HL Deb 07 June 1875 vol 224 cc1448-52

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that the Bill, which had come up from the Commons, was not a very long one, though its provisions were of considerable importance. The first of the Acts directed against the adulteration of food was passed in 1860. Its object was to protect consumers from adulteration in food and drink. The Act did not answer the expectations of those who introduced it. In the first place, it left the appointment of analysts optional, and it did not apply to drugs. This latter defect was amended by the Pharmacy Act of 1868, which, as regarded penalties for adulteration, placed drugs in the same category with food. In 1872 the Acts of 1860 and 1868 were amended. By the Act passed in 1872 penalties were imposed on the manufacturer of adulterated articles as well as on the retail dealers; and it also required that the seller of the adulterated article should make known at the time of the sale what the article contained. It also contained a provision directed to making the appointment of analysts compulsory and giving the Local Government Board a power of action in the matter. Since the passing of the Act, analysts had been appointed in a great number of places; but in many others there had been no appointment of analysts, owing to the difficulty experienced in small places of securing the services of gentlemen competent to fill the post of analyst. It was, no doubt, known to their Lordships that on the part of retailers there had been very general complaint that injustice was inflicted on them owing to the provisions of the Act of 1872 rendering them responsible for adulterations not made by them and of which they had had no knowledge. In consequence of numerous memorials presented urging these complaints Her Majesty's Government last Session consented to the appointment of a Select Committee. That Committee sat and took a great deal of evidence, and the Bill now before their Lordships was based on its Report. The Committee reported that considerable hardship had resulted to retailers in consequence of their having been punished for adulteration over which they had had no control, and selling adulterated articles which they believed to be pure. It recommended, among other things, that the defendant, in proceedings for selling adulterated articles, should be allowed to give evidence as witnesses, and the Bill gave effect to that important recommendation, enabling the defendant to tender himself and his wife to be examined on his behalf. The Bill made it an offence to mix any foreign substance or liquid with any article sold as food or a drug, so as to render it injurious to health or to affect its quality. For the first offence a penalty of £50 might be imposed, and every offence after a conviction for a first offence was declared a misdemeanour punishable by imprisonment for six months with hard labour. The adulteration must be injurious in order to subject the defendant to such consequences. The mixing with an article of any foreign article merely for the purpose of rendering it more palatable or portable was not to be an offence, provided the person selling it labelled the fact of the mixture in the article to be sold. Under the existing law there was no penalty for abstraction from the ingredients of which an article was composed. Thus it was no offence to abstract the cream from milk or to abstract essential oils. The Bill dealt with abstractions as well as with additions. It contained another provision, which was that the seller of the adulterated article might plead in court that it had been warranted to him as genuine, and gave him power to proceed against the wholesale dealer and to recover from him the amount of penalty and costs which he might have been subjected to by his default. As regarded analysts, it enabled small districts to combine together so as to employ an analyst to act for them jointly. It provided that no one engaged in retail trade should be appointed an analyst; and it provided that when proceedings were about to be instituted, one portion of the article should be left with the intended defendant, that another should be given to the prosecutor, and that a third should be handed to the analyst. Both the defendant and his wife might give evidence; and if the skill of the local analyst were called in question there might be a reference to Somerset House for the purpose of further analysis. Power was given to the Custom House officers—whom the Select Committee thought to be quite capable of making the necessary examination—to report on the question of adulteration of tea on its arrival in this country from China. The Bill would repeal all former Acts and consolidate the law with reference to adulteration. It might be satisfactory to their Lordships to know that the Select Committee made this observation at the close of their Report— In conclusion, it Might he some consolation to the public to know that in the matter of adulteration they are cheated rather than poisoned. He begged to move the second reading.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a,"—(The Lord President.)


ventured to think that the Act of 1872 had proved of very considerable benefit to the community. At the same time, he agreed with the Select Committee that it was very desirable to avoid vexatious interference with the conduct of business and to remedy any injustice and unfairness in the way in which the law might be put into operation. Therefore, he quite approved the provisions made to protect retail dealers from vexatious prosecutions and from any possible unfairness in respect of analysis and in respect of proceedings which might follow the making of the analysis. They must be careful, however, not to weaken the securities against adulteration—they must not forget that purity of food was as important as purity of air and purity of water. He concurred in thinking that a consolidation of the law was advisable; but there were certain expressions in clauses of this Bill which, he ventured to submit, would require careful consideration in Committee. He thought the word "knowingly" would cause great difficulty in the working of the Bill, and that the words "prejudice of the purchaser" would also cause embarrassment. The proposal to enable districts to join together for the appointment of an analyst he regarded as a very desirable one. The Select Committee had recommended that the appointment of analysts should be compulsory; and he thought it would be necessary to alter the clause by making it more compulsory than it now was.


suggested that in Clause 7 providing protection for the dealer who should sell a mixed article if he a fixed a label stating that the article was "mixed," it would be well to introduce words requiring the seller to state what it was the article was mixed with, and what was the percentage of the foreign ingredient.


believed that it was beyond the power of the Custom House officers to examine efficiently every packet of tea that came to the country; and if they did it in a perfunctory way it would be unsatisfactory and lead to further complaints.


said, that the clause on the Bill with reference to the inspection of tea was founded on the opinion of the Chairman of the Board of Customs.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday next.