HC Deb 27 March 1899 vol 69 cc520-7

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [9th March]— That the Bill be committed to the Standing Committee on Trade, etc.

Question again proposed—


I do strongly protest against the course which Her Majesty's Government propose to take of sending this Bill upstairs to the Standing Committee on Trade. The Bill is one which deals with large principles and affects a great many different interests. It not only affects the agricultural interest, but also every trade, and more or less directly every Member of this House. It affects the whole of the consumers of the country. The Bill is a very wide measure in its terms, and therefore it deserves not only every attention on the part of the Members of this House, but also on the part of the public. The course which the right honourable Gentleman proposes to' take with regard to this Bill is a course which, so far as I am aware, has not been followed on any previous occasion in any Measure dealing with this subject. The other Bills were discussed in Committeee of the whole House; the Margarine Bill was discussed in Committee of the whole House, and there was no attempt made to send it upstairs. Now what is to happen here if this Bill does go upstairs? I do not think we shall save much time if that course is taken. This Bill was brought in early in the Session and was discussed within forty-eight hours of the Bill being received by the Members of the House and the Debate was adjourned. Before discussion took place there was not very much time to put it before the country, and I certainly do think that it is only right that this Bill should be understood in all its bearings by the country before it passes into law. Now the Committee on Trade upstairs is not the place for that. Upstairs the Debates are very much contracted—I am in favour of short speeches myself, and desire that all Measures should be discussed as shortly as possible, but the speeches upstairs are not fully or adequately reported. In this Standing Committee upstairs much may be done which affects the interest of the public, and in this case may affect large trade and general interests in the country without the public having a proper knowledge of, or having their attention drawn to, the details of the Bill or the effect of the conclusions arrived at. I feel, therefore, that in sending this Bill upstairs we are robbing the people of this country of the opportunity of learning the full effects of the Bill, which I think they ought to have placed before them. I am not sure that the procedure upstairs will be a means of shortening the process of passing this Bill into law. We had the Vaccination Bill sent upstairs and thoroughly threshed out there. In consequence of that threshing out every Member of this House will recollect the time and trouble and toil which we went through when the Bill came again before the House, and after all that Measure was passed into law in a form that it would not have received if it had been discussed in this House. It would have been passed into law, in my opinion, in a much better form that the imperfect and ineffective form adopted by the Government. We have the example of the Vaccinotion Act then of how the discussion in Grand Committee may be ineffective in saving time. I hope that this Food and Drugs Bill will not have similar treatment, but that the public will have a full opportunity of understanding its objects and its bearing—its influence—on the trade, food, and agricultural interests of this country, in the interests of the whole of which I feel bound to oppose the Motion now before the House.

SIR M. STEWART (Kirkcudbright)

I wish to add to the protest which has been already made by the honourable Member who has just sat down against this Bill being sent upstairs. So great is the interest taken in this Bill outside this House that we certainly ought to have a full discussion upon it here. I also' think with my honourable Friend that there are many Members interested in this Bill who cannot possibly have a seat upon the Committee upstairs, and therefore they would be cut out from any discussion upon this subject. I venture to make a protest in the earnest hope that the Government will reconsider their determination and allow the Bill to go into Committee in this House.

MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)

As I understand it, there are two principles which the House examined in deciding whether a Bill shall be sent upstairs or not. The first is whether the Bill is or is not important, and the second whether it is contentious or not. Now, nobody will deny the great importance of this Bill in the scope of its provisions or the interests that it touches in this endeavour to deal with the importation of, and also the whole question of the production of, food in this country. The import of food is the greatest import we have, and amounts to £130,000,000 or £140,000,000. The whole of this is touched by this Bill. I could not put a figure to the production of food in this country, but it is far greater than any other country. Now this Bill touches both these great questions, and is therefore a Bill of the first importance, and should be dealt with in this House. We know, as has already been pointed out, that the discussions in Grand Committees in this House do not get reported as do discussions in this House itself. Then again there are a great many Members interested in this question who cannot attend Committees. They have to make very great efforts to be here at the time the House meets, and several have spoken to me and said that if it is taken in Grand Committee, it will be very difficult for them to attend; and having regard to the importance of the Bill and the interest taken by honourable Members who find it difficult to attend Committees, I certainly think the Measure ought to be discussed here. But when you come to contentiousness of the Bill the whole thing shows that this is the most contentious Bill that was ever introduced in this House. There is a, great deal of difference of opinion as to the details of it, though there is not so much conflict as to the principle. We are all agreed to the principle which underlies this Bill, but I do not think I am out of order in saying that as to the means which are to be taken to enforce the principle there is a great difference of opinion which ought to be fully discussed in this House. I suppose I must not discuss the principles, but I may mention them. The first principle——.


Order, order! The honourable Member cannot go into that matter now; he cannot enter upon an argument as to what he considers to be the principles of the Bill.


If I am out of order I will readily give way, Mr. Speaker, but it appears to me that the whole jurisdiction of the Bill is transferred to another department of the Government, and that is a thing which ought not to be decided upon by the Grand Committee. There are also questions involved in the Bill involving the quality of food which——


Order, order! The honourable Member is going beyond what is permissible upon a Motion to commit the Bill.


Very well, Sir, I can only say what has been said by other speakers besides myself, that there are principles of vast importance in the Bill, and that there are many honourable Members of the House who cannot attend the Committee who would like to take part in the discussion, and for those reasons I shall strongly oppose the motion.

MR. SEELY (Lincoln)

I do not rise for the purpose of objecting to the course taken by the Government in any way with respect to this Bill, but before the House passes from the details of the Bill I should like to have a promise from the right honourable Gentleman in charge of it—a statement as to how Amendments shall be dealt with.


Order, order! The honourable Member cannot discuss how Amendments should be dealt with.

MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)

Can we not discuss with the Committee upstairs as to the course to be taken? If we had any kind of guarantee that the Government would persevere with the Bill and give time to discuss it properly, it would be another matter, but in default of any such guarantee as that I shall oppose it. I do not agree with the honourable Member for Islington that we disagree with the principles. The great principles I believe are to prevent fraud and adulteration of food, and I believe we are all agreed as to those principles, while we disagree on the details. If the Government is not inclined to give a large amount of time in this House for the consideration of that Bill, I think the best course is to discuss it upstairs. The honourable Member for Islington finds fault with the Committee because Members cannot come down and attend to it, but that refers to a class of Members who seek to combine other pursuits with their Parliamentary duties.


The honourable Gentleman that I referred to is engaged on another Committee.


My remark had no personal application, but I say that honourable Members that are nominated on this Committee will be only too glad to give all their time to the discussion of so important a measure.

SIR C. CAMERON (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

This is a Bill which should be discussed before the House, but it is quite useless to argue that point with honourable Gentlemen opposite. But I should like to ask the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board not to select the Grand Committee immediately after the holidays, and the reason which I have for asking him not to do so is, that the whole of the shopkeepers have an organisation which I believe is called the Federation of Grocers; and the moving spirit of that Federation has been seized with illness, as has also his wife, and his mother has lately died. Under those circumstances the question has not been laid before those interested, therefore I ask for an assurance from the right honourable Gentleman that he will not press forward the proceeding with the Grand Committee at the earliest possible moment after the holidays, but that he will allow some little time to elapse in order that the question may be placed before those interested.

* MR. FLETCHER MOULTON (Cornwall, Launceston)

Of all Bills it may be said that this is one which will suffer most in status, and be most likely to be injured by being referred to the Committee on Trade. Adulteration is not a question of trade, it is a question of fraud. It is an attempt to defend a large class of Her Majesty's subjects from a wrong and a theft as bad as highway robbery and pocket- picking would be. It is a common and mischievous blunder to-regard fraudulent practices of this kind as being matters of trade, and to legislate upon them from the point of view of trade competition. This is what the Government are seeking to do in the present instance, for they say that as adulteration interferes with trade it must be regarded from the point of view of trade, and, therefore, should be sent to the Committee appointed to deal with trade questions. I protest against such a thing. Who ought here to consider that what we have to do is to protect Her Majesty's subjects from wrong in seeking to fulfil one of the most elementary and primary duties of every civil Government, namely, to protect Her Majesty's subjects from being plundered by criminal acts on a par in all respects with other forms of theft.] therefore much object to this subject being sent to the Standing Committee on Trade. I look upon such a proposition in the same way as earnest adherents of the Established Church would look upon a Bill affecting the sale of advowsons being sent to the Standing Committee on Trade on the ground that it might be said that a trade was done in them. Such a course would be in itself a repudiation of the principles for which they would contend, viz., that the idea of its being a matter of trade was an insult to the Church itself. So in the present instance I regard the treatment of this branch of the Criminal Law as being a matter of trade as an abandonment of the principles which ought to guide us in the settlement of the Bill, and gives a sanction to its being regarded from a point of view which should be foreign to its nature, and cer- tainly will be mischievous to its provisions; I mean that it authorises the treatment of the Bill as being one mainly relating to trade competition. The Bill itself sins too much in this respect, but all that is bad in it will be made worse if in the Committee stage it is to be treated as a trade matter; and I therefore contend that to send it to the Standing Committee on Trade is calculated gravely to injure the utility of the Measure.


In making the Motion that this Bill be referred to a Committee upstairs, I have no desire to deprive honourable Gentlemen of a legitimate opportunity of devoting their energies to the amendment of this Measure, nor do I wish to minimise the importance of the Bill. Every argument that has been used so far by honourable Members seems to me to be an argument against sending any Bill to a Committee upstairs. The great complaint of honourable Gentlemen opposite is that the proceedings of the Committees are not so fully reported as the proceedings which take place in this House down here. That is of course unfortunate. With the exception of that criticism I do not think that a single reason has been advanced that would justify this Bill not being sent upstairs. It is said that it affects general interests; so do the majority of Bills which go to Committees. It is said that it demands the attention of the combined Members of this House. I think if ever there was a Bill which was justified in being sent to a Standing Committee this is the one. It is a Bill which requires a great deal of expert knowledge, and one reason why it should be sent upstairs is that honourable Gentlemen can obtain that knowledge more easily and conveniently there than elsewhere. The honourable Gentlemen who make an appeal to mo lose sight of the fact that by sending this Bill upstairs no harm can be done by any possibility, and it will tend to shorten rather than lengthen matters, and in saying that I must adhere to my motion.

MR. LLOYD-MORGAN (Carmarthen, W.)

I hope my honourable Friend will not proceed to a division on this matter. I have listened to the speeches made on this side of the House, and I must say that I am unable to agree with them. It appears to me that this is essentially a Bill that should go upstairs, and if it is decided that this measure ought not to go before a standing Committee, then I think the House ought also to decide that all standing Committees ought to be abolished. It is a non-contentious Bill, and though some of the clauses are open to controversy, the Bill as a whole is not, and the division that was taken upon the measure at Second Reading rather points to the conclusion that honourable Gentlemen of the House were mainly in agreement upon it. I really think it is a waste of time to take a division in the House. Some honourable Members who are strongly opposed to the clauses in the Bill had far better attend the Grand Committee and discuss the matter upstairs. It does seem to me that it would be a considerable disadvantage to discuss a Bill of this character in that manner.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill committed to the Standing Committee on Trade, etc.