§ "The presence of bacteria in large quantities in tinned Russian herrings—"
§ Mr. LAMBERT
What is the matter? Why say "Oh" when I am quoting a fact. Perhaps hon. Gentlemen opposite will be good enough to restrain their impatience. If they are so fond of Russian herrings they can eat them. I do not mind. I 'have no doubt a few of the bacteria will do them good. At any rate I do not know that they could do them much harm. May I proceed?The presence of bacteria in large quantities in tinned Russian herrings and cheap brands of condensed milk has been discovered by Dr. Douglas Thornton, the Wiltshire county analyst, while investigating a number of cases of typhoid fever in country districts of the county.If these bacteria exist in these tinned Russian herrings and in these heap brands of condensed milk, surely the consumer should have some protection. I will go down to the constituency of any hon. Gentleman opposite and argue this question out with them. I will go before the housewives in the constituencies of hon. Gentlemen opposite and ask "Do you want to know or not whether you are buying cheap herrings with bacteria in them which may cause typhoid fever?"
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that all goods produced in this country are immune from all bacteria?
§ Mr. LAMBERT
We have all sorts of regulations here and all sorts of restrictions on the production of our commodities, and I say that in fairness the consumer ought to have a chance. This is a health Measure really. We take stringent precautions to produce our own foodstuffs under the most cleanly conditions. My hon. Friend opposite says that he is a member of the Empire Marketing Board.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I cannot go into the gradations. I have never been an ardent supporter of the Empire Marketing Board because it has always seemed to me that, if British money is to be spent, it ought to be spent on advertising British goods. That for the moment is a side issue. But as regards milk product imports I find that in 1932 we imported 2,750,000 cwts. of milk products, sweetened and unsweetened, some of it apparently containing bacteria. Let the home housewife know whether she is buying a foreign or a home product. In this country milk has to be produced under stringent regulations. There is the Milk and Dairies Order of 1925. Cowsheds have to be whitewashed or lime washed twice a year. The hands of the milkers must be clean. All the utensils must be clean. The flanks of the cows and the udders have to be washed. These regulations are imposed on the British producer. I observe that hon. Gentlemen opposite appear to like Russia. From Russia came 322,000 cwts. of butter in 1932. Will they tell me that in Russia the flanks of the cows are washed, that the byres are whitewashed twice a year and that all the utensils are clean? Let the British housewife have a chance of knowing whether the butter and milk which is offered to her is produced under conditions such as we have at home or under conditions such as I expect exist in Russia. Is there any unfairness in that?
Let hon. Members opposite come down to common sense. Do not let them always have an antipathy to the farmer. The farmer is not a bad fellow and he deserves encouragement and so does the consumer. I have been much interested lately in the question of meat products and I have gone to Smithfield Market once or twice. It has always been a mystery to me why food tastes so much 1368 better in the country, in Devonshire, than in London. I have said at home that chicken there, in Devonshire, makes a tasty and toothsome morsel, but if you come to London, well, I was at a banquet here the other day, at some function—I forget what it was—and they came out with a dish of wings of chicken, all exactly the same size, and with about as much flavour in them as I should think there would be in chamois leather. The frozen stuff that comes into this country, I believe, has the vitamins taken out of it, and I do not believe it is as good, whatever the medical profession may say, as home-grown produce. At any rate, I prefer the native product, and, if. I do, why should not the housewives, the constituents of my hon. Friends opposite?
I maintain that pure foods are essential to the health of the community. I saw a statement the other day to the effect that 60 per cent. of the applicants for the Army were rejected—a C3 nation. Perhaps they are not properly fed. Give, them the choice. I am not going to prevent them having perfect freedom. Let them buy, if they like, the foreign article. If my hon. Friends opposite like to eat Russian products, let them do so, but I want the generality of the people in the country to know what they are having, and I am supporting this Bill for that purpose. My hon. Friend the Member for Whitechapel is a very able advocate, but I know' that when you introduce a private Member's Bill into this House, which I have not done now for some years, it is very difficult to draft it properly. You have not got a Government draftsman to assist you, and when very clever advocates like my hon. Friend try to pick holes in a Bill, of course, they can do it; but let this Bill pass its Second Reading and be referred to a Committee, and let my hon. Friend help to improve it. I am sure it will improve the health of the nation if it becomes law.
§ 12.48 p.m.
§ Sir SAMUEL ROSBOTHAM
I wish to give general support to the principle of this Bill because of its national character, and I would like to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Captain Heilgers) on the very able manner in which he moved its Second Reading. I am very keenly 1369 interested in the smallholdings movement and in land settlement, and I contend that the principle of this Bill would help the smaller man. I have in my recollection a case of foreign potatoes being offered in a Southport shop and labelled as one of our leading and best quality varieties. We know that at that time large quantities of foreign potatoes were being imported and that they were not fit for human consumption, yet we had that anomaly in Southport of those potatoes being offered as one of our principal varieties. This Bill aims at the protection of the public, as has been so ably advanced by the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert)—in order that the housewives should be protected. The percentage increases given by the hon. and gallant Member who introduced the Bill only went back to 1930, but if he had given the increases from 1926 it would have been seen that they were even more marked. This Bill will stimulate British production, and it is necessary, in face of the fact that dumping of foreign produce has taken place in this country and that the housewife has bought much of that dumped stuff, produced under sweated labour conditions and not under trade union conditions in this country, that protection should be afforded in that respect.
Much has been said about the numbers of tickets that are displayed in the shops, but I do not see any objection to that. I would like to see these tickets more pronounced in character and all homegrown produce identified with a ticket and surrounded by the red, white and blue, so strong am I in my ideas for British production. It has been argued that there would be more work for the Ministry under this Bill, but I think that is a very weak argument. I contend that there would be more work for the people of our countryside if the Bill became an Act of Parliament, and that is what we want. I am sure the opposition of the trade union Members this morning, as evidenced by the weak arguments put up by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), is not sincere, because the wife of a trade union Member is anxious to bring home to her husband the best possible produce at the least possible cost, and I maintain that the 1370 British produce is worth more than the foreign at any time.
The hon. Member for Westhoughton complained about the cost of administration of this Bill if it became an Act of Parliament, but I would like to refer him to a Measure which it was my pleasure to support. I think I went into the Lobby on every division in connection with the Coal Mines Bill, and that Measure set up a lot of officials at a tremendous cost. If the coal mining industry—and I make no objection to it—deserves an Act of a costly character in that respect, surely agriculture is worthy of consideration in that respect also, although I maintain that the cost of administering this Bill would be nominal. The hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Janner) has introduced a large number of objections, of a legal and technical character, to this Bill, but I agree with the advice given to him by the right hon. Member for South Molton that those objections could be considered in Committee. Let us get the Second Reading of this Bill, and any defects in it could then be amended in Committee, and they could no doubt be removed by the assistance and valuable aid of the hon. Member for Whitechapel.
On Wednesday and Thursday of this week a good deal of time has been given to discussions relating to unemployment. I maintain that the principle contained in this Bill will help to find work on the countryside and will help those engaged on the land to earn a livelihood. The finding of work for our people ought to engage our attention, and it is time that we considered more about the people at home and home produce instead of being so considerate about the foreigner and foreign produce. We must make an effort to find more work for our countryside, and there is no doubt that this Bill will help to bring more prosperity to our own land and people.
§ 12.56 p.m.
§ Mr. LEONARD
This House has seen a Labour Government afraid of its numerical weakness. Now it is witnessing a Government which is afraid of its numerical strength, because among its back benchers there are represented many interests who now see an opportunity which has not been presented to them for many years. This Bill is part of the general stampede based on 1371 their expectations. The hon. Member who introduced the Bill endeavoured to give a lead along the line that this was a consumers Bill, and that line was taken up by the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert). The idea, apparently, is to protect the consumer against fraud, with special regard to description. The consumer is entitled to that, but that is not the only thing against which they have to be protected. The factor of price is of paramount importance to the working-class, and until some attention is paid to that we are not prepared to countenance the conditions that will be strengthened by this Bill. We have been told by the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir S. Rosbotham), whom I always like to hear, that British goods are worth more than foreign goods. Probably they are, but we have been told to expect another 10 years of continuous unemployment of large dimensions, and where is the opportunity coming to the common people to get the increased wages with which to pay more for the goods which, it is claimed, are worth more?
I expected that there would be some references to Russia in this Debate. This Bill is not an endeavour to sell goods because of their quality; it is an endeavour to create prejudice in the minds of the people who go to shop, in order that hon. Members opposite can get through prejudice what they have not been able to get through ordinary decent competition. After all, they themselves believe in competition. We have had quotations about Russia from a newspaper—a reputable newspaper we are informed. I suppose that it was an unbiased newspaper. We know the definition of an unbiased newspaper or person; it is a newspaper or person with the same bias as ourselves. I remember a prominent newspaper, which is not worth mentioning by name which went to the length of displaying photographs of Russian butter being dumped on the quaysides of this country. That newspaper depended on the lack of memory of their readers, for if their readers had looked at the files they would have found the same photographs functioning as the dumping of Russian gold. The newspapers in these matters are entirely unreliable because they have interests to represent.
1372 The hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill stated that the objection to the present machinery was that its procedure was too slow, and in order to speed it up they desire to pass the sweeping first Clause of this Bill. May I point out that the committee referred to is not a protective committee at all, for it does not protect anyone. It sole function is to determine how the mark has to be applied. No doubt it has been recognised that this is really a question of double marking, because provision already exists for the marking of those imports covered by this Bill. In Clause 8 "Indication of origin" covers not only foreign or empire produce, but lays downa definite indication of the country in which the foodstuffs were produced or apprehended, the indication being given in either case conspicuously.So that, in addition to the provisions that we already have in regard to marking, the present proposal necessitates double marking. That points to the desire of the promoters of the Bill to act on prejudice rather than on anything else. With regard to the protection of the consumer against misguidance, I agree that the housewife is entitled to know quite a lot, but why is she not entitled to know when she is misguided by British producers as well as by foreign producers? I am not going to enter into any extended comment about the bacteria that come over here, for I am concerned with the bacteria sold in British goods. Look at the advertisement hoardings and newspaper columns; there we see the lies blazened forth about the quality of the stuff sold for consumption. If we want to protect the housewife against the consumption of bacteria or anything of that description we have a large field to explore in this country first.
It will be interesting to see if the suggestion of the hon. Member for Ormskirk to provide further protection by extending the display of price tickets and tickets of marks of origin in windows will be accepted by the business community of this country. They are more and more tending to greater decorative effect in their shop windows, and if they are to have it laid down that groups of Empire or foreign produce have to be isolated in given parts of the shop, and the Empire goods prominently surrounded with a display of red, white and blue, we shall 1373 have nice interiors and nice shop windows. The decorative effect will be such that the people will not be able to see the commodity at all. I therefore trust that the proposal contained in the Bill will not be accepted and that we shall accept the safeguards which are contained in Acts of Parliament already in force. The hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Janner) took it upon himself to display a list that would have to be given as a guidance to the shop assistants, but apparently it is not decided whether they or the employer will be liable. Many shops, especially in small towns, do not confine themselves to foodstuffs, but sell other goods which come within the purview of similar legislation, and not only must shopkeepers and assistants study a list such as that which is provided for assistants in co-operative stores, but another list will now have to be furnished for their guidance to ensure that the goods are marked as required by legislation. From that point of view I think the Measure is unworkable; and in view of the fact that very few requests have been made to the Committee set up under existing legislation I think the machinery already provided is sufficient to meet the needs of the case.
§ 1.6 p.m.
§ Mr. CONANT
After having listened to the full force of the opposition to these proposals, I can say with all sincerity that my determination to support the Bill has been in no way weakened. I would like to endorse the view put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maldon (Lieut.-Colonel Ruggles-Brise) when he said the Bill was by no means restricted in its interests to agricultural members, but was worthy of the support of hon. Members representing every type of constituency. The main object of the Bill is not so much to assist the great agricultural industry as to assist consumers in this country to obtain better value for their money. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. R. Davies) put forward what I regard as a very ingenious reason why a Second Reading for this Bill should be refused. He said its object was to shut out all goods not produced at home, and that if it were passed the arrangements reached at Ottawa would become entirely unnecessary. Surely that proposition assumes that the consumers of foodstuffs will adopt so 1374 patriotic an attitude that they will starve themselves rather than buy foreign produce when once they are able to discriminate between foreign produce and the rest. When such suggestions have to be put forward as a ground of opposition I feel the Bill must be a very sound one in its broad principles.
It is with its broad principles, and not with the Committee points raised by the members of the Liberal party, that I wish to deal to-day. If one were asked to say what was the main difference between the policy of this Government and its predecessors one might well say that the present Government aim at preserving the home market first for their home producers, secondly for producers in the Empire, and thirdly for foreign producers. They have given effect to that sound policy first by the Import Duties Act by which some very broad discrimination was exercised, and secondly by the arrangements at Ottawa, by which a more detailed and more carefully planned discrimination was brought into force. We have been told repeatedly that those Measures are in the nature of an experiment, and that a future Government will be free to abolish tariffs and to wipe out the arrangements reached at Ottawa after the electors of the country have been asked to decide whether this policy of substituting home and Empire produce for foreign produce has been a success or has failed. In that case we must consider what constitutes success. In the first place, no doubt, the electors would have to consider the general trade position of the country and the effect of the policy on employment and so on. But I think it would also be right that they should be able to take into account the quality of the foodstuffs which they receive under this gradual change from foreign produce to Empire and home produce, and it will be difficult for them to say whether they have reaped any advantage in the matter of quality unless they are put in a position to know when they are getting home and Empire produce as distinct from foreign.
The hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard) expressed the fear that the marking proposals would lead to an increase in price to consumers. Undoubtedly, the cost of marking imported goods must mean some additional charge either to the producer, the overseas ex- 1375 porter, the importer in this country, the shopkeeper or the consumer, but it is not quite fair to conclude that the consumer is necessarily the person who will be called upon to pay. Even supposing he were, surely the cost of indicating the country of origin will be an infinitesimal proportion of the total price he has to pay. If one is to consider the factor of price, one must also take account of the important factor of quality, because there is but little incentive to a producer to improve the quality of his goods if there is a risk of their being sold under some other name. The need for establishing goodwill or building up a reputation in business, is just as great in a case of a country as in the case of an individual trader.
I am a little surprised to find that opposition to this Bill should come from the Liberal benches. The Liberals are very determined in their oppositon to tariffs, the main ground of their opposition being that tariffs may encourage inefficiency. I agree that that is a point which must be kept in mind when considering tariffs, but surely it is strange to find opposition coming from the same quarter to a Bill which definitely seeks to encourage efficiency, and I do hope that their determination to oppose Measures which are regarded favourably by the Government will not lead them to distort their judgment on a question of this kind. The intricate matter of how imported foodstuffs are to be marked is to be left by the Bill to a committee. I think we must recognise that in a great many cases it will not be possible for marks of origin to reach the whole way to the consumer. I believe that even in these cases the marketing of imported foodstuffs will be of some value. It frequently happens that one is offered as Empire produce goods which are foreign. It has happened to me personally on many occasions. One finds the goods marked with some such title as "Czechoslovakian". We are dealing here not only with the fraudulent traders, who are fortunately in a minority, but also with the trader who is ignorant of what comprises the British Empire. One supplementary effect of the provisions of this Bill will be that the journeys of the housewife in purchasing her requirements will be extremely instructive in the geography of 1376 the world, because the Bill provides not only that goods should be marked with the country of origin but that they should also bear the title "Foreign" or "Empire".
As long ago as 1925, the Imperial Economic Committee presented a report on the marketing and preparing for marketing of foodstuffs produced in overseas parts of the Empire, and they expressed this unanimous view:This Committee are unanimous that attention should immediately be directed to the organisation of the British consumer with a view to his exercising a preference for home and Empire products, and that to this end two things are essential. On the one hand, Empire produce must be identifiable as such when exposed for sale in the home country, and on the other hand the Empire producer overseas must realise that the onus is on him alone of meeting the demand of the British market for quality, quantity and continuity of supplies.That was the view of the Imperial Economic Committee eight years ago.
No steps have been taken to give effect to it. I hope that the Bill will receive the support of the House to-day, and that facilities will be accorded by the Government to enable it in due course to become law.
§ 1.18 p.m.
In supporting this Bill, I will say that I look upon it as an extremely valuable corollary to the policy of the Government, as I understand it. That policy is, I think, to give to every British producer a fair proportion of the home market, and, if that is the case, I would commend the Bill to the Government as an extremely helpful Measure in that direction. It is obvious that everybody will purchase as far as possible the best of goods at the cheapest price, and I do not think that any hon. Member would say them nay. We hope to give that purchasing public an opportunity of being absolutely clear as to what they are buying. Therefore, if home produce and Empire and foreign produce, in a few instances, are of approximately equal quality, they will bear a clear indication of the origin of each. I believe that, all things being equal, the average purchaser will lean to the home-produced article, if he can have it at equal value and at equal price with competing supplies. This undoubtedly casts a heavy re- 1377 sponsibility on the home agricultural industry, a responsibility which it is of the utmost importance that it should have every help and every opportunity to carry out in the most efficient way possible. I do not believe that the home agricultural industry would be altogether able to fulfil this responsibility were it not for the steps which the Government have taken, or have in contemplation, with regard to the industry. There is reorganisation, either in being or indicated, in almost every branch, in the meat trade, in milk production, in the production of pigs and the production of sugar-beet; in fact, the whole of the industry is, or will be, covered. Therefore, the passing into law of this Measure will afford ample opportunity to the country to give to the home industry the support that it needs, alongside the assistance which the Government are offering in a way which, not long ago, would have been utterly impossible.
It is of the utmost importance to that industry that it must fill the gap which has been prepared for it. As hon. Members are aware, the difficulty all over the agricultural quarter of the country is extremely serious. Everywhere you go, particularly in the arable portion of England in the eastern counties, and especially in Lincolnshire, where I come from, you find the well-known symptoms of the decay which is going on and which must be arrested—farms being given up, farmers in the bankruptcy court, and workers in ever-increasing numbers making application to the public assistance committees. Indeed, it is clear that the time is not far off when agricultural wages boards must and will break down unless a measure of prosperity can be given to the industry. I think that that must give every Member pause in making up his mind as to whether he will use his vote to give this Bill a Second Reading. As has been pointed out, there may be a number of obvious objections to the Bill in detail, but those are matters which, with the help of those who are in opposition, can, one hopes, be rectified in the subsequent stages of the Bill. It is, however, all-important not to allow a Measure of undoubted helpfulness to be thrown out and cast upon the rubbish-heap.
There is one criticism which I should like to make of the Bill in a tentative 1378 manner, and that is as to whether the Bill would not be strengthened in its purpose if it were applied to home produce as well as to Empire and foreign produce. My first reason for making that suggestion is one of advertisement. If you advertise the origin of an imported foodstuff, and leave to the imagination of the purchaser the origin of what is in the category of home supply, although it is obvious that the latter must be home produce I think it would be worth while, and I hope it would not add to any burden which the Measure may bring upon any section of the community, if it could be stretched that far.
Another and more particular reason why I feel that this would be desirable is in reference to possible taxation concessions in the case of certain articles wholly made at home or of home produce. I would like to instance in particular the case of that much discussed liquid, beer. It might be—I do not know whether it will or not—that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer may at some time be prepared to grant a concession in tax to the portion of beer which is wholly made of home-grown ingredients, and I cannot help offering to my right hon. Friend the suggestion that this Bill might be a useful implement in helping him to carry out a purpose of that kind, if, indeed, he had it in mind. Personally, I am wholly persuaded of the value of the Bill to agriculture, and not only to agriculture, but to those other ancillary trades, numerous and important in regard to employment and otherwise, which so largely depend on agriculture for their well-being. I believe, also, that a case has been clearly made out and pressed during this debate that not only would agriculture and these other industries connected with it benefit but that the Bill, on the whole, would be for the benefit of the whole of the public. I believe that to be so, and on these grounds I heartily support the Second Reading.
§ 1.30 p.m.
The criticisms which my hon. Friends, both on this side and on the Opposition side of the Rouse, have directed against this Bill, have been so destructive that there seems to be very little left to be said, and, had it not been for the last two speeches in support 1379 of the Bill, I should probably not have intervened at all. The hon. and gallant Member for Brigg (Captain Hunter) suggests that agriculture is to be saved by the simple process of sticking a label on Spanish onions and other produce which greengrocers and others have to sell—
Perthaps not entirely, but he suggests that as a partial remedy for the condition in which agriculture finds itself to-day. The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Conant) accused the party to which I belong of inconsistency, in view of the fact that we oppose protective tariffs on the ground that they make for inefficiency. That is quite true, but that is only one of our reasons for opposing them. The hon. Member says that this Bill would make for efficiency, and that, consequently, we should support it. The same argument, however, applies in each case. I know and understand that this is not an argument on the merits of Protection and Free Trade, but, when we argue against inefficiency, it is because, if people are protected by artificial methods, it is not so necessary for them to exert themselves. Under this Bill, which has been framed to assist British farmers, there would be less incentive for them to do the best for themselves if this artificial protection through the medium of painted labels were given to them. The argument is on all fours.
While we who represent industrial areas have, perhaps, as much sympathy with the farmer as the representatives of the agricultural community have, we must oppose this Bill on the ground that it must increase the cost of living for the masses of our people, most of whom are already down on the poverty line; while, on the other hand, it must lessen the sum total of employment which exists in the country to-day. The hon. and gallant Member who, in his own words, is stepfather to this Bill, and the hon. Member who seconded, each made a point to the effect that the trade of the country could be increased if only the urban community were to deal direct with the agricultural community. If that were good theory, it might be wise to shut out imports altogether; but the economists for 100 years have taught us that in an international transaction you move four sets of capital, 1380 while in a purely national transaction you only move two. I repeat that, if it be a good thing to restrict imports in the way suggested here, it might be better to advocate their total exclusion, and to make this country and, if necessary, the Empire a self-contained unit, independent of all supplies from outside.
The hon. Member, who says "Hear, hear !" suggests that that would be a good thing, but, if it happened, and we had no foreign trade, but depended upon this country and trade with the Empire, I wonder whether he could tell us what would happen to the cotton trade of Lancashire, because the Empire could not possibly absorb the whole of its output; or to the iron and steel trade of the North-East Coast, the coal trade of the North arid of the West country, and the other great staple industries that sell quite as many of their goods abroad as they sell within the Empire. We come again to the position where those who disagree with us advocate a wall round the Empire excluding foreign goods. It has not quite been suggested, but the implication behind the argument of each Gentleman who has spoken is that we should stimulate home trade, that we should make it better for the British farmer if only we had this process of labelling goods and compelling each trader to state the origin of the goods that he has for sale.
The hon. Member who seconded told the House that he went into a shop to buy grapes, and apparently the shopkeeper was rather reluctant to admit that they came from a foreign country. Housewives are equally capable of asking the origin of the goods that they buy if they wish to do so, but the plain fact is that they do not wish to do so. They have a limited amount of money and they have to spread it over the widest possible area. They have to make it go as far as they can. They are out to buy the goods that suit them at a price which they can afford to pay, and their Empire sentiments are not so highly developed as to prompt them them to buy in the dearest market when they could buy in the cheapest.
I am suggesting that she is not going to bother her head to inquire, she has an instinct which teaches her just what things are suitable for her household, she will buy in the cheapest market for the simple reason that she is compelled to do so. In these days, when we have the poor with us on every hand, we have to study very seriously whether any proposal is likely to enhance prices in the retail shops. I do not know what some of our streets would look like if each shop was decorated with these little tin labels which we see to a small extent now. I can imagine the mischievous schoolboy taking them from the trader's stall and turning them into toy aeroplanes. It might be wise in certain circumstances that goods should be so labelled, but the Merchandise Marks Acts in most cases provide for that.
Our special case in this Debate is that the industrial community, the poorer people, cannot afford to carry the agricultural community on its back. There are certain economic principles which hold good of agriculture as well as of industry, and one is that it is a wise thing to buy in the best market at the lowest price, because you leave yourself over a surplus of money to expend in some other direction and you stimulate trade to a greater degree. I wonder whether these supporters of the Bill would be sufficiently logical in their advocacy of "buy English" as to suggest that all goods which are not English or Empire should be excluded. I raised that question in a slightly different form a moment or two ago. Can they tell us where we shall find an outlet for our manufactured goods if we discourage the importation of the things that we want, and if they are going to help the farmer, must it not be by the increase of wholesale and retail prices? If the farmers' prices are not to rise, it is difficult to see what advantage they will get in competition with other goods, even though the other goods may be labelled. If agricultural prices are to rise, spending power must diminish, and the sum total of work in the country will be smaller in consequence. That is why from a purely business point of view and not a sentimental point of view, we are opposing the Second Reading.
We believe there are many ways by which the farmers could be helped. We 1382 believe, 'further, that, if there was any merit in the Bill, the Minister of Agriculture would have discovered it long ago and would at least have considered putting it into operation. It is, perhaps, a, wise and a benevolent thing that on a Friday, after a rather tiring week, our mental capacity should not be taxed too highly and that we should be given an opportunity of discussing something which is not too indigestible. One can never conceive a, Government taking up a Bill of this kind, and the interest in it is well displayed by the very sparse attendance in the Chamber.
An hon. Gentleman opposite who is a member of a certain organisation which has a good deal to do with these matters, pointed out that, as an internationalist, he could not support any Measure which really aimed at the exclusion which this Bill would bring about. He said a little later that, as a Welshman, if he went into a shop and saw Welsh articles displayed side by side with other articles, he would naturally buy the Welsh articles. That, of course, means that he is a nationalist as well as an internationalist. I suppose he would suffer mixed emotions if he went into a London tea shop and came across a succulent article described as an English Welsh rarebit. I do not quite know what he would do on an occasion like that. I suppose the instinct of most people is to buy their own goods. I have remarked that there is very little difference between us and hon. Members opposite except a label that they wear which denotes nothing that is ever likely to happen. If they could only resume their old Radicalism, we could become an irresistible group which would make all the difference in the history of the country in the next year or two. But that 'by the way. I think the hon. Gentlemen and ourselves agree on this point. We have too many restrictions. We stand for the removal of these restrictions as quickly, completely and comprehensively as possible. Those who support this Bill come not to bury D.O.R.A. but to re-dress her and to re-empower her. They have not much faith really in officialism, because the hon. Member who introduced it pointed out that we are getting Chinese eggs and are making them into sponge cakes under insanitary conditions, and we have hordes 1383 of officials whose business it is to see that nothing is made under insanitary conditions.
The long and short of it is that we are going to oppose the Bill as hard as we can. We have no reason to believe that all members of the Conservative party will support it. I should not like to stand in the shoes of a Conservative Member who had to go to his constituency on the North coast or anywhere else where poverty is so rife and tell people that he had compounded a felony by associating himself with a Measure the idea of which was to encourage one set of people to become wealthier at the expense of those whom he represents. The Bill is intended to help farmers who cannot stand upon their feet in fair competition against their rivals. The only method by which they can stand upon their feet is by the stultification of their rivals by artificial methods. This is an insidious Protectionist propaganda very thinly disguised. Tariffs so far have not been sufficient. The farmers are very angry. Hon. Gentlemen say: "We will give you a little more support in a rather subtle way by labelling certain goods Empire' so that the natural instincts of the people will rise and revolt against foreign goods and more or less prompt them to buy home made goods." If foreign goods are to be made dearer and, quality for quality, are as good as the home-produced goods, the people will be very wise in buying the goods which the foreigner makes.
Economic history shows that this country has had the smallest volume of unemployment in the years when imports were greatest. In 1913, the last pre-War year, we had £1,000,000,000 worth of imports for the first time, with an unemployment figure of 2 per cent. If you follow the fluctuations and variations of the charts which. depict unemployment figures, you will find that that fact still holds good.
Yes, if we have imports of foreign countries we have a corresponding quantity of exports sooner or later, direct or indirect, visible or invisible.
Yes. The world was prosperous. It was a moment when the world was reducing tariffs [HON. MEMBERS "Oh."] President Wilson had just won his election by eliminating food taxes and cutting his general tariff down by one-half. The French and Italian tariffs of that day were falling steadily. If there is any value in the argument of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, he is welcome to it. The world was more prosperous in those days, and we were more prosperous than the rest. I am only answering the suggestion made by the hon. and gallant Member opposite, that if you buy foreign goods you are starving your own people. If you are buying foreign fruits and foodstuffs and other goods and they are coming to this country, they are visible to you, but the exports which we send from the North East coast, the bridges we build, and the locomotives and rails we export, are invisible to you, or as the famous old French economist, Bastiat, wrote in his famous book, "Things seen, and things not seen." I emphasise the point that we cannot in these days stand any further restraint upon the resources of our poor people. We are willing to help the farmers, but we take up the age-long battle cry: "Hands off the people's food." If the Bill means anything, it means hand on the people's food, and that is why we of the Liberal party shall oppose the Second Reading of it.
§ 1.49 p.m.
§ Sir E. SHEPPERSON
I listened with considerable interest to the speech of the bon. Gentleman the Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. Young). He made a suggestion that if only hon. Members on the Benches below me could join up with hon. Members from the Benches opposite the whole history of this country for the next few years would be 1385 altered. I wondered why the hon. Member did not cross the Floor of the House and join hon. Members on the opposite side, but, on further listening to his speech, I came to the conclusion that he could not do so because hon. Members opposite would not receive him among them. His outlook upon British agriculture is not the outlook of hon. Members opposite. We on these Benches know that upon the matter of British agriculture we have the sympathy of hon. Members sitting in front of me.
The hon. Member far St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard) assumed, as did the hon. Member immediately in front of me, that the Bill would raise prices. He took the point, as he was justified in doing, that in view of the amount of unemployment in the country any measure which would raise the price of the food of the people would be detrimental to the interests of the unemployed. I do not agree that the Bill would raise prices, but I would suggest to the hon. Member that if he buys an article of food produced in any foreign country the money which he pays for it goes towards the expenses of that country. There is great unemployment in the agricultural industry at the present time, and if the consumers in industrial towns buy the products of British agriculture the money goes into the pockets of British agriculturists and is available to help to relieve unemployment in British agriculture. We are more concerned with the unemployment in our own country than in arresting the unemployment of any country abroad.
The main objection of the hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill was not to the principles of the Bill- but to the details. If the Second Reading of the Bill is carried, the details can be dealt with in Committee. The principles underlying the Bill are, in practice, agreed to by most Members of this House. They are agreed to by my hon. Friends on these Benches and by hon. Members sitting opposite, but they may not be agreed to by hon. Members sitting in front of me. The first principle underlying the Bill is that it will help British agriculture. I do not think that in my 10 years' collection of this House I have ever known the industry of agriculture and its interests to have been received so sympathetically as is now the case. Ten years ago very little attention was 1386 given to matters of agriculture. To-day, not only from these Benches but from the Benches opposite, we find that the industry of agriculture receives sympathetic consideration, and I am sure that I shall carry hon. Members opposite with me in support of the Bill in so far as I believe that it will help the oldest British industry of agriculture. In what way can agriculture best be helped at the present time? In many cases we are in the difficulty that we have a surplus of agricultural produce, and we want to find a market for it. In so far as the Bill will help to find a market for British agricultural produce, it will help British agriculture.
There is another consideration apart from the interests of agriculture. It is the interest of the consumer. Members of the House may, in one way or another, represent and desire to support the interests of various industries, but primarily every Member of the House represents the great masses of the people who are the consumers. Primarily, therefore, Members of the House represent the interests of the consumers, and it is their duty to support any measure which is brought forward in the interests of the consumers.
The interests of the consumer must be helped by any Measure that makes certain that the consumer, when he goes to a shop with a desire to purchase a certain article, shall know that he will be supplied with the article that he desires to buy. That is the objects of the Bill, and on that ground, if for no other, I heartily support it. At the present time, the consumer may go into a shop in order to buy a certain article of food and may desire that it should be a British-. produced article, but he has no knowledge whether it is British or foreign. If we can give the consumer the opportunity of possessing that knowledge and of being satisfied that he is buying British goods if he so desires, we shall by this Bill help the consumer.
There is one further reason why the House should give support to the Bill, and that is that the financial welfare of the country depends upon our maintaining a favourable trade balance. Our total exports, including invisible exports, must not be less than our total imports. The financial difficulties of a year ago were due to the fact that our imports 1387 exceeded our total imports. That state of things can be remedied by expanding our exports or diminishing our imports. With the present world industrial difficulties, it is not easy to get a quick expansion of exports and, therefore, we have to limit imports. The largest import of goods into this country is of foodstuffs, and the easiest method of limiting imports is to limit in some way the importation of foodstuffs. Many people, including the wives of the working men, realise that fact and are prepared to exercise patriotism in the purchase of their foodstuffs. The wives of the working men and the wives of the unemployed if they thought that they could help their country by buying British goods in preference to foreign, would readily do so.
I deprecate any suggestion that the working classes are not as patriotic as any other section of the community. They desire to purchase British goods. This Bill will not prevent them from buying foreign goods if they so desire, and it will not raise the price of foreign foodstuffs, but it will enable the consumer, notably the working class consumer, to exercise patriotism and to know whether they are buying British foodstuffs or foreign foodstuffs. Therefore, in that way this Bill will help the further consumption of British goods, it will help British agriculture and will give definite assistance in remedying any adverse trade balance. As an agriculturist, in the interests of agriculture, I heartily support the Bill. I am confident that, altered as it may be in Committee, it will increase the consumption of British agricultural produce, that it will do justice to the consumer by giving him an opportunity, when he is spending his money, to know when he is buying British agricultural produce, and finally, it will save the situation to some extent by reducing the importation of foodstuffs coming into this country from abroad. On all these grounds, I give the Bill my wholehearted support.
§ 2.3 p.m.
§ Mr. BANFIELD
I should like to point out to the supporters of the Bill that if they carry the Measure it will not achieve the object they have in view. It is a Bill to mark certain foodstuffs, and to indicate the place of their origin. I 1388 am not at all sure that the marking of certain foodstuffs in certain shops would not result simply in advertising the foreign commodity. It must be remembered that British producers of foodstuffs have a great deal to learn in the way of grading and marketing, and some portion of British foodstuffs will not compare in quality with those imported from foreign countries. One hon. Member said that he supports the Bill because he wants to help agriculture. The mere ticketing of goods as to their place of origin will not in itself achieve that particular object. If the trading community, the retail distributors, were aware of the whole implications of this Bill, hon. Members would be flooded with protests from all parts of the country.
It is generally known in this House that I have some connection with the baking trade, and I want to bring before the House two points where the baker and confectioner would be placed under very extreme difficulties if this Bill became law. The Bill provides that the marking shall be applied to goods which contain in whole or in part the product of any other country. So far as the baking industry is concerned, that provision is absolutely impracticable. In bakeries even of very small dimensions no fewer than 60 to 70 varieties of goods are manufactured, and each variety contains at least half a dozen ingredients imported either from a foreign country or from the Empire. Let me give two examples. Everybody knows the old fashioned standard Madeira cake. I do not know whether a ticket would be required to say that Madeira cake is not a home production. Everybody knows what a Madeira cake is, but everybody does not know what it contains. It contains flour, sugar, eggs, butter, citron, and flavouring essence, and each of these articles may have to be imported from different parts of the world. The flour itself may be a blend of flours from the Argentine, the United States, Canada and America. The finished product averages about eight inches in diameter and three inches in depth. If the proposals of the Bill are adopted this cake may be so covered with labels that there will be no room left, on which to put the name of the cake.
§ Sir B. PETO
Will the hon. Member say why the cake is not covered by the proviso in sub-section (1) of Clause 3?
§ Mr. BANFIELD
It may be that it is covered by that proviso, but it is extremely difficult to know what is going to be the attitude of a particular committee on a particular point, and we are wise in pointing out the possible difficulties now instead of waiting for some committee to give a verdict which may be much against the advantage of the baking industry. Take a smaller article, a jam tart; sold at id. or 2d. It contains flour, lard, cream of tartar, eggs, and jam. The size of this article on the average is about 2½ inches, it may be a bit smaller sometimes. Imagine the enormous waste of time and the confusion which must arise in attempting to label such articles as these, and the apprehension which must be created because of pardonable mistakes on the part of assistants in removing, altering, obliterating, or concealing the origin of the constituents of the goods at the time of their sale or exposure for sale.
The proposal opens up a marvellous vista. Take an ordinary bakers shop, in which you see articles of confectionery displayed in hundreds. There is scarcely an article in the bakery trade which will not come under the provisions of this Bill, and every single article, some of them are very small indeed, will all have to be labelled. I do not know what the shop window will look like; and on the top of that we have the suggestion that articles which are entirely of British production should have a separate ticket with the Union Jack, or the red, white and blue attached. The whole thing is preposterous and ridiculous. It is all very well to pass provisions of this kind and say that the work can be done by an inspector of the local council. I have had some experience of local councils, I sat on one for many years, and I say quite sincerely that this business, in the very nature of things, ought not to be put on the existing staff of any local council; if it is to be done properly. Hon. Members opposite are always talking about the creation of hordes of officials. This Bill will create an entirely new staff of officials in almost every town and borough of any size.
The suggestion underlying the Bill is that if you put a ticket on to show the 1390 place of origin you are in some way protecting the customer and inducing him to buy the British product. I am afraid that that is not the case in actual life. Hon. Members who are married will agree with me that. when our wives go shopping quality and price are the first considerations. It would be foolish for this House to imagine that the great mass of the people—apart from certain individuals who may be Members of this House, who are prepared under any circumstances to buy British products as against foreign—do not look at this matter primarily from the point of view of quality and price. The hon. and gallant Member said that he thought even the unemployed would give a preference and buy the British article. That is true, but only on the condition that price and quality are on the same level as the price and quality as the article with which it is competing. If we are prepared to face that fact then no placing of tickets upon these goods is going to result in any good whatever to agriculture. We cannot create employment in agriculture and bring back prosperity to the countryside simply by sticking labels on various kinds of goods. If it were possible, and it was a question of labour, I would say to my friends interested in agriculture, advertise your own goods; do not advertise other peoples. Take an article like bacon. You see advertised "Finest Danish bacon." Does that stop the British housewife from buying it? It is an extra reason for buying it, because it is advertised and it has a reputation for quality. The housewife goes in and asks for Danish bacon as against British, which up to now has been unable to meet it on grounds of quality and price.
§ Captain HEILGERS
May I point out that we already advertise our own goods by the rapidly expanding system of the National Mark.
§ Mr. BANFIELD
If that is so why interfere with what has up to now worked so well; and why complicate it by introducing a new system which in all probability cannot work at all. If you have a Measure which is doing good why not foster it and extend it. Do not fall into the error of trying to make too much of a good thing. Use what you have already got, and you will find that it will do you far more benefit. I protest on 1391 behalf of the retailers, distributors and producers in the baking industry and on behalf of shop assistants who would have to work this Bill. You are putting on their shoulders an intolerable burden. The joke about it, if it is a joke, is that it is hon. Members opposite who have always been most bitterly opposed to pettifogging restrictions on trade and industry, who have introduced this Bill. They have always complained about there being too many inspectors here and too many there. The hon. Member who introduced this Bill talked about Chinese eggs, sponge cakes and unsatisfactory bakehouses. I am sure he would not desire to do the baking trade an injustice.
The hon. Member misunderstood me. I was referring to the insanitary conditions in which the eggs were produced in China.
§ Mr. BANFIELD
I am obliged to the hon. and gallant Member, but it may be of some interest to this House to know that the leading people in the British confectionery industry have used Chinese eggs, and continue to use them. When it comes to business they, like the ordinary housewife, weigh up quality and price against the country of origin. I hope, therefore, that this Bill will be rejected. I am positive that it will only complicate some very good work indeed which is being done to help agriculture in other directions. I am positive that the Act of Parliament we now have dealing with marketing, country of origin and so on is doing extraordinarily good work, and this Bill, if passed, will irritate the people upon whom you have to depend for the sale of your agricultural products in the shops. You will get the retail trade against you, not because they do not want to help you, but because they object to these pettifogging restrictions. On that ground, I hope that the Bill will be rejected.
§ 2.18 p.m.
§ Mr. DREWE
I desire to support the Bill, because I consider that the proposals contained in it are nothing more than plain measures of justice both to agriculturists and to consumers. I do not think we have had any real arguments this afternoon against the Bill. We have had no evidence that the producers do not want this Bill, and we certainly have 1392 had no evidence that the consumers do not desire it, and I see no reason to believe that the retailers should be any less public-spirited than any other people in the country, but that they themselves should be as anxious to help British production as are we who are supporting this Bill. The last speaker made some amusing references to brighter confectionery, but I do not think that would really arise, and I do not think that the criticisms which he directed against the Bill are sound. He said he was not satisfied that this Bill would achieve the object we desire. I would only say that we are quite prepared to take a chance in that direction. We believe that it will achieve the object. I think it is generally agreed in this House that agriculture has felt the prevailing general depression with as great severity as any other industry, and I have often said, when speaking in agricultural Debates, that we do not ask for any favours or for any special treatment in agriculture. We ask only for fair play and equal treatment. We believe that if we can get fair play we can once more see British agriculture prosperous. As representing an agricultural constituency in the West of England, I have no hesitation in saying that farmers are deeply anxious to see this Bill become law, and I appeal to hon. Members who represent industrial constituencies to give their support to agriculture on this occasion. I think that there is general agreement in the House that agriculture can play an increasingly important part in the economic welfare of our country. Certainly agriculture can play an important part in providing employment during these difficult days. As has been pointed out, agriculture can make an appreciable contribution towards restoring our present adverse balance of trade. Here we have a Measure for which agriculture is asking, and it is not very often that the House of Commons has an opportunity of assisting an industry without at the same time spending large sums of money, and it is not very often that the House of Commons has an opportunity of assisting agriculture by passing a Measure which cannot possibly have the effect of increasing the cost of food to the consumer. The Bill, in my opinion, cannot conceivably put up the cost of any agricultural commodity to the consumer. 1393 If the consumer decides when he goes to a shop that he prefers a British article, then he will buy a British article, and then, surely, this Bill will have been of benefit to the consumer as, well as to the producer. If, on the other hand, when the consumer goes to a shop he finds the article he likes best is marked "Imported" or "Empire", then the consumer will buy that imported article. We have done no harm to the consumer, and the producer will only have himself to blame. Then our advice to the producer will be to take greater pains in his marketing, and try to take more care in providing an article to suit the public taste.
There is one section of agriculture which has not received very much attention in recent years. I refer to the poultry industry. The Government have some special responsibility to this section of agriculture, because, after all, successive Governments have encouraged ex-service men and others to take up poultry farming and to settle on small holdings. It is quite true that, as my hon. Friend who introduced this Bill said, imported eggs are marked at the present time, but poultry farmers have a real grievance in this direction. At the present time, any imported eggs have to be marked, but if they are chilled eggs or stored eggs in any way they can come over simply marked "Imported", and they can be sold in our shops as new laid. If a British egg is put into cold storage for only one day, that egg has to be sold marked as chilled. Poultry farmers feel that this is an injustice, and they do ask that chilled eggs on importation should be marked as such. If that is impossible to administer, because there is no test to distinguish a chilled egg from an unchilled egg on importation, then they ask that the definition "New laid" should be reserved for British produced eggs. I do not know whether it would be possible to extend, at a later stage, some provision to cover the point which I have raised in this particular Bill. If it is not possible, I would like to ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture if he would give this question his earnest consideration, because it does seem a real measure of injustice to poultry farmers that they should have to describe their eggs if they are brought from store as chilled eggs, while the imported chilled eggs can come 1394 over and be sold in the shops as new laid. The table poultry side of poultry production has no marking now, but I understand that the poultry industry is asking for a reorganisation commission. In the meantime it would be a great incentive to the poultry industry if imported table birds could be marked with the country of origin, so that there again the British public could distinguish for themselves between the British table bird and the foreign one.
There has been a good deal said in this House in recent months about land settlement and smallholdings. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) when speaking on unemployment is always suggesting as his great remedy settling more people on the land. But it seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman has never been able to get into his mind the elementary fact that it is no good settling people on the land until the land is profitable. If we in this House by passing a series of small measures to supplement the bigger agricultural policy that the Government have in view can restore a greater measure of prosperity to agriculture, I believe there will be a great part for agriculture to play, first of all in settling on the land men who are accustomed to agriculture, but have been unemployed in that industry, and, secondly, settling a proportion of the other unemployed men on the land. I support the Bill wholeheartedly.
§ 2.27 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
I on behalf of North-Eastern England—it has been said that this Bill has no support from North-Eastern England—whole-heartedly support the Bill, and for several reasons. First of all it is a step towards enabling the housewife to know what she is buying. In spite of all the statements that the housewife wants to buy the cheapest article rather than an article of better quality, I think we ought to judge from our experience in connection with those articles that are already marked as "Foreign". We see that foreign made articles are marked in the smallest possible print, and if you are going to advertise a thing you do not advertise it in the smallest possible print. There are other ways in which the marking of foreign articles is carried out. Things made in Germany, for instance, are very 1395 often marked on the edge of the label, just where it bends over the side of the container. One can see dozens of articles marked in that way so as to escape notice. That is not the way to advertise the foreign origin of an article. So I am left cold when I am told that the provisions of this Bill will be a great advertisement for the foreigner. I agree with hon. Members opposite that the consumer will expect to get the same quality as in the foreign made article when he pays the same price. If Measures like this, with the assistance of tariffs, are passed, that certainly will be the result.
What have been some of the criticisms of this Bill? In principle the criticisms have been the same as were the objections to tariffs. We have been told of pots of jam that will be covered with dozens of labels. The same sort of thing was said about tariffs. We were told, when tariffs were being discussed, something like this: "Take a pair of trousers. The buttons may be taxed, and the thread and the braiding. How are you to know what the tariff is to be?" But it is done. We know perfectly well that it is possible to carry out the labelling under this Bill. The other criticisms levelled against the Bill were Committee points and there was some substance in them. We do want to know from the Government certain facts. We want to know exactly what will be the effect of this Bill on the Acts that are already in operation. Do the Government think that this Bill will hinder anything in the way of marking that is already being carried out satisfactorily If so we ought to have it straightforwardly stated by the Minister. Even if the Government consider that there will be a certain amount of hindering of existing Acts they ought to allow this Bill to go to a Standing Committee. The agricultural community of the country is of opinion that the marking system at present is too slow and too expensive. This Bill will make it quicker and certainly cheaper. All these things are matters that can very well be thrashed out in Committee.
§ 2.33 p.m.
§ Mr. LEVY
It is common knowledge that tongues in very large quantities are 1396 imported into this country. They are put in glass containers and sold as British tongues. This Bill is necessary to strengthen the Merchandise Marks Act of 1926. Tins of foodstuffs come into this country; bacon is labelled with large proprietary brands. Then you find that underneath, in quite inconspicuous positions and in letters of microscopic dimensions, are the words "Foreign made". That cannot be right. The Merchandise Marks Act will certainly be strengthened by this Bill. Where there is blending I contend that something should be inserted in the Bill to cover the expression "Mainly British". For instance, vast quantities of Russian butter are imported. It is very seldom that one sees Russian butter sold in the shops as such. It is used for blending. I know that merchants buy Russian butter, blend it to the extent sometimes of 95 per cent. Russian and 5 per cent. of another country, New Zealand or Denmark, and then sell it as blended butter. My contention is that it should be sold not only as blended but as mainly Russian butter, and that it should be so identifiable.
With reference to the working of the Merchandise Marks Act I may mention a case which occurred a little while ago of a firm which had in its shop a pile of baskets labelled British made." A basket manufacturer happened to go into the shop and examine them. As a result of his examination he tried to find whether there was any "foreign made" mark on them. Underneath each basket in a very inconspicuous place and in very tiny lettering were the words "foreign made." This firm whose name I need not mention was summoned and fined. Had this expert not made it his business to examine those baskets ordinary British housewives would have bought them under the impression that they were buying British goods. Hon. Members opposite claim, rightly or wrongly, to have the interests of the working people at heart. They complain that we look after the producers while it is left to them to look after the consumers. They further say that they are desirous that everything shall be cheap. They are very particular on this question of price. But the mere fact of identifying foreign or Empire goods as distinct from British-made goods should not have the effect of raising the price.
1397 If it be argued that these proposals would raise prices my reply is that foreign goods, if sold as British, fetch a higher price than if they are sold as foreign. It will be to the advantage of the buyer if these goods are identified as foreign. They will then be sold under the proper description and at the proper price. When we have all this fuss about the consumers we should ask ourselves, are not the producers consumers? Are we not looking at this matter the wrong way round? Is not this proposal likely to be an incentive to British producers? When we talk of consumers we have to consider that if we can get some of the unemployed into employment, by any Measure, that must be of advantage to the community and in the interests of the working class I read in a newspaper recently:Russian beans which are manufactured, tinned and packed, are sold under a British proprietary name with only the distinguishing mark foreign ' in very small letters. This class of product should be made to bear the word foreign ' and the country of origin very plainly.I agree. The Minister of Agriculture and the Tariff Commission, for reasons best known to themselves, have arranged in the case of the fruit trade for what may be described as open and close seasons. That is to say that at some periods of the year tariffs are put upon imported goods while at other periods of the year no tariffs apply. That appears to me rather foolish if I may be forgiven for using that term. Jam manufacturers, if they buy English fruit during the summer season, do not make it into jam at that time, but pulp it down and in the winter season make it into jam. They may ask themselves why they should buy British fruit and pulp it when they can wait for the open season to buy the cheap foreign fruit already pulped and make it into jam. That is what is happening and I suggest strongly to the Minister of Agriculture that he should investigate that position and see whether it is not desirable to have no open season for the introduction of pulped fruit and fruit of that kind into this country. If foreign fruit is purchased here and then made into jam, the jam is sold as British-made although practically the whole of its content may be of foreign origin. I hope the Bill will help to remedy defects of that kind. Anything that protects the housewife must be all to the good. 1398 We know that foreign goods come here in packages which are identical with the containers used for English goods. Foreign plums, for instance, come round about the same time as English plums and they are sent here in containers which are more or less identical with those used for the English fruit. A fruiterer or greengrocer, in dressing his shop or stall, puts the British in the front and the foreign at the back. I am not saying that they all do so, but that is the practice of some. It is common knowledge that if you go into a shop or stall to buy a pound of plums you are served from the back. The shopkeeper will not interfere with the goods which are arrayed in front so as to make the shop attractive. There should be in such a shop two bins marked distinctly "British" and "Foreign" so that the housewife may know which she is buying. It is difficult even for an expert to take up a plum or a pear and pronounce whether it is British or foreign, but the owner of the shop and the employés know by virtue of the fact that they have emptied the fruit out of the containers. An employer is responsible for the negligence of his employés and it should be an offence to empty out and sell the foreign goods at the back while displaying British goods in the front.
Doubtless there are flaws in this Bill as there must be in any Private Member's Bill, since, as has been pointed out the Private Member has not the expert assistance of the draftsmen which is at the disposal of the Government. I hope that the Bill will receive a Second Reading and will go to Committee where it will be improved in such a manner as to make it a benefit not only to the housewife but to the agricultural labourer, the farmer and all those who are anxious to see that British goods shall be known as British in every country in the world and particularly in the country where they are produced.
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General CLIFTON BROWN
I cannot help thinking that a great many of the doubts about the working of this Bill which have been put up by hon. Members opposite, such as the impossibility of marking Madeira cakes and so forth, would not have been advanced if they had really studied the Bill, because in Clause 3, Subsection (1), it says: 1399Provided that, where in the opinion of the committee, any foodstuffs to which this Act applies, cannot for any reason be effectively or conveniently marked with an indication of origin, the committee shall not be required to make any recommendations to the appropriate department for the marking thereof.I think that really answers a great many of the objections that have been put up. I have always thought my hon. Friends opposite in the Labour party were very illogical in the way of opposing anything that appertains to Protection. After all, their whole object in life is to protect the interests of the workers against exploitation, and surely a Bill that tries to protect the poorest among the consumers is entitled to their support. I would like to remind my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) that when he and I joined together there were certainly, for some years afterwards, some Labour Members who always supported the proposals for marking urged by the late Capt. Pretyman and others on this side, and he will remember one particular story, which he can verify in the columns of the OFFICIAL REPORT, told by a Labour Member, I think it was for Oldham or one of those big constituencies, a miners' leader, who went down into the country and found, in one of the cottages, a housewife who had a broody hen. She thought she would put it to good advantage while it was broody, and she sent to the market and bought what she was told were four fresh English eggs, but when our friend got down there, he found she was very disgusted because she had four lizards in her garden instead of chicken. That is a practical experience of a friend of ours in the party opposite, and surely they will agree that the interests of the poor consumer should be protected against such frauds as that.
I appreciate the absolutely logical objections of my hon. Friends in the Liberal party to the Bill, on the ground that they have always been strong Free Traders. I was brought up in that faith too, and, although I am no longer a strict Free Trader, I appreciate their argument. While I thought the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill was very much to the point in thinking the Bill was unnecessary on account of other Marking Acts that we have on 1400 the Statute Book, I want to point, out that the difference between this Bill and those Measures is that this Bill puts the onus of proof on the distributor instead of, as at present, on the producer. The producer, after all, is in a very difficult position under the present legislation. If he wants to bring up a case of fraud or of omission to mark, very often he cannot afford it unless he belongs to a powerful enough body to run the show for him. On the other hand, it would enable cases to be brought forward very easily and simply if the onus of proof were on the distributor, and he had to prove that he was playing the game.
There may be well-founded objections against any Bill that will cost more money in its administration, but I think the amount that this Bill is likely to cost to administer might be very much diminished if the Minister of Agriculture would take advice and help, for instance, from the Advisory Committee of the Council of Agriculture for England. That is a body composed certainly of producers, and it might not be that all of the proposed committee should be drawn from a body like that, but they would do any necessary work on the committee without any emoluments over and above what they are getting now. As has been suggested in the Milk Commission Report, perhaps there should be half to represent the producers and half the distributors, and though not the entire half of the members of this proposed committee should come from a body like the Council of Agriculture, the other half could come from a body whose business it was to represent the distributing trades, at very little extra cost to either side.
I recognise that any proposal for marking means a certain interference with business and a certain amount of control, but it seems to me, if the stories we hear and know of are authentic, that some further inquiry into this matter is necessary. The present Marking Acts certainly do not fulfil the objects for which they were passed, and I hope this Bill will get a Second Beading so that the matter may be inquired into. When we come to the Committee stage the difficulties in regard to marking and finance and the disturbance of business may be found to be too great to be worth the candle, but, at all events, if the Bill is 1401 sent to Committee, it will make the distributors more anxious to keep within the restrictions of the present law. Therefore, I hope, if for no other reason than that this matter wants inquiry, the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Mr. LEONARD
Before the hon. and gallant Member resumes his seat, will he say if he is of opinion that the committee at present functioning under the 1926 Act on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture is incompetent; and, if not, why does he now propose to dismiss it, as I think it would be required to be dismissed under this Bill?
I do not think the present Act fulfils the requirements for which it was passed. Notwithstanding that Act, however, there are a great many reasons why people cannot get goods marked which ought to be marked, and the Act has certainly not stopped all frauds in this connection.
§ 2.54 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Major Elliot)
I think it would be courteous to the House if I were to indicate now how we regard this Bill from the Government point of view, as I see there are still many hon. Members who desire to take part in the Debate. In the first place, I think it is most useful and valuable to have had this question debated, and we are very much indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Captain Heilgers) for taking the opportunity of raising it on the Floor of the House, because the whole question of imported foodstuffs has certainly, within the last 10 years, attracted more and more attention in this country, and many of the speeches which we have heard to-day have perhaps under-estimated what has already been done in this respect, as regards protective duties, restrictions of one kind and another, and actual marking. The memory of the long period in which the home producer has been entirely defenceless against the flood of imports which come from every quarter takes a great deal of getting over, but that should not blind him to the fact that he is not now operating under the old condition. This Bill is not a proposal for marking, for that is on the Statute Book; it is not a proposal for giving the home producer the advantage over the overseas producer, because that is on the 1402 Statute Book too, and is being operated in some cases in a very drastic manner.
The proposal is for a reform in the marking of imported foodstuffs. We had an era of free imports; then an era of psychological protection, of which marking Acts and the propaganda of the Empire Marketing Board and other bodies are examples; and then an era in which we are now working of actual organisation for physical protection of one kind and another, which must be completed by the reorganisation of the whole industry which is actually going on.
That being so, has a case been made out for scrapping to-day the existing procedure under the Act of 1926, in the framing of which so many of my hon. Friends took so prominent a part? A great deal has been done under that Act already. The 14 or 15 Marking Orders which have already been secured indicate 'at least a very considerable advance over the previous state of affairs, when no marking was applied to home produce at all. It is said that there are cases of fraud, but they are an argument for the better administration of the existing Statute and not for tearing it up and introducing a, novel procedure.
§ Major ELLIOT
Let me deal with the points one by one. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown) dealt with eggs and referred to the hatching of lizards from Chinese eggs. There is a marking order for eggs. Expensive or not, the inquiry has been held, and, good or bad, it resulted in a marking order. The way to deal with frauds is not to bring in a, different kind of procedure for getting the Order, but to tighten up the administration of the marking orders already in existence. Let us face two things. There is the possibility of fraud under the existing Statute, and the possibility that it is too cumbrous in operation. So far as certain great products show—and eggs, of course, are the key example—a marking order has been secured and is in operation, and deals with cases such as the Chinese 1403 lizards to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred.
The next point brought forward by those who favour the Bill is that the Act is too cumbrous and has not fulfilled the objects of those who introduced it. I think it is true that the procedure under that Act is cumbrous, but it is also true that it has been operated and is being operated now; and in the case of the other key commodity of meat, an inquiry is actually under way at the present time, and evidence is being heard on one side and another. When it is said that these inquiries are expensive, I do not see anything in this Bill to indicate that inquiries will be obviated or will be less expensive. It must still be possible for anybody to bring objections to any proposals put forward. It will be necessary for the evidence to be published and for procedure not dissimilar to the procedure which is already in existence to be adopted. The difference would be that the onus would lie upon the new statutory committee. It will be assumed that all foodstuffs have to be marked unless exceptions were obtained. I do not deny that that will be a change, but I say that inquiries would be held under it and the cumbrous proceedings would have to be gone through. We should consider in our minds the undesirability of changing the procedure, especially when we are admittedly in a period of reorganisation and of marking and grading of all kinds which are a necessary corollary of the various reorganisation commissions which have been held.
There are, of course, drafting points against the Bill, but nobody wishes to make a case on that ground. It is true that a private Member has not access to the Parliamentary draftsmen and his Bill is inevitably subject to more revision in Committee than a Government Bill ought to be which has the advantage of these highly-skilled men. Therefore, I shall not say anything about one or two matters which I am sure the Mover and Seconder of the Motion would be the first to admit, and, indeed, which they asked us specifically to overlook and excuse. The right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) even begged for the co-operation of the hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Janney), which would, I think, 1404 rather jeopardise the chances of such a Bill reaching the Statute Book.
We desire to cause the least possible disturbance at the present time. Is this a Bill that we ought to recommend to the House? As far as the principle of the Bill goes, we should certainly be in favour of it, for the principle of marking is one which we have advocated in the past, and for which we shall continue to stand in the future. The principle of favouring the home producer as against the foreign producer, and also against the Dominions producer, is one which is not novel in our political life; it was specifically dealt with at Ottawa and it is one of the basic principles on which this Government stands. As to the proposal that we ought to give Government facilities to a Bill which, as the Debate has shown is of a highly contentious nature, and which on the face of it bears the necessity for a Financial Resolution which would need to be put down by the Government, the Government have decided that it is not possible to give facilities or to put down the Financial Resolution.
Let us now consider whether the proposals in the Bill are such as should be commended to the House for further consideration in Committee or for further informal consideration. I think that the proposals are such as can reasonably be further considered, however informally or formally, because the expense of voluntary organisations in bringing forward cases under the Act of 1926 is a handicap about which they have already complained.
The National Farmers' Union and other bodies have said that they have difficulty in raising money to carry on with these long inquiries, and difficulty in securing the necessary skilled advice, and that it would be a great convenience if the onus of doing it were to be placed upon the administration of the country, with the cost paid out of moneys provided by Parliament, as the Bill says. No doubt it is an onerous task to be laid upon voluntary organisations, but in the present state of the public finances, I do not think this is a case in which the burden can be laid upon the Exchequer. The Treasury has to guard every penny. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has to look forward to presenting national 1405 accounts on which he will be keenly criticised from every quarter of the House, and from none more keenly than from some of the quarters which have been pressing this expenditure upon him this afternoon. He will be held keenly to account for every penny of additional expenditure which he proposes when his Budget is opened. I do not say that no additional expenditure should ever be undertaken, but I do say that when we have a procedure which has worked reasonably well in the past, and which at the moment is engaged with a great and a fundamental inquiry such as the meat marking inquiry, I do not think the case for a change in the existing law has been made out.
Therefore, while the Government do not propose to ask the House to reject this Bill, and while if a Division is challenged, either from the Opposition side of the House or by my hon. Friends below the Gangway, I myself with, I think, the others on this bench, will support the promoters of the Bill, we must not be taken as thereby pledging ourselves to give further facilities for it, nor pledging ourselves to put down a Financial Resolution to carry out the Financial Clause. I hope that with the knowledge that the necessity for enforcing marking is recognised -by the Government as well as by the supporters of the Bill, my hon. Friends will not find it necessary after the conclusion of to-day's Debate, to press further with this Measure.
§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Mr. TURTON
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has earned a great name in agricultural districts by his agricultural policy up to date, but I am quite certain that to-morrow no one in any agricultural constituency will read without concern and regret the speech he has just made upon this Bill. He has told the House that he considers the procedure under the existing Merchandise Marks legislation both cumbrous and expensive, and he does not attempt to defend it; he recognises the handicap which farmers suffer under the present procedure; but to this present Bill he will give only a negative support on Second Reading, and he will block it at every further stage.
§ Major ELLIOT
Not at all. This is a private Member's Bill, and I say that the Government cannot offer facilities for it, 1406 but I am not saying that I am going to block it. I am not going to block it. I was asked whether I could give Government time and Government money to the Bill, which is a very different thing.
§ Mr. TURTON
entirely accept my right hon. and gallant Friend's explanation, and if there is a distinction between what I said and what he has said, then I withdraw my statement; but the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will not allow this Bill to go any further. Of course, we should have had to have a Financial Resolution, the Bill could not proceed without one, but my right hon. and gallant Friend believes there is no call in the country for a Bill making it less expensive and simpler for the producers of this country to put their goods before the consumers. I am quite certain that the Mover of this Bill and every hon. Member who is supporting it would be willing to withdraw it if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman or the Government would bring in a Bill this Session to amend the Merchandise Marks Act and to make it less expensive for those who appear before the Merchandise Marks Committee. At the present time, we cannot afford to put our case before the Merchandise Marks Committee, because in many cases it costs such a large amount—I am speaking of the members of my own profession—and also because of the difficulties which are inherent in that cumbrous Measure.
The Minister has told us that this Bill would require the attendance of counsel before a committee. I cannot find one word in this Bill to justify that statement. We are dissatisfied with the cumbrous nature of the Merchandise Marks Act, and we have brought in a Bill to amend it. We have a good precedent for what we have done. The Safeguarding of Industries Act required the attendance of counsel before a committee. The Government which I have the honour to support, and of which the Minister is a most distinguished Member, introduced a Bill to scrap the procedure of the Safeguarding of Industries Act by creating the Import Duties Advisory Committee which no longer requires the expensive attendance of counsel and solicitors before it. May not agriculture have the same treatment? May not we have equally cheap facilities in putting our case, which I believe is a good case, 1407 before the Government and before the committee? I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will consider the action he has counselled to-day, and, if he does not bring in actually this Bill, will bring in, without delay, a Bill to amend the cumbrous and expensive procedure of the Merchandise Marks Act, 1926.
If I may, I would like to turn to the criticisms that have been made by other hon. Members, I was very surprised when the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. Young) informed the House that no other Member from the North East would dare to support this Bill. I happen to come from the neighbourhood of the hon. Gentleman and I can tell him that not only would Members for the North East coast support this Bill, but their own constituents would support it. He told us in his speech that it was his belief that the people of Middlesbrough would buy in the cheapest market and at the lowest price, and that any measure to help the consumer in the goods that he was buying would meet with disaster in that district. The hon. Gentleman will know that in the last two months, in the centre of his constituency, the farmers of the district have opened a shop for selling pig products, and have labelled it "Everything in this shop is produced in the surrounding area." The constituents have responded to such an extent that they have driven trade away from every pork butcher in Middlesbrough, because the farmers' shop is advertising their goods as not being foreign and as coming from that district.
May I ask whether the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that pork butchers in Middlesbrough have been selling foreign pork?
§ Mr. TURTON
The rest of the pork butchers are not advertising that they are not selling foreign pork, although there really is no foreign pork. If they also had said that they were supporting the farmers of the surrounding district, that would have attracted trade to them.
§ Mr. JANNER
Does the hon. Member suggest that each locality should confine itself to products produced in its immediate neighbourhood?
§ Mr. TURTON
I have lived in White-chapel, and, therefore, I quite agree that 1408 that would not be possible, but I am dealing with a particular case in the constituency of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough.
May I make my point clear? The hon. Member says that in my constituency a shop has been set up which is selling British pork and driving the trade away from the other pork butchers. Is it his point that they are selling foreign pork?
§ Mr. TURTON
I understand exactly the point that my hon. Friend is making. What I said was that there is a shop in Middlesbrough, run by English farmers, selling English pig products, and that they have cut out the trade of their rivals because they are advertising to the effect that everything in their shop is of British origin and comes from the surrounding district.
May I interrupt the hon. Member once again? Would he consider that it was a breach of moral law towards his party and this Bill if they sold pork which came, say, from Lancashire? What is the special virtue of selling pork grown in that part of Yorkshire?
§ Mr. TURTON
The hon. Gentleman said in his speech, and it will be within the recollection of the House, that it was the policy of his party, of himself, and of his constituency, to buy in the cheapest market at the lowest price, and that to exclude foreign goods would be a. disaster to his party, to his constituency, and to himself. I have pointed out that I have no brief for either himself or his party, but that, as regards his constituency, people there are more patriotic, and believe in supporting agriculture that is carried on around their town, because they know that, if they support the people who are engaged in agriculture, the people who are engaged in agriculture will support their own products. And they believe also in supporting British agriculture. The hon. Gentleman said that he could find little difference between his party and the party above the Gangway in front of me—.
§ Mr. TURTON
I accept the hon. Member's amendment of his speech. He said 1409 that he could find little difference between his party and that party. except that, as he asserted, they bore a Socialist label. But the hon. Gentleman was so heated at the last election in his defence of England and his attack upon the Socialist party that he excluded from this House a very well-known Socialist lady, Miss Wilkinson
§ Mr. TURTON
I will leave the hon. Member for Middlesbrough. I think that, when he goes home during the week-end, he will find that his constituents have different views about British agriculture. The hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) mentioned that blending was not dealt with in the Bill, but I would point out that paragraph (b) of Clause 8 deals with the question of blending, and provides that blended butter under this Bill will be marked "Partly Foreign and Empire "or" Partly Empire," as the case may be. Therefore, the question of blending has not been omitted from the consideration of those who drafted the Bill. Perhaps I may recapitulate the case that we have for the Bill. We believe the present situation is unsatisfactory. We believe the cost of putting the case of the producer before the committee is too much for agriculture, especially as it is so severely hit by the world-wide depression. We ask that the produce of the land should be deal with under the Bill. If the Merchandise Marks Committee is working well for other products, let it continue, but we ask that the experience of the blended butter application, when thousand of pounds were poured out in putting forward an application which in the end proved futile, should not be repeated. The Minister mentioned the meat inquiry. That has proved no small burden to the English producers. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman how much that meat inquiry cost the farmers in presenting their case to the Merchandise Marks Committee.
§ Major ELLIOT
In Clause 3 (1) we read:The Committee shall, as soon as may be after the commencement of this Act, take into consideration the provisions of the Act and, after hearing persons representing such interests as may appear to the Committee to be substantially affected, shall from time to time make recommendations to the appropriate department.1410 Surely the present Bill would not obviate any of the difficulties that have arisen hitherto.
§ Mr. TURTON
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is the last person I should wish to cross swords with on the interpretation of a Clause, but the words he has just read are the same as in the Import Duties Act under which counsel are not heard by the Advisory Committee, so that, if the same construction is put on this Clause as naturally would be put on that in the Imports Duties Act, it would not present the difficulty of the Merchandise Marks Act, 1926. But, if this Bill is wrong in any particular point, and if we are defeating ourselves by faulty draftsmanship, I am sure the promoters of the Bill will be only too glad in Committee, if the right hon. Gentleman allows us to get to Committee stage, to amend it and to secure what we desire, which is a cheap and effective method of seeing that the consumer gets fair play.
There has been criticism of the Bill both from the Liberal and Socialist Benches on the ground that we are putting up the cost of food. I have read in the course of my not very long life pamphlet after pamphlet produced by representatives of Liberal constituencies advocating the importance of British agriculture, and similarly Members of the Socialist party produced "Labour and the Nation", in which they have striking methods of dealing with agriculture. I agree that, when they came into office, they entirely forgot their Socialist agricultural policy and confined themselves to doing nothing. This Bill is not putting any tax on any foodstuffs in this country. It is merely giving the producer the right to have imported goods marked with the country of their origin.
The hon. Member for East Middlesbrough used the famous platform cry: "Hands off the people's food." Is he contending that the people's food is always foreign? Is it only the Soviet egg and the Soviet chicken that are eaten by the people of this country? I do not believe it. We are trying to help the townspeople to realise how they can rejuvenate and regenerate the agricultural industry by seeing from whence their foodstuffs come. Do the towns object to that? I note that the rejection of the Bill was moved by 1411 the hon. Gentleman the Member for Whitechapel. I lived in Whitechapel for over a year and I know with what jubilation in Whitechapel an Act was passed in 1916—the Registration of Business Names Act. There were those possessing the good old English names of "MacTavish" and "MacLewis" and all those well-known names which came, you believed, from over the Border, and when the Registration of Business Names Act was passed they had to declare their hands. I can assure those hon. Members who no longer live in Whitechapel that there is no more hated Act of Parliament that the Registration of Business Names Act, 1916. We have the same sort of thing in this Measure. We make the retailer declare his hands by saying whether this or that is a sausage or something from Russia. We are helping the consumers, and we ask the House to help agriculture. Agriculture has been especially patient. Those hon. Members who go to the countryside and find the terrible plight in which agriculture is placed will, I believe, support us in our claim that foreign goods should be marked as foreign, and with the country of origin, and that the British consumer should have the right to know from whence his food comes.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
The many Members who are in support of the principle of the Bill will be very grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Captain Heilgers) for introducing it. Many of us believed that it was a good Bill which might be subject to improvement on the Committee stage, and we were rather disappointed, after the hon. and gallant Member had referred to the parentage of the Bill, that my right hon. and gallant Friend appeared at the christening in the guise of the wicked fairy and blighted the promising child from birth. I join my voice with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirk and Malton (Mr. Turton) in asking the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to reconsider his decision.
The first opposition to the Bill came from the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. R. Davies) who described it as a Bill which would do actual damage to Empire products. He indicated that if 1412 everything was clearly marked and the object of the Bill was carried out the British housewife would buy only English or Scottish foodstuffs and that she would not buy Empire or foreign. That, 1 I think is a very exaggerated statement of the case. I believe that if the housewife were given the opportunity of buying Empire, English or foreign, all other things being equal, she would first buy English goods, then Empire goods, and lastly foreign goods. The hon. Member for Westhoughton also threw up his hands in absolute horror at the fact that a committee would have to be set up. I was under the impression that his party welcomed any fresh committees of almost any conceivable kind. He seemed very horrified on the question of economy. He talked a great deal about economy, and said that it was a very unfortunate Measure in that it would entail the expenditure of a considerable amount of money. I do not think that we are in the habit of hearing from those benches any great lip service to economy. Perhaps the Minister will be able to give us an estimate of how much the Measure would cost if it were carried through. I do not believe that the cost would be excessive, but I am convinced that it would not be out of proportion to the advantages of the Bill.
The Debate was very interesting in the earlier part. It ranged from the contention of the hon. Member for Westhoughton that Empire goods were being shut out, to the arguments of the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill, who brought up many points of considerable legal interest, which, to my mind, were more Committee points than anything else. But the cat really came out of the bag in the speech of the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. Young). He went back to the old Free Trade cry. He said, for instance, that in 1913 unemployment was very low and imports very high. That was perfectly true, but we know very well that low unemployment means that prosperity is high and, consequently, you can afford to buy more from abroad. It is not because we import such a lot that we are prosperous. He referred to the extra trouble which will be caused to the shopkeepers in carrying out the provisions of the Measure. Undoubtedly, it would cause a certain amount of trouble, but I do 1413 not believe that the shopkeepers are sc. unpatriotic that, if they thought they were going to do some good to the agriculturists and producers of this country and of the Empire, without causing themselves a very great deal of trouble, they would take such action as would render the whole procedure of the Measure absolutely nugatory. I think we can rely upon them, as in the case of many of the big stores, to push British goods, and this Bill would give them an opportunity to do so, and to show clearly in their shops which goods are British, which are foreign and which are from the Empire.
The objects of the Bill are, obviously, to foster British and Empire produce. If goods are clearly marked there will be an inducement to the British housewife to buy home-produced goods first, and Empire goods second. The Bill is, to a very considerable extent carrying out the spirit which underlies the Ottawa Agreements. At Ottawa one of the main motives was to re-direct trade from markets which were uncertain and to direct it to markets in the Empire and in the Dominions which were certain: to buy from those countries which not only wish to sell to us but wish to buy from us. is obvious that we should buy to carry out the spirit underlying the whole of the Ottawa Agreements.
In regard to horticulture in this country, the Horticultural Imports Act has already been of considerable advantage to the country as a whole. I have had letters telling me of a large number of men who have been taken on in my own county. It is estimated that 500 men have been taken on in the county of Cornwall as a direct result of the Horticultural Import Duties Act. This Bill continues the same system, and is an encouragement to the horticulturist and to the farmer, not only to grow more stuff but to go in for a form of advertisement so that when their goods are on the market they will be distinguished from those of the foreigner. Complaint could be made in the past against horticulturists in this country that they did not grade and market their goods properly, and there was a tendency in many directions to buy foreign vegetables and fruit and flowers because, on the whole, they were better. But great efforts have been made in the last few years to improve the 1414 grading and marketing of horticultural products and that process will be helped by this Measure.
The English producer does not always get credit for the fact that his goods are English. Very often when you go into the market you cannot tell whether the goods are English or foreign, and a buyer who has perhaps been badly hit in the past is apt to give credit to the foreign producer when the goods are really British. There was an instance of a sample of broccoli which was sent from Cornwall, and when the buyer asked whether they were British the seller said, "No, they are French." Then the buyer observed the word "Gulval" on the boxes, and turning to the salesman said, "It is the first time I have heard that Gulval is in France. I always thought it was in Cornwall." That is a case where goods which were well turned out were thought to be French. Under this Bill such goods would have been marked, and the horticulturist would therefore make every effort to turn out a really good article.
There has been a certain amount of evasion of previous Acts, and probably there would be some evasion of the provisions of this Bill. Surely it is up to the authorities to see that Acts of Parliament are properly administered. The Bill, to my mind, would not be very difficult to administer and its advantages far outweigh any slight difficulties of administration. The Minister of Agriculture indicated that it is just as cumbrous, perhaps more so, as the Merchandise Marks Act. I cannot quite see the point he was endeavouring to convey. I gathered that under this Bill he considered it would be necessary for the producer to prove his case before the committee. Surely that is not the point. All the committee have to decide is not whether it is advisable or not to mark a certain article, but whether it is possible to mark it. If you imported live frogs from France for consumption and kept them alive in a tank it would not be easy to mark the frogs. I do not think that the exemption of frogs is a cardinal point. Matters of this kind could very well be considered in Committee.
I do make a most urgent appeal to the right hon. Gentleman that if he cannot see his way to give facilities for this Bill 1415 to go through, he will seriously consider the possibility of an Amendment of the Merchandise Marks Act. The objection which many of us have to the Merchandise Marks Act is not only that it is extremely cumbrous and expensive, but also that it does not go far enough. In the case of this Bill I should, personally, like to go a great deal further. In my part of the world, Devonshire and certain other counties, they have made enormous progress in growing flowers. The horticulturists have been gradually getting known and their products are very much in demand. I was hoping—possibly a vain hope—that the right hon. Gentleman would accept the principle of the Bill with open arms and give it his blessing, and I must confess that I was very disappointed when he decided that it was impossible to give it facilities. May I ask him whether, even at this late stage, he cannot give us some grain of hope and indication that, if he will not give us facilities for this Bill to go to its further stages, he will, at any rate, consider very carefully an Amendment and extension of the Merchandise Marks Act.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Mr. DAVID GRENFELL
It is a matter of congratulation to those who have brought forward this Measure that the discussion has been so sustained and lively to-day. This question is really of very great interest, because those who support it believe in their hearts that they are doing something for the cause of agriculture and the great farming population, which is experiencing the depression which has so long affected industries in the country, and there is no one in this House who is not interested in the progress of agriculture. But that does not signify that we are prepared to accept any Measure brought forward obstensibly in the interests of agriculture, and particularly Measures of this kind. This Measure is lacking in definiteness and falls far short of the pretentions of those who bring it forward indeed it is effeminate, if I may use the word, as a Measure for the relief of the great agricultural industry.
Those who brought the Bill forward were very fortunate in having as the Mover of the Second Reading the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Captain Heilgers), who speaks 1416 in the most charming manner and carries a personality which always attracts the House, and helps him very much whatever he brings forward. He spoke openly in the interests of agriculture and, I think, made the best of a bad case. He appealed to me very much in various parts of his speech, especially where he so ingeniously set out to prove that this complicated and elaborate machinery was not going to cost much, that it was a very simple thing, that with a little Government hospitality and a little kindness on the part of the Minister of Agriculture and a little accommodation here and there, the machinery would cost nothing at all. I felt quite certain that if he had gone on for another 10 minutes he would have shown a very handsome profit from the adoption of the proposals of the Bill.
The hon. Member said a good deal about the advantage to the producer, but not as much about the advantage to the consumer, who after all is a very important factor in this country. One of the difficulties is that the people of this country in the main are consumers rather than producers of foodstuffs. Our dependence on foreign supplies of food is a thing of long standing, and unfortunately a thing that we cannot dispense with, unless there be a very radical change in the whole of our national economy. The hon. Member will perhaps take a hint from me, when I say that he did not help his case by some of his illustrations. One illustration was a conversation he had had with a retailer who controlled 40 shops. The retailer was made to tell the hon. Gentleman that he wanted this Bill because it would cause the British producer to grade his goods. The consumer has not been blind to the wonderful results of grading and marketing which have been responsible for the success of the foreigner who exports to this country. In that reported conversation the consumer was speaking, in spite of the hon. Member's reluctance to bring him forward.
The hon. Member rather underestimated the cost and the labour and the restrictive effect of the Bill's proposals. Another interesting feature introduced into the hon. Member's speech was something new. He gave us the vital statistics of poultry and ducks. He claimed that in consequence of 1417 something that had been done administratively by the National Government the poultry population of the country had increased by 20 per cent. He did not follow the matter closely and tell us whether this was due to a higher birth rate or a lower death rate. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who seconded the Motion for the Second Reading with so much discretion also tried to minimise the effects of the burden of this Bill. He said that almost all articles coming from abroad came in wrappers or containers, and he contended that the addition of a few words to a wrapper or a container would not do any harm. The hon. and gallant Gentleman deliberately minimised the effect of the Bill with the intention of getting it through—a very pardonable motive.
§ Colonel RUGGLES-BR1SE
What I pointed out was that a very large quantity of foodstuffs placed on the food market of this country was either in a container or a wrapper containing printed matter, and it would be no difficulty or hardship to any producer of these particular articles to acid words giving the country of origin and to state whether foreign and imported.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
I was not saying that the hon. and gallant Gentleman was deliberately concealing anything, but he does not seem to understand that the words could not be printed without all the labour of inspection, examination and classification. The hon. and gallant Member also said that the Bill would result in increased employment on the land. We agree that it will create more employment, but we are not sure that the employment will be in the fields or in the production of food. There will be more employment but the people employed will be marking the goods produced abroad and brought into this country. We had the hon. and gallant Member's illustration about the bunch of grapes. I think he told us that he bought the bunch of grapes and that they were very good. He asked the retailer where they had been produced and the retailer told him that he thought they were produced somewhere abroad; that they were very good grapes and were selling very well. What would be the effect of the Bill in that case, supposing that these 1418 foreign grapes were selling by virtue of their own quality? What difference would there be if they had been marked as grown in France or Italy or Germany. The consumers bought the grapes because they liked them and not because they were produced abroad.
§ Lieut.-Colonel RUGGLES-BRISE
The point of my story was that immediately above the row of bunches of grapes there was a placard bearing the words "Buy Empire Fruit".
§ Mr. GRENFELL
But that did not make any difference in the taste of the grapes. They would have tasted as well without the placard. Clearly, the introduction of the placard does not help the hon. and gallant Member very much. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) suggested that the housewife does not know to-day what she is getting and is entitled to know what she is getting. Apparently the right hon. Gentleman is very sympathetic with the housewife. He does not care so much about the husband or other members of the family but he is anxious that the housewife should know what she is buying. He tells us that the housewife has been imposed upon by having sold to her Russian herrings—and not Russian herrings alone, but Russian herrings with bacteria thrown in. I do not know how detailed the knowledge of the housewife is to be, according to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not know whether she is to be told merely that she is getting herrings with bacteria or the number of bacteria to each herring —say two herrings and two million bacteria. I do not know whether she is to be told the kind of bacteria or that with so many herrings she is getting 2,000,000 streptococci or the Russian equivalent thereof. He also wants the housewife to know that British foodstuffs contain a larger proportion of vitamins. Apparently the selection to be offered by the salesman to the housewife is between Russian herrings with bacteria and English herrings with vitamins. But is not the truth of the matter that the housewife buys according to her means? I have often heard in this House remarks upon the capability of the housewife as a purchaser and I can assure hon. Mem- 1419 bers that the average housewife will make her purdhases with as much discrimination as anybody else if she has sufficient money.
Then we have the speech of the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir S. Rosbotham). We all listened to him with pleasure and respect because of his knowledge and character though we regret that he has remained on that side of the House when he ought to be on this side. He told us that the Bill would help the small man and he failed to understand why trade union members should oppose it. We oppose it because of its futility. It does not touch the fundamentals of the question and it does not make for a better food supply. It does not make for a larger purchasing power or for more employment on the land, and while we sympathise with the desire to find more employment on the land, we do not think this Bill will do it. When the hon. Member makes a comparison between this Bill and the Coal Mines Act, I think he should reconsider his views, because his comparison, I feel sure, does not carry him anywhere, and it is unfair to bring in that Act, which has no relation whatever to this Bill. The Coal Mines Act does do something towards the reorganisation of the coal industry, but this Bill does not start with the reorganisation of agriculture, and nothing in it, will bring more employment on the land.
The hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard) did not make as much as he might have done, if he had had more time, of the dangers under the Bill of penalties falling upon shop assistants, themselves being innocent parties and having to bear responsibility for the sale and display of goods of all kinds, brought from all parts of the world. The right hon. Gentleman who asked that the housewife should know should go a stage further. Who is to tell the housewife 7 Under ordinary circumstances, if the housewife is to know, it is the shop assistant who will have to tell her, either by the display of tickets on the goods or by further explanations in answer to questions put to him. If this Bill were to become an Act of Parliament, I can see a new class of shop assistants coming into existence, a class of shop assistants with degrees in economic geography and with an encyclopaedic knowledge of com- 1420 modities and places and all the other things required under the Bill. We all know that mistakes are made by many persons. The man who believed that Moscow was in Germany and that Cracow was in China exists in very large numbers, perhaps in this House, and there are shop assistants who do not know exactly whether countries are in the British Empire or not. When a shop assistant is asked to give all these explanations in the interests of the housewife, he will have to be a highly educated man, and if he fails to give correct information in any particular case, he will be subject to the penalties under the Bill.
The hon. Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson), who has gone away now, I always look upon as a faithful, honest representative of the farming population. I always imagine him as a man possessing many of the virtues of the farmer, the simplicity of mind, and the genial, kindly temperament. He has spoken to-day with all the feeling of which he is capable on behalf of those whom he represents. He was very sympathetic to the wife of the working man and wanted her to be given a chance to be patriotic. He believes in his heart that the wife of the working man is quite as patriotic as any other man's wife. I give him credit for believing well of all people, but if he and the right hon. Member for South Molton want the housewife to do the right thing, and if they want to do the right thing by the housewife, they should advocate higher wages and a higher purchasing power instead of the futile requirements contained in this Bill.
§ Captain HEILGERS
rose in his place, and claimed to move, " That the Question be now put," but Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Captain HEILGERS
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Sir I. SALMON
My whole point is that I consider that this Bill has not received the attention, on the part of those who have brought it before the House, that it should have received, and—
§ Captain HEILGERS
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ It being Four of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.