HL Deb 02 May 1929 vol 74 cc380-95

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in asking you to give this Bill a Second Reading I think it would be well if I explained to your Lordships more fully than is set out in the Bill exactly what reconstituted cream is. Reconstituted cream is prepared by the emulsification of butter, milk powder, and water—that is to say, the constituents of true cream. It is absolutely impossible, so I am told, to tell by analysis reconstituted from pure cream. Accordingly it was necessary to introduce some such Bill as this in order to prevent the sale of reconstituted cream as pure cream. Reconstituted cream is made from butter very largely imported from abroad and, owing to the cheapness of the raw materials, can be placed on the market in competition with home-produced cream at a very much lower price. It is to do away with this unfair competition and in fairness to the public, who I think should be allowed to know what it is they are buying, that this Bill has been introduced.

The advent of reconstituted cream gave rise to a considerable amount of agitation from the National Farmers' Union and in reply to that agitation a Bill was introduced in another place last Session dealing with the control and production of reconstituted cream and synthetic cream. Synthetic cream, I may say, is cream made from vegetable fats and is readily distinguishable from pure cream by analysis. Accordingly it can be dealt with under the Food and Drugs Acts and therefore it is not mentioned in this Bill. That Bill was found to be unworkable, was opposed by the Government and was withdrawn. This Bill was brought forward in its place. I know it may be argued by some that a Bill such as this will give an advertisement to this reconstituted cream, and many people would like to ban the use of the word "cream" altogether. I do not think that is possible. Reconstituted cream by analysis is cream. It is not analogous to margarine and butter at all. Margarine is made from entirely different substances from butter and can be found to be different by analysis, so that that argument, I am afraid, does not hold.

I hope that those who desire very much stronger legislation than this will not vote against this Bill in the hope of a more drastic measure, because all alternatives have been considered and this is as far as it is possible to go. At the present moment reconstituted cream is sold as cream, but if this Bill passes it will have to be labelled reconstituted cream, which is, at least, a step in the right direction. Clause 1 of this Bill provides, as I have just said, that reconstituted cream shall be labelled as such when sold for human consumption. Clause 2 provides for the registration of premises where it is made or sold, but registration is not required where it is manufactured to be consumed on the premises. Registration in such cases would, of course, entail inspection of people's private kitchens and I am sure your Lordships would not be in favour of that.

Clause 5 is the most important one in this Bill and deals with proceedings and penalties. Under this clause any cream found on licensed premises is to be presumed to be for human consumption and to be reconstituted cream unless it is proved to the contrary. In the absence of this provision the Bill would be completely unworkable because, as I have already explained, it is impossible to distinguish between these two products. I hope your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading. It will be of great assistance to our dairy farmers and also it will prevent the public being imposed on by people who are selling as cream an Article which is not cream and not worth the price which the public are being made to pay. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Cranbrook.)

LORD STRACHIE had given Notice to move as an Amendment, that the Bill be read 2a this day three months. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think it would have been better if the noble Earl had explained rather more in detail how this Bill arose, because I think its history is rather interesting. I will venture, very shortly, to describe how it came into existence. It came into existence because a very much more stringent Bill introduced in another place was objected to by the Government, who did not want it to pass. I will not go into the merits of the case, but the Bill was withdrawn. Then in this Session Mr. Everard introduced this Bill. It was backed by Conservative Members with one exception, that exception being a Labour Member. What happened after its introduction is lather interesting. The Second Beading went through sub silentio, which showed what little interest was taken in it. Then it was referred to a Standing Committee, and what happened in that Committee is also rather interesting. The Member who introduced the Bill never took any part, as far as I can ascertain, in the discussions, and all that happened was that Labour Members tried to wreck the Bill in Committee. Of course they were not successful. Then on Report it was taken charge of by the Government. I notice that the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Health took charge of the Bill and the hon. Member who introduced it never spoke a word during the Report stage, showing that he was quite satisfied that the Government should have adopted the Bill and given it facilities. Then the Bill came up here as a Government Bill, and now your Lordships are aware that the Government have thrown it over and no longer sponsor it, so that it falls upon a private Peer to take charge of it.

I think that the best thing that I can do is to show first of all who are the people who are opposing this Bill. The noble Earl said that the Bill was going to be of great advantage to agriculturists and to the dairy interest. I must say that I am surprised that he should venture to make such a statement, which is absolutely opposed to the real state of things. No doubt he cannot have road the papers dealing with the subject. I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to three resolutions passed by agricultural bodies. I say without fear of contradiction that those bodies represent the views of agriculturists, as the noble Earl has certainly failed to do. On March 21 the Milk and Dairy Produce Committee reported to the Council of the National Farmers' Union on the Reconstituted Cream Bill. The Secretary stated that Mr. J. Q. Lamb, M.P., had been informed that the Union did not consider that this Bill would be of any practical use to producers in its present form, and would therefore prefer that it should be withdrawn. This action was approved by the Committee and the report was approved by the Council of the National Farmers' Union. Your Lordships see, therefore, that the greatest body representing farmers in this country asked that the Bill should be withdrawn and asked their representative in the House of Commons not to proceed any further with it. What could be stronger than that?

Then, on April 16, the Central Chamber of Agriculture moved a resolution to the effect that this Bill, to be of any practical value, required drastic amendment. Last but not least, as showing that all sections of agriculturists oppose this Bill, only a few days ago the Council of the Central Landowners' Association carried a resolution to the effect that it considered the Reconstituted Cream Bill would be of no practical use to producers in its present form, nor would it protect the consumer. All those great bodies representing agriculturists having declared against this Bill, it is not surprising that the Government refuse to have anything to do with it and are leaving it, as I understand, to noble Lords to vote as they like upon it.

I have tried to find some merit in this Bill, but I confess that I have been unable to do so. Unless it is drastically amended it will be of no practical use. I made an offer to the member of the Government who was at one time in charge of the Bill. I offered to withdraw my Motion for the rejection if the Government were ready to accept an Amendment. My proposed Amendment was, in subsection (1) of Clause 1, to leave out the words after "cream." Then the subsection would have read as follows:— Reconstituted cream shall not be sold or offered or exposed for sale for human consumption under any description or designation including the word 'cream'. I thought that a very reasonable Amendment which would be carrying out the intention of the Bill—namely, that this article should not be sold as cream or called cream. What I am anxious to do in common with all agriculturists is to secure that no manufactured article shall be sold under the designation of cream.

What is this stuff? The noble Earl has described it very truly as being made from butter coming from overseas with the addition of powdered milk and water. I am told that in some cases flour also is added in order to thicken it. How on earth can that be called cream? It is not cream at all. It is not of the quality demanded, and it is certainly a fraud on the consumer as well as on the producer that it should be designated cream. One of our objections to this Bill is that if it becomes law it will be impossible, under the Food and Drugs Act, to prosecute people, for subsection (1) of Section 2 of that Act says: No person shall sell to the prejudice of the purchaser any article of food or any drug which is not of the nature, or not of the substance, or not of the quality, of the article demanded by the purchaser. When persons demand cream it could be said that it is covered by the words "reconstituted cream." This stuff is certainly not of the quality expected when people ask for cream. It is merely butter, water and powdered milk. It is interesting to note that only to-day one of the great local authorities has had a report from one of its committees strongly objecting to this Bill on the ground that, if it becomes law, they will be unable to take proceedings against people who sell this reconstituted cream as cream. At present the local authority is advised to take proceedings and prosecute people for selling this reconstituted cream as cream, but if this Bill passes it will be impossible to do so.

The noble Earl said that it was impossible to analyse this article. He did not give us any reasons for this statement, but I am credibly informed that, although it is difficult to do so and an ordinary analyst might not be able to analyse it, it is not impossible to detect that it is not the article which it professes to be. To my mind we ought to treat this substance in exactly the way in which margarine was treated in the past. Margarine was sold as butter until legislation prevented it, and at one time it was sold us "butterine." We do not want to stop the sale of this reconstituted cream provided that it is sold under another name, any more than we want to stop the sale of margarine, but it is unfair both to producers and to consumers that it should be sold under a false description. It is just as false to call this stuff cream as to call margarine "butterine." I am asking that the same principle should be applied to this faked cream, in the interests of producer and consumer alike. There is no doubt that a great many ignorant people in our great towns, who know nothing about this matter, will be told and will believe that reconstituted cream is an improved kind of cream—a sort of double cream. We know well that there is an article sold as double cream which is superior to the very light cream that is often sold as cream. Ignorant people may think that this reconstituted cream is double cream, and this would give an advertisement to it and assist its sale.

This Bill has no value in its present form. There is always danger in shop-window legislation. Members of the House of Commons have told me that they know that this Bill is only shop-window legislation, and we all know from the past that, when legislation of that kind is passed, it becomes more difficult in the future to get legislation of any real value. As I have said, I oppose this Bill only because, when it was a Government Bill, the Government refused to accept what I thought was a very reasonable Amendment, which would have improved the Bill. I make the offer now to the noble Earl that I will not oppose his Bill any further if he is ready to accept the Amendment that I have indicated. In effect it is simply that this reconstituted cream, which is not cream at all, shall not be called cream. If some other name is adopted I will not press my Motion. Why on earth should this reconstituted cream have the name of cream, any more than margarine should be allowed to be called butter when it is not butter at all although it is true that some margarine approaches very near being butter, because it is mixed with milk and doctored in various ways? For these reasons, and because a very fair Amendment has been rejected, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time this day three months.

Amendment moved— Leave out ("now") and at the end of the Motion insert ("this day three months").—(Lord Strachie.)


My Lords, I am very glad that the noble Earl behind me has brought in this measure, because the position of the dairy farmer at this moment is becoming an exceedingly serious one. He is out against a very serious competition from this combination of materials which is called cream, but which is not cream, and which has been largely taken up by the public, and is being used in every hotel and restaurant, and possibly club, in London, solely for the reason that it has better keeping qualities. The reason that it is made and used is largely due to the fact that, for the purposes of public health, last year or the year before, an Act was passed forbidding the use of preservatives. That has injured the raw cream trade very largely, and many dairy farmers, particularly in the West of England, are very much dependent upon that trade. I will admit, as the noble Lord opposite admits, that this measure is not a satisfactory measure. Lord Strachie has told your Lordships that at least three important agricultural bodies have opposed this measure; but they did not oppose the measure on principle, but for the reason that they did not think it went far enough to be of any value to the farmer.

I should imagine, although I was rather disconcerted by one remark of the noble Earl behind me, that it was capable of amendment. The noble Earl said that no Amendment could be accepted. If that is the case, then I should not be inclined to support the measure, because I think that to be of value it must go further. Why should this combination be called cream at all? I know there is a difference of opinion upon this point. It is called cream because once it was cream, but I do not think that that is a sufficient reason. It is butter which has been by some process liquified, and mixed with many other materials. It really is liquid butter rather than cream, and if it could be called by some name showing it was manufactured it might then be sufficiently covered to be of value. In Clause 6 there is a definition of "cream" which in my opinion is not the real definition. We have always understood cream to be from the cow, subject to no other process except separation. The definition in the Bill does not bear that out, and we should require to have that cleared up. The interests concerned with this Bill are not only the farmer, although he is certainly the most pressing, because his trade is of such importance to the country and is carried on with such a small margin of profit. The public also are very closely interested, because our legislation ought to prevent them being misled by the name of an article which is not what it purports to be. I hope that the noble Lords who have brought in the Bill will be able to tell us that it is not impossible to get some Amendment, because I do think that the Bill might be made into a useful measure in Committee.


My Lords, I desire very strongly to support my noble friend Lord Strachie for two reasons. The first is that this Bill, if passed, will be distinctly detrimental to agriculture, and more especially to the dairying industries, and the second reason is that this title of "reconstituted cream" is a distinct misnomer. Before the War I was in Germany, and I was surfeited with this substance. If this Bill passes the poorer classes in this country will be at a great disadvantage, for a large majority of people will buy it on account of its price. I can remember well when margarine was first brought into this country from Germany. It was called butterine, and it was also known as Cork butter, and I was given to understand that the individual who was responsible for its introduction in a year and a half made two millions of money, all of which came out of the pockets of the poorest people in this country. The same thing will to a certain extent arise in connection with this substance. Poor people in large towns, having sickly children and more often sickly infants, will be induced to buy this article, which will have no dietary merits for the purpose for which they buy it. I therefore support the Amendment.


My Lords, might I at first be allowed to correct an unintentionally false impression given by the noble Lord, Lord Strachie, about the attitude of the Labour Party with regard to this Bill? He said that they had attempted to destroy it in another place. They did nothing of the sort, although the representatives of the Labour Party did move certain Amendments in Standing Committee, which would not have emasculated the Bill from the point of view of the farmer, but would have afforded certain protection to trading interests. That is the situation in which we find ourselves to-day. The decrease in the consumption of raw cream and the substitution of reconstituted cream arises, as Lord Clinton has told us, out of the preservative regulations of last year. This Bill is designed to correct that result, and is designed both to help the farmer and to protect the consumer.

If the situation has arisen out of the preservative regulations and the consequent decreased consumption of fresh cream, surely it is a little doubtful whether we are going to help the consumption of fresh cream by imposing restrictions upon the new article which is taking its place. However much you hamper the sale of reconstituted cream under existing conditions it is almost impossible, with the preservative regulations as they are, really to increase the consumption of cream. And, moreover, we have to guard against a certain danger, because, if that is so, the farmer might be endangered not only by losing the sale of his fresh cream, but by losing the sale of his surplus milk to milk factories which are, to a large extent, interested in the production of reconstituted cream.

We consider, therefore, that probably a far more hopeful way of dealing with this situation—and I put this rather as a personal expression of opinion than as representing the views of my Party—would be to reconsider the preservative regulations. We all know that they were adopted only after the most acute medical controversy, and that the matter has never really been satisfactorily cleared up. Not only should we reconsider the preservative regulations, but at the same time the Government should do everything in its power—and I think some of us would probably agree that it has not done very much—to increase the production of clean milk and to offer inducements to farmers to use the very best methods possible for the production of that milk. Because we all know that the milk and all its products have then very much better keeping qualities. I believe the keeping qualities of the butter from New Zealand were entirely revolutionised by improving methods of milk production. At the same time, while saying that, we believe that that policy of revising the preservative regulations and increasing the production of clean milk would probably be ultimately more profitable than the policy outlined in this Bill. We do not intend to offer any opposition to its passage, because undoubtedly it does make an attempt, perhaps not a very good one, to help the farmer and to protect the consumer.


My Lords, personally I am very far from being impressed with this Bill. I do not know whether it is possible, seeing that the title is what it is, and purporting as it does to deal with reconstituted cream, whatever that may mean, by amendment to make this Bill of any real value for the producers of milk in this country, and more particularly to the consumers of milk, who are entitled when they ask for cream or milk to receive something, as Lord Strachie said, quoting the Food and Drugs Act, of the nature and property desired. The noble Earl opposite has criticised the action of the Ministry of Health in declining to allow milk and cream to be treated with certain preservatives, such as boric acid and formaldehyde in order to enable it to be kept in hot weather during the summer, and has indicated that possibly those regulations might be revised. I was going to suggest to him that there was a better way of dealing with that problem, which he himself in rather nebulous fashion indicated towards the end of his speech. That, of course, is to encourage, as indeed the Government have encouraged by every means in their power, the production of clean milk and milk that is relatively free from an excess of nocuous bacteria. It is common knowledge that this Government has taken enormous pains, both through the medium of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, to encourage among farmers the production of what is known as Grade A and Grade A tuberculin-tested and certified milk—all of them being milk which can be retained, either as milk or as cream for a much longer period, even under adverse climatic conditions.

But that surely is not quite the point which it is desired to raise in this discussion. This is a Bill which purports to deal with reconstituted cream. What I should like to ask quite frankly is whether the particular product which is intended to be dealt with under this Bill is either cream on the one hand, or reconstituted on the other, because I gravely suspect that it is neither. First of all, what is it? As a matter of fact, it is something which the interpretation clause indicates is a substance skimmed or separated from so-called milk, but even the substance from which it is produced is not milk, and I should like to see in that Definition Clause some indication, not only of what cream is, but of what milk is. As a matter of fact, the particular fluid from which this so-called reconstituted cream is produced is a blend of Argentine butter and New Zealand milk powder through the medium of an emulsifier, and as a result of the application of considerable heat and water.

My noble friend Lord Cranbrook said that reconstituted cream is by analysis cream. What I want to submit is that there are certain factors in both cream and milk of very great value in the eyes of the medical men of this country, which cannot be ascertained by analysis at all, and they are known as vitamins. Vitamins defy analysis, and those essential food factors, as they are called, are just what cannot be provided by so-called reconstituted cream. That being the case, I do honestly think that this Bill, unless it can be effectually amended in the direction which the noble Lord, Lord Strachie, demands, is not worthy of the further consideration of this House. I ask your Lordships whether, in your opinion, butter which results from milk drawn from an Argentine cow, blended with a powder which is produced from the milk of a New Zealand cow, can be regarded as reconstituted cream. There does not seem to be any reconstitution about it. You are even blending what some of us strongly object to blending nowadays, which is a foreign agricultural product with an overseas Dominion product. If we are going to have this sort of thing sold in our markets to the detriment of British farmers—and goodness knows that farmers want to-day all the help they can have—at least let it be by competition from a Dominion product, and not a sort of unholy blend between a Dominion product and one from a foreign country.

I hope that this Bill will not be proceeded with unless your Lordships are perfectly satisfied that it can be effectually amended by some, suitable Amendment to prevent the British consumer being deluded as to what he is buying—a non-vitaminous product—to the detriment of his children as well as of himself; and unless the unfortunate British farmer can be safeguarded against most unfair competition.


My Lords, perhaps you will allow me to say what the attitude of the Government is towards this Bill. In the first place I may refer to the remarks of the noble Lord who moved the Amendment as to the history of the Bill. The Bill was undoubtedly originally introduced by a private Member of Parliament. Subsequently no doubt there was a certain amount of Government patronage of the Bill. It has now come to your Lordships' House, and it has been introduced to your Lordships' notice by a young private Peer, just as it was introduced into the House of Commons by a private Member of Parliament. That is where it stands. My noble friend Lord Cranbrook has undertaken it to-night. We are always delighted to hear my noble friend, who is becoming an extremely useful member of your Lordships' House.

So far as the Government are concerned, I propose to leave this Bill to the judgment of your Lordships. Undoubtedly, the subject is a very difficult one. We all sympathise profoundly with the farmers. My noble friend who has just sat down said most truly that the farmers deserve every sympathy that we can give them at the present time. And this difficulty which has arisen may in one particular hit them rather hard. Every member of your Lordships' House, I think, and I suspect every member of another place, is anxious to help the farmer in this particular if it is possible to do so. I am given to understand that every conceivable consideration was given this question as to whether it was possible to find a means of helping the farmers, and that finally no better means could be discovered than the Bill for which my noble friend Lord Cranbrook has made himself responsible.

Speaking for myself, I fully admit the weakness of the Bill. I agree that it has very great blemishes. Whether your Lordships will think it right, faute de mieux, if I may use a French phrase, to pass the Bill is for your Lordships to decide. I was certainly struck by the speech delivered by my noble friend Lord Clinton, who said that the Bill was full of blemishes, but that he was in favour of giving it a Second Reading, and indicated that the time to challenge its difficulties was not at this stage but on the Committee stage. I must say that I thought that very good sense, if he will allow me to say so. Listening to the debate, I do not find that other noble Lords have taken a very different view. It is true that the noble Lord opposite who moved the Amendment wishes at this moment to reject the Bill; but he indicated in his speech that there was an Amendment which even he would accept. Let us see his Amendment and consider it when we get to the Committee stage.


But you refused the Amendment.


I know nothing about that, my Lords, except that I heard what my noble friend opposite had to say. I know nothing else on the subject. By all means let him produce his Amendment and let my noble friend Lord Clinton, who is very capable indeed in these subjects, indicate when we come to the Committee stage, what Amendments he thinks ought to be introduced. My noble friend Lord Bledisloe wants to amend the title of the Bill. The opportunity will be open to him. There is nothing in your Lordships' rules which prevents him altering the title of the Bill if he can persuade your Lordships to take his view. As to what will be left of the Bill after all these proceedings, I cannot tell your Lordships. I would suggest, if my noble friend opposite will forgive me, that the Bill might be read a second time, and that we then should be allowed to see the Amendments and to judge if anything could be done to make the Bill what we all want to see—a useful Bill to help the farmers in the difficult times through which they have to pass.


My Lords, I propose to support the Amendment. I am rather astonished at the support given by my noble friend the Leader of the House to a Bill which he acknowledges to be full of blemishes, the title of which is very doubtful, and which endeavours to give an article a name to which it is not entitled. This is not cream, as we understand it, and as my noble friend Lord Bledisloe pointed out, it is not reconstituted. It never was cream, so how can it be reconstituted? It may be constituted cream, but it is not reconstituted cream.


Alter the title.


I know. But is the whole Bill and every clause in it to be altered? If so, it is not the sort of Bill that ought to be brought here. I am not surprised that the Government dropped it like a hot potato when they considered that they would be giving aid to a most pernicious thing. I suggest that to give to a substance a title to which it has no right is absolutely wrong and unjustifiable. It is not as if there was any real difficulty about it. Many substances sold to the public are described by combination words. My noble friend pointed out that margarine was a new word invented for the purpose. I do not know where it came from, but I suppose it was derived from something in the article itself. There are plenty of words which could be used. The letter "K" could be used instead of "C" in describing this substance. In my own county there is a very excellent and wholesome substance sold in connection with which the word "cream" is used, but it is spelled with a "K" instead of a "C." You have only to make that substitution and this would be a perfectly innocuous Bill which would pass quite easily. It is only that Amendment which is really necessary.


My Lords, I understood the noble Marquess the Leader of the House to suggest that noble Lords should allow this Bill to be read a second time in order that it might go to Committee. It appears to me that this is a Bill to which that procedure should not apply, because if it receives a Second Reading your Lordships' House will be committed in some degree to reconstituted cream. I should like to ask the noble Marquess the Leader of the House how far it is possible for a Committee of the Whole House so to alter the title of a Bill as entirely to alter its whole character. If the noble Marquess will look at the Bill he will see that every clause contains the words ' reconstituted cream." As I have said, if your Lordships' House agrees to the Second Reading, you will be committed at all events to the words "reconstituted cream" or to one or the other of those words. Is it within the power of your Lordships to alter the Bill—


It would always be in the power of the House to throw the Bill out on Third Reading if we cannot get our Amendments into it.


Yes; but the point of the noble Marquess was that the Bill should go to Committee in order that it might be amended in some direction which would make it acceptable to noble Lords who are opposed to it at present. In my view, as the Bill is drawn it is impossible to do such a thing. In the first place, the title will have to be entirely altered. Noble Lords opposite object to it mainly because the title is absolutely deceptive from the point of view of the consumer and will give him an article which is not properly described, and about which he will be deceived if he buys it. It has already been pointed out by my noble friend Lord Bledisloe that it is not cream in any sense of the word. There is not an atom of cream in it. If it is not cream, it cannot be reconstituted cream. Yet a person buying the article which has in the name given to it the word "cream" and the word "reconstituted "will think he is getting something which will give him the same nourishment as if he bought cream. I venture to suggest that it is not a question of allowing the Bill to go to the Committee stage, because we should then, I think, be committed to the general principle of this combination called reconstituted cream. It seems to me that we had better reject the Bill on Second Reading and prevent this deception of the consumer.


My Lords, among the few remarks I should like to make the first one is this. This substance is now being sold as cream and nothing anybody can do can stop it. I am informed that it is impossible to tell by analysis whether it is cream or not. If that be true it is impossible to proceed under the Food and Drugs Act against a man who sells this as cream. I feel very alarmed at being attacked or damned with very faint praise by agricultural experts on all sides, but there has been a certain amount of faint praise and I hope your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Beading. I will not bind myself down to accept any stated Amendment at the moment, but I would certainly consider any Amendment put forward, even if it was an Amendment to amend the title, which is permissible, I believe, by the rules of your Lordships'

Resolved in the affirmative and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.

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