HC Deb 24 July 1899 vol 75 cc93-6

As amended (by the Standing Committee), further considered.

Other Amendments made.

Schedule added as follows:—

Session and Chapter. Short Title. Extent of Repeal.
38 and 39 Vic., c. 63 The Sale of Food and Drugs Act, 1875 In section two the definition of the term "food." In section fourteen the words "offer to," and the words "proceed accordingly and shall."
Section fifteen.
42 and 43 Vic., c. 30 The Sale of Food and Drugs Act Amendment Act, 1879 Section ten.
50 and 51 Vic., c. 29 The Margarine Act, 1887 In section six the words "or with," and the words "not less than a quarter of an inch square."
54 and 55 Vic., c 46 The Post Office Act, 1891 Section eleven.

I hope the House will allow this Bill to be now read a third time. It has, I think, been fully discussed both in Committee and on Report stage.

Motion made, and Question proposed—

"That the Bill be now read the third time." (Mr. Long.)


The right hon. Gentleman will, I think, admit that those who have taken an interest in this measure have shown by their action this afternoon in not pressing the Amendments which they have on the Paper that they have no desire to unduly protract the discussion on it. But I must say there is a feeling that we should have some opportunity of saying a few words on the Third Reading, and, therefore, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not press this motion of Third Reading.

MR. STRACHEY (Somersetshire, S.)

While we have no desire to prevent the Bill being read a third time, I do think we are entitled to enter a protest against that part of it which provides that an invoice is no longer to serve as a warranty. I make that protest on behalf of a large number of small retailers throughout the length and breadth of the country, who feel that they have a right to complain of the action of the Government in assenting the other day to the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for East Sussex. That Amendment altered what had been done by the Grand Committee by the, no doubt, small majority of four, and against the desire of the Government. An invoice was then made to be an equivalent to a warranty. Unfortunately the Government thought fit not to resist this Amendment moved in the small hours of the morning, which undid that portion of the Grand Committee's work. The House was nearly empty, and hon. Members were tired, and, in consequence, the question was not fully or properly debated. I cannot help thinking that, had there been more Members present, many would have protested against the action of the Government in this matter. It is quite true the Government did not put on the Party whips to tell in favour of the Amendment of the hon. Member for East Sussex——


Are we to understand that the Third Reading is to be taken to day?

MR. CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)

I rise to a point of order. Am I not right in saying that, according to the Rules of the House, a motion of this nature must be adjourned if objection is taken to its being proceeded with? Personally, I feel that I must take that objection.


There is no such Rule, but in each case it is a matter for the House to decide. If there is a strong feeling against proceeding with a Bill it is not usual to persist with the motion. At the same time there are many cases where the Third Reading has been taken in spite of there being some objection.


I must say, with regard to the invoice question, it is most unfortunate that the Government gave way upon it. I would be the last to suggest that there might be any lack of impartiality on the part of a county bench of magistrates who might be called upon to deal with cases under this Act, but on such a bench are found gentlemen interested in agricultural matters and in seeing that agricultural produce was properly protected, and some people might fear that, in such a case, the magistrates might not prove absolutely impartial. I repeat that I repudiate any such idea personally, but still I cannot help thinking that it would be far better for the Government if it had, in order to avert suspicion, given defendants a right in those cases to appeal to a jury, a course which is very much more necessary now in view of the fact that an invoice is no longer to be treated as a warranty. Again, I think there is cause of complaint as to the action of the Government in insisting on imposing the penalty of three months 'imprisonment for a third conviction. Here again the invoice question renders the decision come to more open to objection. It should be borne in mind that small shopkeepers in country districts naturally rely upon an invoice as a warranty. If they receive goods from firms supposed to be of good repute, they naturally feel safe in selling them; and it is unfair to these retailers that they should be rendered liable to imprisonment, not for their own carelessness, but for the misconduct of others, on whose word they ought to be able to rely.

MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid.)

I am sorry that the Government are pressing this motion for a Third Reading. There certainly has been some misunderstanding on this side of the House. Many hon. Members interested certainly did not expect the Third Reading to be taken to-day. Under these circumstances I beg to move that the Debate be now adjourned.


I beg to second that.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Caldwell.)


I have no desire to press this matter unfairly, but it will, I think, be admitted that the Bill on Second Reading, before the Grand Committee, and again on the Report stage, has received the most exhaustive and detailed consideration, and therefore nothing remains but to repeat over again the arguments already used against certain details of the measure. In these circumstances, and having regard to the fact that the opposition, as far as I am able to judge, comes from only a few hon. Gentlemen opposite, I hope the House will resist the Amendment.

MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, South)

I regret to hear the words which have just fallen from the President of the Board of Agriculture. I think he ought to feel that in the long run it is much better he should give way. This is a step which can only be taken by the general consent of the House, and I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is very desirable the House should not lose its power in these matters. I therefore hope he will not persist in asking for the Third Reading of this Bill to-day. He must feel that the concessions which the Government made on Thursday night have been amply rewarded by the action of hon. Members in not to-day pressing the Amendments which they had on the Paper. The Bill is really an important one, exciting a large amount of interest throughout the country—an interest disproportionate to that which was borne testimony to by the attendance in the House on the Report stage. Some important alterations have been made in the measure, and one important provision introduced by the Grand Committee has been struck out. Under these circumstances, I think the House should have an opportunity of debating the Third Reading.


After that expression of view by the right hon. Gentleman from the front Opposition Bench, and speaking therefore, I presume, in the name of the Opposition, I ask leave to withdraw my motion.

Question put, and agreed to.

Debate to be resumed To-morrow.