN LENG (Dundee)
, having sat on the Committee which inquired into this question last Session, said he was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Devonport say that the Report of the Committee was unanimous. There were undoubtedly a number of questions upon which there was substantial agreement, but there were other and very important ones upon which there was much difference of opinion, and on one important point the draft Report passed by the. Chairman on behalf of the Local 452 Government Board was set aside. It would be quite a mistake to suppose that there would be no opposition to a Bill to carry out the Report of the Committee as it stood. It had been very truly said there were matters in the Report which were highly contentious. It was not entirely a Report suggesting improvements in machinery; there were proposals or suggestions in it which affected very important principles. It had been admitted that where the existing Acts had been honestly and fairly adminstered, there had been a great decrease in adulteration, and so far as suggestions were made for the improvement of machinery for the existing Acts there would be no opposition raised. But proposals were made in Committee and agreed to by majorities there as to which the Committee were divided into two distinct parties, the town party and the country party. There was a question whether an article of food, which on the evidence of numerous witnesses had been pronounced nutritious, useful and palatable, was to be presented in a form and colour which would prevent its being used to a large extent. There was another proposal to largely increase the powers of the Customs to seize goods at Custom Houses instead of taking samples and following up the cases. In this Amendment he strongly objected to the use of the word "nefarious." To this he certainly could not assent; the word "nefarious" signified "impious," "base," "felonious," "wicked in the extreme," "abominable." [Laughter.] What had occurred in the punishment of this great crime under the Act? There had been difficulty in inducing magistrates to convict, not only magistrates who were members of local authorities, but Justices of the Peace who were not, and many stipendiary magistrates had refused larger fines than from 1s. to 40s. Clearly this indicated that they did not regard the offence as it was designated in the Amendment. He observed that the hon. Member for Devonport had not used a word which had cropped up frequently in subsequent speeches—"Margarine." That word was much discussed in Committee. If the Report were carried out undoubtedly it would be an endeavour to strike a fatal blow at the sale of margarine. hon. Gentlemen had pleaded for the carrying out of the Act in the 453 interests of the poor. Now the poor were great consumers of margarine, which was not placed before them fraudulently but knowingly as margarine. The Report itself gave a remarkable statement on the point to the effect that the Committee had received much evidence as to the wholesome, valuable, and nutritious properties of margarine as a cheap food, not so palatable as good butter but, unquestionably, well-made margarine was more palatable than bad butter. It was said that margarine was sold as butter, but in fact it could only be sold in wrappers having the word "Margarine" in large characters thereon. The poor were anxious to obtain this article, and they obtained it knowing it to be margarine, though in shops where the customer was well known and wished to conceal the fact of his purchasing this article it might be asked for as "butter." It was not necessary to detain the House by dwelling on the point, but it was well known that this nutritive article was sold at half the price of fresh butter, and with the poor it was often a question whether they could supply this to their families with bread or nothing. He strongly condemned the suggested interference with the trade. He much regretted that so many of his hon. Friends had shown the cloven foot of protection. [Laughter.] They would be far better employed in using their influence with agricultural communities to induce them to do what the hon. Member for South Molton said had been done in Devonshire, to establish and encourage the factory system under enlightened, intelligent management, such as had really been the cause of this competition of which complaint was made. There had been large importations of Danish and other butters, and why? Because Denmark and other countries which had gone into the factory system were able to put on the market an article of first class character, regularly supplied in excellent condition. It was because of its excellence Danish butter had attained its position. Let the English farmers, with their wives and daughters, devote the same attention as the Danish families did to dairy work, let the same attention be given to the preparation and package of the butter for market, and perhaps the consumer would be able to dispense with the supply of foreign butter. ["Hear!"] 454 But the idea among some of his hon. Friends was that anything that was foreign must be nefarious. ["No, no!"] If that was not the idea it was the declaration of this particular Amendment, but hon. Gentlemen who took that line should remember that so far as our exports were concerned we were the most nefarious people in the world. ["No, no!" and laughter.] Certainly foreign manufacturers had equally good ground for such an opinion. Out of samples of butter from fifteen countries only five were found to be in any way adulterated. With regard to the other ten the samples showed "none," "none" all through. With regard even to these five there was in one country, with 21 samples, only two adulterated, and another, with 34, had only five adulterated, He thoroughly endorsed what the Secretary to the Local Government Board had said, namely, that the questions dealt with in this Report were so multifarious, and some of them were of such importance, that he would be making far more haste than good speed if he were to throw on the Table of the House a Bill which, with the well known surplusage of Measures which were to be passed during the Session, would have no chance of getting through. They all knew that the hon. Gentleman applied his mind thoroughly to any subject he might take up, and they might be sure, from their knowledge of his past action, that when this Bill was laid on the table of the House, it would be a Measure which had been carefully prepared with due regard to the important interests that were involved. He thought that instead of an attempt being made to censure the Government for being dilatory they would have been far more worthy of censure if they had precipitately brought into the House a hasty and ill-considered measure. ["Hear, hear!"] For these reasons, as a Member of the Committee, he should certainly support the Government in opposing the Amendment.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
hoped they might now draw this portion of the Debate on the Address to a conclusion. He had really nothing substantial to add to what had fallen from his hon. Friend, which, he thought, was sufficient to show a practical assembly 455 that the Government were not to blame for the course they had taken in the matter. Anybody who had listened to the Debate must be convinced that the subject was one of great difficulty and complexity. It had engaged the attention of a very competent Committee for no less than three years of continuous and arduous labour, and its recommendations were of a complicated and far from being of an uncontroversial character. It must also be evident from the Debate that while there was no party complexion in the matter there was a conflict of material interests between the constituencies represented by gentlemen sitting on different sides of the House, and his experience was that where they found a conflict of material interests the Debates to which they gave rise were quite as long and sometimes quite as heated as any that arose in the ordinary course of warfare between party and party. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not think it would be asserted by any Gentleman that the programme of legislation the Government had put before the House this year was one which would leave them very much time to be filled up by Measures not announced in the Queen's Speech, and the House might rest content with the assurance of his hon. Friend that the matter was under the consideration of his department. The labours they had already devoted to the subject had produced a draft Bill which would require further consideration, but still it was a Bill which had been thrown into some sort of preliminary shape. Those labours would be continued, and he thought it would be asking more from the Government than could fairly be demanded at this stage of the Session to require them to give any sort of pledge as to the period when they would find themselves in a position to deal with the question. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. THOMAS LOUGH (Islington, W.)
observed that they had got an existing law in this matter, and he thought one of the most unsatisfactory things in connection with the answer given by the hon. Member representing the Local Government Board, was that he did not make any promise that there should be a firm enforcement of the existing law. A good deal could be done under that law. He must say that, although he 456 could not agree with all the conclusions of his hon. Friend who had last spoken, he did think there were grave faults in the particular Amendment before them, which savoured a great deal too much of Protection in the latter part. He went thoroughly with the first two or three lines of the Amendment, and if he could get an assurance from the hon. Gentleman that the existing law so far as it could be made to meet the case would be strictly applied, he would readily accept the assurances already given. He wished to give one illustration of how much could be done under that law. There was one trade that had been singled out in this Report from all other trades, namely the tea trade, in which a good many samples had been examined and not one case of adulteration was found. There was a particular section under the Act of 1875 by which the Customs authorities could make a stringent examination of any tea suspected even of being adulterated, and could stop it at the port. The fear of the operation of the Act had been perfectly successful in arresting adulteration, which had gone on to a certain extent before. He thought that Act was capable of a far larger application. When they turned to the article of coffee he was sorry to say the Report was an unsatisfactory one, for every species seemed to be adulterated in this country to a larger extent than any other article. That illustrated the mistake made in this Amendment, It was the foreigner who was hit here. They got all their best, food from foreigners, whilst the worst adulteration was done in this country. An hon. Member had said that the British farmer was an honest man. He might be, but he was not the noblest work of God. He was a very stupid man, because he had been cut out of every trade he ought to command in this country by intelligent foreigners. They got the best butter and the best apples from abroad, because home producers did not follow the same intelligent processes that foreigners adopted. For his part he wished to associate himself with the protest against the Protectionist aspect of part of the Amendment. They wanted to stop adulteration, but they did not want to stop the importation of foreign food. They wanted an equal law to be applied to the foreign and the native adulterator, 457 and if that were done he thought they would have arrived at a most excellent system. If they had an assurance that the existing law would Le enforced in the case of all articles, and the Bill brought forward as early as possible, they might now take a decision on the question.
§ MR. KEARLEY
was willing that the Debate should now draw to a close, and with a view to this result he would ask the right hon. Gentleman, who had said, as he understood him, that at as early a period as possible the Bill would be submitted to Parliament, to go a step further and say it should be brought in during this Session.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
was very unwilling to make any promise which might result in disappointment, and which it might not be possible to fulfil to the absolute letter. All he could say, therefore, was that among the large number of measures competing for the support of the Government and the consideration of the House, this was one to which they attached importance. He could not go further than that. With regard to the existing law, he believed that rested not with any central but with the local authority. He would inquire whether or not, it rested with the central authority, and see what could be done.
§ MR. KEARLEY
observed that in view of the right hon. Gentleman's answer he should challenge a division.
§ Question, "That those words be there added," put and negatived.