HL Deb 19 December 1960 vol 227 cc709-16

3.32 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be again in Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Dundee.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]

Fifth Schedule [Foods]:


Meat and food containing meat

1.—(1) This Part of this Schedule applies to food oil any of the following descriptions, that is to say—

  1. (a) meat of any description, whether fresh, chilled, frozen, salted, cooked or processed; and
  2. (b) any article which, though it also contains other food, consists substantially of meat,
other than dripping, lard, meat paste, sausages and shredded suet.

(2) In the foregoing sub-paragraph, the expression "meat" means any part of an animal of any of the following descriptions, that is to say, cattle, sheep, swine, horses, asses and mules.

2. Subject to paragraph 5 of this Part of this Schedule, any goods to which this Part of this Schedule applies which are not pre-packed shall be sold only—

  1. (a) by net weight; or
  2. (b) if sold in a container which does not exceed the appropriate permitted weight Specified in Table A of Part XIII of this Schedule, either by net weight or by gross weight.

4. Where any goods to which this Part of this Schedule applies are sold by retail and, at the request of the buyer—

  1. (a) the goods are subjected before delivery to any process involving loss of weight and the material removed is not delivered with the goods; or
  2. (b) delivery of the goods to the buyer is deferred,
then, in relation to those goods, the reference in subsection (2) of section twenty-four of this Act to a statement in writing of the quantity of the goods shall be construed as a reference to a statement in writing of both the weight on which the purchase price is based and the net weight of the goods as sent out for delivery.

5. The following shall be exempted from all the requirements of this Part of this Schedule, that is to say—

  1. (a) bath chaps, meat pies, meat puddings and sausage rolls; and
  2. 710
  3. (b) any other goods in a quantity of less than one ounce;
and there shall be exempted from the requirements of paragraph 2 of this Part of this Schedule any sale at a purchase price of less than sixpence.

LORD SILKIN moved, in paragraph 1 (1)(b), to leave out "substantially" and insert "fifty per cent." The noble Lord said: I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name. The Fifth Schedule which we are now about to consider deals with meat and food containing meat. Paragraph 1 of the Schedule is to apply. Paragraph 1 (1)(b) provides that it is to apply to any article which, though it also contains other food, consists substantially of meat. The point of my Amendment is to get some explanation of what is meant by "substantially of meat". Later on in the Schedule there is provision made that such foods are to be sold by weight, either wrapped or unwrapped, and that on the package, if it is sold in a package, there is to be a statement of what the weight is; and penalties are provided against any trader who does not comply with these provisions.

I find it very difficult to understand how a trader is to know which food consists substantially of meat and is to come within the Schedule and which food does not consist substantially of meat and is not to come within the Schedule. What is substantial? One person's idea may vary very much from another person's idea of when a food consists substantially of meat. And yet the trader has to make up his mind without any guidance, and if he makes up his mind wrongly and the food is decided to be substantially of meat and he does not do what is required in this Schedule he commits an offence.

So some of us thought it would be a good idea that the Bill should lay down what is meant by substantial, and as art initial shot—and I admit it is purely a shot in the dark—we thought it should be "fifty-fifty"—50 per cent. meat and 50 per cent. other than meat. I do not mind if the noble Earl says that 50 per cent. is too high or is too low; I shall be glad to accept his view of what is right. But we certainly think the term should be much more definite than the word "substantially". Ten per cent. may be substantial; on the other hand, 80 per cent. would be even more substantial. But I shall be glad of some clarification on this point, and it is with that in mind that I beg to move this Amendment.

Amendment moved—

Page 61, line 10, leave out "substantially" and insert "fifty per cent.".—(Lord Silkin.)


The term "meat" does not include dripping, lard, meat paste, sausages and shredded suet, which are excluded by paragraph 1. Paragraph 1 (1)(b) is intended to secure that the requirements as to the sale and pre-packing of meat should not be evaded because it is offered in processed form—that is, mixed with other food. I appreciate that the word "substantially" is not precise and I sympathise with the noble Lord in wishing to have some more precise definition, which I think is very difficult to give. I do not think that the method of percentages would achieve our object in making the matter more precise. It is the kind of thing in which the evidence of an analyst is not much better than the evidence of an ordinary person. If he were going to analyse food which was made partly of meat and partly not of meat. I do not think it would be possible for an analyst always to distinguish between meat and things like lard or dripping which are animal products but not meat. I do not think it would make much difference to the purchaser of the mixed product whether it could be shown to contain 51 per cent. or 49 per cent. meat. I think the same difficulty would apply to any kind of percentage. I do not think it would be effective either as a protection to the consumer or as a protection to the trader.

I believe it is a matter on which we must rely mainly upon common sense, and the criterion is likely to be not simply whether it contains a lot of meat or little meat but the manner in which it is sold, if it is represented as a meat product. If it has a fair quantity of meat in it, if the case went to the courts, I think the courts would agree that it was substantially a meat product. If it should prove that there is any meat product or mixed product whose position the Bill leaves in doubt, if experience shows there is any kind of product with which people are in a real difficulty, much the better solution would be to provide for it specifically by order under Clause 22 of the Bill.


If the Government obviously finds difficulty in saying what is meant by "substantially", how much more difficult is it for the trader, who of necessity has to interpret this provision to decide whether his product comes in or does not come in? Really the matter cannot be dismissed in that way, because it puts manufacturers of food products containing meat in an almost impossible position. My noble friend mentioned that he did not mind whether it was 10 per cent. or 80 per cent. so long as it was something precise, but we have plumped for "fifty-fifty", which reminded me of the story of the man in the bad old days who was prosecuted for selling chicken and ham paste which proved to contain a great deal of horse-meat. He started the defence off by saying that his product was "fifty-fifty" horsemeat and chicken—one horse, one chicken. That is quite a valid argument, because it may well be argued that a substantial proportion of chicken was mixed up with his horsemeat.

That is precisely the quandary which the Government put people in, and indeed put us in. For example, in this Bill the Government have terms like "substantially", and, then again, "in considerable deficiency". There are products which lose 8 per cent. of their weight within two days of being packed. Is 8 per cent. a substantial amount, or is it an inconsiderable deficiency which an inspector ought to ignore? These are real difficulties and it is not right for the Government to say, "Well, let us pass the Bill. Let traders guess whether a substantial quantity of meat means a mouthful or a great deal, and then let the courts decide what we mean by 'substantially'." I urge the Government not in this way to dismiss this quite important point—it is important to traders who have to understand what it means—and say "Frankly, we do not know what "substantially' means. You must find out and, if you are unlucky in the courts, we just cannot help it." We shall find all the time that one magistrate or one court will decide that "substantially" means 10 per cent. and another may decide anything up to 80 per cent. I would submit that it is not right and that the Government ought to consider this again.


In my view, it is not possible to try to fix a percentage of meat. Suppose you have a meat and vegetable soup: 10 per cent. of meat would probably be a rather high proportion. If you have a steak-and-kidney pudding and you have 10 per cent. of meat in it, obviously it would not be as described.


If the noble Lord will allow me to say so, steak-and-kidney pudding is expressly exempted from the provisions of this part of the Schedule, so that would not arise.


A steak-and-kidney stew in a tin. If you say in that case that it is substantially of meat, and it is not practically entirely composed of meat, then obviously it is wrongly described. But a meat and vegetable soup in a tin could not, for instance, be expected to have much meat in it. To try to fix the same percentage for both articles is really quite absurd.


Before the noble Earl replies, I wonder whether he would consider this point and tell me what is in his mind. I often have to provide myself for an expedition, and I go into a shop and buy a pork pie or a couple of pork pies, or whatever is needed. They vary greatly in size and I buy according to my requirements, but I am perfectly certain that they are not sold by weight. I think it would rather interfere with the market if they were to be so sold.


There is nothing new in defining the content of meat in a package of meat. For instance, there is the well-known meat product, corned beef. Large quantities of corned beef, especially during the war years, always have contained a percentage of cereal. That system began, first of all, because of the shortage of meat during the war, and also because of the binding qualities which cereal has. It is quite usual for meat products to be sold as being 60 per cent., and even 65 per cent. meat. I can recall only one meat product containing less than 50 per cent.; it was these "ready meat meals" which were about a great deal during the war and continued for some time afterwards; but they are not available to-day. Speaking as a meat trader and, if I may, as a meat canner, I do not think it would be a bad thing to name a percentage, especially if it is a reasonable one and has the support of organised trade.


I think my noble friend Lord Derwent is absolutely right. In the interests of the consumer it is essential that a fixed percentage should not be named, because almost every product containing meat with other admixtures requires different proportions of meat to be considered as "substantially containing meat".


I believe we have to think again about this. Recently the local authority upon which I have the honour to serve brought a case against Messrs. "Joe" Lyons in regard to braised steak. I think it is a very good steak when it contains sufficient meat. The public analyst at Norwich did not think it did. The case was taken to court and lasted all day. Eminent barristers appeared on either side. We lost the case and we had to pay the costs. The magistrates considered that it did contain sufficient meat. It is a difficult thing for a public inspector of weights and measures to decide. In this case he decided there was not sufficient meat and he brought the case, backed up by the public analyst. I do not know whether any more clear term could be put into the Bill. This is a difficult provision to carry out, especially when one bears in mind such a case as we had quite recently.


We do not want to prolong this discussion. The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, supported by his noble friend, rejects this Amendment because you cannot have a fixed percentage for every kind of product. I think I should agree with him. I introduced this Amendment as an exploratory one, and not as being rigid in my idea that it should be 50 per cent. But I do not think either of the two noble Lords has discredited the idea of having some guarantee of what one is getting, and some statement as to what it is. Perhaps the noble Earl would like to look at this matter from that point of view. There may be different products which would justify different percentages, or there may be some other way of giving the consumer the protection that he is entitled to, and of giving the inspector the protection that he is entitled to.

The effect of what the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, said, which was very helpful indeed, is that that inspector will never again start a prosecution: he has had enough trouble with the one that he lost. He will not start another one so long as the law is as vague as it is. I would ask the noble Earl whether he is prepared to examine the question, so as possibly to provide a minimum for different types of products. The kind of product that my noble friend Lord Macpherson of Drumochter referred to might contain a considerably higher percentage than 50 per cent.; the soup that the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, referred to could contain a much lower percentage; but at least there could be a minimum of meat provided for where a product is sold as a meat product. If the noble Earl could give some assurance that he will examine this matter in the light of those suggestions, I should be happy to withdraw the Amendment.


Before the noble Earl replies, may I say that in reply to this Amendment he drew our attention to Clause 22, which would give the Government power to make an Order. Could he tell me to which part of Clause 22 he referred?


In reply to my noble friend Lord Saltoun, who was anxious bout his picnics, I would say that I do not think any of the things he wanted to eat would be affected by this Part of the Schedule, because, in line 42, bath chaps, meat pies, meat puddings and sausage rolls are all exempted from it. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, introduced one, I think, slightly extraneous point when he talked about loss of weight and what is called "inconsiderable deficiencies." They are not, of course, the same thing. A loss of weight may be substantial in the case of some commodities, and we have tried in this Bill to arrange matters so that traders will not be subject to unfair burdens in respect of allowances for loss of weight. "Inconsiderable deficiencies" does not mean quite the same thing as a loss of 8 per cent.; it means a small deficiency which is so minute that it cannot be avoided.

The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd has asked about Clause 22. Subsection (2) provides that: The Board may by Order make provision with respect to any goods specified in the order for goods to be sold in various ways. The clause empowers the Board of Trade to make various kinds of orders in respect of various classes of goods. On the particular point, I know there are certain kinds of goods in respect of which a particular percentage is specified for some purpose under some Act. I will, of course, consider all that your Lordships have said about this subject. I know that your object is to try to get greater precision, but I still feel, in agreement with my two noble friends behind me who have spoken, that when, as here, we are making general provision in respect of articles which although they contain other kinds of food consist substantially of meat, then common sense is a preferable criterion to some fixed percentage.


Common sense does not always help; different people have different ideas of what is sensible. But, on the noble Earl's assurance, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Forward to