HL Deb 04 July 1893 vol 14 cc793-6

asked Her Majesty's Government whether the Danish Government had proposed a Conference with a view of framing a Convention to deal with the International trade in adulterated butter; and whether there was any objection to lay the Papers on the Table? He said, he wished to protest against the doctrine that had been laid down by the noble Lord who represented the Board of Trade in their Lordships' House that a free country could not interfere with the importation of adulterated food stuff, though consigned as "pure," provided it was healthy and pleasant. He denied that the demand for restricting the importation of adulterated better was one for protection under an alias, and that commercial freedom could possibly mean that butter be imported from Hamburg adulterated with 20 per cent. of water. Irish farmers had been convicted at Cork in August last for sending butter so adulterated to market. It was unfair to the honest British farmer and to the honest foreign producer that they should be handicapped in the present competition by the profit arising out of fraudulent adulteration of foreign butter. It was unjust to the consumers that they should be exposed to the risk of paying for real butter and obtaining a fraudulent substitute. It was unjust to the retailers that they should be liable to be convicted for innocently selling such adulterated butter as genuine. Under these circumstances, he trusted that Her Majesty's Government would favourably consider the proposal which had been made by the Danish Government that an International Convention should be appointed for the purpose of checking this fraudulent trade.


My Lords, as far as the question relates to my Department, my part in this matter is a very simple one—namely, to explain that a proposal for the appointment of an International Convention was made by the Danish Government—but owing to the doubts expressed by the Board of Agriculture, the Board of Trade, and the Local Government Board, Her Majesty's Government did not embrace the proposal with any great alacrity. As regards publishing the Correspondence, inasmuch as negotiations on the subject are still proceeding between the two Governments, it would not be right for me to lay the Papers asked for upon the Table of the House. The noble Lord behind me will answer the question as far as it concerns the Board of Agriculture.


said, it was, no doubt, too true that very little could be done for British agriculture by any Body or any Government. He was quite aware of that. But still there were some steps the Board of Agriculture could take to help the suffering agricultural interest, and the noble Duke opposite had pointed out one of them. He hoped the Board of Agriculture would look into the matter, and see whether something could not be done to check this fraudulent trade in adulterated food commodities.


The noble Earl opposite has opened the larger question, whether the Board of Agriculture is prepared to move in the direction of interfering in the sale of articles which are not what they are represented to be. As regards the question asked by the noble Duke, the Board of Agriculture have considered that question from the point of view of the producer and not of the consumer or dis- tributor. I think that the consumer and distributor are in capable hands under the Board of Trade. The Board observe that there undoubtedly exists amongst the home producers of butter a feeling that the existing legislation is insufficient to prevent the sale of margarine, or admixtures of butter and margarine, as butter, and complaint has frequently been made that the Local Authorities, with whom the execution of the Margarine Act rests, are not sufficiently active in the enforcement even of the existing requirements of the law. Certain Members of Parliament have recently formulated the views which have thus been expressed in the Margarine Act, 1887, and Sale of Food and Drugs Act (1875) Amendment Bill; but neither in regard to any of the proposals contained in that Bill, nor in connection with the various representations which the Board have received on the subject, has it been alleged that Parliament is unable to afford a full measure of security against the misrepresentation complained of, if a sufficient case for further legislation were made out. The proposal of the Danish Government for an International Convention appears to the Board to be made mainly in view of the scientific difficulty of detecting the presence of margarine in butter. The Board of Agriculture think the end in view can be much better secured by Parliament than by the philosophic and scientific inquiry recommended. If, however, the Danish Government would submit, as suggested by the Board of Trade, practical suggestions, the Board would be very glad to receive them, and to consider, in conjunction with the other Departments interested, whether it would be of advantage that any such proposals should be adopted in this country with benefit to the various interests concerned.


said, he was very glad to hear the statement of the noble Lord, but feared that no legislation would be of avail unless Her Majesty's Government were prepared to enforce it against adulterated butter entering this country from abroad. The only way of dealing with the matter was by getting at the manufacturer himself, if possible, and taking steps at the port of entry. No analysis or inquiry at present was ever made unless information was given to the Board of Trade or Customs that a cargo of adulterated stuff was to arrive, and that information, of course, it was very difficult to give. He hoped the Customs and Board of Trade would take steps for having this so-called "butter" analysed, in order that the manufacturers might not continue to feel that they were left entirely without interference at the port of entry. He hoped the noble Duke's question would cause steps to be taken in the right direction.