§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH,
in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that the first Act upon this subject was passed in 1860, and was rendered necessary by the frequent complaints of purchasers from retail tradesmen, of the injury to which they were subjected by the prevalence of adulteration. That Act was in operation for 12 years, when 594 it was entirely re-cast, partly under the auspices of his noble Friend (Lord Eustace Cecil) near him, and the question was then mixed up in a great degree with sanitary considerations. In the second Act authority was given to institute proceedings, and the appointment of an analyst was made quasi-compulsory on the authorities, who had to do with it, and the law had a sanitary object. The language of the Act was founded on the idea of adulteration, which was to be prohibited, not only because it was a fraud upon the purchaser, but also because it was an injury done to the community. But the Act was soon found to be attended in its working with serious difficulties, partly caused by the want of any definition of the word "adulteration" in the Bill. Judges differed, and magistrates were unable to understand what was exactly meant by the word. Again, as regarded some of the most important operative clauses there was a failure of justice, and, on the other hand, the Act caused heart-burnings and sometimes led to very serious cases of hardship and even injustice. With respect to the article of tea particularly strong complaints were made, and when he acceded to his present office he found a general opinion that though the Act was of so recent a date the time had arrived for reconsidering it. Consequently, about a year ago, he asked the House to appoint a Select Committee with a view to some amendments during the last Session of Parliament, and the House was pleased to accede to his proposal. He stated to the House at that time that his object in proposing the Select Committee was to mitigate the hardships which were undoubtedly imposed on traders in many cases by the law as it stood, but still more to facilitate and make plain the operation of the law so that the advantages which the public unquestionably possessed by the existence of those Acts might be preserved to it unimpaired. It was not, therefore, the intention of the Government that the securities to the community should be in any respect broken down. The Committee found their labours grew upon them, time went on, and the Report was not in his hand early enough to enable legislation to be pressed on last year. Having to consider the matter during the Recess, the first question was, whether the now 595 Bill should be laid down on the same lines as the old, and whether the same language should he used in its operative clauses. The experienced draftsman to whom the preparation of the Bill was entrusted, had the recommendations of the Select Committee before him, but found it impossible with satisfaction to himself or with any assistance which he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) could give, to frame such a definition of the word "adulteration" as could be relied upon as the basis of permanent legislation on the subject. The consequence was, that what would be regarded as the operative clauses of the Bill had been drawn up in a different way, and an attempt had been made to lay down in the clauses the things exactly prohibited and the exceptions which might fairly release the trader from penalty. By an unfortunate error of the printer, with which the draftsman had nothing to do, the measure was still an Adulteration of Food Bill, but it was obvious that its title should be "The Sale of Food and Drugs Bill." The Bill was arranged in five parts; it described the offences prohibited, laid down rules for the appointment and duties of analysts, and regulated the proceedings against offenders; then there were some special provisions with regard to certain offences, and some important clauses with reference to the new duties imposed on those who were to carry out the measure. It prohibited under heavy penalties the admixture with food and drugs of any ingredients injurious to health, or the sale of any article not of the nature or quality demanded by the purchaser, with certain exceptions. Opinions might vary as to the value of the list of exceptions which had been made, but in Committee he would be happy to hear what might be said on the subject, and accept of Amendments which might appear to be reasonable. He wished that every security should be given to the public, but so that the reproach which had been cast upon Parliament for not removing certain hardships which existed could no longer be used. A now provision, which was very much required, had been added—in effect, that the interference with some articles so as to affect its quality should be subject to penalty. Under this provision, the offence of selling milk which had a portion of its nutritious qualities taken away from it would be rendered 596 penal. The Bill also provided that where there was an article which was sold mixed with something else for the convenience of the buyer and the seller equally, the mixture should be in proper proportions; and in the event of a legal question arising, it would be for the seller to show there was no excess of one ingredient to the disadvantage of the buyer. Under the old Act, the seller of retailed articles was obliged to declare orally to his customers if there had been any admixture. That provision had been seriously complained of, and it was obvious that in any shop where a large business was done, this express notice could not be given or insisted on. It was therefore now proposed that it would be sufficient if a label stating the fact was affixed to the article. The Select Committee had recommended, as against the practice of the existing law, that the appointment of analysts should be made compulsory on the authorities. But there were objections to such a course, and it seemed to him (Mr. Sclater-Booth) that they were not in a position to go so far. In the first place, the number of candidates for these appointments was not very considerable, and great difficulty had been experienced in getting competent analysts. Then, though you might make an authority appoint an officer, you could not without stringent legislation make him put the officer in motion. He knew from the experience he had in other branches of administration how easy it was to make a colourable appointment, and then to take care that the person appointed should not do that which the law contemplated. Further, he did not think it advisable that the appointments should be too numerous, if a smaller number would be sufficient. It was clearly desirable that a small borough, for instance, should have inducements held out to appoint the same person as had been appointed in a large borough or town in the same county to discharge the duties, rather than to have separate analysts for each separate town. It had been recommended by the Committee that in the event of a trader refusing to allow an article to be carried off for analysis, the policeman might seize the article on tendering to him its money value. Government, however, thought that somewhat too strong, but they thought they would 597 meet the justice of the case if they made the refusal to supply samples for analysis an offence under the Act. The report of the analyst would be primâ facie evidence to support the charge, and the obligation to disprove it would be upon the tradesman. As a matter of common justice, the dealer and his wife would be admitted to give evidence at their trial, and he thought that when they were examined before magistrates accustomed to deal with such questions, a just decision would be arrived at. This led him to a provision to which he had given anxious consideration—namely, that if the defendant in any prosecution produced a warrant of the purity of the article from the person of whom he had bought it, and also proved to the satisfaction of the justices that he sold it in the same state as when it came into his hands, he should be discharged. In another part of the Bill there was a penalty provided for the forgery of any such warranty. There had been some consideration whether they should not proceed against a man who gave a false or incorrect warranty; but they had, after a time, abandoned that idea, inasmuch as it would be bringing into a Court of summary jurisdiction a matter which, possibly, could only be dealt with by another tribunal. Proceedings, however, might be taken by the seller against the person who had given such a warrant, in the event of the article proving to be adulterated. The fines obtained from prosecutions would in future go to the authorities who were charged with the carrying out of the Act, instead of to the police, and it was hoped that this would prove an inducement to those authorities to have the provisions of the Act strictly enforced. As a great many of the prosecutions which had been instituted under the present Act had reference to the adulteration of tea, power was given to the Customs to have that article analysed on its arrival in this country, and, as a rule, the adulteration taking place abroad, he thought, although he was not too sanguine in the matter, that soon they would hear little about the adulteration of tea. The retail dealer would still have to look out for himself, and there could, he thought, be no objection to that, inasmuch as it was for the public good. The Report of the Committee stated that the old Acts had been the means of much good, not 598 only directly, but also indirectly; and if the present Bill came into operation he was satisfied that the system of adulteration of food and drugs, which was a great scandal not many years ago, would soon be reduced within very narrow limits. Already analysts had been appointed in 34 out of 54 counties; and he had no doubt that under the present Bill, the number of such appointments would be largely increased. The Committee were strongly of opinion that mixtures of coffee, cocoa, mustard, &c, which were expressly labelled as mixtures, should be allowed for the sake of the public taste, and their recommendation this point had been adopted in the Bill. If the consumer desired those articles mixed, and they were harmless, there seemed no reason for prohibiting their sale. At prosecutions it would not be necessary for the analyst to attend, unless his presence was expressly desired, and samples for analysis might be sent through the post. A body of gentlemen representing the public analysts had, he was happy to say expressed approval of the general principles of the Bill, though, of course, they had suggestions to make in their own interest, some of which he should be able to accept. He hoped the local authorities would take steps to secure prompt execution of the Bill in case it passed into law, and at the same time to ensure fair hearings for all persons concerned in cases of prosecution. The measure would tend, he believed, to facilitate the conduct of proceedings before the local authorities—to enable proceedings to be conducted with greater speed, less hindrance, and fewer technical objections before the magistrates—and would tend greatly to the public advantage; and if that result could be attained it would be doing a great deal. The Bill, though not of first-rate importance, was nevertheless one in which great public interest had been taken. It had been prepared by a person of great skill and practice in those matters, and its provisions had all been very carefully considered. Still, he was far from saying that some of the clauses were not open to Amendment in Committee. Several Amendments had been placed upon the Paper, and these should receive the best consideration; but he hoped to be able to maintain the principle of the measure as affecting the 599 security of the public, and to remove the reproach that existing legislation was gratuitously injurious to the interests of trade. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Selater-Booth.)
§ MR. SANDFORD
said, he had not read the Bill with unmitigated pleasure. It was framed, he thought, rather in the interest of the wholesale dealer, than in the interest of the public; and his impression was, that if passed in its present form, it would lead very considerably to the adulteration of food. Twenty-two years ago he had something to do with the passing of an Act on the subject. At that time, there was no doubt that the public were not only cheated, to use the classical language of the Secretary of the Board of Trade, but they were also poisoned; and if, at the present moment, they were only cheated, and not poisoned, they were very much indebted to legislation on this subject. He must, therefore look with considerable alarm on any measure that would lead to a restoration of the old state of things. His right hon. Friend said, in his opening speech, that the great grievance at the present moment was that adulteration was not properly defined. "Well, his right hon. Friend did not attempt in this Bill to define adulteration. Therefore he left unredressed, and without any attempt to redress, that which he admitted to be the great grievance of the present state of things. "When they came to what his right hon. Friend described as the main clauses of the Bill—namely, the 5th and 6th—they found that in order to procure the conviction of a person who sold adulterated goods, it must be proved that he had full knowledge that they were adulterated. Now, it was notorious that when proof of such knowledge was required, it was impossible to get a conviction. It was impossible to prove a man's knowledge of the adulterated character of the goods which he sold. But he passed on to Clause 7, because that, as the Bill at present stood, was the single clause under which you could obtain a conviction. Well, what did the 7th clause say? It said that no person should sell an article mixed for any of the purposes mentioned in the exceptions 600 before set forth, if the matter mixed was more than was ordinarily required for the purpose; so that you would have to consider Clause 7 in connection with some previous exceptions. It would be most perplexing for any magistrate to decide upon Clause 7. We all knew that what was necessary in dealing with this subject was, that the poor man should be protected—that when he believed he was buying a wholesome article of food, he ought to be protected against the sale of an unwholesome article. But if a poor man bought an article, he (Mr. Sandford) did not see how he would be protected under the Bill. The Bill said that dealers should offer goods for sale according to the "usages of the trade." But how was a poor man to know what was the usage of trade when he bought an article? Another objectionable feature of the Bill was, that it left the appointment of analysts in the hands of town councils. When he sat on the Committee that inquired into the subject, persons complained, perhaps with justice, that they were condemned upon what they believed to be not sufficient evidence—that the persons who had been appointed to analyze did not possess sufficient knowledge for the purpose. Therefore he contended that in amending the Act, the first thing you should do was to provide that a better description of analysts should be appointed, and that their number should be reduced. He believed that if England were divided into three or four portions, and one able analyst were appointed for each of those divisions, that number of analysts would be quite sufficient. He examined almost every witness upon that point, and they told him, he believed unanimously, that almost every article could be sent to an analyst, no matter how distant, from one end of England to another. He was not going to mention names; but he would say that in certain towns, analysts were appointed with the express understanding that they should take no action against any person in the town. If you considered for a moment of what persons the municipal council, especially in large towns, was to a great extent composed, you would perceive that they were the very class of persons to be proceeded against. Therefore, he thought the appointment of analysts ought not to be loft in their hands. 601 There was no doubt that the Act had pressed hardly upon some retail dealers, and he thought it was of very great importance that retail dealers should be enabled in some more expeditious way to proceed against wholesale dealers for having sold to them adulterated goods. But if the House wished to put down adulteration, if they wished at the same time not to press heavily upon retail dealers, the persons whom they ought to endeavour to punish were the wholesale dealers. Now, if one class of persons was favoured more than another by this Bill, it was the wholesale dealers. He came to another point—the inspection of tea in bond. He was opposed, in the Committee, to an inspection of tea in bond, and he would tell them why. He did not like to throw that duty on the Government. He thought it was the duty of the wholesale dealer to take care that he did not import an adulterated article. Wholesale dealers were not such poor people that they could not pay the expense of an inspection of goods which they imported into this country, in order to ascertain whether they were adulterated or not. He thought that on them lay the responsibility of not introducing into this country an adulterated article. If the system of inspecting tea was to be introduced, why was inspection to be confined to tea? If the system of inspection of tea was to be introduced, the principle should be extended to every article of food. Under the present Act, adulteration had been reduced to a minimum quantity; but if they were going to return to the old state of things, and to require knowledge on the sale of adulterated articles, then he said they were going to re-establish the state of things which existed 22 years ago, and which shocked the public when it was exposed before the Committee that sat. He was quite sure his right hon. Friend would be only too anxious to attend to any suggestions that might be made. He would venture to put on the Paper some Amendments which would embody the observations he had made, and he had only to request that his right hon. Friend would not fix too early a day for going into Committee on the Bill.
§ MR. MUNTZ
said, he had not the slightest intention of opposing the second reading of the Bill; but he joined in the request that the Government would give 602 as much time as possible for the consideration of the measure, so that hon. Members might be able to confer with those who were more especially interested in the subject, and to ascertain what was really wanted to meet the wishes of the public and of dealers. He observed that the Bill contained a clause specially providing that the Bill should not apply to Scotland in Ireland. He could not understand why that clause was inserted. The working of the Act seemed to give satisfaction in Ireland. Dr. Cameron, the analyst for Dublin, was decidedly in favour of the Act, and if he (Mr. Muntz) remembered right, that gentleman stated that before the Act was put in operation in Dublin the "usage of trade" amongst the milk-sellers was, to every gallon of milk to add two gallons of water; but that since the Act came into operation, the water had disappeared, and the milk was sound. That, he thought, ought to be sufficient reason for continuing the operation of the Act in Ireland. The particular fault mentioned was, that there were only two or three analysts appointed for several towns, and that consequently there was a difficulty in meeting the public requirements. He could not remember the evidence that was given as to Scotland, but he believed the evidence was that in Edinburgh, at all events, the milk never had been adulterated. As to the word "knowingly," if it were retained in the Bill all attempts to check adulteration would be hopeless. He also objected to the use of the words "according to the usage of trade," on the ground that trade usages were often anything but what they ought to be. There was in the Bill another clause, which provided that if a defendant proved he had sold the article in the same state in which he had purchased it, and with a warranty in writing to that effect, he should be discharged. It was obvious, however, that, even if there were a warranty, it would afford no evidence that the article had not been wilfully adulterated, because the warranty might have been given by a man of straw. The recommendations of the Committee were, that if a warranty in writing were produced by a defendant, the case should be adjourned, and that the justices should direct a summons to be issued against the person or persons from whom the defendant had purchased the articles, who, if found guilty of adulteration, 603 should be liable to the penalties imposed. For his own part, he could see no objection to the insertion of a clause embodying those recommendations of the Committee. Certainly, the wholesale dealer ought to be held responsible, if it were clearly proved that the retailer purchased the articles of him in an adulterated state. If that alteration were made in the Bill it would be a most valuable one. In Birmingham and the neighbourhood there was a large number of respectable grocers, who did not object to a Bill against adulteration, though they were averse from being annoyed by analysts who did not understand their work. Then, further, if tea were to be inspected in bond, why should not wine be inspected also? More persons were poisoned by wine than by tea, and what the Committee heard about Hamburg sherry was enough to make people turn teetotalers next morning. It would, in his opinion, be dangerous for the Government to undertake the examination of tea in bond, and both his hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Sandford) and himself opposed Government inspection in the Committee, but they were beaten by a majority of 1 or 2. If the principle were once admitted it would open the way to the introduction of a whole army of Inspectors for the examination of other articles in bond besides tea. He was thoroughly opposed to the systematic robbery of the poor, and, although the present Bill was far from perfect, it might, if amended in the way he had indicated, prove a very useful measure.
§ MR. PELL
said, the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz) had misunderstood the 2nd clause, which, in fact, extended the operation of the Bill to Ireland and Scotland. He mentioned that in order to show the difficulty under which hon. Members laboured in consequence of the short time given to them for the consideration of measures. Under the Bill no fewer than 280 separate authorities would have the power, if they chose to exercise it, of appointing a petty officer to undertake very important duties. That number of authorities was far too large, and he should like to see some limit of population placed to the authorities who might appoint analysts. If, however, they prevented a small borough from appointing an analyst, the inhabitants who desired to have an 604 article analyzed could go to the adjoining area to have it done for them. But then came the obvious inference that they would get the services of an officer who was paid by one local authority doing the work of another without their contributing to remuneration. That arose very much from Clause 12, which limited the charge for the performance of a very intricate duty, and one which required a man of high standing and education, to the inadequate amount of 10s. 6d. A number of analyses would be worth nothing, if performed for such an inadequate sum. The analyst's remuneration certainly was to be made up by salary, so that when he was appointed he would know the maximum he could get for his services; but the salary was to come from one portion of the community—namely, those unhappy people who, up the present moment, had contributed exclusively to many charges which ought to be borne by the community generally. He should propose an Amendment to remove this maximum amount to be paid for an analysis, for he thought it only fair, since the Government retained a voice in the appointment of the analyst, that his salary should be partly paid by contributions from the Imperial Exchequer and the local authorities. He hoped that the Amendments to be submitted in Committee would receive favourable consideration from the Government, and that the Bill would be improved in many of its provisions before it was allowed to pass into law. His fear was, that there was a danger of no public analyst being appointed at all, seeing that the option of such an appointment was to rest with the 280 local authorities to whom the Bill would apply. Such a result would be a misfortune, more especially where the public mind was strongly in favour of the appointment of an analyst. He trusted the danger would be avoided, and that where the Government exercised any supervision they should be prepared to contribute annually towards the cost of such officials.
§ MR. WHITWELL
said, he was glad to hear of the proposal to stop the import of bad tea, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill would give the House some idea of what the conditions were under which it was proposed to allow questionable tea to go 605 into use. It might be difficult to deal with all articles upon importation, for in many cases articles of consumption were adulterated afterwards. Clause 8 seemed to enact that, if the ingredients introduced for the purpose of adulteration were not hurtful, the articles sold might be described as "mixed." Surely, however, that was not sufficient, for in his opinion, the ingredients mixed with the original article ought to be stated; because it would be more satisfactory to persons purchasing, to know what the article was mixed with, than merely to know it was mixed. He thought, also, that the Bill should not be limited to articles of food and to drugs. Why should it not include snuff and tobacco? The Report of the Inland Commissioners showed a very extensive adulteration in the latter article. Out of 71 samples offered to the Excise, not less than 51 were adulterated; while sugar was adulterated with sand and other inorganic matter sometimes to the extent of 50 per cent. Another matter stated in the same Report was, that methylated liquors were greatly reduced in strength, and that, in his opinion, was a matter deserving consideration.
§ SIR HENRY PEEK
said, that speaking with a practical knowledge of the tea trade of over 30 years, and having read the Bill with great care and attention, he had no hesitation in giving it his support. The question of the examination of tea in bond had the entire approval of the trade; and he believed that not one ounce in every ton which came to England was adulterated here. The examination of tea in bond, while still under Government control, was a very easy matter; not more than 5 parcels in 1,000 would require any examination at all; and if those 5 were found to contain anything injurious to health, it would not be difficult to prevent their going into consumption. Referring to the term "adulteration"—and, in passing, he would say that it was an unheard of thing to make penal an offence which, for six months past, the authorities had been endeavouring in vain to define—some of the analysts went as far as to say that all green tea was adulterated with deleterious matter, and a gentleman who was High Sheriff of Anglesea had been fined a large sum for retailing the very finest green tea procurable. The fact was, that analysts 606 wished to make themselves out exceedingly clever, and, as a means of blowing their own trumpets, made the most of the very least quantities of foreign matters they discovered in the various samples submitted to them. With regard to the term "custom of trade," it was very difficult to say what should or what should not be allowed; but it was a monstrous thing that the Government should be permitted to prepare their cocoa and mustard in a manner that would subject a private dealer to punishment for selling an adulterated article. His own opinion was that where, in the words of the Report, people were cheated, and not poisoned, it was better to leave them to seek their own remedies. When the proper time arrived he should be able, on the part of the trade, to show how the Bill might be considerably improved.
in supporting the Bill, said, that having sat upon the Select Committee appointed to consider this subject last year, he wished to express his opinion that the Bill would remedy all the grievances of traders, while it gave increased protection to the public. He thought that the exception in Clause 6, relating to the usage of trade, should be omitted, dealers in mixed articles being sufficiently protected by Clause 8, which provided that there should be a written or a printed label on the article to be sold as a mixture, now cocoa and mustard came under this proviso, the first being generally mixed with farina and sugar, and the second with wheat flour coloured with turmeric; and, in his opinion, if such mixtures were no more than were ordinarily required, and if they did not materially add to the weight or bulk, the article should be exempt from penalty. He agreed with the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Sandford) that it was a pity they did not get at the wholesale dealer, and that the retail trader should not be allowed to show that the article complained of was in the same state in which he had received it from the wholesale trader, and so throw the liability on the latter; because, although the retail dealer had at present the Common Law right of proceeding against the wholesale trader, the cost of taking proceedings was so great as practically to debar him from the exercise of that right. As to the Act of 1872, it was practically a dead letter in the country districts, be- 607 pcause the Inspectors who were generally superintendents of police, could not be spared from their other duties to take the samples to the analyst for examination, he was therefore glad to see that by the Bill, the sample might be sent by post.
§ MR. ALDERMAN COTTON
observed that in due time he should move a new Proviso to Clause 30, to the effect that before tea was forfeited or destroyed the owner or owners might call in three sworn tea-brokers, and in the event of a majority of them being of the analyst's opinion then the tea should be absolutely destroyed; but in the event of the tea being pronounced by a majority to be marketable, it should be delivered to the owner. The cost of such certificate to be not less than £3 3s., or more than £15 15s.
§ MR. CLARE READ
said, a complaint had been made that people might mix poisonous articles with food under the Bill. Clause 4, however, provided that persons selling food containing anything injurious to health would be dealt with very seriously; for the offender would be liable to a penalty of £50 for the first offence, and for a second offence, he might be imprisoned for a period not exceeding six months, and there were no exceptions whatever to the operation of the clause. Objection had also been made that a poor man would not receive what he asked for; but Clause 6 provided that whatever was asked for should be of "the nature, substance, and quality" he demanded. If it should be proved, as had been stated, that as much as 75 per cent of starch had been mixed with cocoa, no magistrate would hesitate to impose a penalty, for the demand would be for cocoa, and not for starch. He would admit that it had certainly been a recommendation of the Select Committee, that when the retail dealer proved to the satisfaction of a justice that he sold his articles in the same state as he received them from the wholesale dealer, the justice should be allowed to adjourn the inquiry and summon the wholesale dealer to attend; but however simple that appeared to be in theory, it was found very difficult in practice. It had been asked how it came to pass that tea was the only article that had been, so to say, taken under the protection of the Government on being imported. The reason was, that it was the only article 608 which had been represented as coming into this country in a seriously adulterated state. The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz) said that there, was some sort of doctoring of tea in England. That might be, but the conclusion to which the evidence taken by the Committee had brought him was, that there was very little adulteration of it practised in this country. He had only heard of two insignificant cases in which dealers had adulterated or coloured tea. It was very different with wine, which after its import was mixed and fortified by the trade. There had been expressions of opinion that several counties and boroughs should unite in the appointment of an analyst. The Bill made that desirable object easy, and it enabled samples to be sent by post, so there was no reason why ten or a dozen counties should not be under the superintendence of an analyst residing in London. As regarded the smallness of a neighbouring analyst's fee, referred to by the hon. Member for Leicestershire (Mr. Pell), there was a great deal of force in the hon. Member's observations, and he had no doubt his right hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth) would meet that objection. Tobacco, he believed, was very little adulterated, and even if it were it was sharply looked after by the Excise. With regard to the observation that the operations of the Bill were confined to England, all he could say was that the Government intended and were desirous to extend it to Ireland and Scotland, and if, upon consideration with the legal advisers of the Department, it was found that this wish could be carried out, the alterations would be made in Committee. In reference to the suggestion that adulteration should be defined, he would express his opinion that any attempt to define it would completely fail, for instance, he had got about 40 definitions of it, and a more terrible jumble and confusion of the different ideas of adulteration he never saw; and as he believed the principle of the Bill was a good one, he hoped that with some few Amendments in Committee it would pass into law.
MR. LYON PLAFAIR
said, that in the preparation of the Bill the Government had to keep two objects in view—first, the removal of certain hardships of which traders might fairly complain; second, their removal in such a way as would not prove injurious to the 609 public. The operations of the Acts of 1860, 1867, and 1872 had been very beneficial. Prior to the passing of the last Act, the usage of the trade was to place 25 per cent of water in milk. That usage was condemned, and now milk could be had without any prejudicial amount of adulteration. Again, the usage with regard to bread was to place alum in flour, and to sell bread to the poor of a very inferior quality, made of the adulterated flour: for the object of using alum was to employ flour of deteriorated quality. The Acts had condemned that injurious practice. Their operation also drove what was known in the trade as "Canton capers," or tea which was imported in an adulterated condition, to other markets, and they required that coffee and mustard, which before had each been much mixed, should, when mixed, be labelled, so that the purchaser might at all events know what he was buying. Vinegar, too, which before the passing of the Act was adulterated with sulphuric acid, was now to be had in a pure condition. Thus, the articles of food in greatest consumption had been materially improved, and what he wished the House to consider was, whether the present Bill would relieve traders of what they considered hardships at the expense of the public. In his opinion it would, unless considerable amendments of its provisions were made in Committee. He would point out some of its clauses which induced him to think that much more serious protection of the public was required than the Bill afforded. In the existing Acts it was assumed that the seller of an article knew his business sufficiently well to know whether it was pure or impure. The Preamble of the Act of 1867 required that persons selling articles of food should have a sufficient practical knowledge of their business; and the 24th section enacted that the adulteration was to be assumed, unless the contrary was proved by the seller, who was to be deemed to have had knowledge of such adulteration, and the existence and propriety of that responsibility had been affirmed by several judgments of the Superior Courts. But the Bill said in effect that ignorance instead of knowledge was to be assumed. The question of "knowingly" came in. A person was to be punished who "knowingly" gold an adulterated article, so that he 610 could save himself by not knowing his business at all. For his part, he feared that this word "knowingly" would neutralize the benefit intended to be secured by the Bill, and then again the Bill recognized the "usage of trade." But it had been a usage of trade to add 25 per cent of water to milk, to mix alum with flour, to "strengthen" vinegar by adulteration, and so on, and all those usages of trade would, he feared, spring up again under the Bill. Another clause deserved attention. By the 25th clause the defendant was relieved, if he sold the article as it was bought by him under a warranty. Of course, in future there would be a warranty on every invoice, and the responsibility of the retailer would practically cease. But the Bill made no attempt to punish the actual adulterator who sold the impure article to the retailer. The Select Committee recommended that, and without a provision to that effect the Act would be useless. The hon. Member for Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) had, he thought, hit a blot in the Bill. It was impossible to get a chemical analysis such as would be required under this Bill for 10s. 6d., and therefore it would be more correct to say that the consumer would have the right to go and get an analysis at the expense of the ratepayers. It would be necessary to have combined areas with efficient public analysts at salaries of from £100 to £200 a-year, and it would be more accurate to say that the cost of the analysis would be 10s. 6d., plus the salary drawn from the ratepayers and paid to the analyst. His hon. Friend had stated that it was intended that Scotland and Ireland should be introduced; but the Bill expressly said that nothing in the Act should apply to Scotland or Ireland, "except as hereinafter provided," and he found nothing provided in the Bill on the subject. At present Scotland and Ireland were left out in the cold; but he was sure that a provision would be made in the Bill to remedy any such inconvenience.
§ MR. SALT
said, that one good point in the Bill was, that it repealed two Acts of Parliament and consolidated the law on the subject. That was the proper course to pursue, as Acts of this class went all over the country, and had to be construed by persons who were not familiar with legal phraseology. He 611 also considered that some of the clauses of the Bill would require very careful consideration before being passed into law, for if the words "usage of trade" should be allowed to stand there would be no protection to any consumer. When a Bill of this kind was introduced, the first question one asked himself was, "How will it benefit the consumer; and especially how will he make use of it?" It was clear that a Bill of this character, to prevent the adulteration of food, was chiefly material to poor persons, who were most affected by adulterated food and drugs. It was more especially so, for this reason—that a rich man, when he was not satisfied with his tradesmen, could change them, or even buy his goods wholesale, whereas the poor man was at the mercy of the tradesmen who lived near him. Therefore Acts like these should be passed chiefly to benefit the poor consumer. How was a poor person, then, to act under the present Bill? How could he obtain a remedy against his tradespeople? The Bill certainly said that he might take the article he had bought to the analyst, and have it analyzed on payment of 10s. 6d. But he would have no knowledge of the analyst, and was he likely to be in a position to pay 10s. 6d. for an analysis of his small purchase of flour, coffee, tea, or sugar? By the 14th clause it was provided that if a person went to a trader with the intention of having the substance that he purchased analyzed, he must give notice of his intention, and divide his purchase into thirds, one of which he was to leave with the dealer and another to retain for himself. Was not such a proceeding beyond the capacity of the poor man, especially as no means were provided for bringing him into direct contact with any of the officers? That was a point, no doubt, to which the right hon. Gentleman had given his attention, and possibly he (Mr. Salt) was mistaken in the view he had taken of the Bill, but he wished to put the matter before the notice of the Government. While the House protected the consumer, it ought, however, to take care that the dealer was not unnecessarily annoyed. Agreeing with what had fallen from his hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) as to the charge thrown by the Bill on local resources, he doubted whether it might not be desirable that the Government 612 should endeavour to organize a machinery by which the whole, or nearly the whole, of these articles which had been referred to, and which were to be submitted to experiment, should be sent to some great central laboratory, where the greatest skill and care would be taken in the analyzing. The trading classes had not always entire confidence in the different local analysts, and some curious instances were cited of contradictory opinions being given upon the same identical article. It was necessary, therefore, that the greatest skill should be employed in these analyses, so as to give confidence to the public and the trader. In conclusion, he begged to thank the right hon. Gentleman for having introduced the Bill.
§ MR. COLMAN
said, that as he happened to be acquainted with the manufacture of some articles which had been named during the course of the discussion, he should like to make a few remarks before the debate closed. The articles to which he referred were mustard and cocoa. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Edinburgh was speaking of the improvement which the Act had effected in preventing milk being mixed with 25 per cent of water, he wondered what would be said as to mustard, but he was glad to find that the right hon. Gentleman only referred to the difference which had been made in the labels—a difference which the manufacturers had been perfectly willing at once to adopt. Allusion had been made prominently during the discussion to Clause 25, which seemed hardly in accordance with the recommendation of the Select Committee, that responsibility should rest on the wholesale manufacturers rather than on the retail trades. He desired, therefore, to say that the recommendation in question had the fullest sanction of the manufacturers of cocoa and mustard, and he hoped the responsibility would still be left on them, and that they should be bound by the labels which they placed on their goods. He was not at all prepared to complain of the remarks which had been made of the term in the Bill "usage of trade." There was much force in some of the remarks, but he was happy to feel that the private firms manufacturing mustard and cocoa could give very high authority as to their "usage;" for if hon. Members would 613 refer to the Reports from the Navy Victualling Yards, which had been for several years past presented to the House, they would find that the Government manufactured for the use of the Navy mustard and cocoa as mixed articles, which were in principle precisely the same as those supplied by private manufacturers, and such as many retail tradesmen had been fined for selling, and this seemed a manifest injustice. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill had, he thought, fallen into an error in his statement that under the Act now in force an oral declaration was needful. This point had never been finally decided. Magistrates had given conflicting decisions. The haste with which the Act of 1872 had been passed at the fag end of the Session had left this point in doubt. He hoped, however, that by careful consideration in Committee the Bill might be made clear and distinct—that it would not absolve the manufacturer from any responsibility attaching to his labels; and that an Act might be framed which should be a protection to the consumer, fair to the retail tradesman, and not unjust to the manufacturers.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
said, that the inquiry of the Select Committee led them to the conclusion that very little adulteration of food existed. It was not so much Adulteration Acts as the reform of our fiscal system that had done so much to improve the quality of the articles sold, and he believed that the retail dealers scarcely ever adulterated tea, coffee, or other articles of grocery. At all events, no single case had been proved before the Committee. If, however, they raised the duty on tea again from 6d. to 2s. a pound they would make it to the interest of traders to adulterate, which at present it was not. The sensational letters which had appeared in the papers were traceable to adulterators who wished to advertise their own speciality. He believed that the Bill, with one or two Amendments, would be sufficient to protect the public, and, at the same time, to deliver the retail dealer from a vexatious system, which was becoming so annoying as to render the old Act practically nugatory. The inspection of tea in bond would do more than anything else to put an end to the vexation and difficulty which had been entailed upon retailers by the Act of 1870; 614 and with regard to the appointment of analysts, he thought it ought to be compulsory for the whole country, for the temptations to adulterate were perhaps greatest in the small places where it was difficult to make the appointments. He thought the Bill generally was a good one, and would give satisfaction to dealers and consumers alike.
§ MR. RAMSAY
said, there ought to be some means of determining the chemical knowledge and acquirements of analysts. Chemists at present differed in their opinions as to the tests to be employed for detecting the presence of certain substances, and a Judge before whom a trader might be accused would hesitate to convict, if a chemist of high standing were adduced as a witness to prove that the process employed by the public analyst was not the best and should not be regarded as conclusive evidence of the alleged adulteration. It appeared to him that a great difficulty would arise in obtaining the services of skilled analysts at prices which traders in small communities might reasonably be expected to be able to give.
§ MR. YEAMAN
hoped that the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill would see that it was made applicable to Scotland, because he felt quite sure that, with the Amendments which might be introduced in Committee, a very excellent Bill might be framed. Whenever the laws of the two countries could be assimilated, it was desirable it should be done, and, therefore, he suggested that the Bill should extend to Scotland. In the burgh which he represented, dealers were very anxious with regard to the question of tea in bond. They thought it a great hardship that they should be prosecuted for selling an article which had been adulterated, but which they had sold in the same state in which they had received it—the adulteration having been carried on in China. With regard to analysts, he thought that great care should be taken that the persons appointed to such an important office were competent to fulfil its duties, and that they should be appointed by Government.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, although he had no right to reply, he should like to make one or two observations with regard to the statement of the hon. Member for Stafford 615 (Mr. Salt), who said the poor man was not considered in the Bill. That was not really so; but under the provisions of the Bill the police and public officer would be in duty bound to take care of such cases. He admitted that the term "knowingly" was used too frequently in the 6th and 9th clause, and he would consider whether it should not, in some instances at least, be struck out. He was not surprised also that many hon. Members had taken exception to the words in Clause 6, which referred to the usages of trade, and he would carefully consider whether the object of the Bill was not sufficiently provided for, as he believed it was, by the subsequent part of the clause. With reference to the complaint of the hon. Member for Leicestershire (Mr. Pell), that in addition to the charge of 10s. 6d. for analysis, a supplementary charge was raised out of the rates, he could not help thinking if any charge on the rates was reasonable this was a charge of that kind. In conclusion, he would say that it was not intended by the Bill to take away from Scotland and Ireland the advantages they had hitherto enjoyed. He thanked hon. Members for the various suggestions which had been made, and he could assure the House they would all be considered by him with every anxiety to make the Bill as perfect as possible.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Thursday 4th March.
§ House adjourned at half after Ten o'clock till Monday next.