HC Deb 22 July 1898 vol 62 cc851-4

This Bill is not introduced on any ground of public health or to deal with any question of public health. It is a Bill against adulteration. We believe that the existing Acts at the present moment are adequate. The object of this Bill is to make the law more effectual in preventing the adulteration of certain articles of agricultural and horticultural produce now dealt with under the Merchandise Marks Act, 1891, and the Sale of Food and Drugs Act, 1875. I wish to point out that the present Bill is limited in its operation, and that it deals with food and drugs only, and does not extend to other articles which are included in the scope of the two Acts of Parliament I have referred to, and which must be dealt with on another occasion in a separate Measure. This follows the precedents adopted in existing Acts. This Bill explains its object pretty clearly; it is to make a better provision against the adulteration of certain agricultural and horticultural products. That is an object which no one can fairly object to. The question is, how can we accomplish it? What we have to do is to guard against adulteration of those products which come from abroad as well as those which come from home. The Commissioners are empowered to take samples of consignments of imported milk and butter, in accordance with directions from the Treasury, in consultation with the Board of Agriculture. Having taken a sample, the other part is sent to the principal chemist at the laboratory at Somerset House, and it would be his duty to ascertain whether these articles are adulterated within the meaning of the Bill, and whether anything has been extracted from them, or whether any foreign substance has been added so as to injuriously affect the substance and quality. The bulk of the consignment will have already passed on to its destination, and nothing whatever further will happen. For the next twelve months it will be in the power of the Commissioners to detain goods, pending analysis, or otherwise to detain any subsequent consignment coming from the same quarter, as if they were prohibited goods under the Customs Act—that is to say, unless the importer has already given an adequate security to the Commissioners of Customs against the consignment being adulterated within the meaning of the Act. It must be remembered that this can only come into operation in the case of those who have already been proved to have committed an infringement of the law. I come to the question raised by my honourable Friend opposite, namely, the adulteration of the goods at home. Here the chief complaint we have to meet is this, it is that while the existing Acts are adequate to the purposes, if they are efficiently administered, they are altogether inoperative, because the local authorities in some cases will not perform their duties in enforcing the existing Acts. We propose to meet this allegation in this way. We give power to the Board of Agriculture to direct any of their officers to procure and take samples wherever they please which are exposed for sale, and if they are satisfied that they are adulterated, then they are to notify the fact at once to the local authority of the place or district from which the sample comes. On the other hand, if they should continue to be negligent in the performance of their duty, then the Board of Agriculture is empowered to take action under the Contagious Diseases Act, 1894—namely, the power to enforce the Acts themselves, and to recover from the offending local authority the costs. In connection with the taking of samples, I may be permitted to remind the House of this, that the Committee which sat on this subject upstairs recommended the creation of a permanent body, which is to be called the Board of Referees, for the purpose of prescribing the standard of quality and purity of all kinds of food. We have always questioned the wisdom of this suggestion. In any case, it appeared to me extremely cumbrous machinery for the purposes of the present Bill, and I propose to substitute this— The Board of Agriculture are empowered, after causing such inquiry as they may think fit … to make regulations for determining what shall or shall not be presumed to be adulteration within the meaning of the Act. There have been difficulties on account of the differences of opinion between the local analyst on the one hand and the authorities of the laboratory at Somerset House on the other. These difficulties I hope will be obviated in future by the proposals I have made. I should add, with regard to margarine, that margarine which is imported, and which is not distinctly marked and signed in the form in which the Act of Parliament declares it should be, is liable to detention at the port, and to all the other penalties under section 2 of the Bill to which I have referred. The mode of marking it is also distinctly prescribed, and there is a provision which is not by any means unimportant. The wholesale dealer is required to keep a register of the quantity and the destination of any consignment he may send out from his place of business. This register is to be open to the inspection at any time of the officers of the Board of Agriculture. There are some minor provisions with regard to the sale of milk, with the details of which I need not trouble the House.


I may remind the right honourable Gentleman that the Standing Orders of the House do not permit of more than a brief explanatory statement of the principles of the Bill.


I beg pardon, Sir.

Bill introduced and read a first time; Second Reading fixed for Monday.