HC Deb 04 March 1903 vol 118 cc1407-22

, in asking leave to introduce a Bill to amend the law with regard to the sale of adulterated butter, said: This is a Bill which I think I might not unreasonably have proposed to introduce under the "Ten Minutes Rule," because its proposals are practically the same as those of the Bill brought in last session and read a second time without opposition. However, as there are some alterations in the measure, perhaps it is right that I should explain it more fully to the House. About a year ago the Board of Agriculture had to fix the standard for butter. Acting on the recommendation of a strong Departmental Committee, they fixed the standard at only 16 per cent.; that is to say, that butter might contain 16 per cent. of water. That was a very lenient standard, because all the evidence went to show that so far from butter, when properly or genuinely made, containing anything like 16 per cent., the average was nearer 11 or 12 per cent. That being the case, if anybody sells butter containing more than 16 per cent. of water, the presumption against him is that the butter is not genuine butter. Of course, if he can establish the fact that it is made in the ordinary way and that there has been no added water, the law is on his side, and no conviction follows. But there is being sold now as butter a large quantity of an article in which the water has been added after the process of churning—that is to say, it can in no sense be described as genuine butter, and it is largely to meet the trade in that adulterated article that this Bill is introduced.

The way in which it is proposed to deal with the sale of the adulterated article is the following: No butter containing more than 20 per cent. of water—which is a very high amount, and can never be obtained in honestly-made butter—will under any circumstances be allowed to be sold. Then I come to the question of butter containing between 16 and 20 per cent. of water. In the case of butter of that kind, except the vendor can show that it is genuine butter, he will be liable to conviction unless he has sold the butter practically under the provisions of the Margarine Act, subject to the penalties provided for in that Act for the sale of butter adulterated with fat. There is this exception—that on the label and in the description of the butter, instead of the word "Margarine" the words "Adulterated Butter" will be used.

Now there are three classes of people who are distinctly interested in the passing of a Bill of this kind. In the first place, there is the producer, the dairy farmer, whose industry, as a rule, is a very large and growing one, and who has a clear right to the use of the trade description "butter," which should be made a recognisable article, and it is unfair to the producer that any other article should be sold under that name which is not genuine and honest butter. This applies not only to the home producer; but even more anxious for the passing of this Bill are the farmers scattered throughout our colonies, especially in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, because it is to a very large extent that their butter is adulterated, Their butter is very dry butter, and contains only 9 or 10 per cent. of water; consequently, it is precisely butter of that kind where the largest margin of adulteration is possible. This butter is very largely adulterated, and in consequence discredit is being thrown upon the colonial manufacturers, and I have received requests from the agents of all the butter-producing colonies that this Bill should be passed into law. But not only are the producers interested in a Bill of this kind, but I should think there never was a Bill upon which the traders throughout the country were so unanimous. The grocers in every borough and district of England are unanimous—that is, the men who sell honest butter—in favour of this measure. Those who sell the genuine article are anxious to have this adulterated butter, if it is to be sold at all, sold under its true name as an adulterated article. The traders desire to sell butter honestly which is not adulterated, but they find competition with the adulterated article is increasing day by day.

It may be said that this is a case in which the buyer of this article ought to be on the look-out, and that the buyer ought to know what he is buying. I think the doctrine of caveat emptor is often carried to extreme lengths. We know very often that the people most imposed upon are the very poor and ignorant, and it is perfectly absurd to suppose that these people should know exactly what is the right amount of water in butter. I propose by this Bill that these poor and ignorant people shall know what they are buying; and if they buy an adulterated article, this Bill provides that it should be stamped as such, and then these poor people will know exactly what they are buying. But while I am thus protecting the consumer and the honest trader, with regard to the honest producer no harm can be done to him. There is one trade to which I wish to allude, and it is the trade in Irish salt firkin butter, where it is a certain necessity that the amount of water should exceed 15 per cent. Therefore, Irish salt firkin butter is excluded from the operation of the 16 per cent. standard, but under no circumstances must such butter contain more than 20 per cent. of water. Irish salt firkin butter, being a known and well recognised article of trade which is sold to a great extent in the large manufacturing towns in Lancashire, is excluded from the operation of that particular clause which provides for not more than 15 per cent. of water. In the case of all producers, where they can show that the butter is genuine butter through the ordinary process of manufacture, and where they can show that the butter has not been manipulated as a butter—I am principally aiming this Bill at butter which is manipulated—the proof will lie upon them to show that it is genuine, and if they can show that the butter has not been manipulated, then no conviction will follow. I think it was necessary to introduce this Bill briefly as I have done. I really do not know where the opposition is to come from to such a Bill as this, except from those interested in the sale of adulterated articles. I hope the time has come when everybody will agree that we ought to protect more the poor and the ignorant against the dishonest trader than we have done in the past. (A NATIONALIST MEMBER: Will Irish firkin butter containing more than 16 per cent. of water have to be marked adulterated?) No. I hope this Bill will have the effect of putting an end to a form of adulteration which is growing every day, and I hope it will put an end to an evil which in recent years has been increasing more and more in all our large towns.

MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)

Many Irish butter producers and many Irish dealers as represented by the Cork Butter Market Association hold strongly to the view that an honest butter, even a salt butter, can be made, and very well made, under 16 per cent. average of water. I have personal knowledge of a community that has been directing close attention to this particular aspect of the case within the past two years. They have taken some thousands of specimens both of butter in firkins and boxes, and they have found the average to be about 13 per cent. of water. This result has been arrived at by taking all kinds of butters, including fresh butter, mild cured butter, and the heaviest sort of butter, and they have established the fact that Irish salt butter can be carefully and honestly made with an average of 13 per cent. of moisture. I am sure that all those interested in the production of an honest article will welcome this Bill. There cannot be any doubt that in many parts of this country, and in many parts of Ireland, farmers' butter has been adulterated with margarine, and there is no doubt at all that many dishonest traders have been in the habit of adulterating butter with added water, thus imposing upon the poor consumers. As an Irish Member interested in the production of honest Irish butter, and as one who knows the opinion of the largest butter market in the world, namely, the Cork Butter Market, I say that we are glad that this Bill has been brought in, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that he will find no opposition from the Irish Members.

MR. A. K. LOYD (Berkshire, Abingdon)

I should like to say one or two words of welcome in regard to this Bill. Not only will the home and colonial producers and the retailers of butter welcome this Bill, but the vendors of butter substitutes will also be ready to recognise the care which the right hon. Gentleman has given to framing a just and proper measure upon this question. It must have been no easy task for the right hon. Gentleman to have drawn up a measure which is fair both to the manufacturers of artificial and wholesome dairy products and butter substitutes and at the same time draw a Bill stringent enough to grapple with this very ingenious and plausible form of fraud. I do not think fraud is at all too strong a word to apply to it after the result of the inquiry and investigation which has taken place upon this question during the last two years. While I hold very strongly that all attempts to regulate or restrict trade should be watched most carefully, I have been very greatly impressed by the attitude assumed by all the respectable retail dealers in butter upon this question. They have most distinctly stated that they considered that the consumer was defrauded by the so-called milk-blended butter. It was not the milk which remained in the butter but the water, and this was the most plausible and ingenious way of imposing upon the consumer. The retailers of this country have asked that this method of imposing upon the public should be stopped as speedily as possible, and made illegal, and for this very remarkable reason—that if it were allowed to become general and treated as legal they themselves in self-defence would be obliged to resort to this form of trade, which they do not approve of, in order to avoid being squeezed out by a form of competition which they could not cope with. I think this ought to carry conviction to the most scrupulous mind as to the necessity of regulating this trade as much as possible. This argument from the retailer shows how deadly unfair and how profitable this form of competition was, and it shows how great is the need for legislation. I shall not say any more upon this occasion beyond stating that on behalf of an agricultural constituency, and on behalf of the retail grocers throughout my constituency, I desire to thank the right hon. Gentleman for introducing this Bill.

MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)

I think the motives of the right hon. Gentleman are very good in bringing in this Bill. He has told us candidly that he has been moved to this action practically by the proceedings of a certain large firm of traders in this country. If that be so, I think to introduce a general Act of Parliament because of the proceedings of a single firm may be looked upon as somewhat suspicious.


I did not say so, and there is more than one firm.


That should not prevent us giving the question a fair consideration; but the House ought to, remember that this is practically the third attempt made by the right hon. Gentleman to deal with this matter. We had a Bill of this kind before us all last year, and a good deal of time was taken up with it, but now we have a Bill before us which is proceeding on an entirely different principle. The Bill of last year was introduced in the same eulogistic terms as the right hon. Gentleman has applied to this Bill, and he received then the same amount of general gratification from both sides of the House. And yet the President of the Board of Agriculture found it quite impossible to proceed with his measure. If the Bill of last year was bad, I think this measure is a great deal worse. And it contains provisions which it will be extremely difficult to enforce. I advise the right hon. Gentleman to examine this question very carefully before he proceeds to waste the time of the House of Commons upon it. One of the provisions of the measure is that butter containing more than 20 per cent. should be excluded altogether. How is that to be done? It is easy to say that. How many transactions may there be in which there will be 20½ per cent., and what is to be done with the sellers who may be quite innocent in the matter? What punishment is to be put on them? That strikes me as a most difficult provision to enforce. The right hon. Gentleman said there was one class of butter that must be altogether excluded from the operations of the Bill. Practically the arguments that apply to that class apply to all butter. [Cries of "No."] It would be very much better if the hon. Gentlemen who do not agree with what I say would speak afterwards. Why should any different law be extended to Irish butter which is not extended to butter from the Highlands of Scotland or from Wales? It is admitted that salt butter may contain, without any fraud, up to 20 per cent. of water. How do we know that it may not be 21 or 22 per cent.? I believe it is in the western parts of Kerry and in the remote districts of Ireland that this butter is produced.

The butter which contains 21 and 22 per cent. of water is produced in those places where primitive methods are employed The right hon. Gentleman has stated that he is going to be as stiff about this butter from Ireland as the butter which comes from any other place. I think it will be extremely difficult to do this. There is another distinction with regard to butter containing from 16 to 20 per cent. This is to be called adulterated butter, and the onus of proof is to lie with the seller to show that it is not adulterated. All this ingenious arrangement is to be applied to one of the greatest articles of consumption, which is sold in the greatest variety of shapes in this country. It is the second or third time that the right hon. Gentleman has made an attempt to deal with it. I would put it to him that he is making an attempt to deal with the question before the Committee which is considering the matter have presented their Report. There is a Committee, presided over by Mr. Horace Plunkett. We have no Report before us or any evidence, I think the motives of the right hon. Gentleman are good, but he has not considered the subject thoroughly, and I think it would be better, after the failure of last session, if the Government would take time before bringing in another Bill.

MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone S)

This question has been considered by the Food and Drugs Committee, which sat for three sessions. I had the misfortune to be Chairman of the Committee for two sessions. If the hon. Member for West Islington wishes information, I would invite him to go to the Library and refer to the volumes containing the evidence brought before the Committee, and he will get as much as will please any ordinary man. I have heard tonight with very great gratification the statement made by one of the Members for Cork County, that the butter merchants are convinced that this Irish salt butter can be made with 17 per cent. of moisture. All I can say, as Chairman of the Committee, who heard the evidence of witness after witness from Ireland on this subject, is that they asserted, one and all, that it was impossible to make this kind of butter without 18 or 20 per cent. of moisture. One of the most difficult things the Committee had to consider in recommending something such as my right hon. friend is proposing in the Bill, was the danger of mining this butter trade. Although there may be difficulties about standardising, I think the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Agriculture, in legislating in the interest of the poor consumer who is being deceived, is exercising a wise discretion, and I hope that the Irish Members, not withstanding what my hon. friend says as to the method of manufacture, will support the measure.


I desire, on behalf of the British Dairy farmers Association, of which I am President for the year, to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the introduction of this Bill to amend the law with regard to the sale of adulterated butter. The right hon. Gentleman has told us what this water-logged butter is, and I agree with what he said on the subject. I think also he is perfectly right in saying there is more than one firm that deals in this butter. But supposing there is only one firm dealing in this butter and making enormous profit at the expense of the consumer, the matter would still be one for legislation. It is so profitable to sell butter of which one-fourth is water, that, but for the threat of legislation of this kind, water-logged butter would be thrust on the market, and we should not only have factories set up for its production in this country, but it would be imported to us from abroad. I am of opinion that the standard of 16 per cent. of water is slightly too high, seeing that the average is only 11 per cent., and that, practically speaking, anything short of 15 per cent. can be safely regarded as genuine butter. If the other parts of the Bill are sufficiently strong, I think that is satisfactory as regards the producer. As representing not only an agricultural constituency, but the British Dairy Farmers Association, I welcome the Bill and hope it will receive favourable consideration.


There is another aspect of this question which I do not think was alluded to by my right hon. friend. I mean the aspect which presents itself to those who have committed to them the duty and responsibility of administering the existing law dealing with the adulteration of food and drugs. I have been on the Adulteration Committee of the County Council ever since its formation, and know the extreme difficulty encountered in trying to protect the interests of the honest trader, the producer, and the poor consumer, because we have been defeated again and again in those matters by trade descriptions or names which may have been apparent to trade experts, but which do not bring any idea of adulteration home to the minds of the innocent consumer. Therefore I think the right hon. Gentleman is heartily to be congratulated in having taken his courage in both hands and in having described this butter as what it is, namely, an adulterated article, and I hope the Bill will have the almost unanimous support of the House and will be carried to a successful conclusion.

MR. GILHOOLY (Cork Co., W.)

I wish to draw the attention of the President of the Board of Agriculture to the following Resolutions, unanimously adopted on 27th February at a meeting of the Cork Butter Trade— (1) That we fully endorse the views given expression to by Mr. Hanbury, M. P., at Preston, on the 21st inst., to the Lancashire Farmers Association, viz:—'That in the ease of butter containing more than 16 per cent. of water, if that percentage could not be proved to be the result of the legitimate process of manufacture, it should he sold as adulterated butter, and that if butter contained more than 20 per cent. of water it should not be sold at all.' (2) That we declare the exemption of Irish firkin butter from the general standard would be disastrous to the Irish trade, as then the adulterated butter of all countries would be sold as Irish butter. In support of the above I beg to state that for the past season the standard of 16 per cent. having been adopted at the Cork butter Market—which is the largest Firkin Butler Market in the United Kingdom—the working of the same gave results beyond the highest expectations. This confirms the butter merchants in the opinion that this standard should be fixed for all Irish butter.

* MR. SOARES (Devonshire,) Barnstaple

So far as the right hon. Gentleman's statement was concerned, I think we may approve of that. I am sure this is a measure which will be welcomed by every honest dairy farmer, and it will also be welcomed by that large class of consumers who wish to get the article for which they pay. There is nothing whatever Protective about this Bill. The only protection it affords is the protection of the consumer against fraud. I think that is a very valuable protection indeed. I think it will be extremely valuable to the poorer class, because, after all, they are the people who are more apt to suffer from adulterated articles than the richer class. It is gratifying that the Minister of Agriculture has recognised how much butter is growing in the public estimation as an article of diet. Now nine doctors out of ten recommend the consumption of butter, especially in cases of phthisis. I think invalids should get the article they desire. I believe the Bill will be an advantage not only to the poorer classes but also to the honest producer.

* MR. O'MARA (Kilkenny, S.)

said there was good reason why the exemption should be made in the case of the Irish butter trade. There was a great demand for Irish firkin butter in the large manufacturing towns in the North of England. The trade had been in existence for a long time, and there was an immense turnover. The butter was made in districts where the most modern appliances were not available, and it was sometimes necessary that at least 18 per cent. of water should remain in the article. The Committee which sat upon this Bill for three years reported that salt Irish firkin butter would not, as a general rule, have less than 18 per cent. of water; and he thought that the unanimous Report of that Committee ought to have great weight with the House in dealing with the present Bill. It was with very great regret that he had to differ in this matter from the two hon. Members who represented Cork. These hon. Gentlemen spoke only in the interests of the Cork Butter Market, but Cork was not all Ireland, and the rest of Ireland differed from the views expressed by the hon. Gentlemen. The hon. Member for West Cork had stated that the Cork market fur salted firkin butter was the biggest market in the United Kingdom. It might be that that market was the largest bulk butter; market in the United Kingdom, but the trade was mainly in factory or creamery butter. A Cork man who was a trustee of the Cork Butter Market and had given evidence before the Departmental Committee, had stated that his trade in the Cork market in salt firkin butter was only about 100 firkins a week.


said he had got his information from the Secretary of the Cork Butter Market,


said that the evidence of a trustee of the Cork Butter Market itself was just as much worth the consideration of the House as a letter from the secretary to that market; and that evidence was that the trade in Cork in salt firkin butter was very small indeed. The Cork butter merchants should not stand in the way of the interests of the small dairy farmers in other parts of Ireland, especially in the counties of Clare, Mayo, Tipperary, Limerick and Sligo. He maintained that the bulk of the butter made in these counties could not be produced with less than 18 per cent. of water, and he did not think that the farmers in other parts of Ireland would agree with the hon. Member for N. E. Cork when he said that any butter which contained more than 16 per cent. of water was not honestly manufactured.

* MR. LUNDON (Limerick, E.)

said he did not think that milk blending with real butter was to be recommended, for if that was to be done, and the result sold as real butter, where would the line be drawn at by and by? Already honest butter-makers were liable to suffer from the malpractices of other people. He had interviewed the most important butter merchants in London, Messrs. Kearly & Tonge, Phillips & Sons. Loval & Christmas, and he found that the opinion prevailed that milk blending would ruin the Irish trade in butter, and if milk-blended butter was sold, it ought to be described as such in large, clear letters, "Adulterated Butter." His two hon. friends who represented the county of Cork had spoken on a subject which they knew nothing about. They represented the merchants of Cork, from whom, he contended, the first blow to the butter trade in the South of Ireland had come. Many years ago these merchants in Cork had shipped first-class Irish butter to Denmark, and then re-exported it from Denmark to Great Britain as Danish butter. He represented the dairy farmers of Limerick and Tipperary, and knew something of butter-making, because he was the son of a farmer himself. He could assure the House that they took the greatest care in making their butter, and they never thought of adding 20 per cent. of water. Some hon. Gentlemen had given it as their opinion that 17 or 18 per cent. of water should be allowed in salt firkin butter. He was certain that Limerick mild cure and creamery butter could be produced with 16 per cent. of water. There was no man standing in two shoes who could teach a Limerick farmer's wife in making butter. In large dairy farms, not a great distance from a railwaystation, mild cured firkin butter could be made at the 16 per cent. standard, but when the small dairy farms were sixteen to twenty miles distant from a railway station, a larger amount of salt had to be used, which involved a corresponding amount of moisture; and if an uniform standard of 16 per cent. was insisted upon, and the Irish system of putting salt butter on the market was interfered with, there would soon be an agitation amongst the small farmers to pay less rents than at present to the landlords.

MR. JOYCE (Limerick)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for introducing this Bill, and for keeping the promise he made to Irish Members who are interested in the Irish salt butter trade. The House would hardly credit the large amount of money that is turned over in twelve months in this particular trade. There is a turnover of £3,000,000 in the Irish salt firkin butter trade in twelve months, and that money is received by a very poor class of the farming community. A Departmental Committee went very fully into this question of butter, including firkin, fresh, and mild cured, and it was thought that the least that could be allowed to Irish firkin butter was 18 per cent. of moisture. That is far from the amount stated by the hon. Member for North Cork, and I think it was proved clearly by my hon. friend the Member for East Limerick, in one of the interviews we had with the President of the Board of Agriculture, that at times the climate of Ireland was so moist that it would be impossible to make butter with less than 20 per cent. of moisture. This butter is mainly consumed in the great manufacturing districts of England, and it is sold at a less price than the ordinary butter. Taking all these things into account, the President of the Board of Agriculture has decided to exempt Irish salo firkin butter when it does not contain more moisture than 20 per cent. I am very glad that he has done this, and I certainly believed all the time that no matter what influence would be brought to bear on the right hon. Gentleman, he would keep his word with the Irish Members. I congratulate him upon having done so, and I also congratulate turn on the Bill he has introduced.

MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

So far as I am concerned, I may say that I opposed a similar measure to this last year, because I thought it was a defective Bill. I still think so, but I wish to call attention to an extraordinary feature which is introduced into this Bill, namely, the exclusion of Ireland from this measure. My hon. friend said he could not understand why Irish butter had been excluded.


Irish butter has not been excluded.


But why should butter containing such a large percentage of moisture coming from Ireland be allowed to be sold in England. It seems to me that the influence of the eighty Irish Members in the House of Commons is mainly responsible for how Ireland is being treated under this Bill. We must be cautious in dealing with this matter to see that we are not having too much coddling legislation. If the consumer desires to have adulterated butter, and somebody is willing to make it, surely it is a crime that the consumer cannot have such butter.


If the consumer wants adulterated butter he can have it, but it must not have over 20 per cent. of moisture in it.


As long as it is made perfectly clear that the purchaser knows what he is buying, so far as this Bill aims at achieving that object it shall have my hearty support. At the same time it seems to me at the present moment rather a tall order in a free country that if a man wants 21 per cent. of water in his butter he should not be allowed to have it. That is practically what the Bill lays down, as I understand it. I understand that Irish butter cannot be made with less than 20 per cent. of water.


It cannot be made with less.


For the moment, as far as I am concerned, I shall support the Bill so far as it puts down any system of fraudulent trade.

MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)

I do not know whether it is worth while for me to say one or two sentences from an Irish point of view in answer to the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. The hon. Gentleman has shown himself, so far as this Bill is concerned, absolutely ignorant of its effect. He started by saying that this Bill exempted Irish butter, but it does nothing of the kind. The Irish salt firkin butter which this Bill deals with and exempts is a very small portion of the butter trade, and I doubt whether it is one-fourth of the whole butter trade in Ireland. The hon. Member asks why should this House exempt butter coming from Ireland and not from England. I would point out to the hon. Member that there is no analogous trade in: England. This small Irish salt firkin butter trade exists only in Ireland, and it is chiefly consumed in some of the large towns in England, and very largely in Lancashire and other places.

in the north, but there is no analogous trade in England. There is no analogous trade even in the colonies or in England or anywhere else. It is a peculiar trade of its kind and the general opinion in Ireland is that that particular kind of butter cannot be made without a larger proportion of moisture than the standard of 16 per cent. I think the position taken up by the Cork butter merchants and some of the farmers in Ireland, is really inconsistent. It may be possible in the future, by employing other methods, to make this Irish salt firkin butter with a less proportion of moisture than at present. I think, therefore. that possibly the fork butter merchants are right in saying that at some time in the future it may be possible to do that, but. so far as the present is concerned, with the present methods employed all over Ireland, it is absolutely certain if you apply the standard of 16 per cent. of moisture you would instantly kill the whole or this butter trade, and it is for that reason that we made this claim upon the right hon. Gentleman. Notwithstanding what has been said on behalf of one or two butter merchants in Cork, the right hon. Gentleman may take it for granted that his Bill will receive the support of the bulk of the Irish Members of this House, that we are grateful to him for introducing it. and we are also grateful to him for having put into his measure the provision which he promised us he would insert. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs says this provision has been put in in consequence of the influence of eighty Irish Members on the right hon. Gentleman, but that statement is a trifle absurd. This provision has been put in the Bill because the right hon. Gentleman has recognised the justice of saving from extinction altogether this firkin salt butter trade. On the broader aspects of the case everybody ought to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the introduction of a Bill of this kind, which is framed for the purpose of protecting the poorest and the most helpless consumers of this country from having forced upon them adulterated butter.

"Bill to amend the Law with regard to the sale of Adulterated Butter," ordered to be brought in by Mr. Hanbury and Mr. Secretary Akers Douglas.