§ Order of the day for the Second Reading read.
§ * VISCOUNT CROSS
My Lords, I have to ask your Lordships to read this Bill a second time to-day. The sale of food and drugs, as your Lordships are aware, is at present regulated by the Act of 1875, and the sale of margarine by the Act of 1887. But, owing to many complaints that a good deal of adulteration is being carried on despite these Acts, the matter was referred for inquiry in 1892 to a Select Committee, which sat for three years. They examined no less than sixty-eight witnesses, and this Bill is founded upon their recommendations. Anyone who reads the Report of that Committee will see that what is required is not so much a great alteration in the 830 law as an improvement in the administration of the law. The powers which at present exist for the administration of the law should be strictly carried out in future. It is quite clear, as has been shown by the figures which were quoted by the President of the Board of Agriculture, that where repression is vigorous adulteration decreases. I should like to quote these figures to your Lordships. In London in 1887–8 there were 756 samples examined; 142 were found adulterated, or 19 per cent. In 1896–7 there was more vigorous administration of the Acts; 2,038 samples were examined, and 205 found adulterated, which is equal to 10 per cent., as against 19 per cent. If you go to Manchester and Salford you find a still more striking result. The percentage there in 1887–8 was 54, but through most vigorous administration of the Acts the percentage of adulteration had been reduced in 1896–7 to 11 per cent. I hope the House will not think for a moment that this Bill is brought in simply to enact the agricultural part; quite the contrary is the case. The President of the Local Government Board has been approached from Manchester by the Chamber of Commerce, from Liverpool by the Association of Grocers, and from the metropolis by the Butter Association, clearly showing that it is the wish of these great bodies, which have nothing to do with agriculture, that the adulteration of food should be diminished as far as possible, and that the Acts should be properly and vigorously put in force. Briefly, the principles of the Bill are that there shall be no interference with legitimate industry, or with wholesome or valuable articles of food, but that, on the other hand, the law must be put in force and obeyed, and the trades conducted on honourable and honest principles. I do not suppose anyone will dispute the righteousness of those two principles. Therefore, without saying more on the general question, I will explain shortly the various provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 insists that everything imported into the United Kingdom, whether margarine or margarine cheese, or adulterated or impoverished butter, or condensed, separated, or skimmed milk, or any other adulterated or impoverished article of food, shall be conspicuously marked with a name or description, indicating the article that is being imported. 831 In order to further protect the consumer the Commissioners of Customs are to have power, in accordance with the directions given by the Treasury, after consultation with the Board of Agriculture, to take such samples of consignments of imported articles of food as may be necessary for the enforcement of the provisions of this clause. Where the Commissioners of Customs take a sample of any consignment in pursuance of such directions they shall divide it into not less than three parts, send one part to the importer and one part to the principal chemist of the Government laboratories, and retain the other part. The second clause gives power to the Local Government Board, if that Board thinks that the matter affects the general interest of the consumer, and to the Board of Agriculture, if that Board thinks that it affects the general interests of agriculture in the United Kingdom, to direct an officer of the Board to procure for analysis samples of any article of food. That relates, of course, solely to the home trade. As I have said, the great fault at the present moment is the want of vigour in the administration of the Acts, and the third clause definitely lays it down that it shall be the duty of every local authority entrusted with the execution of the laws relating to the sale of food and drugs to appoint a public analyst, and put in force, from time to time, as occasion may arise, the powers with which they are invested, so as to provide proper securities for the sale of food and drugs in a pure and genuine condition, and in particular to direct their officers to take samples for analysis. The clause goes on to say that if the Local Government Board, or the Board of Agriculture, after communication with a local authority, are of opinion that the local authority have failed to execute or enforce any of the provisions of the Sale of Food and Drugs Acts in relation to any article, and that their failure affects the general interests of the consumer, or the general interests of agriculture in the United Kingdom, as the case may be, the Board concerned may, by order, empower an officer of the Board to execute and enforce those provisions, or to procure the execution and enforcement thereof, in relation to any article of food mentioned in the Order. Clause 4 is a very important clause. The Select Committee recognised the inconvenience and the occa- 832 sional hardship arising from the absence of any standard quality in articles of food, and they pointed out the serious effect which the adoption of such a standard might have when the article produced, though pure in quality, did not come up to this standard. The Board of Agriculture takes power, under this clause, to make regulations for determining what deficiency in any of the normal constituents of genuine milk, cream, butter, or cheese, or what addition of extraneous matter or proportion of water, in any sample of milk (including condensed milk), cream, butter, or cheese, shall, for the purposes of the Sale of Food and Drugs Acts, raise a presumption, until the contrary is proved, that the milk, cream, butter, or cheese is not genuine or is injurious to health. Of course, they will have at their disposal the best advice they can possibly get, and it will be quite certain that they will act with the sole object of doing what is right as between the producer and the consumer. The fifth clause includes margarine-cheese as well as margarine; and the sixth clause insists that, where it is required that any package containing margarine or margarine-cheese shall be branded or marked, the brand or mark shall be on the package itself, and not solely on a label, ticket, or other thing attached thereto. The seventh clause, I believe, is also a very important one, because it provides that every occupier of a manufactory of margarine or margarine-cheese, and every dealer in such substances, shall keep a register showing the quantity and destination of each consignment of such substances sent out from his manufactory or place of business, and this register shall be open to the inspection of any officer of the Board of Agriculture. By that mean the Board will be able to trace the destination of any adulterated article, and will have much more power to take care that adulterated articles are not sold. Therefore, it is essential that the register should be kept. I have received a letter this morning, saying that this proposal was rather hard upon the manufacturer, because the importer was not bound to register anything. The importer, however, generally sends it through some agency in this country, and, with the help of the Customs Board, the Board of Agriculture will be able to get all the information it 833 wants as to the destination of articles, without insisting on this register. I now come to the eighth clause, which provides that it shall be unlawful to manufacture margarine which contains more than 10 per cent. of butter fat. I know that many people say the more butter that is put in the better it will be, and that we should not limit the amount of butter to be mixed with margarine. This matter was very carefully considered by the Select Committee, who reported:Apparently, a considerable trade is carried on in the admixture of margarine and butter which, under the Margarine Act, 1887, must be sold under the denomination of margarine. An examination of the evidence will disclose much difference of opinion amongst witnesses as to the expediency of promoting the sale of such mixtures. There can be little doubt that a vast amount of fraud is perpetrated owing to the admixture of butter with margarine, which greatly facilitates the substitution of an adulterated for a genuine article. While your Committee are reluctant to recommend any restriction on trade which would have the effect of preventing the poor classes from purchasing a useful article of food, they are impressed with the fact that fraudulent trade is facilitated by the admixture for sale of margarine and butter, and they recommend the entire prohibition of such admixture.It has been felt that any such prohibition as that would inflict great hardship on the persons who want to make use of margarine. There are some who think that the prohibition of the admixture of butter with margarine should be absolute. There are some who say it should be unrestricted, and there are others who say that all mixtures should be sold as mixtures. The best margarine can be sold with the admixture of some 4 or 5 per cent., at the outside, of butter, and therefore, if it is to be sold as margarine, you will not get any advantage by putting more butter into it. The effect of putting more butter into margarine makes it extremely difficult to detect how far it is adulterated, and extremely easy for the seller to sell it as butter. One of the witnesses before the Committee stated that no less than 75 per cent. of that which was not butter was sold as butter for butter prices. It is for the prevention of fraud and nothing else that we are limiting the amount of butter to be mixed with margarine. With regard to milk, I think it has been conclusively proved that since cream-separators have come into general use, much of the skim milk sold is not nutritious, and it is cruel to allow poor people to purchase it for their 834 children, whose health suffers from lack of nourishment. The Bill provides that every receptacle containing condensed, separated, or skimmed milk, must bear a label, clearly visible to the purchaser, with the words "separated milk" or "skimmed milk." We do not mean the ordinary skimmed milk, skimmed by hand, which is a different thing, but machine-skimmed milk; and in Committee I shall ask your Lordships to insert the word "machine" before "skimmed." With regard to the penalties to be imposed, we think that if a person is found guilty, he should be liable to a fine which may extend to £20 as the maximum for the first offence, £50 for the second offence, and £100 for any subsequent offence. But where, under the provisions of this Act, a person guilty of an offence is liable to a fine exceeding £50, and the offence, in the opinion of the Court, is committed by the personal act, default, or culpable negligence of the person accused, that person shall be liable, if the Court is of opinion that a fine will not meet the circumstances of the case, to imprisonment with or without hard labour, for a period not exceeding three months. There is another clause with reference to the warranty. In the Margarine Act an invoice is considered sufficient warranty, and there is no doubt that in some cases it would be hard on the retailer if it were not so. I have to-day presented a petition from Bristol entirely approving of the Bill, but thinking that an invoice itself ought to be quite sufficient. Well, that is not the opinion of the Board of Agriculture, or my own opinion. Under this Bill a warranty or invoice shall not be available as a defence to any proceedings, unless the defendant has, within seven days after service of the summons, sent to the purchaser a copy of such warranty or invoice with a written notice stating that he intends to rely on that warranty or invoice, and specifying the name and address of the person from whom he received it, and has also sent a like notice of his intention to such person. I think I have explained how necessary the Bill is, and that we are not desirous of pressing hardly on the consumer or the retail dealer. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(Viscount Cross.)835
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
My Lords, I have nothing to say against the main object of this Bill, and it is highly desirable that legislation against adulteration should be effective, but Clause 8 calls for observation. That clause makes it penal to put more than 10 per cent. of butter into margarine, and I cannot but say that I am not satisfied by the arguments of the noble Viscount upon this provision. I do not see myself any legitimate defence for such a provision. I assume that the framers of this Bill, and the Committee who reported, are not tainted with that foolish prejudice against margarine as such. Margarine, as far as I can understand, is a cheap and wholesome article of food, the consumption of which ought to be encouraged in the interests of the working classes, though, of course, the fraudulent sale of it as butter should be prevented. To add butter to margarine cannot be called adulteration, and I cannot understand why there is a departure in this clause from the usual principle adopted in these Bills—namely, that mixtures of wholesome articles are perfectly lawful, provided such mixture is labelled and sold for what it really is. Take the case of chicory and coffee. I do not suppose any person can find out whether there is a mixture of chicory with coffee, which is as bad an adulteration as I know of; but all the law requires is that upon every packet or vessel containing a mixture of coffee and chicory it shall be plainly and distinctly marked that it is a mixture of chicory and coffee, and if the dealer sells such a mixture without giving that notice then he is most properly punished. But why in the world he should not mix butter with margarine I do not know. If it will improve the margarine, nobody can be hurt. It has been said that great pressure has been brought to bear on the Government to protect butter from the competition of margarine. I do not accuse the Government of having that motive, but it is the motive of those who have pressed for a measure of this kind. No doubt margarine is largely bought by consumers as a substitute for butter; but a provision to promote the sale of one product instead of another, both feeing wholesome, is indefensible in a Bill of this kind. Margarine will remain a serious competitor to butter 836 if the producers in this country cannot improve the butter which they make, for one of the reasons why such large consignments of butter are imported is that a large quantity of the butter produced in this country is positively execrable. Until there are satisfactory systems of producing butter in this country by all the improved methods used by our competitors, I cannot say that I have very much sympathy with the butter producers. We should allow those who wish to eat margarine, which is a cheap and wholesome article, to get it, and should not throw any unnecessary impediments in their way.
§ * VISCOUNT CROSS
I stated distinctly that margarine was an excellent and wholesome food, and that the sole object of this Bill was to protect the consumer, and that a small proportion of butter put into margarine made it as good as it could be made as margarine. The clause is directed against the sale of the mixture as butter, and we have it stated that 75 per cent. of this stuff is at the present time sold to the consumers as butter. Let the consumers have margarine if they like. All we desire is to prevent the fraudulent dealer from palming off this mixture to people who want butter, and pay the price of butter. The clause represents the unanimous opinion of the Committee, and I am sure if the noble Earl will look further into it he will see that it is absolutely necessary.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
I brought no kind of imputation of unfairness against the framers of the Bill. I only said there were persons interested who were biassed against margarine.
§ On Question, agreed to.
§ Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.