§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Dr. O'DONOVAN
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty against the draft Order in Council under the Merchandise Marks Act, 1926, which was presented to this House on the 8th May, 1934.I have to offer to the House an apology for detaining them on this matter, but I can see no other opportunity of asking the Minister for an explanation of an Order which affects so many people and which has received very little publicity. After one has gone round to the Vote Office and obtained a copy of these Orders from the Stationery Office it often takes a day or two to find out their meaning, and I have additionally this difficulty, that I have but an 1226 unscholarly knowledge of the proceedings of the Privy Council. One assumes that much debate and discussion has gone in the framing of this Merchandise Marks Order, but I am not familiar with it. The Order affects so many people and such a large industry that I hope the Minister of Agriculture will not take it amiss if I ask him to explain what is behind it. The Imported Meat Trades Association has posted to me since I put my name down to this Prayer the following figures: The total shipment of Australian, New Zealand and South African frozen and chilled meat to the United Kingdom in 1933 was made up of the following massive quantities: Sheep, 3,944,414; lambs, 17,280,597; quarters of frozen beef, 1,261,576; pigs, 474,173. I have no financial interest whatever in the dead meat trade, but these figures are astronomical. The proposition is that an indication of origin should be "branded or stamped, stencilled or printed in ink or stain, durably and conspicuously, in letters, which shall, except where otherwise specified, be of not less than half of one inch in height." The reading of these statutory rules brought to my mind my student days. The Minister of Agriculture will appreciate the anatomical skill which must be displayed by any scholar from an elementary school who has to brand frozen meat when he has to bear in mind that in the case of chilled beef, each side of chilled beef shall bear the indication of origin "on the outer side from the hock joint to the neck, in a line passing over the round, aitchbone and rump and then continuing at distances of two inches from the chin bone to the neck." When we studied anatomy these details were somewhat of a pleasure, but whether the operators in the meat market will study this anatomy with equal pleasure is open to question. The wording of the Order is not easy to comprehend. Each paragraph starts with the words "And whereas," and there are six "Whereases." The definite deduction to be drawn is a little obscure, but the meat has to be marked.
My first objection to the Order was purely sentimental. Unfortunately, in the hospitals, patients die, and it is the practice of nurses who attend the death of a patient to mark the dead body with indelible pencil. Their instructions are almost exactly the instructions in this 1227 Order. The purpose of such instruction is that the wrong body is not unfortunately delivered to the wrong sorrowing relatives. It is a small point, but it affects those who know of this practice and then read the Order.
There is a psychological problem which affects all who eat. Few of us eat purely for nourishment. Man does not live by calories alone. The smell and appearance of the food are most important, pleasurable to the healthy and necessary to the sick. The sight of branded meat on the counter of a shop is not inviting, and as this brand will withstand cooking, if not incineration, we shall see it upon our tables. I say "upon our tables," because the figures show that Canterbury lamb and frozen meat, in the present state of society and of meat production, are common on the tables of the middle classes. It is true that the branded parts of the meat might be cut out and thrown away, but waste in the kitchen is not advisable. I submit this small point of psychological interest: One does not like, owing to the little innate snobbery of the kitchen and the parlour, to show to one's guests where one's food is purchased. If one invites a Minister to dine, one likes to assume that he will believe for the time being that everything on the table has been grown upon English soil. It is a pity that this little piece of polite affectation would no longer be possible under this Order.
There is a more serious point which I think has some weight in it and which may appeal to the Minister of Agricuture. "Branding" is a most unhappy word to use in connection with poor peoples' food. It is true that the poor were branded in the days of Queen Elizabeth but those days have passed. t believe that in stories and pictures, if not in fact, the clothes of convicts are branded and those who have, by compulsion, to eat branded food, may feel a sense of inferiority and resentment, which I am sure, it is not the wish of His Majesty's advisers that they should feel. I gather that evidence was given—I have not read it—by a Government expert to the effect that this meat might well be stained with aniline dyes, dissolved in methylated spirits. That point is worth consideration. If these millions of carcases 1228 are to be marked with aniline dyes then the consumption of aniline will be of a measurable quantity. Aniline is a substance from which can be produced explosives, dyes and poisons. Aniline dyes are a prolific source of litigation under the Workmen's Compensation Acts in connection with the production or alleged production of occupational dermatitis. Butchers as a rule are stout and sturdy men but if every butcher handling frozen mutton or chilled beef is to appear before his doctor, every time he has a rash and claim that the rash is due to aniline dye, the woes of those who have to sign certificates, will be trebled and the occupation of the County Court registrars will be increased. This is not a figment of the imagination. Dermatitis is all too common and there is a common feeling among working-people that all dermatitis is due to work and that all dermatitis should be compensatable. If the idea spreads that this brand may be made with aniline, then as a dermatologist, I fear that my labours will be added to unnecessarily. Although a small quantity of aniline absorbed might not be poisonous, one knows that problems of idiosyncracy arise in connection with this aspect of the case. Recently, we passed in this House a London County Council General Powers Bill under which doctors are compelled to notify at once, any "suspicion" of food poisoning even though the suspicion should afterwards prove to be unfounded. Thus, if one suspects that a consumer of this frozen meat has a stomach-ache due to aniline, one is compelled to notify the mere suspicion without even calling in another opinion to check that suspicion.
Then, I put it to the Minister on the ground of consideration for the very poor. No one in the House wishes anything but well to the English meat producer, but the figures show that this frozen diet is an uneseapable necessity for thousands of poor homes. Up till now, I believe, there has been no record of the branding of English people's food, and I await with great interest what may be said by the Minister for this Order. I do not assume for a minute that it was lightly conducted or enterprised, but I do say that a matter that concerns the tables of the poor is worth detaining the House for a few minutes in order that we may 1229 have the pleasure and experience the benefit of the Minister's words upon this subject.
§ 11.26 p.m.
§ Sir PERCY HARRIS
We owe a debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Mile End (Dr. O'Donovan) for moving this Prayer. It shows he is diligent in the interests of the food of the people. That is not surprising. This Prayer is the result of an application made by the National Farmers Union. I want to be fair to the Government; it was not done at their initiative. Under existing legislation, an application was made to the appropriate committee, and, after considering the evidence, they brought in this recommendation. The Report, Command Paper 4470, showed that the proposal was vigorously opposed by the New Zealand Producers Board, the New Zealand and Australian Agents Association, the Parliamentary Committee of the Co-operative Congress, the Railway Companies Association, and, of course, the Australian and New Zealand Governments. They considered it, quite rightly, injurious to the interests of the producers in the Dominions and the consumers in this country. I would remind the House that under our existing orders and regulations all imported meat, whether from the Empire or foreign countries, has to bear a distinguishing label showing where it comes from. I submit that that ought to be a reasonable protection, but the present proposal goes too far. I am all in favour of the public having all reasonable information about the country of origin of their food supplies where it can be given without unreasonable expenditure and injury to health or damage to the food.
There is always some prejudice against foreign goods, but 73 per cent. of the meat supplies that are to be affected come from our own Dominions, whom it is our desire to bind closer to us and to help in these difficult times. The policy of the Government to limit supplies from the Empire by quotas is deeply resented. This proposal is another serious blow to the Commonwealth of Nations. It has indeed been protested against vigorously, and it is suggested by the Dominions that it is a departure from the Ottawa Agreements. Certainly it is against the spirit of Ottawa, and I would like to know 1230 whether the Dominion Governments have been officially consulted. We know their official representatives in this country are protesting vigorously and saying it will do them serious injury. It is not merely a question of forcing consumers to eat British meat instead of Dominion. As the Minister of Agriculture pointed out the other day, there is a tendency towards a decrease in the consumption of meat.
§ Sir P. HARRIS
If we make meat, whether beef or mutton, unattractive in appearance that will not stimulate the demand and make the housewife, with a limited sum of money in her pocket, anxious to buy it. My hon. Friend the Member for Mile End is right in saying this is a big and important business. More than 11,250,000 carcases of mutton and lamb were brought to this country last year 4,500,000 coming from Australia. Three-quarters of our supplies of mutton and lamb are drawn from our Dominions. I know that a case for this proposal can be put up on the analogy of the National Mark applied to British beef, and that case has to be met. A considerable proportion of British beef, though not by any means all, is so marked. The answer is that in the case of beef the mark is on the fat, and can be cut off before or after cooking. It is not very palatable to have a print on the Sunday joint, but if the consumer objects the offending piece can be cut off. In the case of lamb or mutton the print will be on the skin, and it will not be possible to remove it without detriment or damage to the joint, and there will be a. serious interference with its appearance.
Then there is the question of price. The tendency nowadays is to raise prices, and I am in favour of prices rising—if it is a universal rise and applies to all commodities, if it is, in short, a general rise in the price level; but to add artificially to the cost of production by machinery of this kind seems to me to be unfair to consumers, and especially to the poorer consumers who are going through very difficult times. The justification for this marking is, I understand, that a certain number of retailers have evaded the requirements about putting labels on the meat they display for sale. But it is pointed out in this report, which on the 1231 whole is a very fair statement of both sides of the case, that as far as wholesalers and importers are concerned there has been no attempt to mislead the public by palming off on them imported meat as British. It is also pointed out that any attempt by a retailer to deceive the public is a rare thing, and that instances are decreasing in number. I submit that it is a libel on butchers in general to say that there is any real attempt to mislead the public. I go further and say that it is a needless contention of the housewife, who is quite able to look after herself. If her butcher has supplied her with an imported Sunday joint and charged English price for it she will very soon find another butcher. This is a needless interference with the trade and ought to be withdrawn.
We are not likely to carry the Prayer. Whatever case is made out, the House always automatically supports the Government; that is a great compliment to the right hon. Gentleman, but it is unfortunate for the public, because they have no chance of their interests being looked after. It is admitted in this report that it will be possible to brand every particular joint, and there are charts in the Order showing not merely the carcase but the various parts of the beast, in large letters and made as unsightly as possible. [Interruption.] If the hon and gallant Gentleman wants his Sunday joint with a large violet brand on it, by all means let him have it, but why force that upon the public? It is a piece of petty tyranny in which some people like to indulge.
Lieut.-Colonel SANDEMAN ALLEN
I am wondering how the hon. Gentleman knows that some people do not like it.
§ Sir P. HARRIS
If people like to have their joints decorated with large brands, by all means let them have them, but do not let us introduce into our legislation needless expense of this kind. In New Zealand and Australia, representatives of the trade say that it will slow down and decrease output and will increase the cost of production to such an extent that it will seriously disorganise the trade. This is a most objectionable attempt to interfere, in the interests of a small section of the community, with the very large and important trade on which our 1232 Dominions are dependent for their prosperity and existence. On the other hand, it will add to the cost of our food supplies and make meat less attractive for sale by disfiguring it, when it comes to be consumed.
§ 11.38 p.m.
§ Mr. HERBERT WILLIAMS
For once in my life I am in partial agreement with the hon. Member for South West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris). In 1926, I spent many months in the Committee upstairs supporting the Merchandise Marks Act, which was vigorously opposed by the hon. Member for South West Bethnal Green and Members of the Labour party. I think the marking in general is a good thing. It happened by a curious chance, as a result of a little service I rendered to the meat traders at that time, that they elected me one of their honorary vice-presidents, and I heard from them a good many of their grievances in regard to this Order.
The ordinary meat trader, or butcher, as he is generally called, is a reputable citizen, and I have learned, from communications I have had from them, that they are definitely resentful about the Order, but not because they want to conceal the origin of the meat they are selling, the resentment is directed against the method of marking. I am not inspired by the same venom as the hon. Baronet; I believe in marking. Merchandise marks helped us a great deal when we were a Free Trade country, but they are not so necessary now that we are Protectionist. We are not, however, a Protectionist country in regard to meat, and therefore there remain grounds for marking in regard to that commodity. I am going to ask the Minister to watch the operation of this Order very carefully. It is always a pity if, when a change is made, those who have to give effect to it are hostile to the change, and the great mass of the butchers of this country are bitterly hostile to this change, not because they want to deceive the public, but because they believe it is going to prejudice the sale of meat as a whole. It is on this ground, and not because I object to marking, for, in general, I believe in marking, that I appeal to the Minister to watch the operation of the Order very carefully.
The farmers, with whose predicament I have the greatest sympathy, as I have 1233 shown by numerous speeches and by, on one occasion, a vote against the Government, do not want to be prejudiced by getting into antagonism with the distributing trade through whom they market their products, and it seems unfortunate that there should be a conflict of interests between the. farmers of this country and those who distribute their products—a very large body of citizens, the bulk of whom, so far as I am aware, have the good sense to belong to the party to which I belong; and from the Empire aspect I am a little sorry that Canterbury lamb—one of the most excellent products that I know—is now to be disfigured with these large marks. I am not going to support this Motion in the Division Lobby, because I do not think I should be justified in doing so. My sole reason for rising was to appeal to the Minister to watch the operation of the Order very carefully, and, if he finds that the prejudice to trade which some people honestly fear is realised, not to hesitate to take the necessary steps to relieve them of what they regard as a burden.
§ 11.43 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
We have had one or two rather anomalous speeches to-night. We have had an eminent dermatologist suggesting that the passing of this Order might lead to more work for him; we have had my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams), who was the prime mover in the Merchandise Marks Act, urging me to watch very carefully the operation of the Order in case it should prejudice any body of persons in this country; and, crowning anomaly of all, but one to which we have become accustomed nowadays, we have had the. representative of a party who have crossed the Floor of the House owing to their opposition to the Ottawa Agreement demanding to know if this fulfilled the spirit of the Ottawa Agreement.
This is a business matter. Of course the Merchandise Marks Act, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon will admit, was very carefully scrutinised by the retail trades of the country as a whole, not merely as regards meat but as regards other commodities about which apprehensions were felt, and in this particular case we can at any rate say that we have not merely the precedent of the dissecting room or the mortuary; but we have the precedent of the highest class of 1234 beef in this country, which is marked with the National Mark. That is a mark which is used with the object of producing the highest possible price for our best home-killed product, and it seems anomalous to suggest that a similar procedure in the case of imported produce will lead to a catastrophic result.
I have been a beneficiary of the Imported Meat Trade Association, as other Members of the House may have been, to the extent of receiving an excellent quarter of lamb (marked in accordance with the proposal. I was very glad indeed to receive it. The hon. Member for Mile End (Dr. O'Donovan) suggests that when one entertains guests one desires that everything on the table shall be home-produced. I am not afflicted with that narrow nationalism. The fore-quarter of lamb was very well cooked, brought up and served, the mark was indistinguishable, and it had not injured the meat in any way. My guests consumed it with the utmost relish. I cannot admit that there is any injury either to the consumer or the vendor of such meat and I fortify myself with the opinion of the Australian representative as quoted in this report:It was the desire of the Commonwealth Government that Australian produce should be easily recognisable by the purchasing public and that his Government fully appreciated the desirability of labelling meat so that its origin may be immediately evident to the purchaser.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
But that they were opposed to the imposition of any marking requirements which involved the marking of carcases with an ink or stain mark, as proposed by the applicants.It is clear that the whole of my hon. Friend's contention falls to the ground. All that the Commonwealth Governments have contended is that the particular method of marking might be subject to a certain amount of criticism, and on that I am willing to give the undertaking asked for by my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon. We shall examine the working of this closely. After all, it will not come into operation for at least six months, and there is every reason to suppose that during that time some electrically driven device may be produced which will obviate the use of ink or 1235 stain, if ink or stain is held to be a disadvantage. I am not suffering from aniline dye poisoning or repugnance to my food or lack of the Ottawa spirit. The matter was gone into by a committee of considerable competence the enquiry occupied twenty days, voluminous evidence was taken and as the result the Order was made. It would be a. pity if the House were to overturn such a recommendation and it should be pushed aside. We can say to our Dominion friends that this is a method that is already applied to our own produce and we are not discriminating against them in applying it to them. With regard to the argument of discrimination against the food of the poor, there, too, we can say that to sell goods under a distinctive label has always been one of the quickest and most definite ways of bringing up quality.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The evidence that it did hot provide sufficient identification was almost overwhelming. It was the emphatic opinion of the Committee that the labelling requirements of the Sale of Food Order were ineffective and failed to provide the public with a satisfactory means of distinguishing between home, Empire and foreign meat, and there was no satisfactory alternative to the marking of the meat itself. For that reason,. I cannot agree to the Address.
§ 11.50 p.m.
§ Sir JOHN PYBUS
The objection seems to be to the use of paint or aniline dye. Everyone agrees that meat should be marked with the country of origin. As the trade is so very much against the use of aniline dye, will the Minister see whether another method of marking could be evolved?
§ 11.51 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIOT
The Order does not in any way involve that method of marking. The method of roller-marking is practicable, and the method of electric branding of meat cannot be held to be comparable to the branding of animals. Our own home market uses that device, which does not involve dies. I have every reason to suppose that some such device will be in operation soon after the Order comes into force.
§ Dr. O'DONOVAN
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and the permission of the House, I would like to say a word. The House had heard two doctors disagree in consultation and has enjoyed the charming bedside manner of my senior. As agreement has been reached between the two doctors, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Prayer.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 22; Noes, 95.1237
|Division No. 273.]||AYES.||[11.52 p.m.|
|Daggar, George||Jenkins, Sir William||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A.(C'thness)|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||John, William||White, Henry Graham|
|Edwards, Charles||Lawton, John James||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||Leckie, J. A.||Wilmot, John|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Griffith, F. Kingeley (Middleibro', W.)||Mailalieu, Edward Lancelot||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Hamilton, Sir R. W.(Orkney & Zetl'nd)||Milner. Major James||Mr. Rea and Mr. Harcourt|
|Harris, Sir Percy||Nathan, Major H. L.||Johnstone.|
|Holdeworth, Herbert||Pickering, Ernest H.|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly)||Fraser, Captain Sir Ian|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Fremantle, Sir Francis|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Gower, Sir Robert|
|Balniel, Lord||Colman, N. C. D.||Graves, Marjorie|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J.||Guy, J. C. Morrison|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'th, C.)||Conant, R. J. E.||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)|
|Bottom, A. C.||Copeland, Ida||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.||Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston)|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Crossley, A. C.||Hornby, Frank|
|Bralthwaite. J. G. (Hillsborough)||Culverwell, Cyril Tom||Horsbrugh, Florence|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Duckworth, George A. V.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter||Hutchison, W. D. (Essex, Romf'd)|
|Browne, Captain A. C.||Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blk'pool)||Jennings, Roland|
|Caine, G. R. Hall-||Ford, Sir Patrick J.||Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)|
|Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Penny, Sir George||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.|
|Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Petherick, M.||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.|
|Law, Richard K. (Hull, S. W.)||Pike, Cecil F.||Spencer, Captain Richard A.|
|Loftus, Pierce C.||Pybus, Sir Percy John||Spent, William Patrick|
|Mabane, William||Ralkee, Henry V. A. M.||Stourton, Hon. John J.|
|McConnell, Sir Joseph||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|McKie, John Hamilton||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|McLean, Major Sir Alan||Ramsbotham, Herwald||Thomas, James P. L, (Hereford)|
|Manningham-Bullar, Lt.-Col. Sir M.||Reid, William Allan (Derby)||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Renter, John R.||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Salmon, Sir Isidore||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Morrison, William Shephard||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Muirhead, Lieut.-Colonel A. J.||Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.||Womersley, Sir Walter|
|Munro, Patrick||Skelton, Archibald Noel|
|Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Smith, Sir J. Walker- (Barrow-ln-F.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Somervell, Sir Donald||Major George Davies and Dr.|
|O'Donovan, Dr. William James||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)||Morris-Jones.|
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Adjourned at Twelve o'Clock.