HL Deb 01 August 1907 vol 179 cc1177-80

[Second Reading.]

Order of the day for the Second Heading read.


My Lords, this is a short Bill of twelve clauses, and I think it will commend itself to the House as it is designed to put a stop to fraud in the butter trade and to impose further regulations on the trade in margarine and other articles. In certain butter factories animal fat and oils are worked up in the manufacture of butter, and as there is no authority under the present law to inspect these factories we have no check on this adulteration. Under the first clause of the Bill power is taken to register factories and consignments, and by the second clause the factories are made open to inspection by the local authority as well as the Board of Agriculture. New regulations will also be applied to the article known as "milk-blended butter." This butter is not to be sold or described by any name which is connected with the dairy interest. By Section 8 of the Bill it is provided that milk-blended butter shall be dealt with under such name or names as may be approved by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries and under the conditions applicable to the sale or description of margarine, with the substitution of an approved name for the word "margarine, and with this modification, that in any case where, in order to comply with those conditions, the article is delivered to the purchaser in a wrapper, there shall, in addition to the approved name, be printed on the wrapper in such manner as the Board approves such description of the article setting out the percentage of moisture or water contained therein as may be approved by the Board.

The penalties for offences are heavy. Any person guilty of an offence under the Bill is made liable on conviction under the Summary Jurisdiction Acts for a first offence to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds, for a second offence to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds, and for a third or any subsequent offence to a fine not exceeding one hundred pounds; and, in cases where imprisonment can be inflicted under section seventeen of the Sale of Food and Drugs Act, 1899, to such imprisonment as is by that section authorised. Margarine must be sold in wrappers with the word "Margarine" printed in plain letters upon it, and no fancy name suggesting dairy produce must be used. Provision is made in Clause 4 as to the limit of moisture in butter, margarine, and milk-blended butter, and by Clause 5 we propose to prohibit the importation of these articles. The Bill has been very carefully drawn and follows the recommendations of Sir Edward Strachey's Committee, which took considerable interest in this subject. The Bill is desired by a great portion of the population, and as there is very little that is contentious in it I hope your Lordships will be good enough to give it a Second Reading.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(Earl Carrington.)

*The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, the Butter Bill is a very old friend. It has been introduced in several sessions of Parliament. I myself was sponsor for it in 1905, and at that time it was somewhat strenuously opposed by some of the friends of the noble Earl in another place. The noble Earl is more fortunate than I was in having converted them to a better view of the matter. The Bill now before your Lordships differs in a material degree from that which I had the honour of submitting to Parliament, for our Bill proposed that what is called milk-blended butter should not be allowed to be sold at all. In this Bill the noble Earl proposes that it should continue to be sold, but under another name. It is said that milk-blended butter is a wholesome and nourishing article. No doubt it is. The water on the Table of your Lordships' House is a wholesome if not nourishing drink. But if you buy 16 ozs. of milk-blended butter on a Saturday night and keep it until Monday morning and find that during that time a portion of it has evaporated and that you have only 15 ozs. left, I think you will agree that it is a very bad bargain. The Committee have said that this is not in reality a cheap food, having regard to the amount of water contained in it. I venture to say that it is not a satisfactory condition of affairs that His Majesty's Government should propose to sanction what is undoubtedly a fraud upon the purchaser. However, I am not going to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, because I believe that even the Bill as it is is better than no Bill at all. But I would ask, what is the Board of Agriculture going to call this stuff?

I heard the other day a story in connection with a Committee of the House of Commons. The Committee did not know how to pronounce "margarine." They sent for one of the waiters in the refreshment department and asked, "Do you call this 'margarine' or 'marjarine'?" and the waiter replied, "We call it butter." I venture to think that, whatever name the Board of Agriculture give it, it will be called butter. I think it would have been much better if the sale of this article had been prohibited altogether. I recognise that since the time my Bill was introduced this milk-blended butter industry has assumed great proportions The profits are enormous, and friends of the noble Lord in the other House have not been able to stand up against the increased influence which those who sell this article have been able to bring to bear upon them. The Board of Agriculture should take the very greatest care in the choice of the name under which this stuff is to be sold in the future, and not allow each firm to have a different name. I would suggest that there should be one generic term for it, and then, perhaps, people may know that it is not the genuine article


My Lords, I hope that in dealing with this matter the Board of Agriculture will bear in mind that in trying to give a name or to impose a restriction in order to protect the genuine article a great deal of mischief may be inadvertently done. I have lately been reading some very interesting literature issued by the Tariff Reform Commission, and in one report there is a section dealing with agriculture, and it is pointed out that when the Margarine Bill was passing through Parliament a limitation was inserted, in the interests of British agriculturists, and to prevent this product bearing too-close a resemblance to butter, that it must not contain more than a certain percentage of butter material. If your Lordships will take the trouble to read the report of the Tariff Reform Commission you will find bitter lamentations. by agriculturists that in consequence of that limitation they were beaten out of the market by the Dutch, who circulated this clause as a warning to purchasers not to deal with the English as the English were bound to produce a vile article. I hope that in the selection of a name or the fixing of the percentage of water, whatever it is, it will be remembered that you may very easily make a provision which you may think for your advantage but which may turn out for your disadvantage.

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.